Meet the New Evangelical Boss, Same as the Old Evangelical Boss

Meet the New Evangelical Boss, Same as the Old Evangelical Boss January 15, 2013
Gabe Lyons is sad.

In response to Gigliogate, Gabe Lyons wrote a tirade about how this was a hate crime against his fellow evangelical speaker and that Barack Obama was facing a Martin Luther King moment in how he responds. David Sessions came back at Lyons in stunning fashion. His opening paragraph says what I’ve been trying to say for some time: the young, hip evangelical intelligentsia is no different from from the older cabal of Dobson, Colson, and the like. Here’s Sessions:

I wrote a short thing some time ago about the garb of non-ideological non-partisanship in which a younger generation of conservative evangelicals have cloaked themselves. They often explicitly and forcefully position themselves against the religious right, but there is very little substantive difference when you get down to it, especially on some of the most important social issues of the moment.

Now, in the wake of the Louie Giglio ordeal, along comes Gabe Lyons to demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about, in an even more cartoonish fashion than I ever would have expected from him. If there’s anyone who stands for the new evangelical tone, it’s him: he’s the co-author of unChristian, the founding text of that point of view, and the man behind Q Ideas, the website/conference that features moderate, civil discourse by young evangelical writers. The endlessly repeated revelation of unChristian is that the broader culture dislikes Christians because it perceives them as too political, too judgemental, too hard-line, etc. The whole mini-industry and ideology that has sprung up around those conclusion seems to assume, like some parts of the Republican Party, that what is primarily needed is a new style of discourse. They like to affect an aura of progressivity, especially in comparison with the old religious right.

But things like this show how shallow these reinventions really are.

Do yourself a favor and read the rest: You’ve Got To Be Kidding, Gabe Lyons | Patrol – A review of religion and the modern world.

Pretty interesting, when Gabe Lyons just last year proclaimed that he’s not an evangelical.

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  • Jordan

    As Barry Taylor tweeted during EC13, “There is no true ecclesiological change w/out theological transformation-or it’s just moving chairs.”

    Which sums up a lot of my experience within evangelicalism and all the hip new “changes”. It’s not about religion, but relationship- so read your bible, have your quiet time, pray everyday, go to church every Sunday, etc etc. Not different in practice at all…and not really different in theory either.

  • Tony, I’m not trying to be rude or start an argument (so if I do so, it is purely because I am unknowingly, incredibly gifted at it!:) but these posts always confuse me. Let me start by trying to say that I want to be descriptive of what I see, knowing that it will come across as being accusative. I promise, I am not trying to convict you of anything. What’s more, I’m certain that you really could care less. I’m just an old, emerger from 1998 in Glorietta who attended to the mission of God in my own back-yard rather than running a circuit talking about conversations all while holding the mics and directing the discussion threads. I don’t have enough “Klout” and I don’t have the interest or time to self-promote. All that being said, here’s my rub with all of this.

    You are a “former evangelical” and your posts (along with many of your friends) are often political in nature. I can tell you this…I have NEVER read a post where I thought you possibly affiliated with the Republican party. Do you have any young adults engaging you in conversation regarding how Jesus and politics are connected/disconnected? If yes, then are you really a cloaked evangelical with a subversive agenda who is using the same tools in your tool belt to merely reach a different end? (Change that you desire and hope to become the established way of being together?) These things always look like a pot/kettle kind of thing to me, but I may be wrong.

    It’s called politics because it involves the “polis” (people), and last I checked all people (Christian or not) are, well…people. Further, asking Christians to dismiss Christ from their worldview and politics would be to ask them to remove Jesus from their thoughts while pondering some of the aspects of humanity and community that affect us most directly. Yeah, let’s stop followers of Jesus from talking about power, money, politics, sex, “religion”… all the things that most deeply impact our relationships … that is, unless they are talking about these things in a different way, i.e. – in a way that lines up with our own predispositions and beliefs or desire for change.

    It’s all so very, very, confusing to me – and it appears as though the critics of Giglio and his ilk are merely another faction of the intelligentsia who are positioning themselves to be bullies who achieve their end by socially beating up on them. They just happen to be more attractive to young people who weren’t raised in Christian community. Why would we expect young (or old) people to believe what the words of sacred writings mean or what Jesus would desire for us? And, why would someone who doesn’t know Jesus be the litmus test or the more trustworthy revealer of God’s word for us in Christ, the living Word?

    It makes me want to defend them against people who are, sadly, doing the same freaking thing to them that they are being accused of doing. The only difference…I think the Giglios of the world would simply say that Jesus ought inform a Christian’s worldview and political engagement because politics has to do with how we live together, yet their critics would try and pretend to be open-nonpartisan and not interested in connecting Jesus to their politics. (I’m not saying that you do this necessarily.) Truth is, many of these critics are subversive, manipulative, and often deceitful in the ways in which they operate to orchestrate change. I know, because I was part of the movement to “subvert” the system in my own tribe of Lutheran. After a few years, I realized that many of these friends were trying to implement social changes that they had been groomed for within the youth movements of the denomination.

    The recent, and rapid, “changes” in politics and personal beliefs among young adults didn’t happen by accident. These are things that have been spoon fed to the youth, behind closed doors, by many who were/are operating from a perspective of what “I” believe rather than faithful trying to attend to what “we” believe. In my opinion, these youth were used. They were effective tools to try and grow a crowd and make oneself feel and look successful. How this reflects Jesus is still up in the air, and I trust a lot of these friends hearts even though I question their actions, but this whole thing is a train-wreck and has not aided us in having love for one another as followers of Christ.

    • One correction: I’m not a “former evangelical.” Either I was never one, or I still am one.

      • Good point. I was merely indicating the posture that you maintain of making a distinction between yourself and your current/former tribe. It’s kind of difficult with free evangelicals because they are not a “denomination” per-se. I am still Lutheran in my tribe of origin, but I am a former ELCA Lutheran pastor. I wasn’t trying to remove you from your own origins. I just wasn’t certain if you were (or would still maintain yourself as being) an evangelical in its common (mis)understanding. Would you?

    • Curtis

      Tony is a staunch supporter of gun ownership. Sounds like a Republican to me.

      • Curtis

        I should be fair. Tony made a clear post prior to the last elections that he intends to vote for both parties as he moves down the ballot.

        • Thanks, Curtis. Those are both helpful points, and I don’t desire to paint Tony into a corner in terms of supporting a particular political party. I’m sure that he finds certain aspects of each party that resonate with his personal, political desires/beliefs just like the rest of us.:)

    • Curtis

      “These are things that have been spoon fed to the youth”

      If you spoon-feed the gospel to youth, you tend to get miraculous results. That was Jesus’ point. I don’t think today’s changes in the politics and personal beliefs of youth are any more radical or rapid than they were in 1960’s. Or in the 1530’s, for that matter, when Luther was engaging in the exact same enterprise.

      • I agree. It’s one of the things that has been important in my own life. I merely question whether or not what we have been fed (or are spoon feeding others) lines up with what “we” believe or is merely based upon what “I” believe. Luther was attempting to re-present the orthodox teachings of the Church throughout the ages. He was challenging the Church of his day to re-emerge and be who they were rather than what they had become. He was challenging the changes that had been instituted based upon the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. I’m certain that you would argue that many of the current changes are an attempt to re-emerge as well. It’s one of the things that first drew me to the emerging church conversation. It breathed fresh air into certain aspects of “church” life that were treated as cut and dried but that were hardly a reflection of the ancient-future, one Holy, catholic, and apostolic Church throughout the ages. In my personal opinion, that initial conversation was co-opted to form and fashion a new and different church that in some ways reflects the Gospel and in other ways does not faithfully reflect what “we” believe.

        • By the way, I meant that Luther was turning to the Scriptures and the teachings of the early Church to challenge the changes that the church of his day had implemented or were beginning to teach and carry out.:)

          • Curtis

            Not just the Scriptures, but a personal experience of the Scriptures, unbound from the church and the way the church had been using Scripture.

        • Curtis

          I don’t see Luther being motivated by perpetuating the teachings of the church. He was primarily trying to get people to experience God for themselves, outside of the structure of the church that existed at that time.

          Lurther’s views on social issues of his time are irrelevant to his message. Among Luther’s many faults include the fact that Luther was an anti-Semite, as well as an apologist for heavy drinking. Luther did not teach youth to hold those specific social positions.

          Rather, Luther taught youth to experience God (even while they were anti-Semites, drinkers, or whatever else they were at the time) and through that experience to renew their souls. The result was the Protestant Reformation, one of the most disruptive social movements in human history. God’s gospel leads to disruption, not re-presentation of orthodox church teachings.

    • AC

      Very nice Todd, you ‘re my kinda guy…. I unfortunately am no longer so patient & charitable
      I’m pretty disgusted these days,

  • Despite what Roger Olson continues to say, evangelicalism requires a ridiculous approach toward the Bible (even if the word “inerrancy” isn’t used). And, that kind of approach is the primary hindrance to any kind of “progressive” approach toward Christianity.

    • Hi, Rob. How would you sum up that ridiculous approach? Is it something about the persistent notion that the Bible is received as a set of instructions directly from God? That’s my best guess, but I don’t know you so I’m wondering what you mean particularly. Not a challenge, just wanting to know what you’re thinking.

      • What I mean is that Roger wants to hold on to the word evangelical, which I think is futile – it continues to be hijacked by the new fundamentalists. I say let them have it, and “progressive Christians” should move on. That said, despite his rejection of the word, he still holds what I perceive to be a very conservative view of the Bible. There are, of course, those who are trying to defend homosexuality from within the Bible, but there’s no way to do this while viewing it in those ways. I just don’t think you can make that kind of leap while holding on to the Bible as the primary source of truth.

        Not sure if this is making any sense…

  • Christian

    Maybe it’s been said and I just can’t see it here, but it looks to me as though most of the Teavangelical-types who have commented about this since it happened have assumed that Obama or his staff contacted Rev. Giglio and said “No way do we let an anti-gay bigot like you pray for the president!!” And it seems like most of the rest of us in whatever state of comparative sanity we may be enjoying aren’t challenging that. Why?

    Pastor Giglio has made it clear that this isn’t what happened. At (that’s www[dot]passioncitychurch[dot]/blog if the URL breaks) under “Change of Plans”, he has posted his own account of events, including the text of his letter to the White House, withdrawing his acceptance of the invitation. The rest of that post makes it clear that he wasn’t forced to withdraw, and that his reasons for withdrawal reflect no animosity between him and the President. He chose to withdraw for the sake of a larger purpose.

    To date I’ve seen only one Teavangelical even acknowledge this communication from the pastor, and all he did was call it a lie and then go on to defend his “brother”‘s right to have prayed at the inauguration. I’m sure he never even saw the irony in his rant.

    One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Christian faith is that it proclaims a God who rooted himself in history. It has taught me that we can’t serve Truth without submitting ourselves to facts. One of the things that make me cringe about the extremist members of the Christian family is their willingness to rape the facts in the misguided belief that this somehow adorns the Truth.

    Just my two drachmas.

  • Christian

    … sorry, that should be “www[dot]passioncitychurch[dot]COM/blog”. My bad.

  • Zach Lind

    I’m kind of surprised Gabe would freak out like this. I’m not surprised that he feels the way he does but just surprised he made a huge (public) deal about it. I’ve always seen Gabe is a networker who was good at connecting folks and broadening the evangelical scope, admittedly to a limited degree (Tony, you’ve written about that and I agree!). A vital reason why he was successful in this was his ability to bridge conservative and liberal views together. He has established enough trust with enough folks from both camps and that allowed him to put on fairly diverse events all under the guise of this perceived “moderate” perspective. But after this, I wonder if he’s cashed that all in by coming to the defense of a friend.

    • Very true, Zach. This seems unlike him — he usually guards his brand from controversy. In fact, he told me to my face that’s why I’ll never speak at Q, for fear of controversy.

    • Good point. We all say and do stupid shit when we’re defending our friends.

  • Bobby

    Everyone does this from time to time. Everyone blows a gasket over a statement that strikes them a certain way, itches just the right spot, etc. Wouldn’t surprise me if Lyons knows Giglio personally. Frank Schaeffer recently blasted seemingly anyone who is Republican, conservative, or Evangelical in a major broadside over at Red Letter Christians. And lots of people blasted him right back. Give it a few weeks or months and he’ll probably wish he wasn’t so harsh. All this tells me is that *gasp* Lyons is human, like the rest of us.

    Sessions’ reprimand is technically correct, but still a bit over-dramatic. It’s as if he’s never seen someone get angry and suddenly he’s grossly offended.

    All that said, it apparently can’t be said enough: Giglio stepped down of his own accord. He could have done the prayer. Rick Warren, who I’d argue is much more outspoken on homosexuality than Giglio, did the prayer back in ’08.

    • Curtis

      But ’08 was when Obama was, at least publicly, opposed to gay marriage.

  • I really like the comparison with the GOP’s emphasis on message vs. substance. I know from my own rather limited contact with evangelicals that they tend to focus quite heavy on communication style and almost affect a marketing stance, because they are very concerned with getting the wider world to “buy” their “product” of salvation. It’s sad, but it seems for some of them, that message of form over substance has become their reality.

  • Steve Pinkham

    > In response to Gigliogate, …


  • Two quick things, a bit late.

    First, Gabe apologized and revised his remarks on twitter and facebook and Q within hours of this.

    He was wrong to say what he did, in the tone that he did, and he realized it. It seems to me that that is one huge difference between he and the religious right that Tony says, above, that he resembles. He seems to have a more nuanced approach to questions of sexuality and more appreciates pluralism, than those cited, and he is wiling to publicly admit his error. Not bad, you know…

    Anyway, somebody here, several weeks in, should have printed an update, since his prompt, well publicized retraction should inform this conversation.

    Secondly, I think Tony is on to something in the first paragraph if he is getting at how there are similarities of theology between the older evangelicals and some of the hipper new ones. Lyon was influenced by Chuck Colson, so yeah. And, he continues to read and ponder new stuff, maybe not as radical as some in the emergent conversation, but he seems to me to be on a journey, like most of us…

    To say there is “no difference” strikes me as a huge overstatement. There are similarities, but there are striking differences, in theology, vision, practices and lifestyle. I’m sure Dobson wouldn’t invite the “Ground Zero Mosque” imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to his event; I don’t think Colson would have written a chapter on civility quite like Gabe did in “The Next Christians.” I doubt if any of the religious right “cabal” would think in narrative as Gabe suggests in his book, working with the unfolding drama and trajectory of the Biblical story. Did Falwell ever invite even someone as interesting as Eugene Peterson to an event? Let alone enter into fruitful conversations with the founder of Wired or Tom’s Shoes or Jim Wallis? There are strategic differences and there are huge aesthetic differences, perhaps grounded in some theological differences. I’m baffled by a claim that there are no differences.