The American Christian Right loves nothing so much as winning. But this is more American than it is Christian.
Evangelical Christianity in America is dominated by a mindset that places numbers, wealth, political power, status, achievement, and other visible markers of its own importance above the more biblical marker of success: faithfulness.
It is easy to see how this mindset developed. The American Dream has always been a materialistic one—though to greater or lesser degrees—involving visible markers of success. You know you have arrived as an American when you own your own home and have a good job, a good-looking spouse, 1.5 children, and a minivan.
And it’s great that generations of Americans have worked hard to fulfill their dreams and to pass on to their children more than they had. But the driven, American way of life which focuses on acquisition of possessions, when overemphasized, has led to a diminished focus on character. In our politics, it has also led to a selective interest in character—seemingly only relevant when character can be used as a weapon against our political foes.
The Problem with Acquisition and Political PowerAmerican evangelicals are not wrong to believe that political influence can translate into social good. If this kind of influence can be had, we should gladly use it for our neighbor. But largely my fellow evangelicals have fallen too much in love with this power. Sometimes they have forgotten that this power is to be used for others, not for oneself.
And evangelicals have forgotten that political power in relation to the things of this world can never define “success” as a Christian.
Nor can the power markers of the world define the “success” of the local church. How many pastors struggle under unbiblical expectations of church members, expectations of higher attendance, better marketing, fancier buildings, larger youth programs, and bigger donations in the offering plate? Those are not God’s expectations of success. And pursuing them, whether by a church body or a pastor, can lead to a blunting of the church’s actual mission. Does biblical growth as the church mean a big new building project? Or does it mean the subtler marker of lives being changed and becoming more like Jesus?