The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?

The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us? February 15, 2017


Not long ago I posted on the loss of the evangelical soul, a post in part stimulated by the tone of conversations I am witnessing on FB. Everybody’s a prophet these days and thinks so because, so they think, they are speaking truth to power. They’re not. They’re yelling in a barrel full of self-appointed prophets.

Today’s post moves into signs of evangelicalism’s demise. Let’s get the standard definition of evangelicalism on the table first: an evangelical is committed to these four elements: the Bible, the cross as the place of atonement, the necessity of personal conversion, and an active Christian life both in missions/evangelism as well as justice, peace and reconciliation. On top of this, evangelicalism is non-denominational and cross-denominational. For one very good sketch of evangelicalism, I recommend David Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism. For a more intra-mural debate, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.

Those four elements are crumbling, folks, they are crumbling. It’s not that evangelicalism has been yet again swamped by politics and lost its way. Rather, it is swamped by politics because those four elements are crumbling. Bible and theology are of little interest other than an odd Bible citation to prop up a claim. Small groups read books by well-known authors, rarely are they studies on a single book of the Bible (publishers aren’t selling these as well today), far too many of its most prominent theologians write books unanchored in Scripture and they do not begin with sketches of the Bible.

The Bible Diminished

The most prominent example of this diminishment of Bible is the routine shrug of the shoulders with respect to creeds, confessions and theological claims.  It may be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation but what was most central about the Reformation was not Luther, Calvin, and Erasmus but Bible, Bible, Bible. I read Bruce Gordon’s CT essay on books about the Reformation, and not a one was about the importance of the Bible in the Reformation. Revealing. Seemingly to embrace the Reformation is to embrace the theology of either Luther or Calvin, not embrace what they embraced: the Bible as the living Word of God. The most important act of a Reformationist is to open the Bible and read it.

Mission Work Has Become Social Work

Missions, international missions and foreign missions are now engulfed in NGOs and global justice and water and infrastructure. Evangelicalism was built on evangelistic church-planting pioneers. Always, or at least nearly always, such missionaries were fully engaged in church-planting as well as compassion and provisions so far as they were able. But they were there to preach and teach the gospel and win people for Christ. That’s evangelicalism. A friend of mine, a missionary, told me that the last 15 years in his corner of the missionary world has seen not one new missionary concerned with church planting and evangelism; they are all NGO types. Giving to NGOs is on the rise; giving to church-planting on the decline. Organize a day for evangelism training and you will be alone or close to it; organize a day for some kind of social action and you may see more than Sunday morning service.

Where are the Pastors?

Speaking of which, vocations for becoming a pastor are diminishing as well. Somewhere at the core of American evangelicalism is an energy that is shaping future leaders into NGOs and social services and away from seminaries, missions training, and the calling to local church pastoring. Daily as I scanned my DMin cohort as we toured Israel I saw a gathering of faithful, hard-working, local church pastors who know the calling is hard and rewarding. I’m proud of their commitment to the Bible. They wanted a DMin but they wanted Bible, Bible in context, but Bible above all.

Atonement Confusion

Atonement theology has fallen on hard times. It has become politicized into penal substitution, which for some means propitiation, vs. some other center of gravity — and more and more it has moved toward Girardian scapegoat theory, exemplary theology, or a very soft Christus victor. Hard headed conservatives are protecting propitiation at all costs and neglecting kingdom themes in the process and so distort atonement while committed progressivists are determined to prevent the wrath of God against sin and sinners (mentioning Jonathan Edwards does the trick) so they can find some “theory” of atonement that turns the Holy Week into justice and more justice. Evangelicalism from beginning to end is a cross-shaped atonement-based gospel and there is little appeal for a new book like John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ except with the propitiation crowd, who are in an echo chamber of Stott. I have attempted to sketch a comprehensive theory of atonement in A Community called Atonement.

Embracing Our Flaws

A way to slurring someone is to say they are part of the megachurch movement or the church growth movement or who want to talk about how their church has grown by way of evangelism or baptisms. Conversion’s favorite emphasis is life-long conversion but not first-time declarations of allegiance to Christ. Criticism of the “Four Spiritual Laws” or the “Bridge Illustration” is not replaced with something better but is replaced with exactly nothing.

The pietist basis of Christian activism in evangelicalism, an activism that was first of all evangelistic, missionary-shaped and church-planting oriented, has been swallowed up by social justice activism. Evangelicalism of the 19th Century was clearly socially-engaged but it was socially engaged as a piety-based and evangelism-based movement. The skinny jeans crowd today seems more often than not allergic to piety-based, evangelism-based activism. I’ve been told again and again that it’s form of “evangelism” is deed-based not word-based. That is a failure of nerve and it is failure to be evangelical.

Along this line, words like sanctification — growth in holiness — and holiness itself are heard only in a small circle of the Neo-Reformed and pervade organizations like The Gospel Coalition. In this they are entirely consistent with the core of what “activism” means in evangelicalism. But outside those circles, who’s writing or preaching or speaking about holiness? Not many. Sanctification among such crowds smacks of Puritanism and we’re back to Jonathan Edwards, and that’s a big No-No. But evangelicalism always had its Wesleyan and holiness and sanctification dimension.

Pride in Politics rather than Piety

Leaders want a place in the circles around the White House and when given one it’s a source of pride. Pride is no longer accorded those who faithfully read and teach the Bible, who glory in the cross of Christ, who preach conversions and transformations, and who are engaged in a piety- and evangelism-based activism that encompasses the whole person.

The center of gravity of too much of evangelicalism has shifted away from these crumbling core themes to something else, but in the process evangelicalism has lost its soul.

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  • RustbeltRick

    “Missions, international missions and foreign missions are now engulfed in NGOs and global justice and water and infrastructure.”

    I suppose you could enter a community where the biggest need is water and do nothing about the water, and instead insist to everyone that their spiritual needs are the bigger issue, but that seems to be such a tone-deaf and archaic approach. Those Christian organizations that are doing water, community health, peace and reconciliation, education and economic development justify their approach by pointing to the example of Christ whose ministry was marked by the meeting of physical needs.

  • Percival

    Scot, I share your sense that we are too often “yelling in a barrel of self-appointed prophets.” But, it’s not all yelling. It’s listening too. I think you underestimate the change that is taking place. What I offer is only anecdotal evidence, but it’s my experience, so I take it seriously even if others do not.

    This month I’ve been reading Fleming Rutledge (The Crucifixion). In recent years I’ve been listening to Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, John Stackhouse, Peter Enns, N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, etc. These people are/were substantial thinkers and writers, and they are appealing to post-evangelicals. So there is a movement of post-evangelicals that is serious about the Bible, cross-centered, and concerned with holiness.

    Evangelism. Yes, the Bridge and the 4 Spiritual Laws do not resonate with many people any more, but this is due to a societal transformation away from a guilt culture and a realization that penal substitution is not the center of the the cross or even atonement. Also, a sales pitch presentation and a sinner’s prayer have proven to be ineffective and even counter-productive. What is replacing these pitches? Something that is not a sales pitch, an invitation to listen to Jesus.

    In our church, I have seen younger Christians staying in church even though they have no voice. Women who have something to offer are relegated to “women’s ministries” that are losing their appeal. The next generation of leaders will not be so confined.

    In missions, yes, NGO’s and service opportunities appeal more to many younger western missionaries, but maybe that’s the best voice for them right now. Middle-class kids from Texas do not need to be church planting in the 10/40 window when they know next to nothing about the life of the cross. Fortunately, western missionaries are not the majority any more. Evangelists and church planters are coming from China, Philippines, Korea, Nigeria, etc. Which workers do you think can teach new believers more about a life of prayer, sacrifice, and humble witness?

    In short, Scot, I think you are too pessimistic. Though much of post-evangelical Christianity is style-over-substance (I won’t name names), there are seeds of the kingdom being planted that will grow into a tree where the nations will nest in its branches. Times of reformation are always messy, but if we look for where the Spirit is moving, we can contribute and serve, and dare I say? Prophesy.

  • I agree that “yelling in a barrel of self-appointed prophets” is certainly happening. But here’s the thing: The people of color I most respect for their faithfulness to Christ (Lisa Sharon Harper is one of long, long list of people) are – to a person – deeply concerned about the white nationalism of this administration and of the culture, and I’m inclined to listen to them and follow their lead. They’re not “screaming.” They’re not being “uncivil.” They’re telling the truth. They’re protesting. They’re acting.

    We ignore them, in the name of “civility,’ at our own peril.

    See “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” The last thing we need right now are a bunch of white, *moderate* Christians.

  • Caspian

    I think this is a gray area. I don’t think Scot is implying that physical needs shouldn’t be met. I read him to be suggesting that we should be meeting physical needs and spiritual needs.

    I would agree, but I wonder what that exactly looks like. He defines it as church planting which is fine; but is that the only measure of spiritual nourishment? Also, I think Christianity has become quite prevalent. It may be there are still pockets of communities in the world that have not received the Gospel, but I suspect that is rare. If they are in fact out there they would need to be specifically targeted.

    What might be more accurate then church planting is spiritual renewal. Many, many of these places where humanitarian outreaches are occurring already have established Christian communities. I am also of the opinion that Christianity as a whole is in dire need of some public relations rehab. We have been exporting a lot of ‘Political Christianity’ and this has poisoned the proverbial well. In this I am not sure a focus on theology is the starting point to rectify that, at least not in word. I think it would start in action, and of course our actions should flow from our theology.

    I guess all this is to say that I think the problem is a bit more complicated then Scot delineates in this post.

  • I’m in regular contact with people who are leaving evangelicalism with broken hearts, not over atonement theory, but because they see their evangelical neighbors defending things like: white nationalism, lying, sexual assault, and turning away refugees. Suddenly, the culture that warned incessantly about moral relativism has become the standard for moral relativism. They don’t see the gospel in that. I don’t see the gospel in that. Every night, as I nurse my baby boy, I think about those refugee families turned away from the promise of a home.

    I probably get a dozen messages a day from people washing their hands of evangelicalism. I don’t encourage them to stay. Why would I? Where is Jesus in this?

  • RustbeltRick

    Scot didn’t completely discount the importance of physical needs, but that didn’t stop him from expressing the thought that justice/water/infrastructure has become all too much. He fell into the classic either/or trap (if we prioritize well-digging, we won’t have time for the Gospel), when world missions is trying to mature into a both/and approach.

  • Caspian

    That’s a fair statement.

    Something else to consider. I know Scot is bemoaning what he sees as a loss in in the spiritual impact of missional work. With more emphasis on ‘well digging’. But it occurs to me that well digging is a quantifiable aspect of mission work whereas spiritual nourishment doesn’t quite play well with such metrics.

    Church planting is quantifiable, but again we would need to ask ourselves, is that the primary focus of the great commission?

  • RustbeltRick

    This goes back to your earlier point, that Christianity is prevalent in many places. If an evangelical network has been actively working in a nation for 50 years (thanks to pioneering missionary efforts in previous generations), it may be that this current generation of indigenous Christians needs technical expertise more than those activities that we previously associated with foreign missions.

  • Caspian

    I agree, but “white nationalism, lying, sexual assault, and turning away refugees.” are symptoms of a bigger problem. I think the post above was an attempt to diagnose. I’m not sure if it succeeded in that goal, or if it just listed additional symptoms.

    Or perhaps it’s cyclical.

  • Caspian


  • Caspian

    Again I think there is much truth in this. I am reminded of a doctor in our congregation who regularly *made trips to Haiti to provide much needed medical care. He was more often humbled by the spiritual grounding of the indigenes community then anything else. So I think this suggest that missional work today may look vastly different from what our forbearers saw.

    I say ‘made’ because he no longer makes these outreaches. He had to stop when it was brought to the attention of church leaders in Haiti that he was a gay man. It then became unsafe for him to continue outreaching to Haiti. This is an example of the political Christianity that has taken a foothold in such places.

  • scotmcknight

    Rachel, I warned about the rise of white nationalism on this blog years back when I called attention — more than once — to Carol Swain’s work. She’s an African American professor at Vandy who, because she’s a political conservative, has been vilified. Had folks listened to her stuff years ago many would have been awake to much of what is happening now. It took a good two or three decades for this movement of white nationalism to become what it is, but it went largely unheeded and at times (here is Clinton’s term) dubbed as deplorables, but such folks are real and they vote, too. Speaking truth to power will work when it is combined with genuine listening to why these folks are where they are. I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you so much as approaching the same from a different angle. (Shouting in a barrel is for me what is going on FB. Sharon has never come to mind for me on that one, so I applaud her and your calling attention to her.)

  • scotmcknight

    Agree … it’s a both gospel and justice. The issue today, as I see it, is imbalance.

  • Scott Coulter

    The charge that critics of the four spiritual laws and the bridge illustration have not offered anything in place of these is an important point. In the more progressive mainline and post-evangelical circles I am involved in these days, if these have been replaced with anything, they have been replaced with the image and practice of inclusive table fellowship. The message I hear (and help proclaim) is: Jesus invites you to the table with no preconditions. Come join us for this meal, this worship service, this social engagement, and experience God’s presence and God’s love in the midst of a diverse, imperfect community that hasn’t got all the answers. We invite you to be part of us because we are all invited to this fellowship by Jesus.

  • Tom Christian

    The term “Evangelical” has become so tainted that it is a liability to use it. Such is the result of the negative politicalization in the past 45 years.

    If the Bible has been diminished that has certainly been accomplished by the abuse and weaponization of it by Evangelicalism.

    The votes of 81% of Evangelicals in electing Trump put the poison of the Evangelical Circus on open display.

  • lakewood

    Thanks for this. I should not be surprised at all the push back you got. That is today’s internet culture, isn’t it? And of course homosexuality came up. That is the burning and divisive issue, who knows where the church will be when the dust finally settles on that one, if it ever does? I hope you will come back to this and continue to reflect on it. Without totally dismissing those who critiqued you, I think this is timely and much needed.

  • Jim Martin

    Outstanding! Thank you for this.

  • Brother Maynard

    And, of course, defending abusive narcissists in “ministry.”

  • David Moore

    It seems that a modifier like evangelical having to be used for Christian belies a bigger problem. Perhaps Christian does not mean much anymore either.

  • Brother Maynard

    Scot, this is much of why I’ve identified as post-evangelical for the last number of years, all summed up as misaligned priorities, the root of which is inherently non-theological.

    I’m of the opinion that evangelicalism can’t be saved, or at least that the effort required to save it would be Pyrrhic in nature. Perhaps Phyllis Tickle was right about this whole 500-year cycle thing, which means that Evangelicalism is at the tail-end of an era where religion, Christianity, and the church are reinventing and re-reforming themselves. If so, it will be much easier to mold new and carry forward the valuable elements we’ve learned from Evangelicalism while discarding the chaff, including the name itself. Holding too tightly to forms like that too often means losing a grip on the faith – which is precisely how I became an ecclesiastical vagrant. It was one or the other.

  • I think Professor McKnight is spot on with much of his assessment. One question I do have: if, as he says, the “diminishment of the Bible is the routine shrug of the shoulders with respect to creeds, confessions and theological claims.” – those are not at all the same. Does that mean we should give more fidelity to Creeds? I think not. Creeds and confessions are decidedly subordinate to Scripture itself. Indeed, Christians have made a lot of mischief for themselves by elevating these to the same level as the Bible.
    In the magisterial Reformation tradition, it’s become too much the case that adherence to the Westminster standards is the measure of orthodoxy, rather than Scripture itself. I understand the view that sees Westminster as a summation of biblical doctrine, but that’s not everyone’s perspective. Every generation has to get back to Scripture. Those who identify as the heirs of the Reformation need to do that as much as anyone.

    It is also not the case that only one side of the theological spectrum has been co-opted by political forces. Both the left and the right continue to do this. Therefore, it’s insufficient to point to things like white nationalism or refugees and say this is what’s wrong with evangelicalism. Those on the right have their own list, but it’s an equally futile exercise. No one would claim (or only the most fringe would), that those things are tenets of the faith. The gospel, what is of first importance, according to apostolic teaching, is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
    Social justice, and all that goes with it, are *implications* of the gospel, but it’s critical not to reverse those. To the extent that evangelicalism has lost its way, it is because they have abandoned the “according to the Scriptures” portion. I think this is what Prof. McKnight says when he writes that gospel-based Christian activism has been swallowed up by social justice activism.

    The consternation of many over the state of evangelicalism raises the question, where else can one go? Prof. McKnight doesn’t address it here, but if you value the Bible as authoritative, that rules out a lot of other options. History doesn’t provide authority; tradition certainly does not. The only choice is to go back to the place of Scriptural authority.

  • Robert the Bruce

    Unfortunately, I see more holiness and godliness in my AA meetings than I do in the church. At church, I only hear about God; but in my 12-step meetings I actually experience him. Which tells me God ain’t in Church most the time. Scripture remains paramount (of course), but this experience has only solidified my desire to identify no more as a typical American Evangelical. Not because of the politics — as some cite at their reason — but because God seems to be missing. Still working this out, but that’s where I’m at today. FWIW.

  • Matt Erickson

    I needed to read this today, Scot. Thank you. In my circles many feel that the term ‘evangelical’ has been either coopted by politicians or misused by media outlets to paint a monolithic view of evangelicals. I also believe that a broader approach to reading Scripture has led to greater divergence about divisive social issues such as homosexuality, gender dysphoria, etc. How does this tie into what you are describing here?

  • Jeff

    Maybe you’re going to the wrong church.

  • Jeff

    Good words. Very good words.

    I would add that, regarding missions and NGOs; many countries are closed to missionaries, but they are not closed “foreign professionals.” So while a person would not be allowed in the country as a missionary, the would be allowed in as a school teacher, etc.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Going “solely to Scripture” isn’t a viable option because Scripture doesn’t exegetite itself. One will have to fall onto a certain interpretive tradition, which are done by churches, who have creeds etc.

  • “I’ve been told again and again that it’s form of “evangelism” is deed-based not word-based. That is a failure of nerve and it is failure to be evangelical.” Show me an evangelical and I’ll show you someone who worships the Bible as an idol, but who knows precisely nothing about what the Bible truly is, where it comes from, the variants, the complications, the errors (quelle horreur!). The more you know about historical biblical criticism, literary criticism, translation theory, the less you will worship the idea of the Bible. And the more you will listen to the Spirit and get out there and *do* stuff. Give me those kids in skinny jeans any day. The rest is just unquestioned doctrine.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Excellent, Scot. Probably my favorite post anywhere for some time. Sadly seems to hit on target too much so, I’m afraid. I think there are notable exceptions.

  • Al Cruise

    Lets be honest here, when Evangelicalism goes down, so will white nationalism/privilege. Talk to any white/conservative evangelical leader off the record, or when they have their guard down, and you will hear how they really feel and how scared they are about becoming irrelevant. You can deny this all you want but the fact is white conservativism defines Evangelicalism and holds the gatekeeper posts that have any real power. The real fear is about loosing this power, and arguing for the significance of the Bible is just a clever coverup or in today’s terms ” fake news”.

  • Tim


    I think Scot’s on point here. I’m not sure if that’s complimentary to or possibly at odds with what you’re presenting, but how we speak to these people is a real concern.

    We live in a society now where we’re on a hair trigger to shame, shout down, crowd pound, and demonize people.

    I for instance take relatively liberal social positions. I support same-sex marriage. But I’ve been defriended on social media simply for suggesting we not demonize or attempt to punish (e.g., run out of their jobs) people who aren’t there yet. I support racial equality and unwinding the defacto segregation of many of our public schools. But I’ve been accused of being a racial bigot simply for suggesting that we take on this task together as partners rather than relegating white allies to a silent (your thoughts are not warranted or wanted), subordinate, and often self-flagellating status per modern social justice sensibilities. Now, right or wrong on that issue, to demonize someone who suggests that as a bigot?

    There are many potential allies and supporters of compassionate, equitable social change who are alienated when people demonize them and take a self-righteous stance sneering down their noses. Where the standards for ideological purity are so extreme that all but the most liberal 1% of our population have to bite our tongues lest we allow a label to be slapped upon us.

    So in many ways, the social justice left is often the architect of their own backlash against them. Which brings us people like Trump. As while they are great at treating marginalized populations with respect, compassion, and dignity, they are far too quick to revoke that treatment for otherwise good people who just need a little more time to learn and grow.

  • Tim ~ I’m sympathetic to what you are saying regarding alienating people from good causes. But I have to ask: do you not think that some people latch onto examples of extremists on the political left just to justify their demonization of all liberal ideas? Shouldn’t people be analyzing the ideas independently of the people (who can be as obnoxious and sanctimonious as anyone else, sure) that propagate them?

    I’ve been thinking about and noticing alot of tone policing lately (even done some of it myself), but we really hold liberals to a higher standard than we do the right in this country. That is why the sarcastic mockery of “so-called tolerant liberals” is so interesting. Liberals are expected to be tolerant, and conservatives are not. There is a double standard to address there.

    I too long for a day where conversations can return to indoor voices and civil discourse sans name calling. But I’m also in a relatively more privileged position than many others who are being targeted by this white evangelical-supported administration. It’s understandable why liberals are so impassioned and while it does get out of hand sometimes – other liberals like yourself call them out on that. Meanwhile bomb throwing right wing pundits like Milo get to say whatever incendiary, misogynist, anti-immigrant thing they want and receive no punishments from the right.

    It’s frustrating to play tennis with a side that doesn’t recognize the net, yet holds you firmly to the rules. And that tension can build in even the most gentle and soft-spoken person.

  • I have to say the point about the Bible being diminished being a problem is absolutely flummoxing to me. *That* is a major problem? If anything its the pervasive interpretative pluralism of the Bible along with the dogmatic insistence on inerrancy despite all scholarship and knowledge we have that has led to so much fractiousness among evangelicals. Think of the recent kerfuffle over the issue of the Eternal Submission of the Son. Is that the kind of really wise prioritization we should expect from a revivified evangelicalism? I’m sure God was mighty impressed with vicious fighting over doctrines few have even heard of, while ignoring the human crisis overseas and/or holding water for candidates who openly discriminate against immigrants and refugees. I know the next generation of young evangelicals were certainly taking note, and reconsidering their own priorities.

    No conservative evangelical would want my advice, but I think the way forward for evangelicals ought to indeed be a new focus on the Bible. But it would not be one that leads to doubling down on creeds and doctrinal formulas that only cause splits and denominational strife. That sort of retreat into a more divided past is only going to lead to more disappointment. The most Spirit-filled Christians I ever met tended to keep theological claims and theories to a minimum and focused on Christ’s work in the world. Maybe that’s creeping humanism and watering down the gospel to some of you. But I think life’s too short for wasting any more time on being a good evangelical, if it means failing to be a good Christian.

  • Yes, and the first century church didn’t have “the Bible.” They basically relied on letters telling the Gospel story and giving advice as to how to be “Christians.” The Bible as we know it, took quite a while to put together.

  • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

    Pride, huh? Isn’t that one of the Catholic Church’s Seven Deadlies?
    Also, I remember reading that pride goes before a fall.
    Brace for plummet!

  • JA Myer

    I think evangelicals do not follow Jesus and HIS teachings. They follow their own interpretations of laws Jesus fulfilled. And in the end it is all about them holding power over other people.

  • jon2065

    I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church —– from the Apostles Creed

  • Spot on and it’s what I’m seeing as well. Nobody cares about the various doctrinal scuffles and squabbles that consume today’s evangelicals. We care about their blatant hypocrisy and their absolutely disgusting sense of immorality, as displayed by their ruthless politicking and overt control-lust. We care about their dishonesty, as displayed by their pandering leaders and lying mouthpieces. We care about their absolute blindness to the misery and dysfunction that decades of their control of American culture has brought us to.

    But it’d be a mistake to say that they’re just Christianing wrong. In a large way, what they’re doing is an outgrowth of the religion’s inability to moor itself to reality-based truths. Without that mooring, the ship drifts far from shore and loses sight of the dock. The reason that Christians like you can be less toxic than evangelicals is that you try a bit harder to moor yourself to reality while they’re all jumping up and down trying to out-hardcore each other.

  • Yeah. And that bigger problem is something today’s Christians are categorically not equipped to engage with, much less resolve. They’re only barely able to recognize that there’s actually a problem; they’re not yet up to defining accurately what the problem is, and far away from resolving it. So far their entire tactic is “do more of what we’ve been trying to do, but more of it and more hardcore than before.” It hasn’t been working and it won’t magically start anytime soon–because it’s addressing a different problem than they actually have, the one they wish they had.

  • Al Cruise

    I listened to an Evangelical pastor stress the importance of Scripture above all else. Afterwards at the discussion group I asked him how come he was on his third wife. The moderator said I was out of order and asked me to leave immediately. That’s your bigger problem.

  • MiniMeme

    The church wants to take the textbook to the prom.
    The principles of the Bible are basic, and being lived out in the actions of everyone who practices humanitarian governing, compassion, communion and social justice. God approves.

  • For me, as a humanist, Church planting is falling because it produces an immaterial benefit (arguably harm) for the immense amount of effort exerted on it throughout the centuries. It has produced oppressive actions towards women and especially LGBT people in the name of Christian doctrine. What good has conversion-centric evangelism done? (I say this as a former Christian with many fantastic Christian friends.) Groups like WaterAid and Save the Children do an astonishing amount of undeniable good by any rational person.

    As for reading and studying the Bible, it is precisely that which many of us non-theists have been saying for years is our reason for “falling away” yet regularly ignored in reports on falling church attendance. People see the numerous contradictory voices, seams in the text, differing Christologies, flawed Messianic prophecy fulfilment, forgeries, heavy influence of Babylonian and Greek mythology. People see less and less reason for assuming that their loved ones are destined for eternal fiery torment and the numerous flaws and evident psychological bias self-unawareness in endlessly rehashed apologetic arguments.

  • As a minor point (since I largely agree), the biblical writers do exegetical commentaries – look at Paul and the Gospel writers endless bending of the Hebrew Bible

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi Everyone,
    Deconstruction without construction leads only to destruction. I’d rather hear people talking about how Evangelicals can recover their soul rather than throwing all the stones in how they lost their soul. Scot hinted at some ways to recovery but so many of the responses simply want to tear the whole edifice down.

  • sanctusivo

    I would quibble about terms, slightly. There is the evangelicalism that has been characteristic of western Christianity since the Reformation and which finds its roots even in such mainline denominations as the Presbyterians and the Methodists.

    And there is that which markets itself as “Evangelicalism” in the United States today. This particular brand is just a toxic repackaging of the old-time fundamentalism that was mocked to the margins in the 1920s and reemerged after World War 2. Then, its peddlers and advocates began calling it “neoevangelicalism”, and a review of the works of Mark Noll and George Marsden go a long way to getting the student up to speed. The only real difference between their doctrinalism a hundred years ago and now is that they have now dropped the “neo-“, amped up the fundamentalism, and slicked up the marketing.

    However, as a product, it’s still garbage and filth.

    What is dying off yet again is this repackaged fundamentalism, not the belief that the gospel does and continues to make the essential difference in the lives of people.

  • Tim


    In answer to your question as to whether some people latch onto the examples of extremists on the left to dismiss liberal ideas – yes, of course I think that happens.

    But are such people really your target audience? Those who will find any excuse they can to disregard or demean what you have to say?

    The threat I see is what used to be reserved for the far-left extremists now seems to have the most control or at least the most prevelant voice in the social justice movement.

    Such that someone like myself – who supports same-sex marriage, who supports trans rights to use the bathroom of their choice, who supports women having access to every opportunity, and who believes racial inequality is one of the most pernicious issues of our time that we have to do everything we can to resolve – feels fundamentally not just uncomfortable or unwelcome in the social justice community, but now paradoxically finds myself increasingly in opposition to it. And I’m a social liberal. Imagine how those in the center or moderate right feel?

    You meentioned the case of Milo. And I’m glad you did. I think the man’s views are hateful and abhorrent. But look at the effect social justice activists have had on his voice. In an effort to silence him and drive him out of an audience of a few hundred students, he has rocketed to fame and his book is now a best seller and national conversation piece.

    Clearly that approach did not work.

    But let’s set that aside, and despite every evidence to the contrary pretend that such an approach would or could work.

    What would be the cost? There is a pernicious anti-free speech movement that is more and more becoming the face of the social justice movement. Migrating from the far-left fringe into the mainstream of that community.

    The rationale is that they support free speech “but” not hateful speech or speech that makes people “unsafe.”

    And, by the way, all opponents of free speech always seem to premise their arguments with “I support free speech, but…”

    And I don’t think people realize how dangerous it is attacking such a foundational value to our, or any, western democracy.

    What happens to us if a strong man (say for example Trump), says that they support free speech, “but” not any speech that harms our country. Or makes our country “unsafe.” Seems reasonable right? Especially now that we’ve made the argument that we can shut down someone’s speech if we can connect it to some possible, eventual negative fallout that harms a community. Why not preserve our country from such “treasonous” speech, eh comrade? 😉

    The social justice movement in their fervor to support many of those same causes you and I share, has descended into a form of tribalism we’ve seen time and time again in history, where internal norms of ideological purity are enforced with increasing brutality, where the power of the mob becomes intoxicating, and where opponents are dehumanized.

    How could I possibly be part of something like that? And so supporting social justice causes, I find I am without a tribe.

    This is the alienation that is going on. This is the audience the social justice movement is now starting to push away. And I think they are so caught up in their own power they can’t see it.

    Anyway, hope that answers some of your questions. And with respect to double standards, yes, I think that exists. On all sides. But I think issues surrounding hypocrisy have a lot to do with that. When you demonstrate behavior that is fundamentally inconsistent with your stated values, then yes, people will call you out on it.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Tim, I’m not sure the source of your experience of claiming that the “mainstream” of the social justice movement is intolerant of people slowly changing their views- I don’t think that’s the case at all. Sure, Facebook and Twitter often have the loudest voices but they don’t articulate the mainstream.
    Like Justin, I see alot of doublespeak on this from the right. Liberals are extremists-who just nominated Donald Trump? Liberals are intolerant-who has been seeking to disenfranchised protests by calling them “paid off” and inaccurately saying their violent? Liberals overly exaggaerate-who has been lying about voter fraud?

    Some dumb anarchists setting fires at a California university doesn’t come close to the intolerance shown by our new presidential Administration, widely supported by evangelicals. And this isn’t even going into the faux persecution narrative that was widely spread pre-election; often by fake news. Many Christians really wanted to believe those horrible “God’s Not Dead” movies were real life and not fiction.

  • Tim


    I have personally lost friends over this. Real life friends, not just social media. And on a national level, you will find a no-platforming movement picking up speed at a frightening pace. Take for instance the pillaring and running out of two Yale professors who simply objected to college students being told what they could or could not wear for Halloween. One other example among many.

  • Bill Scudder

    We need a new reformation

  • Bill Scudder

    A new reformation is the need of the hour

  • Matt Sapp

    Great questions. Great analysis. Outstanding.

  • HamburgerHelper1

    I don’t think that will happen. The political and cultural climate is too different and Evangelicalism is too divided let alone the fact that I cant think of anyone who would lead a so called “new reformation” with the same caliber that Martin Luther or John Calvin did. Which leads me to wonder who are the new movers and shakers within Evangelicalism and is there anyone out there with the same unifying spirit as Billy Graham?

  • Eileen

    Hi Scot, Call me obtuse, but you mentioned “The Cross of Christ” by John R. Stott, which I am almost finished with now. I can’t tell from your statement whether you concur with the book or whether you disagree with his assessment of the atonement. Can you enlighten me, please? Thanks!

  • Andrew Dowling

    I don’t recall the professor being forced out of his job, but in any case, ivy league college student activists represent the “mainstream” of the social justice movement? Really? Listen to what you are saying . .

  • Andrew Dowling

    Wow Scott, so white nationalism is mainly the fault of reverse racism and liberal policies? Because that’s essentially Swain’s apologetic. Very disappointing you are seemingly seeking excuses for support of blatant anti intellectual xenophobia and fear mongering. There are grains of truth in Swain’s work but they get enveloped in the muddle of resentment and faux outrage of the larger narrative.

    I know many Trump supporters. Several in my immediate family. I don’t live in a bubble. I don’t need a Poly Sci professor who contributes to Dinesh D’Souza documentaries/propaganda films to tell me Trumpism doesn’t revolve around fear of cultural change and old fashioned bigotry. I’ve seen it for years.

  • 74hodag

    It’s not “evangelicalism”, it’s “evangelism”.

  • WillysJeepMan

    Agreed. I think that phrase “weaponization of it” is quite appropriate.

    Rather than using it as a sharp two-edged sword (that cuts both ways), they use it as a one-edged machette (sharp edge facing outward) used to hack and slash through to make the path they want to go in.

  • 74hodag

    I think he’s saying that the problem is you guys are reading books like the one you mentioned instead of reading the bible.

  • Tim


    The students created such a hateful and intolerant environment for those professors, hounding and pillaring them relentlessly, that they had very little choice but to leave the university. Which by the way was those students’ expressed goal. And they achieved it. At the cost of ceding any moral high ground they might have otherwise claimed to have had.

    In any event, I do see the leadership of the social justice movement as in large part drawing from these elite institutions. And among the rank and file in the movement, there seems to be very little pushback or self-policing on this issue. But rather the mainstream I think is now going a long to get along.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think you haven’t seen concerted pushback because these types of stories aren’t hyped as major news like they are on RW sites. A real story is extremists running our government and passing laws, not college professors getting angry emails from students. Don’t you see the disconnect here in terms of where appropriate outrage should be tailored?
    Conservative websites will ignore mosque burnings when discussing religious liberty, but those poor Oregon bakers . .my God it never ended.

  • AlanCK

    As always Rachel, very prescient and very keen. Thank you. I think it has become evident that evangelical culture has understood election (the theological one, God’s “yes” in Jesus Christ) as vindicated by the having of political and cultural authority–a rather odd combination of believing in providence and also working like hell to make sure that providence doesn’t crumble. Hence the sad display of hypocrisy in stunning measure.

    But the hard question is this: how was the gospel of Jesus Christ communicated in a manner that ressentiment (both individual and communal) was not washed away and healed in the waters of baptism, but rather was preserved as an interpretive filter immune from the power of the cross? I would imagine there are thousands (maybe even millions) of bedraggled evangelicals and ex-evangelicals trying to make sense of that question. Where did we confuse justice with junior-high wounds?

    For some, the answer seems to be to swim the Tiber (Catholic) or go East (Orthodoxy). For others, the answer seems to be to lumber into an empty mainline church (Protestant). But for most, I would imagine the answer would be to go nowhere (Nones). I would be very interested in how you make sense of what has happened and what might make for true healing for evangelicals.

  • Tim


    I see that as a deflection or rationalization. Yes, it is only the right-wing outlets that tend to report on it. Who then ignore the “sins” of conservatives. Just as left-wing outlets tend to only report on outrages coming from the right.

    This kind of polorization is unhelpful.

    How much weight does the “we should focus on ‘x’ therefore ignore ‘y'” argument hold with you when coming from the right? That we have to focus on our veterans instead of refugees? That we have to ignore the latest outrage with Trump because “larger” issues are at stake?

    It’s not zero sum.

    In any event, right or wrong, there is a very negative stigma being attached to the social justice movement over just these issues. And allowing the excesses of these leaders to run rampant will not just add fuel to that fire, but it will eventually warrant that stigma to in fact be quite deserved.

  • Doug Erickson

    I agree with you Scot that evangelism has lost its soul, but I could quibble with the reasons. I think evangelism has ceased to be an effective descriptor because Evangelicals have allowed Fundamentalism to co-opt the term. The Evangelical leaders of the “religious right” in the 80’s openly courted the Fundamentalists like Falwell in order to gain votes- political power and influence. Fundamentalists in turn, discovered that they could gain respectability by calling themselves “evangelicals”. Suddenly the Evangelical impulse to engage with culture, to reject anti-intellectualism, to act as a “middle way” between liberal theology and fundamentalism, was lost.
    Full blown culture war was the result.
    Put simply, leading “Evangelicals” today like Falwell and Graham were your father’s Fundamentalists. Evangelical’s didn’t elect DT. Fundamentalists, and Evangelicals that have sold their birthright, did.

  • Tim, I am sorry you experienced personal friendship loss over political disagreements. I have friends from a lot of different backgrounds and views and it can be hard to manage sometimes, especially when someone feels a different position poses an existential threat to their existence. I haven’t lost friends myself but I have had a friend recently lose a friend of his because of a – in my opinion – misunderstanding over political tactics. Liberals have been on pins and needles since November, but I guess I tend to be more forgiving of this in light of Trump and all he represents. It doesn’t excuse all obnoxious behavior but it certainly contextualizes it. So maybe I’m one of those that is going along to get along with some of the left-wing overreactions.

    I really don’t know how many people are extremists within social justice circles, but I tend to notice these instances are exaggerated in the media. Just as some left-wing media misrepresent all Trump voters as hordes of neo-Nazis. I listen to media representations and then I look at the liberals I know, and I don’t see much resemblance. For example, if some (usually young and energetic) social justice advocate attacks me as being a bigot against people with mental disabilities because I used the word “crazy” to describe a bizarre situation, I tend to just let it go. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, right?

    Campuses have some younger hotheads, sure. (Although, as Andrew pointed out, I’m still unsure how much of the violent rioting in Berkeley were third party anarchists or even Milo’s own goons.) But we can’t just dismiss all social justice activists because of a few bad apples. We need that energy as part of any larger Coalition for restoring sanity. Give the hotheads something productive to do and put them on the front lines – that’s what liberal leaders should be focusing on: effective, organized, strategic, peaceful activism. Any tactician knows the worst thing you can do with hotheads is leave them in your war camp with nothing to do to vent their energies. Give these kids a clear goal and purpose and they won’t have time to cannibalize themselves over whether or not eating sushi is cultural appropriation. Meanwhile, let cooler heads in liberal circles direct strategy.

    I’m all for examining why liberals lost and some of the criticism I think is perfectly valid (failure to address blue collar anxieties, too close with special interests and donor class, a pretty obviously flawed and unliked candidate). But let’s not get out of control. Right wingers, I can assure you (with a few exceptions), don’t tend to this self-flagellating introspection. A lot of conservatives don’t feel the need to take responsibility for any of their extremists, and, like climate change and racism and everything else they don’t want to deal with, tend to deny their very existence. “David Duke? Richard Spencer? Never heard of them!”

    I just want to puncture this idea floating around that there is an equal balance between the “alt right” extremists on the right and so-called “social justice warriors” on the left. (I’m not saying that you were trying to make that equivalence, Tim – but I’ve heard it bandied about enough now that it has managed to get under my skin.) This is a false dichotomy because from my perspective most liberals in this country *are* moderates. Reactionaries wants to pivot the conversation further right by moving the goal posts, and we shouldn’t oblige them.

  • AlanCK

    The lifeblood of evangelicalism has been the same as the mainline: late Christendom. With the collapse of Christendom almost complete, evangelicalism and mainline Christianity are left with missional and administrative structures (from the local church to the hierarchy to the seminaries) that are set up for a world that no longer exists. In response it seems there have been several well-meaning attempts to do church that in effect keep throwing the baby out with the bath water (Emergent, house church, Restoration, New Apostolic, etc.) — the gospel interpreted through a new and updated philosophy of history.

    Part of Christendom’s sustainability was the rather slow movement of culture during the medieval era. But culture and weltanschauung modify and reshape so quickly now it is impossible to read the world and then do church in response. The dwindling church numbers in the West adequately testify to this.

    While well meaning, to say that the true Reformationist will read the Bible as the living Word of God is to recapitulate and have the same process take place. This has been tried but to no permanent effect–still no evangelical soul to be found in spite of the effort. The issue is not the act of reading but how reading occurs. And I daresay that the West has managed to foster communities where reading interpretation is so highly valued that it is also is so closely guarded so that even Jesus Christ would be a suspect reader in such communities. Somewhere along the line Jesus Christ as the capital W Word of God has been lost. Holding on tighter to the Bible has only resulted in more crumbling.

    A professor of mine, Dr. Charles Ringma, in speaking to our class about the crumbling of the church in the West and its imminent demise, said the following to us about the future of the church: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” If the evangelical soul is dying, then let us not spend time and energy to try and recapture the life it once had which was dependent upon a certain kind of world. Rather, let us give it hospice care so it can be reborn free of the skeleton of Christendom. I am confident the oomph will be there, and the Holy Spirit will be busy enlivening that new soul to even greater deeds of service and faithfulness.

  • I’m onboard. But what is needed is not a new Luther, but a new Erasmus.

  • Tim


    Thanks for trying to empathize on this issue.

    I guess for me, I would probably find it impossible to be welcomed as a partner and collaborator by a social justice community. Based on my experiences not “just” from people on the fringes or “bad apples” or even “hot heads.” But rather otherwise sane and compassionate activists who have bought into this ideology and way of tribalistically relating to others. Even if well intentioned.

    I have a cousin who is otherwise the sweetest person in the world. But if you get her going on social justice issues, she will cut into you relentlessly if she deems you on the “wrong” side of her righteous perspective.

    I had made a very similar argument to her as I am making here now. That these crowd-pounding tactics are alienating large swaths of the public and that engagement with a little more tolerance and patience might yield better results.

    But because she saw me then as criticizing unquestionable dogma of her movement, she eviscerated my character, questioned my integrity, and accused me of selfishly looking after my own “white privilege” and serving as an apologist for white nationalist bigotry. All despite the fact I agree with her and advocate for 99% of the same issues. I just wasn’t allowed to question her dogma. And so I at that moment became perceived as the “enemy.” A white male enemy no less. Any ideas as to the sort of things get said to you when you’re put in that box?

    And I don’t consider her that far outside the mainstream.

    Now, it is possible my own experience is somehow skewed. That perhaps I am just very unlucky in having my own social network overrepresented by these types of individuals. But I don’t think it’s the case.

    Do you? If you introduced me to your network of social justice activists, and I did not self-censor these views or arguments, what sort of things do you think they would say about me? Would it be that different?

    And if that is what happens to a social liberal that does not self-censor, what of a moderate? What of a center-right conservative?

    A lot of people showed up to the polls last election that expressed a voice that has been shut out of these circles. Which would you rather have? Engagement? A chance to change minds? Or strong-arm tactics that simply drive people underground to surface next election? Views unchanged. Or hardened the other way.

    As to which is worse in all this, between the left and the right…is that really a necessary comparison? Just don’t be worse. From your better selves. Don’t be tribal. Don’t be cruel. Don’t be self-righteous. Don’t be dogmatic. Don’t be bigoted. Don’t demonize and dehumanize others. Don’t destroy our foundational values. And so on. If the “other” side is going to be worse, let them be worse. That is no justification for saying then “but we’re not quite so bad in comparison!”

  • Andrew Dowling

    Tim, it’s not deflection to say it’s a complete false equivalence to note that extremism has been mainstreamed on the right given the denial of science, embrace of lies regarding refugees/crime/voting/basic civics, and the celebration of witholding empathy (as articulated by the Administration they widely support) and then the retort is “well there are intolerant liberal students on college campuses.” These are not equal. Millions could lose their health insurance and we could be set back decades in the fight against climate change, but “transgender bathrooms”, “safe spaces,” and “and “overly PC students”. Priorities?

  • Tim


    I am not making an argument of apples-to-apples equivalence. I am only suggesting that pointing out the “sins” of the other side does not grant you moral cover to ignore the problems within your own tribe. And I have argued that these are very significant problems that will result in very significantly negative effects. Including further tarnishing the social justice movement’s claimed moral high ground and further alienating allies and potential allies.

  • Tim ~ I admire the candor of your responses. However, compassionate, thoughtful responses like yours are precisely why I’m not as worried about liberals as I am conservatives. You are concerned with being humane and understanding to people who disagree with you. I share that feeling. Most social justice advocates I know share that feeling as well. However, express those thoughts on a right wing website right now, and you will be called a cuck and a snowflake in short order. This is the situation we are in.

    We have had different experiences with social justice activists – perhaps there is a geographical factor here? I’m not sure what area of the country you are from, but I’m in a largely rural part of the south. . . and, well, “liberals” around here shoot rifles on the range over the weekend and think Obama was too socialist for their tastes. So depending on where we are in the country might affect how we see all this. I’ll take you at your word regarding your experiences. It sounds like you’ve encountered alot of ideologically rigid, sanctimonious people. While I do think we should take this all under advisement, I worry that the fake news issue we are all experiencing has dampened our abilities to properly scale and prioritize events. It’s like Emperor Palpatine is clouding our minds. And it’s much less a problem of completely made up stories like the Bowling Green Massacre or Pizzagate, and much more a problem of creating tempests in a teacup (defending or attacking Steve Martin’s tweet about Carrie Fisher) while ignoring hulking elephants in the room (climate change).

    I think if I introduced you to the social justice types I know, there may be polite disagreement on some issues (like Andrew and I have disagreed with you, as a question of prioritization) – but nothing like the sort of responses you’ve received (being considered an enemy and white nationalist apologist). I could be wrong. But I am willing to concede there are left-wing jerks who hide their terrible personalities under the veneer of pure ideology. We agree. What I’m saying is (and I think we are probably largely on the same page here, and may just be getting caught up in terminology differences): we can’t fight a two front war. You are right, hotheaded left-wing jerks who alienate people *should* be called out, ideally. Will they change their ways though? Unlikely. Like all fundamentalists they will have mechanisms to avoid self-criticism. So how much time should we spend trying to clean up their messes and chastising them for alienating everyone? It would only draw more attention to them and make them more certain of how righteous they are. From my experience talking to fundamentalists, we may be wasting our time and are only contributing to the divisions they are sowing by engaging them. Like Milo and his crew, the best strategy might be to ignore them completely.

    Ideologically committed jerks are bulls that see red everywhere. They are unfocused and undisciplined. They have no discernment. People like you can do the mature, difficult work of being diplomatic and prudent in our communications with people of good will across the political spectrum. We can disavow the antics of extremists, without giving up an inch on social justice (or liberal values, take your terminological preference pick).

    Perhaps over time such people will have matured enough to realize that the real world isn’t as simple and binary as they had made it out to be. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that before we can address a (possibly sociopathic) narcissist executive with more power than anyone in the history of the world.

    So I guess my question to you is: how would you prioritize these things? How would you take moral ownership for the actions of some in your own tribe that you think will cause significant negative effects? And I’m genuinely interested what you would propose, because I’m overwhelmed as it is considering the obvious and more pressing problems we are all faced with.

  • barry

    I have to wonder whether Mr. McKnight thinks the activism of atheists and bible critics on the internet since 1996 might possibly have something to do with the reasons today’s Evangelicals see the bible in progressively more and more liberal terms. Can anyone but a fool say that this more than 20 years of making known to the world at large many rebuttals to Christian apologetics, in a far more efficient way than had ever been done before 1996, had little to no relation to why modern Evangelicalism is becoming more and more liberal in its view of the bible?

    What would McKnight do if he found out that an interpretation of a bible verse:

    a) was consistent with its grammar;
    b) was consistent with its immediate context;
    c) was consisistent with the chapter;
    d) was consistent with the genre of the bible-book in question, but also
    e) contradicted something taught elsewhere in the bible?

    How much more quickly would Evangelicalism endure the historical fate of nearly every other sub-genre of a world religion (Pharisees, Ebionites, etc, etc), if average Evangelicals found out that the excuse “that’s-just-an-anthropomorphism” is less consistent with the grammar, context and genre of Genesis 6, than the open-theist interpretation?

    What would happen to Evangelicalism, if more and more average Evangelicals became convinced that because bible inerrancy is such a controversial doctrine within Christianity itself, (even amongst Evangelicals themselves), it therefore does not deserve to be exalted in their mind to the status of governing hermeneutic, and as such, the fact that an interpretation of a bible verse contradicts something taught elsewhere in the bible, cannot, without something more, be sufficient to label such interpretation false?

    Sure, interpreting Genesis 6:6-7 as meaning God made real mistakes, would contradict other bible statements about God’s perfection, but so what?

    Does the bible-inerrancy tool of interpretation have anywhere near the universal acclaim as a tool of interpretation, as the tools of interpretation known as “grammar” and “immediate context” have? Of course not. Why then do Evangelicals act as if testing all possible interpretations of a bible verse with the criteria of bible inerrancy, is as objective as a teacher testing a student’s knowledge of math?

    I can’t say for sure what the result of these discoveries would be, but one thing appears likely: future Evangelical treatments of the problem of evil and of the divine atrocities of the OT (killing children by fire, Leviticus 21:9, Joshua 7:15) would resort less and less to “God’s mysterious ways”, and would favor more and more the “God makes mistakes” excuse.

    If Mr. McKnight sees no objective reasons to disqualify the doctrine of bible inerrancy as a valid tool of interpretation, I will be happy to have a discussion with him about why I think bible inerrancy is an invalid tool of exegesis/interpretation (i.e., why it is wrong for Christians to automatically flush some interpretation of a bible verse, no matter how objective otherwise, merely because the interpretation would cause the bible to contradict itself).

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Eileen, I think Scot was talking in a kind of cryptic shorthand here. He definitely holds to penal atonement, as evidenced by the book he wrote which he called attention to, A Community Called Atonement. But I think he is calling attention to a kind of polarization between those who hold to what they are believe are mutually exclusive theories of atonement; and thus, when a book like Stott’s comes along, it simply becomes a kind of preaching to the choir for those who hold to penal atonement, and is simply ignored by those who don’t.

    And by the way, a more recent and very fine book on this issue is Jeremy Treat’s volume, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology.

  • barry

    I’d rather hear Christians giving their opinion on to what degree the activism of atheists and bible critics on the internet since 1996 is responsible for motivating modern Evangelicals to become less and less enthused with “biblical inerrancy”.

  • barry

    Please answer the following questions directly:

    Suppose you saw
    your young teen sitting in the middle of a street. A drunk in a car
    comes barreling down the street. You yell to your teen that she must
    get out of the street. She screams back “I don’t care what you want me
    to do, I’m not moving”. In your mind, you could use brute force to
    successfully remove her from the street without seriously increasing the
    level of risk to yourself, her, or others, since the drunk is still
    about 100 yards away, and you are much stronger than she…but you
    don’t. You continue repeating your command that she get out of the
    street, she continues defying the command, and eventually is run over
    and killed.

    If you COULD have employed brute force to protect her
    from the consequences of her own rebellious freewill stupidity here, but you
    didn’t…must we not conclude that you had something less than an
    infinite amount of love for that teen?

    Is God currently putting forth his “best” effort to convince unbelievers to repent, yes or no?

    must we conclude, when the parent, faced with saving their child from
    great danger which the child is freely choosing to put themselves in,
    puts forth something less than their “best” effort at salvation?

    Do we conclude that the parent’s ways are mysterious?

    Or do we conclude that the parent’s love for said child was limited?

    it seems rational to believe that true love will resort to brute force
    to protect the loved one from the consequences of their own free-willed
    rebellious dangerous attitude, then why isn’t it rational to conclude
    that the the bible picture of God’s infinite love for unbelievers is
    wrong, and that the real reason God doesn’t do his “best” to save
    unbelievers from the consequences of their freewilled rebellious
    dangerous rejection of the gospel, is because God’s love for them is

    If God exercises a “hook in your jaws” sovereignty over pagans to cause them to sinfully attack Israel (Ezekiel 38:4), why doesn’t he exercise a “hook in your jaws” level of sovereignty over unbelievers, and therefore get them to do exactly what he wants?

    Of course, a Calvinist would say that’s exactly what’s happening, and therefore, the people who end up in hell are those whom God never intended to save in the first place. But my argument is devastating to non-Calvinist Christians, who otherwise believe God authentically desires for all unbelievers to get saved.

  • Al Cruise

    ” words like sanctification — growth in holiness — and holiness itself are heard only in a small circle of the Neo-Reformed and pervade organizations like The Gospel Coalition. “. I know many in that organization, they might be preaching it, are you suggesting they practice it?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Of course no side is flawless. I’ve engaged in many an internal argument with progressives I thought were overly focused on tribalism and purity markers. But I refuse the notion one has to be 100% pure before they attack what is essentially an direct threat to our fabled republic and to actual human lives. It’s like if you are trapped in a cabin with a bear who wants to eat you, but someone says “wait, deal with those mosquitos in that corner over there first.”

  • Tim

    Andrew, it’s not an either-or. Did you see me suggesting that? I didn’t. I’m not saying anything about not fighting against bigotry on the right while internal problems are worked out. Don’t know why those have to be cast as at odds with each other.

  • Tim


    I truly do hope your take is more accurate or representative than mine on the social justice movement. As that would be a whole lot less discouraging. Sometimes we can wish we’re wrong can’t we? 🙂

    As to what causes this bad behavior though, I don’t think it’s necessarily wolves in sheeps clothing. People who would have been jerks no matter what. You may have heard it said that, “good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” I think this statement is far more accurate if you replace religion with ideology. Whether that ideology is religious or not.

    I think my cousin, for instance, is a genuinely good person. Who has been warped by a pernicious expression of social justice ideology. To your point, I do hope this is far rarer than my own experience and the reporting in the media suggest. But I think it is a valid concern that it may not.

    That said, where do you go from here? I don’t know. What I try to do is stand up and be counted as someone who is willing to have an honest and authentic conversation. That I won’t be cowed into silence by those who want to control the discourse. With my network I fully understand that is the equivalent of grabbing the 3rd rail. I know I’m going to take hits. But I know the conversation is just too important not to have.

    And I also hope to show up the bad behavior of bullies and fanatics who are opposed to this. Even if it involves allowing bystanders to witness their vicious attacks against me and others like me. Such that people see them for what they are and stop deferring to them as these supposedly righteous warriors of justice. And if enough of us stand up and refuse to be shouted down, their hold on this national conversation will be broken. And we can start again talking about issues as human to human. Civilly. Openly. Fearlessly. And in understanding the struggles and concerns across our divides learn to start tackling them together.

    This, by the way, is how we changed the social landscape on same-sex marriage. Almost everyone was against it before. And almost no one was shamed or shouted down into supporting it. Rather, the LGBT community and their allies invited us to walk in their shoes. Which we did. And then understood their struggle. Without shame. Or guilt. Or denigration. Just empathy. And an appeal to our common humanity. And it worked. Within just a single generation it worked.

    So this is what I advocate for. I guess we’ll see how it shakes out.

  • Ficino

    Evangelical Pat Robertson:

    “The Lord’s plan is being put in place for America and these people are not only revolting against Trump, they’re revolting against what God’s plan is for America,” Robertson said.

    Robertson noted that the attacks against Trump come from the same people who have sought to supplant conservative teachings with liberal dogma.

    “These other people have been trying to destroy America. These left-wingers and so-called progressives are trying to destroy the country that we love and take away the freedoms they love,” he said.

    “They want collectivism. They want socialism. What we’re looking at is free markets and freedom from this terrible, overarching bureaucracy. They want to fight as much as they can,” Robertson said.
    So the God of (some) evangelicals is in general very concerned about getting rid of excess bureaucracy? Is that a goal in the Bible? Robertson is already extremely wealthy.

  • Ficino

    I used to be a Calvinist. In my opinion, that system of thought does not often help its practitioners develop genuine charity.

  • Since Christendom is weak, Evangelicalism is weak. Christendom has been weak, even deathly ill since Paul wrote II Tim. 1:15.

  • Do you often ask folks questions like that?

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi Barry,
    I suspect you and Scot have a different view of the Bible but I doubt if Scot is a big supporter of Inerrancy? I know most profs hold their fingers behind their backs and take a deep breath when they supposedly sign on to ETS statements and the like (some even define inerrancy in their own minds as errancy).

  • Chris Criminger

    In the early 1980’s, Evangelicals started using higher critical methods for a more scientific study of the Bible. They thought if they used the tools right without the negative bias and attitudes, the tools were neutral in digging out more truth of God’s Word. They were fundamentally wrong. The tools were not neutral and hidden assumptions and ideas have finally taken fruition over time. Maybe you noticed it in the late 1990’s but this did not happen in a vacuum.

  • Serenity

    In reading the Old Testament many times over, I see only a repeat of history…not only in the Old Testament, but also in todays world. We seem to run it in cycles. It will never “die”. God’s Word stands true and cannot be silenced. But, as in centuries past, God’s blessings on us have a tendency to muffle the Word for periods of time.

  • Serenity

    Perhaps you are looking at it from a different perspective. It was not God that burnt those children, but man. Even today humans tend to listen to peers rather than search their own soul and interact intimately with God. We are fooled by those things we can presently touch, taste, hear, see and smell. All of which are temporary, yet they become our focus…that which is eternal, our spiritual beings, are often times neglected, not even recognized any more.

    Blinded by our blessings…

  • Scot Fourowls

    Agreed but not for the same reasons, apparently, with the commenter below that Christianity has been deathly ill since Paul (or psuedo-Paul) wrote II Tim. 1:15, because in my experience what most evangelicals practice is Paulinism and not anything Jesus Christ taught or stood for.

    The sooner the authoritarianism and Paulinist error of misusing religion for propping up despotic political regime’s like 45’s has fallen for lack of modern witness, the better. It’s contrary to the focus of Jesus on hypocrisy and the reign of infinite God, not finite and flawed man, as well as blasphemous, to replace the teaching of Jesus with Paul’s writing of letters post-dating the ministry of Jesus.

    For good reason young people in droves are leaving Paulinism that calls itself Christianity with its over-focus on the static Bible instead of the living Christ.

    For good reason, people with open minds and open hearts, instead of blindly obeying Paul’s authoritarianism, are deciding to follow an evolving creatively compassionate path of God as love, are embracing red-letter Christianity, or are exploring gnostic practices as expressed about constructive creative compassion as God’s grace in the non-canonical gospels including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary. Better to leave the false Paulinist evangelical church (or the equally false Petrine Catholic church) than to sell one’s soul to false doctrine such that Jesus would say “depart from me, I never knew you.”

    Authoritarianism of teaching the masses obedience to the edicts of men — dressed up in the false doctrines of divine inspiration and inerrancy of the man-made book — will die out, hopefully in our generation before blind obedience wipes us out by the nuclear-holding or climate-science denying hand of despotic man, not the will of God.

  • Al Cruise

    No , just the holier than thou hypocrites .

  • barry

    I agree with you. Laying in back of all the Calvinist preaching about how “if you are truly saved, you’ll WANT to do good works!” lays the monstrous “when I choose to avoid doing good works, it is because God predestined me to make such choice.”

    The whole idea of Calvinist evangelism is laughable. Not only is God going to save whoever he wants regardless of what you do, but if as a Calvinist you don’t want to evangelize, God is to be blamed for THAT choice too.

    Calvinists will say God’s sovereignty over human freewill is not a license to sin, but on the contrary, nothing could more powerfully justify sinning, than God’s predestining you to sin. And if you cannot avoid doing the will of God regardless of what choice you make, then your choice to kill a schoolyard full of kids is no less in conformity to God’s will, than teaching Calvin’s Institutes at a seminary.

    Any god that tells you “thou shalt not commit adultery”, while secretly intending that you violate that revealed command, and even causing you to violate it, is a worse sadistic tyrant than any human tyrant ever was.

  • duhsciple

    Brother Scot:

    I am one who believes it was the wrath poured out upon Jesus was through the human hands of a mob, not the rage of his Abba.

    How am I being soft by going to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams when everyone who tells me the Bible is their Book stays home?

    Yes. I’m evangelical. And I’m tired of the #Empire subverting the radical Jesus

  • Brian Considine

    Overall, I think there is some good arguments here. One comment that paints a false picture though is this “A friend of mine, a missionary, told me that the last 15 years in his
    corner of the missionary world has seen not one new missionary concerned
    with church planting and evangelism.” That may be true for this missionaries experience depending where they are working. However, the fact is globally, more church are being planted today than at any time in history. Many of the churches planted are coming from nationals, not Western missionaries. That’s as it should be. But be not discouraged, there are many voices calling the church back to the central task of evangelism and we’re seeing a growing response. .

  • Tom Brennan

    Here’s an outsider (Catholic) view of this: It’s not specifically the internet or active atheists or critical methods: there’s a rot at the root of Sola Scriptura that has to be addressed before Scott’s “back to the Bible” can bring people to greater faith.
    Ignoring (for now) the problem of self-contradiction (whether this Sola is itself supported by Scriptura), the problem is the naivete of the Sola – that we can just read Scripture and know what God means by the message, without needing authoritative teaching to separate bad interpretations from good.
    I’m convinced that it is increasingly difficult for those who hold to the Error/Untruth of a literal interpretation (Young Earth, against human evolution) in the face of ongoing scientific developments (“I don’t believe in evolution, but I’ll take that chemotherapy tuned to my genetic makeup, thank you!”).
    My Church does indeed hold that the Scripture is Inerrant, but we have spent 2000 years understanding what God’s message in that Scripture is, even finding some benefit in historical-critical studies. (Chris is right in that this is not without its pastoral challenges.)

    So I think the positive direction that Evangelicalism needs is to surrender Sola Scriptura (dare I say it’s an “empty tradition of men” – men named Luther and Calvin) and anchor its Biblical understanding in authoritative teaching.
    And yes, I know that all Hell will break loose at that point – “Whose teaching?” and “On what Authority?”
    But this is an existential threat to Evangelicalism and needs a bracing reform.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    There’s no such thing as a “former ” christian; that’s like saying that you are the former son of your birth mother. If you profess yourself to be a so-called former christian, you never were one.I await your reply.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    With all due respect to you, that’s one of the most ill-informed analysis of Calvinism I have heard in quite a while.Maybe you should eschew all these-“isms” and consult the Word of God yourself…? There’s a thought. PEACE

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    You don’t know any actual “evangelicals”, do you, JA Myer? If so, I’m curious as to why you feel the necessity to shovel us all under this blanket that you’ve concocted in your own mind…I await your reply.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    The first-century”church” taught from the Tanakh(Old Testament) Mr.Leavens,so they had The Bible as needed…read the Acts of the Apostles.

  • IBelieveJulie

    Hey, Tony Jones is progressive (and his new wife is much younger and works for Public Radio) so that doesn’t count.

  • There is a lot of room there. Interpretative tradition is one thing, but that doesn’t at all have to come with creeds. As G.L. Prestige says, “The Gospels afford a collection of material for theological construction; the creed puts forward inferences and conclusions based on that material. The one represents the evidence, the other the verdict. And be that verdict ever so correct, the fact remains that it was the evidence, and not the formal verdict which was once deposited to the saints.” You don’t get certainty by moving the verdict into the evidence column.

  • There’s no such thing as a “former” atheist. You are either predestined to be an atheist or for eternal torment. 🙂

    I await your reply. 😉

  • hoosier_bob

    I write as someone who spent about 15 years within Reformed evangelicalism, and who recently jettisoned it for something yet to be determined. The key reasons that led to my walking away were the following.

    1. Tribalism. Now that the Culture Wars are winding down, and the social populists lost, many of those battles are moving from the public square to the church. There seems to be an active effort to purge churches of Culture War skeptics.

    2. Lying. I became increasingly disturbed by the fact that people willfully embraced lies when those lies confirmed notions that people wanted to believe. This struck me again yesterday as a reviewed much of the evangelical reporting and blogging on the case of the florist in Washington state who refused to sell flower arrangements to a gay couple for use at their wedding. One of these pieces was by a professor at a prominent evangelical seminary. His piece contained no less than 8 outright misrepresentations. But it wasn’t mere carelessness. In each case, the misrepresentation sought to make the Court’s conduct look more outrageous than it actually was. As a lawyer, it’s hard for me to see how the case could have had any other outcome, barring some change in existing Constitutional jurisprudence (which only the US Supreme Court can effect). There was nothing to be outraged about. But, in recent years, evangelicals don’t seem to be happy unless they’re outraged or alarmed about something, so they simply manufacture stories and then engage in elaborate displays of social outrage over the manufactured narrative. Such chicanery was once the province of crackpots like David Barton; now it’s typical of professors at prominent evangelical seminaries.

    3. Social Populism. Building on the previous points, it’s my observation that the evangelical Gospel has become buried under an overarching commitment to a reactionary (and fairly godless) form of social populism.

    In the end, I decided to quit church. From a socio-economic perspective, I fit in fairly well in a mainline Protestant church. But I’m astute enough to realize that the Gospel offers something more than an endorsement of upper-class comfort. That’s what attracted me to evangelicalism 20 years ago. But I’ve concluded that evangelicalism isn’t much different: It just serves a different social class.

    I’m now part of a running club that meets on Sunday mornings. I was running with a 30-year-old graduate student last week, and he brought up the fact that his dad was a PCA pastor. I asked him if he’s still a Christian. He responded: “Yes, I’m a Christian–an evangelical–theologically, but not socially. I’m a mainliner socially, but not theologically. So, I just go running on Sunday mornings.”

  • Chris Criminger

    I think you make a good point regarding the popular version of sola scrptura today. But what about prima scriptura that Scot has been advocating?

  • Annie

    What is an NGO? It is frustrating when someone uses an acronym in an article without explaining what it means. Can anyone help me out?

  • I know what you mean :0 Here’s a description: A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a not-for-profit organization that is independent from states and international governmental organizations. They are usually funded by donations but some avoid formal funding altogether and are run primarily by volunteers.

  • See Noevo

    “Seemingly to embrace the Reformation is to embrace the theology of either Luther or Calvin, not embrace what they embraced: the Bible as the living Word of God.”

    You can hardly blame them.
    Embracing ‘the Bible alone’ will invariably lead to a legion of theologies – Lutheranism and Calvinism among them.

  • Tom Brennan

    Scot made excellent points about turning back to the Bible (we all (Christians of all stripes) must do this for constant renewal of our spiritual lives) and re-emphasizing piety.
    And of course I’d enthusiastically support solid teaching on “creeds, confessions and theological claims”, though we’d definitely differ in some of the particulars.

    Maybe you didn’t mean a specific claim by using the word “prima” in your comment; I’d hesitate to use a forced ranking where everything else of importance (eg, prayer, sacraments, liturgy) is “secunda” or lower; it’s all part of a Christian life (and, analogous to Paul’s point on parts of the body, inseparable from the whole).

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Sorry, Harry, but your inane comment don’t really warrant a response; in a certain sense, everyone enters into the world as an atheist, certainly as a cultural agnostic,so to speak; what you claimed is not how predestination is understood,and frankly I’m surprised that you attempted to posit it in that manner. PEACE IN CHRIST.

  • Tom Brennan

    Perhaps of interest to many on this thread:
    There was very recently a parallel discussion in Rod Dreher’s “Evangelicalism & The Ben Op” (Benedict Option) where Dreher kicked off the subject and got a lot of thoughtful responses (so he had Part I, II, III, and IV

    The question on the table, posed by Al Mohler, was “Do you think that Evangelicalism has what it takes to do the Benedict Option?” and then
    “[Mohler] replied that he is certain that Evangelicalism does not have the internal resources to do the Benedict Option — but that classic Protestantism does. He talked about how Evangelicals need to plunge deeply back into their Reformation roots and recover the spirituality and structure of the Reformers.”

    (The Ben Op is Dreher’s big project, with a new book almost out, and in a few words, he defines it as “Put less grandly, the Benedict Option — or “Ben Op” — is an umbrella term for Christians who accept MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, and who also recognize that forming Christians who live out Christianity according to Great Tradition requires embedding within communities and institutions dedicated to that formation.”)

  • Annie

    Thank you! 🙂

  • It wasn’t an inane comment – it was a response *to* an inane comment. As one who left an extremely Calvinist UK-based Christian group, I can easily define and give the supposed biblical arguments for predestination. That wasn’t the point of my short reply above.

    The idea that you are the ‘arbiter of the True Christian’ (as ScruffOz puts it above) and you can simply determine that I “never were one” is arrogant and deeply offputting. Just on a pure pragmatic apologetic POV, you will ensure personally with that kind of attitude that ex-Christians never return.

    The claim is fundamentally unfalsifiable and it makes your logic circular. It is psychologically very self-unaware of the confirmatory bias we all hold towards our own beliefs (as well as the countless other attested psychological biases). How would you know if you were wrong? What would it take for you to change your mind? If you can’t answer those questions because you haven’t thought about them deeply enough, then you are vulnerable to it’s effects.

    You rule out a priori the possibility of anyone ever leaving for rational grounds – you can’t have an “ex-Christian” because I know how deeply troubling that idea is to a Calvinist Christian.

  • BT

    I like nearly all of this author’s writing. This one, though, feels like it’s another reaching backward to some golden age of evangelicalism that may never have been.

    Maybe in the abolitionist days, it came close.

    Bible, bible, bible makes a good rallying cry, but it is not sufficient to rejuvenate American evangelical Christianity. A dose of hard reason, less dedication to the idea of total depravity/greater value put on the value of human thought, a new hermeneutic less dependent on literalism and more comfortable working from within the moral trajectory that’s evident in the text would all help.

    I’ve moved from card-carrying evangelical to evangelical-critic-from-within to just-plain-critic and now to just wishing it would go away so we can start over fresh and hit the restart button.

    I’m not sure evangelicalism has much to offer any more. I’d love to be proven wrong.

  • BT

    How do you see this purge happening? I’m curious. I’m not sure if it’s as you say or maybe the opposite with culture warriors being less influential.

    Tell me what you see.

    Edit: I should have known you are a lawyer. It’s a cold, hard analysis. It’s something we should entertain more often.

  • JA Myer

    Well sir, let me list but a few: first my mother, every member of her church. And then Evangelicals that I “know of”, Jerry Falwell, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Billy Graham, Ted Haggard, Rick Warren, Jimmy Swaggart, Chuck Swindall, Jack Van Impe, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Pat Robertson to name a few… and of course I must not forget the Evangelicals of Westboro Baptist Church. Evangelicals that I have studied; William and Catherine Booth, John Bunyan and to a lesser degree the Wesley brothers. As to the “shovel” my words were merely an observation made by myself after years of personal study and reflection. And if they smarted sir, perhaps it was because there was a bit too much truth in them? As you are fond of saying… I await your reply.

  • hoosier_bob

    I’m in full agreement. When I joined up with the movement in the 1990s, it seemed like the movement was turning a corner and was well positioned to leave behind the anti-intellectualism and social populism. But when the Culture Wars fired up again following the GOP takeover of Congress, that cause was largely lost.

    I too tried to be a critic from within, hoping that the movement’s leaders wanted to do better and be better. I finally realized that they just didn’t. I was in the PCA, so I can only speak to that corner of the evangelical world. But most PCA churches today focus far more on peripheral boundary-marking issues than on the lavish grace to us in Christ. Just look at the PCA’s two unofficial publications: World Magazine and the Gospel Coalition website. Both are about 80% politics with a smattering of Jesus thrown in here and there. When inerrancy, “biblical masculinity,” and a “biblical worldview” are more important than bringing people up to trust in the all-sufficient grace of Christ, there’s a problem. Never mind that most of these cultural initiatives are built on a pile of lies and twisted facts. I finally came to realize that evangelicalism was simply devolving into an organization committed to little besides trying to recapture the socio-cultural hegemony once enjoyed by middle-class whites. So, I left.

    I now tend to view evangelicalism as little more than a modern-day recrudescence of the KKK. And I’m not sure that I saw anything in the last election that proves me wrong. Aside from a few figure-heads engaging in a bunch of self-serving virtue-signaling (e.g., Russell Moore), white evangelicals supported Donald Trump in greater numbers and with greater enthusiasm than they have ever supported another Presidential candidate. I’m basically done with the evangelical movement, and believe that the world would be better off if evangelicalism in its current form just died.

    To borrow a term from Andrew Sullivan, evangelicalism has devolved into Christianism and departed from Christianity. It’s more of a political ideology than a faith. For example, consider that the term “orthodox Christian” has become a code-word within Christianist circles for someone who opposes civil same-sex marriage and has some vaguely religious reason for doing so. But where is that in the Nicene Creed? It’s very sad. Evangelicalism has merely become a member of the alt-right political spectrum. Give me the blood and righteousness of Christ; keep your racism, misogyny, and heterosexism.

  • pam

    is there something wrong with disagreement?

  • hoosier_bob

    Evangelicalism doesn’t have what it takes because the movement is largely built on an assumption of a white, non-elite, middle-class social hegemony, i.e., along the lines of what we had in the US from 1945-1965. Consider that, until recently, evangelicals talked openly about “tak[ing] back America,” as though they were its rightful owners. Evangelicals have never been too interested in building their own institutions; social populists never are. I don’t see why that would change.

    Besides, who’s going to do the intellectual heavy-lifting within the movement? When I was part of the evangelical movement, I knew a number of other highly educated evangelical Christians. But I’ve left the movement, as have most of these other people. I have several colleagues who grew up in evangelicalism, went to evangelical colleges, or joined up with the movement via IV or Campus Crusade. Not one still attends an evangelical church. About half are like me, and have thrown in the towel on institutional Christianity altogether. The others are about split 50-50 between attending mainline churches and swimming the Tiber. You can’t build institutions if you run out all of the folks who have the knowledge and skill to do it.

    Dreher is just trying to cash in on social ressentiment. In my opinion, he’s a dishonest huckster who can’t tell the truth to save his life, and then falls into episodic bouts of illness because he overreacts with excessive rage to the false narratives he’s concocted. This is not a man who has the mental and emotional stability to build institutions.

  • hoosier_bob

    I love Richard Rohr too. And, yes, the second point is the main reason I left. I was bothered by the ease with which evangelical leaders spun outright lies and by the readiness of their audiences to believe those lies. If you tried to point out the errors, people just cut you off. Most evangelicals seem to believe that non-elite, middle-class whites are entitled by right to occupy a place of social hegemony within the culture. Now that it’s apparent that they will never achieve that via democratic means, they’re just going to sit around and wallow in self-pity and victimology as they ensconce themselves with manufactured persecution narratives.

  • hoosier_bob

    Being a lawyer (and a civil litigator, in particular) probably does affect my thinking on these matters. I operate in an adversarial world where the other side will exploit even the slightest exaggeration for its benefit. Contrary to public belief, most lawyers have a fairly high regard for the unvarnished truth and know that their reputations largely depend on being the kinds of people whose yes is yes and whose no is no. Lawyers who lie in the course of their professional conduct don’t make it too long as lawyers. That said, I see no reason why we shouldn’t hold pastors and other evangelical leaders to the same standards. After all, this is generally true in most elite, white-collar professional contexts.

    That’s why evangelicalism, in its present form, is unlikely to appeal to members of the cognitive elite. It’s not because we think we’re too good to hang out with people who don’t wear tailored suits and Gucci shoes. Rather, it’s because we refuse to affiliate with organizations that play fast and loose with the truth, and that tolerate it when their affiliated organizations play fast and loose with the truth. I make my living by catching people in lies and dragging them through humiliating and grueling depositions concerning those lies. Talk to any federal prosecutor: They get most of their guilty pleas by catching people in lies and exaggerations.

    I like Tim Keller. But his affiliated organization, the Gospel Coalition, runs story after story containing blatant falsehoods. And when people point out the errors in the comments section on the TGC website, their comments get deleted and they get banned from commenting further on the site. Jonathan Merritt and others have reported extensively on TGC’s dishonesty in this respect and others. But Keller remains silent and continues to lend his credence to the organization.

    In my public and professional life, I mentally footnote almost every sentence I utter. I try not to say anything unless I believe that it’s true and accurate. If I’m engaging in speculation, I indicate clearly to the listener that I’m engaging in speculation. I don’t see Scripture as demanding anything less of us. I was raised in a mainline-ish Anabaptist environment within a Dutch/German/Swiss enclave of the upper Midwest. Speaking plainly and honestly–without boasting or exaggeration–was central to that upbringing. We knew that this world was not our home, and that there was no reason to puff ourselves up to look better in this fleeting vale of tears. When evangelicals engage in lying and tolerate lying among their leaders, it only makes me question whether they have any real acquaintance with the Jesus of the Gospels.

  • Mike Phillips

    Brian, you are correct. Indigenous movements in East Africa, Nigeria, China, Iran, Vietnam, South Africa, Colombia, Norway, and Burma are planting more churches than missionary work ever achieved in history. The focus and work of those who were part of the Edinburgh Covenant in the early 1900s bore fruit; they created an indigenous church which was self-propagating.

  • lakewood

    I would simply say that disagreement is not necessary always, but inevitable. 🙂

  • BT

    You and I seem to be of similar minds on this.

    Interesting name. I’m guessing somewhere near Ft. Wayne or Mishawaka…

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    So,Mr.Myer…is that the agenda that your mother and every member of her church operate under? Seeking to…”hold power over other people”…? In what sense should such a worldview be considered “evangelical”? As for the various individuals you named, your point is what,exactly? Your particular version of what you consider “truth” I find somewhat baffling sir; at the very center of any endeavor that would label itself as authentic Christian Faith, Jesus the Christ is the ONLY Truth that counts—Who He is,why He came, what He taught, and how He both taught and empowered those who profess to love,follow, and walk in obedience to His express commands. Anything that deviates from THAT agenda will “go off the rails”,as we say, and I’m sure you yourself have witnessed that,have you not? My own daily,go-to passage in Scripture is from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 3,vss.5-6, KJV: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”…I have been/still am a Born-Again Blood-bought Spirit-Filled child of Almighty God in Christ Jesus for over 40 years, Mr.Myer, and that particular passage has NEVER failed me. So, when I speak of knowing, I’m not referring to merely cultural “christians”, or those who have erected their own version of some pseudo-theological version of quasi-“christianity”,no;…I’m speaking of authentic Christians who have embraced and been embraced, infilled,and empowered by the Risen Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ–AND IT SHOWS in all they do and how they live their lives In Christ—That’s what I mean, Mr.Myer. So mull and reflect,if you so choose,and again—I await your reply,if any. PEACE IN CHRIST, ALWAYS!!

  • JA Myer

    Sir; When you say: “Jesus the Christ is the ONLY Truth that counts” I have no disagreement for if one claims to be a Christian, one ought to follow the words of Jesus ALONE. Not “their own interpretations of laws Jesus fulfilled”. The simple truth is that Jesus preached love NOT judgement and Evangelicals much of the time set themselves up as judges over their neighbors forgetting that Jesus called them to “love their neighbors as yourself”, and judge not…. thanks for the blessing 🙂

  • hoosier_bob

    Yep. From the heart of the breaded tenderloin belt.

  • Eileen

    Thank you, Jerry! I’ll check it out.

  • Eileen

    I read my Bible every day. But I also enjoy reading what are considered to be Christian classics.

  • Gordon Savage

    I think you’re missing the possibility that Evangelicals (and Protestants in general) are misreading Paul very badly. Try Robert Hamerton-Kelly’s “Sacred Violence” (Fortress 1992), for a very different reading of Paul, and a door into the “constructive creative compassion” of Rene Girard’s work. Peeling away Paul and Peter and whoever to get the essence of Christianity is an old strategy, and the last group who bought into it ended up signing on to Kaiser’s war plan’s (see Karl Barth and WWI).

  • Scot Fourowls

    Thanks to you, too, James! The misguided quest for doctrinal purity by any name (be it evangelical Paulinist churchiness or the Kaiser’s war plan or Pence’s theocratic crusades in Indiana exported to D.C.) always elevates form over substance — and is never what I propose we consider instead by our own and interconnected experience of the compassionate living Christ.

  • Scot Fourowls

    The misguided quest for doctrinal purity by any name (be it evangelical Paulinist churchiness [which of course may misunderstand and mistranslate the original Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistolary texts] or the Kaiser’s war plan or Pence’s theocratic crusades in Indiana exported to D.C.) always elevates form over substance — and is never what I propose we consider instead by our own and interconnected experience of the compassionate living Christ.

    Far too much has been academically written as apologetics for a faith never invented by Jesus Christ that, unless lived from the heart of compassion for all of humanity, is politically rotten at its core.

  • And I’m Cute, Too

    Who takes Robertson seriously anymore?

  • barry

    I wasn’t wrong in my explanation of Calvinism, all you have to do is google “Calvinism” and “reprobation” and you’ll get 5 years worth of material that you apparently never knew existed. Or you can simply watch how Calvinist James White squirms around in his effort to explain how God can will for rape to happen, and yet Christians should not praise god for the fulfillment of this “secret will” of God….

    And I HAVE consulted the bible for myself, thank you, and your god not only causes women to be raped, but ‘delights’ to inflict this horror on them, see Deuteronomy 28:30 (rape is a horror among others, that God will inflict of disobedient Israelites), and v. 63 (his ‘delight’ in causing this and other horrors described in the context).

    Science can explain all patterns, so there’s probably a good scientific explanation for why most Christians exhibit the common pattern of never saying jack SPIT about these divine atrocities in the bible as they evangelize unbelievers, sort of like the car salesman who tries to convince the prospect by accentuating only the positive attributes of the lemon.

  • 4thegloryofgod

    Thank you Scott. Sometimes I feel alone out here. I think every point you made here is unfortunately, and soul-crushingly true of the evangelical churches across denominational lines around the country. God help us.

  • Paul Calin Moldovan

    Wow! “Everybody’s a prophet these days and thinks so because, so they think, they are speaking truth to power. They’re not. They’re yelling in a barrel full of self-appointed prophets.” Couldn’t have said it better! Thank you, Dr. McKnight, for being a voice of reason it seems for liberals and conservatives (and those who are neither)…

  • OrthoAnabaptist

    You are absolutely correct, especially #2. I could write a book of just personal anecdotes of friends and family in this culture believing, promulgating and celebrating known and provable lies, exaggerations and misrepresentations… but they’re useful in serving american evangelical ends; power, wealth and safety – and so the lying continues unabated.

  • OrthoAnabaptist

    Could you come visit my church!? We so need to hear people like you lay out the cold hard truth – to people’s faces. I wouldn’t promise that the hearers would really hear; some would probably get angry, but at least they’d hear it. Presently nobody; no pastor, no church no “christian” media ever confronts them…

  • The bile around here seems to flow most easily. Someone criticizes Evangelicals and Evangelicalism (oh so easy to criticize), and the fellow critics are drawn like bees to honey and flies to . . . manure. So many are judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous know-it-alls. Not one of the commentors or the author seem to realize the Church is made up of sinners, saved sinners but sinners nonetheless. I’m going to go take a shower.

  • Walt Longmire

    Pretty much on target, I believe. We are less effective today than in former times exactly because of an age-old ploy of Satan: challenge the Word of God. “Did God really say…?” says Satan then, and now again. Why?

    Because he knows that the Bible is the issue in all of life. In it lies all those things that relate to life, light and righteousness. It is, if I may use a metaphor, a “life-line,” indeed, our only life-line.

    So why should anyone be surprised that Satan would once again gone on his vicious attack of the Word of God? I certainly am not, for those who came before me warned me of this eternal warfare. During my era, it even provoked a radio show called “Back to the Bible,” and despite your assessment of the rightness or wrongness of that program, the intent was spot on.

    Let’s do it again. In a Bible study that I have in my home every Sunday afternoon [so that attendees can attend the church of their choice] the Bible is the only core focus. We are not those who disdain godly authors, but we only use them as secondary to the Bible itself, and only if they are wholly compatible in their assertions with the Bible itself. With a fear of being seen as trite, I would say that we continue to be like the Bereans, checking even against the Apostle to determine if what he said and taught was supported by – what? – that’s right; the Scriptures.

    Let’s do that again.

  • Mark Downham

    You can sum up the entire Ministry and Work of Scot McKnight and the Atonement in a single word. Reconciliation. The Ministry of Reconciliation is literally at the Burning Heart of the Soul of Evangelicalism.

  • Yuck. Your religion sounds like a one way ticket to internal despair and a never ending quest for righteousness of the self. Gnosticism sucked and continues o suck for a reason. If you’re consistent with it, actually, you’ll end up exactly with what you hate in so much of modern day American evangelicalism.

  • I think you’ve hit it on the head.

  • Animal

    Maybe the crumbling of the four essentials to evangelicalism is a good thing. Perhaps loving and caring for others in the way Jesus did is better than proselytizing and church-planting. Perhaps a faith centered on Jesus rather than the Bible is a good thing. Perhaps the atonement theory giving way to other theories (i.e. Christus Victor) is a good thing. My thinking is that evangelicalism is crumbling largely because it is becoming irrelevant, and culturally it’s self-destructing with it’s close association of right-wing politics.

  • Wasted Evangelism

    Thanks for the article. Some parts truly resonating with me as if you read my own thoughts. For 17+ years have have worked in the social action arena and had begun to meet a wholly different set of new friends, very distinct from my more, white, suburban, and Christian fundamentalist set of friends. As a result, I began to hear Bible differently . . . and it scared my friends and me!

    My earlier background is a NT prof and my forte is exegesis and biblical theology (at least back in the day). So, I found myself listening to a new rhetoric, a new set of catch words and phrases, really new shibboleths, many times framed as speaking truth to power and advocating for justice. I was overwhelmed and found myself in agreement with so so much. However, very few works (even among evangelicals) started with any sense of exegetical awareness or work, no developed biblical theology…as you make reference, only loosely connected and proof-texted with slogans, words, concepts, and the stringing of Bible verses. I noted few solid foundational works, especially at the exegetical level. So, I decided to take to my former skills and do some work, some exegetical work on evangelism and social action. I presented first as papers, then some publication, and, then, finally gathered as a book. My Wasted Evangelical: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism is a deep exegetical work.

    We’ve traded celebrity for good exegetical work as the “truth-tellers” basis for much of what is afoot. I am not sure if I am an evangelical anymore at this point; but I don’t know a new term to apply to me, how I read the Bible, my forming idea of church (and culture), and my understanding of the missional purposes of God in our world (more literally, in our neighborhoods).

    Thanks for the food.

    PS I am now also a church planter in a very poor neighborhood 6 or so blocks from Yale University.

  • Josh de Keijzer

    You’re probably right that evangelicalism has lost its soul. I certainly often think so. Part of the problem is the current politicizing of evangelicalism along the Moral Majority lines in support of Trump. This trend, however, has itself its root cause in something else: the decline of cultural influence of evangelicalism and an attempt to undo that loss.

    The deeper cause, then, is that evangelicalism worked well in a modernist paradigm (Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment, etc.) but no longer suffices in a postmodern context. It’s positivism of doctrine, its over-emphasis on the cognitive aspect of faith, its attitude of makability of the Christian life, and its we-have-the-answer-for-everything do not work any longer. In the postmodern era we now know that such positivism and self-assurance no longer hold. Honesty about the question of theodicy, advances in scientific knowledge, and the problem of history can simply not be brushed aside.

    And so, instead of lamenting the loss of soul, without giving up the four core characteristics of evangelicalism, we should actively embrace the changes and transform the way we think, theologize, and live as a church. Courage is needed for that and lots of prophetic (yes, prophetic) insight. It is extremely difficult to see evangelicalism from the perspective I describe above when you’re in it. It took me years. The deconstruction of my evangelical paradigm came with the temptation to completely abandon it including faith as such. That is the temptation, once you open your eyes. It can be quite traumatic. But rather than lamenting, the best thing we can do is acknowledge the need for change and transformation. And the second best thing we can do is start listening to the non-evangelical parts of the body of Christ who have been saying these things all along.

  • Tim – I want to apologize a bit. Within the last year of posting these things, I’ve run into exactly the sort of behavior you described above. I still don’t think it’s a matter of equal extremity on “both sides” – But since I’ve experienced it first hand, I’ve been thoroughly disabused of the notion that we don’t have a problem on our hands on the left. But having witnessed it now, I have to say many of the points you brought up were quite justified, though I was loathe to concede this at the time.

    There is something we as liberals need to get back, and that is grace and compassion. In some influential circles we are becoming hypermoralized around issues of social justice (which are legitimate issues to fight passionately for) but with tactics that the religious right used to use. Shaming, mindreading, bad faith arguments, catastrophization, and above all a lack of forgiveness and mercy. And like a nightmare, this is occurring simultaneously as the right is becoming more and more amoral (I.e. Milo, Roy Moore, and Trump).

    All this led me to withdraw from these conversations and to listen instead. I don’t want to give oxygen to the right and currently highlighting this problem is one of their favorite pastimes (esp. campus politics).

    I’m not quite certain how this should be dealt with but there is no doubt this puritanical mentality is causing splits, shunnings, and “backchannel” resentment within the left – and it’s difficult to calculate how many people are being alienated by this behavior. I still maintain it is a small but loud segment of the left that is responsible but the impact is widely felt, especially on social media.

    At any rate, I belatedly and with considerable reluctance concede your point.

  • Tim

    Thank you Justin, that means a lot 🙂