Note from Randy: Last year I endorsed Daniel Darling’s book Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loved. He’s a good brother with a good heart and a good mind, and I appreciated these thoughts he recently shared online.
I certainly believe there is a time and place for constructive criticism of the church. Evangelicalism as a sub-culture is riddled with any number of failings. We should welcome and take seriously constructive criticism, and make changes where appropriate. (Twelve years ago, I wrote a blog on Does the Word Evangelical Mean Anything Anymore? And I’ve written on the doctrinal crisis facing the church. I’ve also addressed issues in the church related to abortion, giving, and our views of Heaven.)
However, as Dan points out, there’s much criticism online that is actually rooted in bitterness rather than seeking to build up the church. (People who are critical often fall into referring to church members as “they.” But where is the “we”?)
May Dan’s words remind us to heed 1 Corinthians 16:14 (“Let all that you do be done in love”) and Romans 14:19 (“So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”)
In the last few years, there have been quite a few polemics published that slam evangelicalism. Some have had good but hard words we need to hear. But most suffer from the same problems which make their attempt at being prophetic fall on deaf ears:
1) Self righteousness. Almost always the writer is convinced of his/her own moral rectitude and the depravity of everyone else. He/She has perfectly nailed the proper approach to, say, politics, while everyone else is wrong. Zero humility.
2) Resentment. This is often barely disguised. There’s an offense that hasn’t been healed from, a hurt that is still festering. And rather than work on forgiveness (always possible) and reconciliation (not always possible), the author chooses to vomit on the page.
3) Sensationalism. There is a tabloid aspect to most anti-evangelical jeremiads that bears little resemblance to actual prophetic words. It’s a desire to destroy rather than build, to titillate rather than edify. When Paul instructed Timothy to rebuke the church he said, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
4) Lack of Understanding. Almost always, the anti-evangelical screeds fail to empathize with the target’s perspective. This is particularly true with criticism of conservatives and the culture. Often the author shrugs at the massive, destructive shifts on gender and sexuality taking place or shrugs at policies like abortion on demand as if opposing those things is born out of malice. There are biblical and unbiblical ways to engage these issues but often the entire project is seen as frivolous.
5) Chronological snobbery. Almost always these jeremiads suffer from an elitist view that everything our parents did was wrong and that we will be the generation that “finally gets it.” This is just a lack of humility. Some of these books even shame actual parents for their voting patterns or attempt to disciple their children. I find this distasteful. We may differ at times in approach from our parents but it’s wrong to fail to love and appreciate their sacrifices.
6) Little effort at unity. I think we need prophetic words in our day. We need people willing to call the church away from sin. But we should always do it out of love. Out of believing the best of our brothers and sisters. Not for the entertainment of media outlets.
7) Lastly, and this is the least concern, but it is true. Most of these anti-evangelical jeremiads are just formulaic and boilerplate. Same ahistorical arguments I’ve heard my entire adult life. Same resentments. Same cynicism.
To sum this up: we desperately need prophets. We desperately need spirit-filled leaders to call the church to holiness and faithfulness. What we don’t need more of is resentment disguised as courage.