Scandalized by the Church I spent one hot summer reading internet stories, along with a few books, of people who had walked from the faith. I don’t mean by this that they gave up on the church. I mean what theologians have historically called apostasy
Even as a local pastor I sometimes say I have a 'love / hate' relationship with the more institutional side of church, as a result of some of the things you mention in todays blog. The gradual movement of evangelicalism (whatever that now is) toward the pole of fundementalism really has not helped. I think it's quite possible for church leaders to implicitly deny God if they set themselves up as if they were God. The political sphere might do it more expressly, but for me it boils down to the same thing. The continuous 'fall' of leaders (I strongly suspect) has to do with posture. If we as church leaders posture ourselves as if we were God, or we are deluded into thinking that somehow we are bigger than the sin that ensnares, then the outcome will be as we see it before us now so often. One day I bow the knee to Jesus for those under my spiritual care, and may God have mercy on me if my behaviour has caused them to walk away from him...whew...
Scot, the first major factor in the scandal is the rank hypocrisy of many. It taints the witness of so many sincere Christians who are truly trying to live their faith, and we mustn't forget about them.
AND, all the reasons you list that have to do with the Bible are matters of <i>interpretation</i>, every single one. For the last nearly 300 years at least (an ever more so in the 20th century) the interpretive grid among non-sacramental Protestants has been a literalist interpretation, which is the way nearly every Evangelical "person in the pew" understands it. They don't get much help with interpreting it from most of their pastors and teachers, either. Indeed, our whole educational ideal is now so left brain-dominant that there's no place in our secular or Christian understanding of things for "truth" to mean anything other than "verifiable historical fact" - no room for handed-down wisdom, allegory, cultural nuance - the very things that make proper interpretation of <u>anything</u> possible, that which imparts MEANING to what historical realities there are. Forgive me - I think improper interpretation is what leads to deficient, if not outright bad, theology.
DG Moore earlier writes that we must start with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and is dead right on that one (pardon the pun). That's exactly what the earliest Christians did. That's exactly what the first few generations of Christians did through interpreting the meaning of the resurrection - hardly ever using a literalistic understanding of the Scriptures (the OT) but seeing, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what the story line in fact turned out to be... which led to the outstanding theology of Nicea and Constantinople, answering the question of who Jesus is.
And we have to also remember that there has never been any "golden age" in Christianity; the book of Acts documents problems there were from the beginning. Even before Christianity became legal, even in the midst of the waves of persecution and martyrdom, there were Christians who were fed up with nominalism and went out to the desert to seek and pursue a closer life with Jesus. They were not rejecting human company; they were trying to get away from the distractions. How many more distractions do we have! And how many Evangelicals reject even the possibility of a living tradition ("Can't be involved with traditions of men!!!") and elders ("Call no man father!!!") from whom we can learn something about living a closer life with Jesus, what the heart of Christianity in fact is, and better ways to find a deeper MEANING of some of the aspects of our struggle to live not simply moralistically, but faithfully in our time.
Scot, much food for thought here. Thanks! As you know, my tribe has been guilty too often of teaching a faith that is not centered in Jesus, but rather in the church or doctrine.
As I spent time in Galatians during the early months of the pandemic, it struck me that Paul saw how the false teachers were putting the gospel at stake. I think this is still a very exhortation. We need to collectively discern how our faith community is living out the gospel and look for the kind of fruit that’s produced by the Spirit. This question, in my opinion, shouldn’t be asked only among those at the top but by all in the church.
I often wonder how we can embody the one new family when some are so destructive, covering up malicious behavior, attacking fellow brothers and especially sisters in Christ. I know Jesus ushered in the one multiethnic people of God for the flourishing of all. I think for some, this requires restoration of trust which has been broken.
Our alignment or abiding with Christ is so crucial.
Scandalize - strike with disgust or revulsion. Yup. The leaders who were supposed to be the most like Jesus were the most UNLIKE Jesus. I can't attend their churches, listen to them, fellowship with them, support them, etc. when it is not Jesus I see through their leadership.
One reason listed: "Desire – frankly, some walk because they’d rather indulge their desires." I guess my question is: Why would anyone imagine in today's church (scandal-ridden as it is) that one would have to leave to indulge their desires"?
Shooting from the hip a bit here; but one thread across these factors is that 'Christians' (because I think just saying 'the church' abstracts the human element too far away) have long desired that the Christian worldview be only defined from within the walls, without any influence from without.
The inability of Christians to evaluate (read alongside and through scriptural and historical wisdom), and incorporate other sources of knowledge builds a fragile tower. Each new element of knowledge becomes a threat to the worldview.
Because of this approach the church does not even consider introducing people to Christ unless they can pass through the portal of agreement to this self-constructed worldview. We say we preach Christ, we proclaim 'come to Jesus' but when they arrive we switch out Jesus for an used Dodge Caravan with three tones of paint, garbage bags on a window, and a donut tire permanently attached and call THAT monstrosity the good news....
No wonder people walk away.
Thanks for posting on this terribly important issue.
My first book was a critique of those who hold to the doctrine of annihilationism. It was an extended critique of Clark Pinnock and others. Pinnock, Willard, and Packer all endorsed the book. I was most impressed that Pinnock did.
Over the years, I have wrestled afresh with what I believe about the so-called traditional view of hell. I say so-called because the nature of hell among those who see it as eternal suffering ranges over various options.
In any case, conversations with Christians who struggle to make sense of the hard sayings in Scripture have clarified one important matter for me, namely that the starting point for such conversations is to make sure we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, first and foremost, then move ever so slowly to how Jesus handled Scripture. I'm afraid we jump way too quickly to seeking to make sense of the difficult passages. It seems Jesus left us with a pretty important clue in this matter (Mt. 12:39).
I am deconstructing from politicized and corrupted (white) American conservative evangelicalism. My wife and I saw the control and even dishonesty in conservative churches we attended (including when we were church board members).
I have seen the legalism in some Christian Right churches and non-profits (I worked many years in non-profits).
My wife and I haven’t returned to a church in years, and we probably won’t ever return to a conservative church. But we still love and want to follow Jesus on whom we depend.
Thank you for your article posted here.
Scot, those three reasons you give for people leaving the church are valid to some point I'm sure, but you seem to be missing an even larger reason people leave the church - they don't so much leave the church as they leave the evangelical church, and they find their beliefs might line up more with a mainline theology. (Usually summed up by God's grace is for everyone even if you don't know how to ask for it or respond properly) They don't often end up attending a mainline church for very long because it just feels so different from what they were used to, yet they can't go back to what they were used to because of the conservative politics and the biblical literalism.
There's just no place to go. Of course the best spokesperson for this type of person is Brian Mclaren, and there's many many others. They realize first, hell is an absurdity, and thankfully not really in the Bible. Gehenna, really? Next, there are other ways to read the Bible besides the literal approach. Taking the Bible seriously but not literally is something Marcus Borg talked about a lot. Heard of Brene Brown? She calls herself a "Borg again Christian". People realize that the gospel isn't good news if only a fairly small slice of humanity ever hears, and if you don't respond properly and in a timely manner, you'll burn forever! Have you noticed that in the last 10 years scores of churches have modified their statements of faith to take out the part about endless torment, and changed it to something much more mild? What book came out 10 + years ago? Evangelicals can't decide what the heart of Christianity really is supposed to be about, although they keep falling back on how it's all about going to heaven, and accepting Jesus into your heart. Please!
I'm suprised you haven't picked up on the aspect of cultural dissonance that Chrisitians experience in the West. There are so many who feel such pressure to fit in and cohere to Western secular hedonistic culture that they are willing to jettison those tenets of the faith that cause conflict (e.g. judgement, sexual holiness) and create a Jesus who neither challenges nor offers anything to the world. They seem to forget that Jesus says some really, really hard stuff on par with anything in the New Testament. The 'enemy' then becomes BIblical, orthodox churches. I mean, yes, there are horrible examples of leadership failiings. There are also lovely but imperfect evangelical Christians and churches. Yet so much ammunition is spent attacking faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. The relationship aspect also seems to be missing, that you can know God through His Son and encounter Him through the Holy Spirit in a real deep personal way.
Raised Christian, As an adult I decided to read the entire bible from an objective point of view.
I was appalled by the first few verses of Genesis, especially the Great Flood story, where God decides to exterminate His human creation, in the most cruel way possible - men, women, children, babies, pregnant women, animals drowning in the raging waters.
And to top it off, God saves 6? people from the same gene pool, and expects things to be different the next time?
I’m still sort of Christian, focusing on what Jesus actually taught, but can’t recite the creeds.
(I know genesis is largely allegory, and certainly not literal, but still)
Thank you for breaking out so many issues. The Church is a central part of how God works in and through us as Christians. Apart from Covid issues, bandwidth is a main reason my participation is less in certain seasons. I have to opt for a breathable soul vs a busy one when bandwidth is slimmer.
What about the predictions of Jesus in Matthew 24? And Paul to Timothy? I think you are (to some extent) naively accepting some people's stated explanations. And, thankfully, I know many faithful believers that I believe should be extolled, as Paul often did, in juxtaposition to what you are describing.