We’re Not the Ones God Has Been Waiting For

I don’t think any temptation more sweetly seduces young evangelicals. It seems every new wave of church leaders seeks to rebrand Christianity over and against its previous generations or misguided contemporaries. As the Religious Right has lost influence, traditional evangelicals have become a big target. As Timothy Dalrymple wrote last year “if you are selling scorn of conservative evangelical Christians, the market is hot.”

But I’m not necessarily sure the problem is so one-sided. I find in my own heart the constant temptation to brand myself as “not one of those Christians,” and the targets can be anywhere on the liberal/conservative spectrum.

Every generation tends to think of itself as the one that will finally “get it right.” So we’re not going to be like those legalistic fundamentalists. We’re not going to be like our fathers who were too closely aligned with conservative politics. We’re going to have better answers on the homosexual question. We’ll “do church” a lot clearer and cleaner than those stodgy models of the past few decades. We tell ourselves that our generation represents a new kind of Christianity.

Some adjustment is necessary. We should, as a movement, self-correct. We should adapt to changing cultures. And we should reject unbiblical expressions of Christian faith.

But there is a subtle danger in seeing ourselves as the last best hope for the church. Like Peter on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion, what we give up to warm our hands by the fire of acceptance will leave us burned. Seeking to evade the scorn that comes from standing with Christ, we can deny Jesus altogether.

As I survey my own heart, I see three motivations that drive this tendency to constantly reframe and rebrand our faith.

1. We make an idol of cultural acceptance.

As missionaries to an increasingly hostile West, it’s wise to adapt our strategies to communicate the gospel to those who most desperately need to hear. Yet there is a tendency to make cultural acceptance the core value of ministry.

Christians should speak with grace (Colossians 4:6). We should seek the favor of our community (1 Peter 3:15-18). And yet even the most Spirit-filled, silver-tongued representatives of Christ will, at some level, clash with the world (James 4:4).

This is the part of the gospel call that makes us young evangelicals a bit queasy. Jesus told us true disciples would suffer persecution (John 15:18). We shouldn’t strive to be hated, and we shouldn’t intentionally be incendiary. But when being liked is prized, we’re not far from denying Christ. True disciples embrace Jesus’ costly call to come and die.

2. We think we can do ministry better than our fathers.

It’s good to learn, both good and bad, from older models of ministry. We don’t honor our forebears in the faith by repeating their mistakes. And yet we must fight the arrogance that says our generation will be judged more favorably by God than previous incarnations of the church. In his book The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis reminds that every generation has blind spots. That’s why it’s useful to learn from, not discard, the work of those who have gone before us. Lewis says “the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”

We can press for innovation and embrace technology even as we appreciate tradition and preserve faithful methods. And we must be humble enough to recognize that one day our work will be considered out of date, fueling a new generation’s reactionaries.

3. We put too much weight on our own abilities.

In seeking to be a “different kind of Christian,” we’re tempted to think we can accomplish more for Jesus if we could just be less offensive, more innovative, more missional/gospel-centered/seeker-friendly. Yes, our ministry can and must grow with every generation. But we must not succumb to the Satanic idea that we can build the church through strictly human means. The church is a Spirit-powered endeavor so often built by those respectable society overlooks (1 Corinthians 1:26).

Now and forever, the church hopes in the promise Christ made to build his body in this world (Matthew 16:18). He accomplishes this work through human, sinful, weak means. God does not sit in heaven with white knuckles hoping for one more young pastor to create the most acceptable expression of the gospel. So in seeking to spread the gospel, let’s resist the temptation to fashion a faith warmed by the fires of cultural acceptance but burned by denying Christ.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    Thank you. Seriously, this is good stuff. I find myself as a 26-year-old reactionary towards what so many of my hip young peers (some who are older than me), are saying about how we’re going to fix church, yadayadayada, and I start defending things I didn’t even know I cared about. I mean, yes, improve, I’m all for that, but we could do with a little less smug as we try.

  • CG

    This is excellent. I’m strongly convicted by this: “I find in my own heart the constant temptation to brand myself as “not one of those Christians,” and the targets can be anywhere on the liberal/conservative spectrum.” I see the same tendency in myself.

    Nevertheless, I also appreciate the encouraging reminder that God is doing a mighty work in the world, and though it pleases him to involve me in it, it’s not because he needs my help!

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  • http://blogergism.blogspot.com/ Doc B

    This is such a timely reminder. In my life, I’ve been back in the place where I knew the direction the church needed to go when it was struggling, and then watched (to my amazement) as it moved just about exactly where I thought it needed to go, yet little changed.

    This lack of change was disheartening at first, but then I began to realize that God will build his kingdom at his own pace and according to his own plan, and my (often secular-influenced) ideas about how it should be done were probably pretty silly in God’s economy. I was infected with a lot of the stuff you point out in your post. I assume I still am to some degree, but I am learning what ‘deny myself’ means to some small degree, and it applies to a lot more than cultural foibles.

    Thanks for this worthwhile and encouraging post.

  • http://www.harbourshores.org Stephen Schultze

    Makes me think of Eph 4:14, “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” May we be about Christ–His Word & His Mission!

  • JM

    I am saddened by the dismissive attitude and lack of respect for those that have gone before us.

  • Betty Elledge

    Thanks for the alert – always remember we think we know God, but be conscious we can never be like God, or even Jesus, God in human form.

  • Kenton

    The article’s main point about cultural acceptance can go two ways. One is simply conceding on certain points in order to gain favor with the society. However, the other side to this is making it an aim to persuade the culture of the merits of your own views. The first assumes that we must yield to gain influence. The latter assumes that we can get them to yield. Both place an incredibly high value on getting the culture to accept and embrace us, something to which we have not been called, nor has it been promised to us.

  • http://danieldarling.com Daniel Darling

    Thank you so much for the kind feedback.

  • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/ Michael Snow

    C.S. Lewis had some needed advice on reading that would be a big help to us in seeking ‘to get it right’ amidst the tyranny fads.
    We should never allow ourselves to read another new book, he wrote, unless we first read another old one. And if we do not have time to read both the old and the new, he said to read the old.

    As a great example of help for our American cultural blindness, we have Spurgeon’s clear words.

  • http://dallasmomsblog.com Dan

    I understand the sentiment, but much of the reaction against the Religious Right is the legitimate outcry against the feeling that the faith has been used to peddle all kinds of unrelated things. We certainly don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but the bathwater needs changing.

  • Katrina

    Hmm… I can imagine that this is what most Catholics feel like all the time.

    No, we may not be the ones God is waiting for but we’re certainly not what the Bride of Christ is called to be.

  • Jonathan

    Everyone wants in on the ground floor of the next reformation. Pastors take new pulpits and make snide comments to their pals that they are the leadership that this church needs to get to the next level. The current generation of seminary professors think that they are the ones who will restore true biblical preaching. Each generation of youth ministers talk dismissively about the previous generation for the sake of self aggrandizing

    The result, an increasingly jaded laity that has seen these types come and go for decades.

  • http://www.matthewalapine.com Matthew A LaPine

    I am worried that these sorts of arguments are too easy to make (not to mention too general to make much sense). Not every negative evaluation is created equal. Nor are all negative evaluations driven by the idol of “acceptance.” It seems to me that part of the backlash from young evangelicals is that many traditional evangelicals have scorned real engagement with ideas that conflict with their own. There is a wide-ranging intellectual vice within the evangelical church driven partly by a willful ignorance of other ideas. So if a wise and thoughtful criticism is brought forward on this front it can appear to simply be seeking “acceptance,” when it may not be. But here again, the trouble arises that this post is too general to allow the reader to know whether or not it is a straw man argument.

    I certainly agree with #1, 2, and 3. But I fear the “you’re just trying to seek acceptance” argument is very uncharitable, and very often false.

  • David Daus

    Excellent! Thank you for the sobering reminder of our own sinful hearts. My greatest idol is me…

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  • http://www.gracecovenantpca.org chris hutchinson

    Very good post. This resonated with one of my main critiques of James Davison Hunter’s widely acclaimed book, “To Change the World” fwiw: http://theaquilareport.com/book-review-to-change-the-world-by-james-davison-hunter/.

    I thought it was a good book, but he seemed to assume that if we loved our neighbors better, the world would like us, and we would gain a hearing. Not sure it always works that way, especially once we bring up the whole wrath and hell and pride thing.

  • Nick

    As a sixty-something Christian who came to Christ during the Jesus Movement, I can relate. We DID do church differently and yet without abandoning any core principles of the faith. I think it’s fine for each generation to be excited about the way they do church (without compromising the gospel). I just hope we have enough young folks on fire for the Lord to make that happen in the next few generations. I worry they are falling into the hands of the world, and that without regret.

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