Here is a bit of an angry piece. Evangelicals deserve to be cancelled, says Jonathan Merritt, because they started it first:
Beyond the SBC, one of the best-known examples of evangelical cancel culture involved the public shaming of author Rob Bell, a former megachurch pastor who dared to question whether non-Christians went to hell after they died. Strictly, Bell was not “canceled,” but “farewelled” — the patent online move was simply to bid “Farewell, Rob Bell,” next to a link to his apostasy. Suddenly, anyone who was friends with Bell, owned books by Bell or even dared to quote Bell’s earlier work was at risk of being canceled as well. Since then, other Christian writers, including Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans, found their books no longer welcome in Christian bookstores due to their support for same-sex marriage. Now the tables have turned. Something shifted in 2016 after the election of Donald Trump. The rapidly proliferating groups evangelicals had been marginalizing and attacking — women, people of color, feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people — recognized that they had their own pulpits on social media. They began to sermonize back. This “Great Awokening” has flipped the script on cancel culture, and white evangelicals are calling for a rewrite.
Of course, a few days after this piece came out, Matt tweeted that Mr. Merritt himself is not a Christian, which, I suppose, Mr. Merritt would count as being “cancelled,” though not, as he says at the end of the piece, in the least bit ironic.
Seriously, we need more and better classes on irony. But until then, I have two things to say.
First, it is pretty undeniable that “Evangelicalism”—whatever that entails now and did back in the dark ages—squandered a lot of the daylight by majoring on the minors. Tinky-Winky of the Teletubbies did not really deserve the attention he got, and it was a bad idea to focus a lot more on how everybody was behaving than on the gospel itself. I actually find it sort of tragical, in a bleak and funny kind of way, that people now are saying things like, “It’s not enough just to preach the gospel” in regards to race, because, as I’ve said thousands of times, it’s never been tried—not before, not now. Behavior modification sermons are not the gospel. They just aren’t. Sermons about the lengths of the dresses and how often you “have a quiet time” are not the gospel. Study groups about how to be encouraged when you’re really down, books about how to raise your children to be Christian, youth camps designed to keep everyone’s roiling lust at bay—all these are not the gospel. Some of them might be fruits of the gospel (or not—some of them are too weird for that), but they were never the gospel. The people explaining now that the gospel is not enough to deal with the horrors of racism and ethnic prejudice, and even systemic injustice, don’t know if it’s not because it’s never been tried. Indeed, they have only traded one kind of behavior modification “gospel” for another, in this case, a currently culturally acceptable one. So that’s too bad. And in so far as “Evangelicals” have been awfully hypocritical—especially about the religiosity and morality of Mr. Trump—they deserve the scorn of Mr. Merritt.
Second—and I trust you hear that my tone is in no way scornful—not everyone who says he is a Christian is a Christian. Not everyone who claims Jesus loves Jesus. Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will be embraced by the Lord of Life. To some when he comes again in glory and they anxiously sidle up to him, he will say, “I never knew you.” It is actually the job of Christian pastors to “guard the flock” which means saying to the people in their sway, “That person says she is a Christian but she is not a Christian, please do not listen to her or do what she says.” That’s not “cancelling,” it’s the job. Now, is the job done badly? Often. When a Christian pastor wastes his time on Tinky-Winky, that is a crying shame. When a Christian pastor is himself racist, this is not ok. But when Mr. Piper tweets, “Farewell Rob Bell” and Rob Bell has persistently and deliberately undermined the substance of the Christian faith, Mr. Piper is actually just doing his job. Rob Bell is not a Christian, Jen Hatmaker is not a Christian, Glennon Doyle is not a Christian, that person on twitter who tweeted a string of, “I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church; I’m a Christian and I believe that Love is Love,” that person is not a Christian.
It’s actually quite easy to know who is a Christian and who is not. We’re not talking about eternal destiny here. That is up to God. He can bring any wretched sinner to repentant faith even in the final hour of life. I think we will be surprised about who is in heaven and who is not (well, not “We”…some of us won’t be there, as I just said). But as for who is a part of the visible body of Christ now? That isn’t actually hard. If you confess the faith of Christ crucified, if you accept the words of our Lord (which is the whole Bible) as true, if you try to conform your life to that strange and painful truth, other people will be able to see that you’re a Christian. This necessarily excludes the vast swaths of people who think that it’s fine to be LGBTQ affirming, because—and I know this is very hard to understand—the scripture does not allow it. You’ll notice that the effort to make the scripture LGBTQ affirming is fast fading away because it’s so hard and impossible to do. There are other ways to not be a Christian—to deny the trinity, to deny that Jesus is both fully God and fully Man, to deny the resurrection, to deny the virgin birth, to deny the right of God to judge to the world, to redefine words like “Love” and “Selfless” and “God”—goodness, we’ve made up quite a list over the centuries. But just now, the biggest and most alluring way not to be a Christian is to embrace the LGBTQ heresy, that other gospel.
Now, should Christians actually “cancel” people who claim to be Christian and yet embrace this heresy? No. I don’t think Mr. Merritt and Ms. Hatmaker should be “cancelled,” though it was absolutely sane of Lifeway to stop selling Ms. Hatmaker’s books. I think they should go on living and being people. But I do think that true Christians should call out to them to repent. One way to do that is to say, “You’re not a Christian—yet…would you like to be one? Let me tell you about our Lord.” It may feel like cancelling but it’s not actually cancelling. It may feel “unloving” but it is actually what God does with us—when we were wrong and bad, he came and told us In Person that we were wrong and bad. We did not want him to tell us this and so we gathered up our rage and killed him. And yet he, in his great mercy, used that very action of attempted deicide to save us and make it possible for us not to be separated from him forever.
I guess I’ve said lots more than two things. I’ll just say one more. The heart of the gospel is Jesus saving sinners, which means that sinners have to agree that they need to be saved. Any pride, any vainglory, any attempt to be “ok,” to be good without God is wicked. God’s love demands that we sinners repent, we say we are sorry, we ask God to forgive us. When anyone goes to him in humility, in ash and with weeping, he welcomes that one into his Kingdom.
So yes, Mr. Merritt is not a Christian, but he could be, if he would turn back and run into the arms of his Lord.