DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is this a tainted brand?

Written by: on January 10, 2018

Recently I passed a local church, you know the type…..or maybe you don’t because you don’t live in the South.  (For those of you not from the South or familiar with the full breadth and depth of the term let me help you.  The South is not a geographic direction or location but, rather a region of the United States.  According to Britannica.com The “South is also the most idiosyncratic with respect to national norms—or slowest to accept them.”[1]  Welcome to my world.) The sign on the church had this lovely quote; “O Come All Ye Faithless”.  I am pretty sure that is not how the old carole goes. “Merry Christmas world. Let me introduce you to Christianity all of you immoral, misguided, lost souls driving by on your way to hell. If you want some real faith come in here cause we have it and you don’t.” I had to stop. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Who was this sign written to and what did those who posted it hope to achieve by displaying it for all passersby?  Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism, has become “in essence, a business–which makes evangelistic Christians into salespeople for their worldview, which then becomes simply a product they’re pushing at prospective customers, who will–they hope–then go on to purchase the product by adopting that worldview.[2] If it is somehow possible to get everyone to see the world like ‘we’ do and think like ‘us’, the world would be a better place. Whatever happened to ‘Go and make disciples’? When did this shift into ‘Go and make converts to your way of thinking’?

Reading Bebbington’s history of ‘Evangelicalism in Modern Britain’ goes some way in explaining both the foundations of the movement as it is and some of the underlying impetus for the apparent reactionary positions within the contemporary movement. As a product of the Enlightenment, using sound argument to persuade non-believers of the reasonableness of the faith became the norm. In addition, this use of persuasion became part and parcel of the missions movement as ‘right’ thinking Westerners felt called to enter the ‘lost’ regions of the world to bring with them both faith and ‘civilization’.[3] The four qualities Bebbington highlights that are unique to the Evangelical movement demonstrate the priorities that remain evident today.[4] It is also interesting to recognize that Evangelicalism has traditionally attracted the influential and powerful.  As Bebbington points out; “Evangelicalism was rarely the religion of the poorest and outcast.”[5] It appears that the most recent US presidential elections confirm that this remains the case. In coming to grips with the historical foundations of the movement we are offered an opportunity to discern how that has guided the Church on its current trajectory and what the future ramifications of such might be.

Where does all that leave the movement now?  It seems from my church sign that many within Evangelicalism are desperately attempting to retain adherents and ongoing cultural influence that appears to be waning. Interestingly, Bebbington also points out that the cultural influence of Christianity was also decreasing during the age of Evangelicalism.[6] It seems that the zeal with which certain sectors of the church currently attempt to attract adherents to their communities began long before the idea of ‘The Nones’ was described by Barna et al. Thus, the issues facing the church today of declining attendance and cultural influence are neither new nor a reason to panic. How familiar does this sound? “…the otherworldly preoccupations of the churches were too distant from the needs of day-to-day living.”[7] It could have been pulled from the latest news magazine or blog, but is in reference to Christianity in the early 20th century. Yet, here we are more than a century later, panic stricken that Christianity in the West might be gone in a generation. Perhaps the greater fear and stronger motivation to retain influence, is economic; that the Christian corporate and financial structures dependent upon numerous and generous adherents will collapse without the people and programs on which they rely. I am not convinced retaining these structures is a high priority of God.

The adaptability of the Evangelical movement from its inception in the early 18th century demonstrates a penchant to adjust to a changing climate while retaining much of the core that set it apart.[8]  There is much good about the Evangelical movement. Many aspects of it have sustained the Church and helped spread the Good News of Jesus to all parts of the world. It must also be recognized that there remain aspects of the movement which undermine the essence of the Gospel, particularly in the call to make disciples of Jesus and not converts of a particular way of thinking. As we seek to understand the contemporary church and utilize it to meaningfully connect with our current culture, it would be beneficial if Evangelicals were able to recapture the good foundations of the movement by seeking to adapt the 4 core tenets, and represent the Gospel to the current generation with all the urgency and vigor of those early leaders.  Sequestering ourselves from the wider culture and calling all of the ‘faithless’ to join us in our communities of isolation all seems antithetical to the Jesus found in the Gospels and nothing at all like the fervor demonstrated early on in the Evangelical movement.

[1] O’Neill, William O., and Wilfred Owen. “Explore Encyclopedia Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica. January 5, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/.

[2] Cassidy, Captain. “Evangelicalism Is Now Officially Recognized as a Tainted Brand.” Patheos. January 10, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.patheos.com/.

[3] Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 2005. P. 42

[4] Ibid P. 3

[5] Ibid. P. 25

[6] Ibid. P. 76

[7] Ibid P. 114

[8] Brown, Stewart J. “Review: Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s.” The Scottish Historical Review 71, no. 191/192, Parts 1 & 2 (April 01, 1992): 246-48. Accessed January 10, 2018. JSTOR.

 

About the Author

mm

Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping young people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

14 responses to “Is this a tainted brand?”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Props! This is the line that got the giggle: “If it is somehow possible to get everyone to see the world like ‘we’ do and think like ‘us’, the world would be a better place.”

    And I totally agree with your conclusion. Fortunately, the “attractional model” of church never caught on in France.

    You suggest, “it would be beneficial if Evangelicals were able to recapture the good foundations of the movement by seeking to adapt the 4 core tenets….” Can you give an example of how you might adapt one of the 4 tenets of evangelicalism in your current conext?

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      I wish I could but it’s late, I’m tired, and I have a SLP to get finished. Maybe in June of 2020 I will have some brain left to contemplate such matters.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dan,

    You and I focused on the same line of thinking, but I think you did better than me. What a quote, “It must also be recognized that there remain aspects of the movement which undermine the essence of the Gospel, particularly in the call to make disciples of Jesus and not converts of a particular way of thinking.”

    Here, here!

    We have been called to make disciples, not converts (though I believe in conversion, just not in coerced conversions). If one can be coerced into the Kingdom, they can be coerced out of it.

    Are we still in agreement?

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      I believe that conversion is a part of the reception by individuals of the Gospel. It represents a change of direction. I think we fall down when we feel we are the ones responsible for that conversion and that the Christianity they need to be converted to is the one we are living, not the one demonstrated by Jesus. I think you got it right when you highlighted the importance of discipleship. We are to be disciples of Jesus, not my denomination or any other for that matter. I believe we remain in agreement brother.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Dan,

    Glad to see your post this week. Well done. Great article from Cassidy Captain. Very insghtful addition to this conversation. At some point labels and title dont matter, and some point they very much do.

    I’m much more concerned with doing the work of Christ in sacrificial and meaningful ways than I am having an untainted brand of Christianity. Maybe this is short-sighted though.

  4. mm M Webb says:

    Dan,

    Great images used in your post! My family is from the South and I have driven by those church signs in Somewhere, USA too. It is like using bumper stickers to get the attention of others to convict and draw them into the church. For people in the South, my relatives included, this method does work sometime!

    Sorry, but I do not recognize Captain Cassidy and his “Roll to Disbelieve” blog as a useful commenter on your post. Here is how he describes himself, “I’m a humanist, a skeptic, a freethinker, and a passionate student of science, mythology, and history. I’m generally friendly to the idea of spiritual stuff, but I want evidence for it before I’m willing to bet the farm on anything supernatural. It seems hugely unlikely that any of it will turn out to be true at this point, though. Regardless, I care more about what people do than on what they call themselves. I don’t think of myself as having much of a specific religious or non-religious label beyond “ex-Christian,” and I’m kind of enjoying coasting without one at present after a lifetime of earnest worry about which one was jusssssst right. Maybe there isn’t one for everybody. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s okay.”

    Captain Cassidy is an excellent example of how Satan can take a nominal Christian and use his fiery darts of lies to confuse and distort their faith and then use them to help destroy the faith of others.

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      Mike,

      I hear you and understand your sentiment when it comes to the ‘Captain’ but, for me those are exactly the people I want to hear from. I want to know how we are losing a generation from our ranks and if I fail to even listen to their questions and entertain their jibes I will never understand their perspective.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Dan!
    Your statement “Sequestering ourselves from the wider culture and calling all of the ‘faithless’ to join us in our communities of isolation all seems antithetical to the Jesus found in the Gospels and nothing at all like the fervor demonstrated early on in the Evangelical movement” resonates truth to me. Thank you for taking a hard line on how “we” are guilty of trying to convert others to our own way of thinking rather than creating disciples. It’s a message that we need reminded of daily. Since you are a southerner, do you struggle with this very issue in your home church?

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      Unfortunately I am a transplanted ‘Yankee’ and have struggled in this environment since day 1. Coming from the context of New Zealand where there was minimal christian cultural influence, I find the cultural christianity of this region both stifling personally and creating a culture of nominalism that is difficult to combat.

  6. Dan, I’m glad you posted this week!

    The church sign you mentioned dripped with shame, an attack mode we find often in the church when critiquing others. Shaming people with their faithlessness to bring them back to church.

    This is exactly the reason why we need to get outside the walls and be a social conscience and offer social action in Jesus’ name with no strings attached. Why don’t our cultures value the role of churches in our societies? It’s likely because they fail to observe any positive contribution we are making to society.

  7. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks Dan, for your honest and thoughtful post. I admire you for being who you are in the context in which you live. Yikes man. It seems odd to me that Evangelicalism was never compelling to the poor and marginalized. From a political standpoint, it makes sense, since the stakeholders are interested in maintaining power and privilege, but from a theological standpoint, you’d think evangelicalism would be attractive to the poor. But then again, if the eschatology is such that conversion is the only thing that really matters, then leave it to the poor to say, “So there’s nothing here to help my situation?” Perhaps this is where Pentecostalism comes in, a movement not far from Evangelicalism, but socially never tied to power, so it’s very compelling for the poor, and it perhaps offers more supernatural power than evangelicalism, which is primary felt need among the poor. Thanks for getting my wheels spinning.

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      I never saw the connection with Pentecostalism until your response. But, you are right, there does appear to be a stronger connection with the lower castes of society and that movement. I think our mainline churches like to help the poor, the Evangelicals may feel sorry for them but in many ways I think the theology remains that their poverty is some form of discipline or punishment and that ‘our’ wealth is a demonstration of God’s blessing. The Pentecostals may actually be the movement by and for the lower classes for the very reasons you pointed out. Thanks for the insights.

  8. Greg says:

    Dan, I found it interesting that Evangelicalism was the radical group that seemed to adapt itself to bring renewal at several keys moments in history. I sometimes when we lost our way. Thanks for making me laugh…I needed it.

    It does make one wonder about churches that don’t see value in helping the poor and needy yet have plenty of opportunities for the affluent to gather together. I don’t know if I have any contributing question, it just breaks my heart.

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