Charisma Magazine article – a riposte

I recently had the misfortune to read an article from Charisma Magazine, a mistake I shall not repeat any time soon. It was written by a young woman who had taken on the task of dealing with what she perceives as the evil lure of ‘progressive’ Christianity.

I’m not going to link to the article here, nor name the author, as I don’t really want either to get a google hit here. I called the article ‘horse sh*t’ on facebook, and was asked why – here is my (rushed) paragraph by paragraph response to it. The original paragraphs are in quotes, I promise I haven’t doctored them.

I havent bothered to include the picture from the head of the article, which shows two tatooed and pierced youngsters, the fact that this is a stock photo and has no bearing on the article at all, only goes to increase my annoyance frankly – its part of the agenda to make ‘progressive’ evangelicals out to be fashion crazed hipsters. In truth most of the truly progressive people I know wear cardigans and corduroy.

Anyway – what follows is the article and my responses.

“Peek behind the curtain of some “progressive” or “hip” evangelical churches, past the savvy technology and secular music, and you will find more than just a contemporary worship service. You’ll find faith leaders encouraging young evangelicals to trade in their Christian convictions for a gospel filled with compromise. They’re slowly attempting to give evangelicalism an “update”—and the change is not for the good.”

I object to this for a start – on a number of points. In the first place ‘savvy technology’ & ‘secular music’? Really? Most conservative evangelical churches are pretty hot on ‘savvy technology’ these days – much more so than many progressive places I know of. And as for ‘secular’ music – well what even is that? Any music made by a non Christian? Any music other than sanctioned ‘praise and worship’? Music made by Vicky Beeching? What is it? Essentially this opener is an attempt to set up ‘progressive’ Christians as different, more worldly some how. My experience is that this is just not true, all Christians from a variety of traditions use different media in their gatherings, there is nothing intrinsically right or wrong about any of it.

“It’s painful for me to admit, but we can no longer rest carefree in our evangelical identity—because it is changing. No doubt you have seen the headlines declaring that evangelicalism is doomed because evangelical kids are leaving the faith. It is no secret that there is an expanding gulf between traditional Christian teachings and contemporary moral values. But the sad truth is that the ideological gulf between America’s evangelical grown-ups and their kids, aka the “millennials,” seems to be widening too.”

‘Rest carefree in our evangelical identity?’ Again, this is meaningless, or perhaps subtly meaningful, its making out that evangelicalism is somehow an ancient and established way that Christians have sat in since time immemorial – when it’s a new/modern movement that has evolved and keeps evolving. I also object to the idea of ‘traditional Christian teachings’ not because I don’t think there are any, but because they arent defined here – if we trace the history of the church from 0 to now, there are some teachings which have remained more or less constant, but not all that many, and most don’t relate to morality as we would define it. The last sentence too, it makes out that the ‘evangelical grown ups’ they who have presided over a variety of evils in their lifetimes are in the right, and their kids are the wrong uns. Way too simplistic.

“Somehow the blame for this chasm is being heaped on traditional churches. They are accused of having too many rules as well as being homophobic and bigoted. Yes, we’ve heard those false claims from popular culture in its desperate attempt to keep Christianity imprisoned within the sanctuary walls. But now popular culture is being aided by Christ-professing bedfellows whose message to “coexist,” “tolerate” and “keep out of it” is more marketable to the rising generation of evangelicals.”

Ok lets get one or two things straight here – many Christians are indeed homophobic and bigoted. Sorry but it’s a fact. If the popular culture calls us out on it, then that’s for us to respond to, not a cue for us to raise the drawbridge. The last sentence about the Christ-professing bedfellows, just doesn’t make any sense to me. Keep out of what? If the writer is saying that some people are advocating for the inclusion of gay people for instance then she should say so, instead she makes sweeping generalisations that can be misconstrued.

“The seasoned Christian soldiers are noticing these distortions of the gospel. But for young evangelicals, the spiritual haze is harder to wade through. Desperate for acceptance in a fallen world, many young evangelicals (and some older ones) choose not to take Christ out of the chapel, and so they are unwittingly killing the church’s public witness. In this uphill cultural battle, mired by scare tactics and fear, three types of evangelical Christians are emerging:

• Couch-potato Christians: These Christians adapt to the culture by staying silent on the tough culture-and-faith discussions. Typically this group will downplay God’s absolute truths by promoting the illusion that neutrality was Jesus’ preferred method of evangelism.

• Cafeteria-style Christians: This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.

• Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.

Point one on this – what is the gospel according to this writer? She clearly has an idea in mind, but doesn’t spell it out. I’ll tell you what I think the gospel is, the gospel is Jesus, plain and simple. So ‘seasoned’ Christians are noticing the ‘distortions’ (again what they are exactly is unclear) but the message is obvious, old people know stuff, young people don’t. ‘Desperate for acceptance in a fallen world’? Really? That doesn’t sound true to me at all. None of the progressive Christians I know are ‘desperate for acceptance in a fallen world’ – far from it. It’s a gross mischaracterization of the facts. On the couch potato Christians, there is some truth in this, but its an unhelpful idea – the writer seems to be working outside of an understanding of the way in which people develop spiritually, probably coming to terms with that would help. On the cafeteria-style Christians: ‘pick and choose’? ‘Pick and choose’? I know of very very few Christians who don’t do this, the ones that don’t are often considered weirdos because they live in a way that most of us consider extreme, they don’t consider possessions to be their own, they renounce violence, etc etc. I hear this kind of crap from conservative evangelicals all the time, and I am highly tempted to challenge them on how many coats they have, and why they don’t share all they have with those who have nothing. And as for focusing ‘solely on the nice parts of the gospel’ – well again what exactly are these nice bits? The stuff about love and acceptance? I suspect the writer hasn’t come to terms with what it means to repent or transform – obviously I don’t know her, so I cant say for sure but that’s how it reads to me. Hell is another conversation entirely, and yes I am one of those Christians who don’t believe in Hell as such, but that’s not because I don’t like the idea, its because it doesn’t make sense. Hell is not a Jewish idea, its an idea that we have developed ourselves, and as a concept it doesn’t work. On the convictional Christians – again this is a false dichotomy, I know many convicted people from a wide variety of traditions, protestant, catholic, conservative, progressive, liberal… it’s nothing to do with the creed, its all to do with the person.

“I know about these three types of Christians because at one time or another I have fallen into each of these three categories. My parents will tell you that even though I was raised in church, I morphed into a full-fledged feminist, told my parents they were ignorant for not endorsing homosexuality and bought into the distorted social justice rhetoric that confuses caring for the poor with advancing socialist or big government systems and demonizing the United States for its free market system.”

A few red flags here – the writer thinks that feminism is intrinsically wrong, which is sad – she has bought in to the patriarchy of her conservative upbringing. She is someone who has reverted to an earlier stage of faith development, my suspicion is that this will change as she develops further. At least that’s my hope. She may then see that patriarchy is not intrinsic to Jesus Christianity, it’s part of a flawed Church culture. Sadly she has also bought into the right wing politics typical of conservative America, and confuses that with being Christian. Not her fault, she has just swallowed the propaganda.

“I’m not ashamed to share my story because my experiences and those of my fellow bold evangelicals are a testimony of God’s awesome, transforming power. Being countercultural for Christ isn’t easy. What does the Great Commission say? Jesus commanded us to go, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).”

There’s some irony here, having just endorsed the entirely cultural idea of the free market, she claims to be counter cultural – if she doesn’t like Obamacare, she should just say so. That is true for many many Americans, for my money free or subsidized health care for the poorest elements of society doesn’t seem so bad – but I am obviously a commie for thinking so. ‘Gitcha gun maw!’

“I see so many parents scratching their heads trying to figure out where they went wrong with young evangelicals. Following the instructions of Proverbs 22:6—”Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”—many evangelical parents took their children to church and prayed with them every night before bed. Yet the values those children now hold dear do not reflect the traditional teachings of Jesus.”

Well duh. So your kids haven’t become just like you despite going to Church every week and having prayers every night? No way! Unbelievable.

“To be perfectly clear, I want to let you know upfront that this isn’t a parenting how-to guide that, if followed, will lead your loved ones to salvation. Instead, what I can offer you is a glimpse into the world of a twenty-something who sees thousands of young evangelicals being spiritually and emotionally targeted on Christian university campuses, in college ministries and at churches nationwide by a growing liberal movement cloaked in Christianity.”

And there again is that dreaded idea: ‘a growing liberal movement cloaked in Christianity’ this stuff is all about politics for this writer.

“Research tells us that evangelicals are drifting further away from the orthodox truths their parents and grandparents held dear.”

‘Orthodox’ eh? Guess what, these evangelical ‘orthodoxies’ were developed in exactly the same way. No understanding of history shown here – none. In any case, there is no ‘one orthodoxy’ – there are many.

“Our churches have rarely—if ever—faced the exodus we are seeing today. This will have a direct effect on the spiritual and moral values that will shape the nation in the coming years. That is why it is urgent that concerned Christians start acting now before the situation gets worse.”

Crap. The end of the church has been prophesied for decades – I suppose that maybe this is something new in America, but guess what, the church thrives in poor parts of the world – how d’you like them apples?

“Faith and culture will continue to collide in America. The culture wars, the growth of family, the success of missions, the prosperity of our great nation—the future rests on millennial evangelicals’ worldview. And that is cause for concern, because something has gone wrong with young evangelicals’ theology.”

Aaargh – ‘the prosperity of our great nation’ – Lord help us. This is some horrible thinking.

“The millennial generation’s susceptibility to “feel-good” doctrine is playing a big part in America’s moral decline. Millennials’ religious practices depend largely on how the actions make us and others feel, whether the activities are biblical or not. For example, we only attend churches that leave us feeling good about our lifestyle choices, even if those choices conflict with God’s clear commandments. We dismiss old hymns that focus on God’s transforming salvation, love and mercy and opt for “Jesus is your boyfriend” songs. Or we contribute to nonprofits that exploit and misuse terms such as justice, oppressed and inequality because tweaking the language makes us feel more neutral, less confrontational.”

I for one have witnessed Americas moral decline at the hands of these evil progressive Christians – I mean, for goodness sakes, you cant even have slaves any more. Gitcha gun maw.’ We only attend churches that leave us feeling good about our lifestyle choices’ – what like free market capitalism or American military might you mean? Or is that just the natural order of things? I do dislike the Jesus is my boyfriend songs, but then there are some pretty dire hymns out there too. Hows about we just don’t sing at all? I’m fine with that by the way. As for contributing to non profits that ‘exploit’ terms like ‘justice oppressed and inequality’… She needs to be a bit clearer about what she means. I mean… what does she even mean there?

“Popular liberal evangelical writers and preachers tell young evangelicals that if they accept abortion and same-sex marriage, then the media, academia and Hollywood will finally accept Christians.

Oh right – do they? I cant say I’ve noticed.

“Out of fear of being falsely dubbed “intolerant” or “uncompassionate,” many young Christians are buying into theological falsehoods. Instead of standing up as a voice for the innocent unborn or marriage as God intended, millennials are forgoing the authority of Scripture and embracing a couch potato, cafeteria-style Christianity all in the name of tolerance.”

Another gross misrepresentation – mainly in a defence of evangelicalism – its understandable from her perspective, but if she cant come to terms with the idea that we’re not all evangelical, then she has a problem.

“This contemporary mindset is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose Christian convictions put him at odds with the Nazis and cost him his life, called “cheap grace.” In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” “

One problem she has is with Bonhoeffer, who of course was not an evangelical – and who advocated a ‘religionless Christianity’ and of course a new monasticism. Again she is mixed up (IMO) about repentance.

“Right now cheap grace theology is proliferating around evangelical Bible colleges, seminaries and Christian ministries.”

Sorry to hear that – I cant comment on it.

“It is not that millennial evangelicals were not taken to church by their parents. It is that their training has been hijacked by ineffective and sometimes intentionally distorted doctrine.”

It’s the devil – he done it. It wasn’t any problem with the church they grew up in.

“As constant and pervasive as the attacks on Christianity are at public universities, it is important to remember that millennials’ worldviews do not start taking shape after they move out of their parents’ houses. Their understanding of Jesus’ teachings and cultural convictions begin to form while they are still at home and under the influence of their local church.”

No sh*t.

“What I hope and pray evangelical parents and leaders come to realize is that the church has been too trusting. In our jampacked lifestyles, parents have treated Sunday school as they do softball or ballet class—drop off the kids for an hour then pick them up and hope they learned something.”


“Early on in my Sunday school teaching days, my co-teacher and I followed the curriculum pretty narrowly, the exception being that my co-teacher had an outstanding knowledge of biblical history that he imparted to the kids.”

But apparently no knowledge of church history that he imparted to the writer.

“We taught all about Jesus’ birth, resurrection and saving grace. Thinking the fluffy kids ministry curriculum covered all of the necessary bases, I felt confident these kids had a firm grasp on their Christian worldview. Boy, was I wrong!”

Oh maaaaan!

“One day my co-teacher and I decided to play “True or False.” We casually went down a list of worldview questions with our class, sure that our little evangelicals would nail every question correctly.

No. 1: Jesus is God. “True.” Great job.

No. 2: Jesus sinned. “False.” Bingo!

No. 3: Jesus is one of many ways to heaven. “True.”

What?! Shocked is the only way to describe how I felt. Hadn’t they been listening to us? When I asked who taught them that, one girl said, “Coexist.” Yes, these young evangelicals had been listening to their Sunday school teachers and their parents, but they had also been listening to their public school teachers, TV celebrities and rock stars.”

Gitcha gun maw! Other people’s bin influencin’ the lil’uns! Naive.

“Youth ministers, volunteer leaders and pastors also have to start preparing these kids to deal with the very real hostility that faces young evangelicals. “If we never talk about abortion in church, how can we expect the rising evangelical girl to calmly explain the option of adoption to her frightened best friend who just admitted she is pregnant?”

Oh for goodness sake. The frightened girl needs a hug, not a lecture on adoption.

“What will surprise you is how much young evangelicals actually crave honest discussions about abortion, sexuality, sexual exploitation, feminism and radical Islam. “

Why would that surprise me? It is literally one of the least surprising things I have ever heard.

“My friend and Evangelical Action adviser Richmond Trotter has two non-negotiable topics when addressing youth: creation and life. Having volunteered in church youth ministry since 1996, Richmond is not afraid to have serious discussions about what Scripture says about abortion, evolution and homosexuality.”

Oh my, I had forgotten about evolution – that pesky devilment. Ahem, false separation of faith and science. Ahem.

“Make no mistake: The trend away from biblical truth is not concentrated in the hipster city limits. It is unfolding in the crevices of America’s plains, hills, mountains and swamplands. All across this nation, “old-fashioned” conservative evangelicalism is being traded in for a bright and shiny, mediocre Christianity.”

Actually a laugh out loud moment. The great Christian nation which exploits, bullies and bombs the rest of the world.

“If America’s evangelicals disengage from the public square and fail to engage the rising generation of Christian leaders, then we risk losing our public voice, then our religious liberty, then liberty altogether.”

Scare ‘em up lady. That’s the way to fill your pews.

“What Happened to the Religious Right?”

It turned out that they were the Religious wrong.

“The last several decades witnessed tremendous evangelical influence in the United States. Leaders such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Paige and Dorothy Patterson, James Dobson, and James and Betty Robison made a bold impact on America’s families, churches and government. Now that those few leaders are aging or retiring, or have died, there are very few traditional evangelical leaders left holding the torch and even fewer candidates to whom they can pass it.”

Oh I can name a few that are cut from the same cloth, its just that most of us stopped listening to them, it might have been because Pat Robertson does seem to be a bigot, or because of those left behind books, or perhaps because Falwell said 9/11 was ‘God’s judgement’… I dunno, you pays your money and you picks your blessing.

“But religious convictions in America are not on the verge of disappearance just yet. There is still hope. In the book God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America, Gallup Inc. Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport ensures: “Christianity will prevail in the U.S. America will remain very much a Christian nation in the decades ahead, albeit less so than in the past because of an increase in Americans who don’t have a religious identity.” “

Phew… I think. (Thinking is probably not allowed either anymore).

“Evangelicals and culture warriors in the U.S. do not have to look far to discover what happens when Christian denominations give up on their traditional convictions and teachings. All we have to do is look at the dwindling memberships of mainline Protestant denominations.”

Solution: become more conservative? Cos that works…

“In order to safeguard the trajectory of young evangelicals, we must uphold the authoritative Word of God. It is imperative that those in a position to influence millennials have transparent and honest discussions about the culture wars evangelical youth are already engaging. Otherwise they will be silent and accepting in the face of persecution and false doctrine.”

If only I could assume the ‘Word of God’ here was Jesus, but no, it’s going to be the bible, the fourth member of the trinity.

“The importance of arming the next generation of evangelicals cannot be overstated. If we continue to follow the example of mainline Protestants, evangelicalism will have a gloomy future. We must offer sorely needed leadership, but before we can do that, we need to know exactly whom and what we are up against.”

Brief overall review: The same old horse sh*t. More to the point I think its highly politicised, uber conservative naivety. No cogent analysis, no inward reflection, no apparent self awareness. There is a major problem in America with people conflating conservative politics with Christianity, but this is a kind of Christendom mindset which doesn’t come from the radical politics of Jesus.

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