Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2022

Some Evangelicals Never Thought They’d Be Under the Mircoscope

In May of 2011, I posted the following picture in an article titled, “Christians Everywhere, Meet Your Spokesmen.”

For the record, that’s Harold Camping, Terry Jones and Fred Phelps

The point that day had more to do with men in gray suits. Others would quickly want to add Pat Robertson or Jack Van Impe. Non-Reformers aren’t too impressed with John Piper, either.

In 2018, I wrote that “as each of these exits the world stage, as we all will do, it seems disappointing when new ones step up to replace them. Some don’t really fit the suit — and these are invariably males — but the effect is the same. Others are so young, but are already on a clear trajectory for crazy uncle status… Others are so called “watchdogs” like the self-righteous, Pharisaical Chris Rosbrough. Others, like Ed Stetzer enjoy a measure of acceptability within a large denomination such that people miss how totally obnoxious and self-absorbed they truly are.

I went on to mention John MacArthur sidekick Phil Johnson, and “the snarky, sarcastic, caustic, infantile attitudes of the guys on the Happy Rant Podcast.” And I didn’t forget J.D. Hall.

Fast forward to 2022, and Robertson is in semi-retirement, and many wish MacArthur would follow suit. But Piper still pops in and out of our Twitter feed, directly or indirectly.

Alongside this we have this interesting phenomenon where books like Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes DuMez, and The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr are part of everyday conversations by rank and file church parishioners, at the same time as church abuse survivor stories find a greater audience and are received as having greater credibility.

It was in reference to the two above-mentioned books that I read something online that I wish I could provide the reference for; but I need to forge ahead and repeat it here as best I can. The gist of was that many Evangelical church leaders never dreamed that their actions would be the object of academic and scholarly study. To say it differently, they never considered that things they did one or more decades ago would be placed under the microscope and closely examined by so many for so long.

Regardless of how they viewed their actions, church historians and sociologists and journalists are now casting their gaze back over years and years of trends in Evangelical thought and saying, ‘Here is what was actually happening.’ Yes, they have the benefit of hindsight, but that is exactly a key aspect to the historical method.

There’s a news radio station in a nearby city that had a tag line, “Read it tomorrow, see it tonight, hear about it now.” The reference was to sourcing our news through newspapers, television news, and radio. Going the other direction on the spectrum, we find the weekly news magazines like Time, the year-in-review publications, and finally, at the farthest end, the history books.

Many of the things that Evangelical leaders have said and done were probably, in their own minds, things which would be on the minds of people today, tonight and tomorrow. And no longer. Politicians have known for years how people tend to forget. But the radio station tag line might reached back to “Consider it next week,” and ultimately, “Analyze it in ten to twenty years.”

Which is where we find ourselves. The men in suits — maybe not just the ones in the picture above, but the ones in the books I mentioned (and many other books) — did not realize they were shaping a greater movement (or sub-movement) within the Church and the true nature of the legacy they were leaving.

To some extent, many of us went along with it. We bought the Focus on the Family resources and found them helpful in raising our children, never considering the possibility that the jury, which seemed to be out for a long time, might return a different verdict on the impacts of purity balls and homeschooling in general. We adored the charismatic nature and speaking ability of pastors like James MacDonald and bought our tickets never realizing where the ride was taking us, and him. We bought the Left Behind books and watched the movies without a thought that the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is absolutely nowhere to be found in Christian writing prior to 1870, because we found great comfort in an eschatology that gets us the heck out of here.

But the time for reflection and analysis is here.

…Don’t beat yourself up over any peripheral involvement you may have had with days of Evangelical zeal. Don’t imagine yourself going back to tell your 30-years-younger self something, because that version of you would not have understood what you were saying. Or recognized you as you.

At the same time though, realize that one thing did, as the proverb says, lead to another, and if you can still reflect on those ‘glory days’ fondly, without any regrets, then you have missed out on the blessing of being a thinking Christian, of being self-aware of where you stand (as we all do) at the intersection of faith and culture.

 

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