Friday, May 16, 2008


by Keith Giles

You probably had no idea, but recently several key Evangelical Christian leaders gathered together to write an Evangelical Manifesto.

In this document the authors (Os Guinness, Dallas Willard, Rick Warren, etc.) admitted that the title "Evangelical Christian" has lost its original meaning due to years of poor behavior on the part of those who carry the name. They say, "the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term Evangelical have grown so deep that the character of what it means has been obscured" and admit that those who wear the label Evangelical "have become known for commercial, diluted and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk."

They go on to admit that Evangelicals have strayed from their initial practice of loving people, showing compassion to the poor and protecting the weak and the innocent, all of which I whole-heartedly agree with.

When heavy-weights in the Evangelical Christian Community come together to identify a problem of this magnitude and speak out in solidarity against the failures of the Christian Church it should give us all pause to reflect and take notice.

This Evangelical Manifesto goes a long way towards admitting where the Church has gone off track and pointing the way forward for those who have wandered off the path.

I cannot find myself disagreeing with anything these men of God have to say regarding the state of the Church today and the need to reform ourselves in practice. I applaud them for seeing what many of us have seen for years now and for taking the time and energy to pen such a unified statement of confession.

There's just one problem: It won't make any difference.

How can I say this? Well, to begin with no one in the Evangelical Christian Community will do anything different tomorrow because of this Manifesto. Your pastor will not preach a sermon on this on Sunday. Your Christian friends will not be buzzing about this document. They will not read it. They will not do anything different tomorrow because it has been written.

While I agree with the Manifesto, and I highly respect the men who took the time to write it, I have to admit that it will do absolutely nothing to change the way Evangelical Christians live out their daily faith.

The real problem is revealed in the Manifesto itself. We who call ourselves "Evangelical Christians" are largely unconcerned with actually following Jesus on a daily basis and have no intention of living out the commands of Jesus in our actual life.

If we were committed to those things we wouldn't have need of a Manifesto. If our Pastors were teaching us to follow Jesus on a daily basis, we would not have such a bad reputation in our land. If our airwaves were filled with teachers and preachers and evangelists who communicated the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus preached, we wouldn't have churches filled with people who think that being a Christian means saying a prayer so you can go to Heaven when you die.

The reason why people are not following Jesus today is because we are not asking people to follow Jesus, we are asking them to become Christians.

Warren and Willard and Guinness are correct: The term "Evangelical Christian" is one that refers to someone who is more interested in being right than in daily following Jesus. My solution is to stop asking people to become Christians. My solution is to encourage people to start following Jesus.

"It's not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it's that it has been found difficult and left untried." - G.K. Chesterton

Whenever you identify yourself as a "Christian" in today's culture you align yourself with someone who looks like anything but the imitation of Jesus.

What was Jesus like? Let's look at some of his qualities:
*Comfortable around sinners (drunks, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.)
*Concerned for the poor, the sick, the outcast
*An advocate for peace
*Radically Inclusive
*Interested in the lives of others
*Introduced a spiritual solution to society's problems

What is the Christian Church like? Here's a short list:
*Intolerant of those who are not like themselves.
*Uncomfortable around drunks, prostitutes, sinners, etc.
*Concerned for their own personal success
*Not very concerned with the poor, the sick, or the outcast
*Obsessed with a political solution to society's problems
*Defined more by what they hate/dislike
*Largely supportive of war against our enemies

The reason why Christianity in America is toxic to most people is that those who are called to be representatives of Jesus have done a terrible job. This is why I cannot bring myself to be indentified as a "Christian" to someone outside the Church. They hear that term and they equate me with the big-haired, money-hungry, gay-bashing, waiting-for-the-rapture brand of Believer. That is not who I am. That is not the Jesus I follow.

What needs to happen is that those who call themselves followers of Jesus begin to actually follow Him. Each and every day, one at a time, we must begin to live out the calling of Christ to take up our cross, die to ourselves, and follow Him.

There is no other way.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock" - Jesus, Matthew 7:24.


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Arnie Adkison said...

Keith, thanks for this post. And I thought I was cynical! :)

There is a challenge for each of ust to follow Jesus where he leads. For some that means starting something new, something fresh (or in your case going back to something so old it seems new and fresh--house churches). For others it means that they stay and work for reform in their traditions. I have always admired the believer who sees clearly where his or her denominational tradition is off, but chooses to work for change from within. That's my hope for a new movement within USAmerican Evangelicalism. It remains to be seen what will come.

Kent C. Williamson said...

Keith -

Great post about probably the most serious problem the true church will face in the next twenty years.

I keep coming back to concept that "they will know us by our fruit". What does this fruit look like? If it looks like stadiums or traditional church buildings filled with people blindly following a preacher of a feel-good gospel, I would argue that the "fruit" may be rotten.

I would also ask Arnie... do we really believe that a person in Joel Osteen's audience can turn that kind of train around? We believe that the Holy Spirit could turn anything around He wants, but to echo Rebellion of Thought... if the train is heading to the wrong destination, no matter how much you run back up the aisle screaming "we're going the wrong way!" you are still going to end up at the wrong destination.

The only solution is for believers (whom God has allowed to see the problem) to jump from the train and begin anew. Let's take the core elements of the gospel, drop any of the divisive theological doctrines that have segmented and splintered us into "denominations" and truly follow Christ with abandonment.

Arnie Adkison said...

Kent, that's a great question. And I know that I don't have a great answer. Where do we draw the line for taking a prophetic stance within a tradition versus departing that tradition? I'm thinking of my own Baptist line, which to me still has many godly, working churches and individuals. I had not thought of it in terms of a Joel Osteen. The key difference maybe is that Osteen's church is much more monolithic in nature that say all the Texas Baptist tradition.

When did Martin Luther decide he was not any longer reforming the Catholic church but was starting a new movement? The easy-off-the-hook answer is when God said, but that doesn't necessarily help us identify an answer to your question.