“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind,” historian Mark Noll keenly observed of the current state of evangelicalism (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind). However, it was not always this way. Evangelicalism has become a juggernaut of sorts in the present age, but possibly at the expense of its mind. The sub-culture that is evangelicalism has successfully morphed into a dominant political combatant, as well as a multi-billion dollar publishing (multimedia) empire. One must ask the questions, however: have Christians sacrificed scholarship and intellect for relevance? Have Christians truly become anti-intellectual?
If to lead is to influence, what evidence is there that evangelicals lead out in culture with their excellence or with their spiritual acts of worship? Evangelicals put great importance on leading but instead of creating culture they are content to create a sub-culture, mimicking the mainstream.
J. Gresham Machen was a well-known Christian Scholar at Princeton at the turn of the 20th century. His words may be over one hundred years old, but they still ring true: “Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all human thought… instead of obliterating the distinction between the Kingdom and the world, or on the other hand, withdrawing from the world into a sort of modernized intellectual monasticism, let us go forth joyfully, enthusiastically to make the world subject to God” (Christianity & Liberalism).
With mega-churches growing like Jack’s beanstalk, the new American mind-set of evangelism is, “Get’em into the church building, put on a good show, don’t offend them, give them some Starbucks, and BAM! They’ll get saved.” After all, we must be “all things to all men.” But what happens when we become everything to the world? Christians become everything and nothing.
What is the fruit produced from this faux-finished faith known as evangelicalism? We have huge churches catering to the lowest common denominators of culture. We have a lack of theological integrity because we don’t want to offend anyone with our doctrine. We have turned the body of Christ into something that feels and runs more like a corporation than an intimate community where families actually care about each other. We measure success like a business; if our numbers are growing then everything is good.
The only problem with this mindset is that discipleship cannot be measured in this way. Making a disciple of Christ takes time. It is hard. It is not something that takes place at a huge conference or outreach event. It is life on life.
The fruit of discipleship surfaces a few years down the line when those young people in the youth group have graduated and come back to the church not to be entertained but to plug into someone.
The church has forgotten what it means to equip the Christian mind. It is more concerned with putting on productions than putting out disciples. The end result is a bunch of whiney adults who don’t like the way the power-point presentation looked last week, or complain that the coffee bar needs to have more flavors to choose from. We have successfully dumbed down the Word of God. Intimacy with the Almighty is not something we strive for anymore. We scream “Relevance!” and sacrifice the minds Christ has given us.
I work with a group of young adults who are thirsty for an authentic Christian experience. They want to grow in their spiritual lives. They desire what Paul desired more than anything: to know God.
Relevance does not come from looking cool, a great church production, or using hip lingo. It comes from loving others. Wade Clark Roof of the University of California comments on the Gnostic experience and how it “celebrates experience rather than doctrine; the personal rather than the institutional; the mythic and dreamlike over the cognitive; people’s religion over official religion.” Has our faith morphed into something close to Gnosticism? Is it possible to find balance between the doctrine and experience?
The Christian culture tends to swing like the pendulum to one extreme, stay there for a while and then swing back to the other side. Do I believe we need to have experience in our faith journeys? Yes. Do we need to be more people oriented and less self-serving? Absolutely! However, I think the Church takes its cues from culture rather than creating culture. Our faith demands our hearts and our minds.
The Christian landscape heaves with shallow people, content to live out their faith in the plush sanctuaries of the American church. We are training young Christians not to think about God or reflect on His glory. I have been told on more than one occasion to teach or write in a way that does not threaten someone’s mind (bring the cookies down to the bottom shelf). The interesting thing is when I took a survey of high school seniors who sat in our group discussions they loved the fact that I did not teach down to them. They loved being challenged in their minds and hearts. They said they were tired of the hollowness of their faith. We are hollow Christians. The deep well of intimacy with God is missing from our faith.
Brothers and sisters, look around you. The Christian life is deeper than your iPod play list, it is more intense than Gran Turismo, and it is more than somebody’s idea of saving the world. At some point we will realize that our culture is looking for leaders not mimickers. It is time to create culture … heart, soul, and mind.