My Basic Problem with Evangelical Theology and Practices

What I’m writing here may bother some of my friends and family who are or have been part of Evangelical Churches, and still have that as the basis for their Christian theology.  However, this is also key to things that have bothered me at varying levels for years.  And, while the broad support for the Republican agenda and Trump as it shows more and more that it is not an agenda of love, but one of hate and greed that may have been the metaphorical straw that broke the camels back and has led me to want to have nothing to do with American Evangelicalism in any way, what I’m going to write about is a vast majority of what that metaphorical camel was already loaded with.

At least as I understand it, dating back to near the beginning of the protestant reformation, there have been two competing views of salvation that have split the Church.

In the most extreme version, one is the view that those who are going to be saved are elected or predestined and God knows who they are.  Nothing that man can do will impact their salvation.  In this view, the role of the Church is to be there for the saved who have heard the word of God as a place for learning and fellowship, and to provide opportunity for the saved who have not heard the word of God to hear it.

In the most extreme version, the other is the view that the only way to be saved is to explicitly and consciously accept God’s salvation.  And, unless one has made that explicit decision, and made it known to God, they are still unsaved and condemned.  In this view, the role of the Church is to make sure that everyone everywhere hears this message, and as many people as possible make the decision and let God know.

The issue is that in the last twentieth and early twenty-first century, the American Evangelical Church, they practice the most extreme version of this second view.  In their version of Christianity, one is only a Christian if they have at some point when they can recall, have made that decision and said some form of the magic prayer.  Anyone else is condemned to some sort of eternal suffering – which might just be an existence disconnected from God, but that is bad enough (both in my view and theirs).

For someone who spent his first thirty-three years pretty much exclusively in Presbyterian churches, which come out of the first tradition, this was a continual thorn in my side.  I never had that point because it wasn’t a thing growing up.  In my church, my whole denomination and faith tradition, the assumption for the most part was that if you were in the church and believed, you believed.  You didn’t have to know when you were “saved.”  You didn’t have to have explicitly asked God for his gift, he gave it freely.  Confessing sin was something we did regularly – it was part of most services, and something we were encouraged to do as part of our regular prayers.

But, as I look back on it, I see there is more to this idea, and a much worse aspect to it that bothers me, and bothers me more that I’ve been pushed to the point that I’m seeing so much of the American Evangelical movement as broken.  I see this idea as a way that these institutions use to control people.

It starts with the message: “In order to be saved, you need to accept Christ’s salvation by saying this prayer: …”  But, soon it moves into “In order to be part of our church you need to believe …”  This is where these organizations start changing people’s beliefs.  Soon, someone who was spiritually open and seeking, but had been a firm believer in something that the church didn’t like (gay rights, abortion, immigration, Democratic politics, etc.) finds their spiritual needs being met in the church, and then feels like their other beliefs must have been wrong and starts changing them too.

And, given the way that the Evangelical Movement influences people into listening to other Evangelical voices over any non-Evangelical voices, it doesn’t even have to be someone in a specific Church, or even someone who is explicitly speaking in a church role who can push that change in belief.  I’m reasonably convinced that much of the Evangelical Movement’s political power comes from, or at least starts from this ability to influence people.

On the other hand, Churches that work from the idea that salvation is mostly or entirely in God’s hands, concentrate on equipping believers for living the life Christ called us to.  This frees people to use their own facilities to decide many issues.  Yet, quite possibly as a combination of the fact that these churches tend to see social justice (in, perhaps a slightly older sense of the term) as a major part of their mission, and the fact that many people who see themselves as Christian but are politically liberal are pushed away from Evangelical churches, these churches do tend to have a more liberal political bent in their membership.

Now, I confess I’ve not been to church regularly since the summer of 2016.  This was for a number of reasons, but my complete loss of ability to associate with any church (or near-complete ability to associate with any other aspect) that is part of the Evangelical Movement has been part of it.

I suspect that if I could keep from oversleeping (badly) and make it to the church I grew up in, and the one my Mom still attends, at 11:00 am on Sundays, I’d actually be OK.  The three sermons (albeit two were at memorial services – one very short at my Dad’s, and one a bit longer at a long-time family friend’s) I’ver heard there in the last couple of years have been very good.  And I have family and family friends who attend there.  It isn’t the closest Presbyterian church, but it might be a good fit.