Thinking Out Loud

November 13, 2010

The Small (with a small g) god of Modern Evangelicalism

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:42 pm

This piece appeared back in August at the blog of Daniel Jepsen, pastor of Franklin Community Church in Franklin, TN; which is just a few hundred laps south of Indianapolis.    Believing it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, it’s reprinted here in full; but you’ll enjoy the rest of the blog, too.

God wants our participation in what He is doing.  But he doesn’t necessarily need our help.  Or our packaging of the Good News.

The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism

Yes, the non-capitalization of the third word in the title is deliberate.  I don’t think the god I am talked about deserves to be capitalized.  For I am not talking about the God of the scriptures, but the god that is worshipped in much of modern American evangelicalism.

This god is good, but small and not very powerful.  This god is not able to use the foolish, weak and lowly things of this world to shame and nullify the wise, strong, and powerful ((see I Corinthians 1:26-31).  That is why those who lead this god’s churches must attempt to change the foolish things into things wise in the ways of this world, and must change the lowly and despised things into things this world likes and respects.

This god and his message must be made appealing to the world, much like Mary Poppins made the medicine more palatable by a spoon full of sugar.  The sweeteners  of coolness, relevance and freshness coat the message of this god, while those doing the coating tell us it doesn’t change the fundamental recipe.  Perhaps not, but the very fact that the sweeteners are added betray a lack of faith in the inherent power of the message, and the power of the god who gives it.

It is not that the followers of this small god don’t believe the message; they just don’t believe it has much power without their help.  It’s not that they want to distort this message.  It’s just that the don’t reflect on how its distortion flows naturally from the help they give it.

This is why we see increasingly that not only do many of the leaders have a small god, but so do the people in their churches.  These are people who view god as some sort of personal life-enhancement, not the author and judge of their life. They obey his commands selectively, and feel free to ignore or re-interpret those that might cause too much change, or that conflict too fiercely with the spirit of the age.  They view his church not as something they are deeply privileged to be a part of, but something they consume like any other form of entertainment, and that had better keep the goods coming.

This leads to the following scenario, in which I will ask the reader to see past the exaggerations and ask if it does not reflect reality somewhat.

The pastor of [insert trendy name here] Church heads into his office Monday morning.  His first action is to check the numbers: attendance, giving, Google rank.  He soon begins to think of this week’s sermon and worship (or, if well organized, those of the weeks ahead).  He has 7 hours for that this week (it used to be 15, but that was before he took on more CEO type responsibilities).  How does he spend those 7 hours?  The options are basically these: exegesis, prayer, presentation, and practice.  Since his main concern (though he would never admit it) is to impress or at least interest the hearers, so that they feel good enough about the message that they continue to come (and hopefully invite friends), he ends up spending most of the seven hours on the last two.  After all, not many will notice and fewer will care if he doesn’t get the meaning of the passage exactly right.  But everyone will notice and care if he is not interesting or relevant to the felt needs of the audience.

In similar way, the worship leader, taking his cue from the pastor, chooses songs based on the criteria of what the people will find enjoyable or “meaningful”.  Of course, he would never choose songs that are not scriptural.  But that leaves a lot of leeway.  He may try to coordinate the songs with the sermon and the other parts of the service.  But he will not spend a significant percentage of his time in prayer, nor will the focus of that prayer be seeking wisdom for how God would be pleased in the worship.

The parishioners do their job on Sunday: they attend.  They are happy that their kids enjoy the music, and that the sermon is not too long.  The church is full, and seems to have energy, which further boosts their self-esteem for having chosen to be a part of such an excellent church. The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them.  As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.”

Is it even possible that the children of this church will ever view god as something more than a cosmic vending machine?

This is the morass into which we have sunk.

-Daniel Jepsen

 

Related post:  The Misunderstood God

1 Comment »

  1. “Believing it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission ….”

    I like that, Paul. Plus, you gave all the attribution anyone could want … and that is really the issue.

    Comment by Jon Rising — November 13, 2010 @ 10:58 pm


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