Why I Walked Away from Evangelicalism (part 2 of 2)


[This is the second part of guest-blogger Kevin Regal's explanation of why he left Evangelicalism and what he found to be a better alternative.]

Walking Away

In part one of this post, I described how my loyalty to Evangelicalism led me on a long and difficult search for a church which both takes real Christianity seriously and would also accept people who are (as I am, I’m ashamed to say) flawed even to the point of being rather dislikeable.  In this part, I will try to explain a few of the problems that I find so troublesome and which have forced me to reconsider my loyalty to Evangelicalism.  I will then finish the story.

I want to be clear that I am not accusing any church when I describe these problems.  I do think that these problems are widespread, but I am sure that, for any given problem I describe, there exist some Evangelical churches which are exemplary.  I am not at all saying that every Evangelical church (or person) suffers from every problem I mention.  I am saying that, in my long search, I did not find a single church which was not dismally overcome by some of them.  I am also not saying that Christians should absolutely avoid any church which struggles with any of these problems.  As I said before, I think every church will struggle with them to some degree.  I only want to describe some of the problems which I, in my search, found to be epidemic among Evangelical churches.

Self Promotion by/Hero Worship of Leaders & the Tendency toward Personality Cults—This is one of the most troubling things for me, and I sometimes feel like a broken record because I am so often critiquing this tendency.  It is a great grief to me, for it applies to a number of leaders whom I very much respect (e.g. Piper, MacArthur, Mohler, Dever, Sproul, and others).  I’m aware that self-promotion is an unquestionable norm in our society—most people use twitter and facebook just for the opportunity to promote themselves.  Sure, I know the thinking…“I must promote myself to get further opportunity to promote Christ.”  The rationale is understandable, but it is also unscriptural.  Should not our attitude be “He must increase, but I must decrease”(Jn 3:30) rather than “I must increase that he might increase”?  Blame for this doesn’t belong only upon the leaders who promote themselves.  Like ancient Israel was with statues of cows and other strange things, Evangelicals seem hell-bent upon worshiping some personality or other.

Propensity for (Even Delight in) Abuse of Others—especially other believers.  The pecking order system (and all the cruel politics of establishing/maintaining such a system–like the struggle of individuals to increase their rank by decreasing the ranks of others) was rarely a minor issue in my experience.  Many Evangelicals seem to think that the command to “love one another” requires nothing more than that they maintain plausible deniability of motive in their treatment of others (i.e. “Any action is acceptable so long as I can plausibly deny that I intended harm by it”).  But the command is from Christ, before whom our hearts are not hidden, and his command obviously requires that our motive actually be love.  Sadly, I am not alone in finding that many of the unbelievers I come into contact with at work and other places tend to be kinder to each other and to me than the members of my church.  I know, I know…People often do take offense over actions which are not ill-intended; sometimes people even take offense at things that are  genuinely and wholly motivated by love.  Certainly, loving one another does require that we grant the benefit of the doubt when we feel that someone has wronged us.  But doubt concerning apparently evil motive erodes unless it is offset by at least some indicators of good intent.  Yes, of course, we must forgive those who trespass against us, even when we have no doubt that their motive is evil.  Nevertheless, I felt it would be foolish of me not to conclude that there is something wrong in a group which is so overwhelmingly characterized by cruel politics and piously-cloaked maliciousness.

Lack of Love—though I generally refused doggedly to believe that the Evangelicals in my circle were of the abusive sort, I could never quite deny the very pronounced lack of love among believers.  Though I spent countless hours trying to convince myself that it was all in my imagination, I kept being driven back to the conclusion that the people in my church did not care about me and my family.  I have long wondered if the appeal that heretical groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have is that they present themselves as so loving and caring.  Though I have never been tempted toward such heresies (“There but for the grace of God…”), I can certainly understand how powerfully drawn people are if they believe that a person or a group of people really does care for them.

Shallow, Silly Theology—There are so many problems which fit under this heading; I don’t know where to start.  I’ll just make a sort of list—not in any particular order.

The Dogma of Mega-Church: Mega-mania has, for all I can tell, completely consumed Evangelicalism.  Even those churches which never have been, are not, and never will be ‘mega’ in head-count are still eager to follow virtually any silly, stupid, irreverent, vulgar, or even heretical trend set by the ‘megas’ in their utterly unreflective attempts to round up as many people as possible once a week.

Touchy-Feely Teaching: This is, of course, related to Mega-mania.  The gurus of the mega-church movement are very clear in their assertions that any Christian teaching which is thoughtful, complicated, or—by all means—condemning must go.  Many Christians seem to believe that scripture really has nothing of it’s own  to say; they seem to think of it rather as a list of topics for their teachers to consult when deciding what warm and fuzzy nonsense to spout in their next sermon or lesson.

Unconcern Regarding Genuine Discipleship: Discipleship, training, spiritual growth, etc. are prevalent buzzwords among Evangelicals, but it seems to me that the interest is not really in helping Christians grow spiritually.  I sometimes suspect that many pastors and other leaders think of discipleship as some sort of machine or process to which they can direct all those over-zealous folks in the congregation who keep pestering them for help in understanding the Bible.

Tendency to Trust in Government Rather Than God: Evangelicalism has a large contingent of people who seem to speak more about political activity than about Christ.  It often appears, for many Evangelicals, that death, hell, and the devil have been replaced by political liberalism and Christ has been replaced by the Republican Party.  I understand that we all want a good society to live in for this life, but Christianity is not about that.  Evangelicals, however, seem always to be consumed by their search for political messiahs.

Moralism Instead of Gospel Freedom:  Most Evangelicals would strenuously object to the charge that their group is dominated by legalism.  I grant that Evangelicals are fairly consistent in rejecting the bare idea of ‘salvation by works,’ and that is good, so far as it goes.  Of course legalism did not originate with Evangelicalism; our sin nature makes us prone to seek our righteousness on our own.  My concern is that very often membership in the church is made conditional upon conformity to a standard of behavior which is not commanded by scripture and about which there is no discussion allowed (See here and here, for example).  It is difficult to see how such requirements do not entail a “Faith in Chist AND ______” sort of gospel—which is a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6)

Chronic Bent Against Serious Theological Reflection: I must be cautious in saying this.  Of course there are many Evangelical individuals who are models of serious reflection.  I am thankful for their efforts.  The concern I have is that Evangelical churches tend to have something of a ‘code of silence’ regarding anything but the approved set of mantras.  People are free to talk about “living one day at a time,” avoiding the tendency to “live by my own strength,” the “power of prayer,” the importance of one’s ‘quiet time,’ and so on.  But, if someone dares to stray from that safe little orbit of clichés, people tend to react with annoyance or even outrage.  If the poor fool dares to ask for clarification on or challenge one of the sacred clichés (e.g. “What do we mean when we say that prayer is powerful?” or “Is ‘quiet time’ taught in scripture?”), he or she will probably face blacklisting, marginalization, or even expulsion.  I think that Evangelicals tend to believe that critical thinking is dangerous and divisive.  The clichés are often viewed (perhaps subconsciously) as the substance and statement of orthodoxy.  So, they actually feel like they are ridding the church of heresy when they drive away a person who, for example, asserts that “scripture does not teach us to think of ourselves as powerful because we pray” (True story.  Yes, I was the poor fool involved).

Spiritual or Theological Elitism: While there does tend to be a resistance to theological reflection, there is also, in some parts of Evangelicalism, a rather shocking amount of elitism.  So far as I can tell, this seems to be closely tied to the hero worship that I mentioned above.  Sometimes those who seek to counter the bent against theological reflection are the most guilty of elitist tendencies.  The phrase “the life of the mind” (always unexplained—if anyone doesn’t already know, their mind is dead; they should be ignored out of existence) is very popular with these types.  This was, when I could manage to be tolerated, my preferred subculture within Evangelicalism; so it is quite possible that I myself have been guilty.  As with all of these critiques, my aim is not to pronounce harsh judgment, but to explain the problems which I find to be so predominate in Evangelicalism that they caused me (I think reasonably) to reconsider my loyalty to the group.

Decisionist Theology: Again, I am glad that some Evangelicals are providing thoughtful and persistent critique on this issue (Tim Challies, James Adams, and Brian Schwertley, to name a few).  But these critics themselves admit that this bit of very bad theology is a nearly universal dogma in Evangelicalism.  By decisionist theology I mean the notion that God’s work of salvation is entirely (or even mostly) at the mercy of the free will of the people whom God would save.  The tradition of long and emotionally charged ‘invitation’ times at the end of church services and other Evangelical gatherings (like evangelistic ‘crusades’) is one place where this theology is worked out.  It can also be seen in the tendency of Evangelicals to point to a ‘moment of decision’ for Christ for confidence before God (i.e., you walked the isle, prayed the prayer, made the decision, etc., thus you have salvation).

Blatant Slavery to Culture for Its Thought: It is very puzzling to me how incredibly devoted Evangelicals tend to be to the Romanticist notion that feeling is our best, most reliable, or—in some cases—only access to ultimate reality.  I understand that this is a deeply embedded part of American culture (think how many movies have some version of “follow your heart” as their major theme); what really puzzles me is how Evangelicals fail to see that Christianity is simply incompatible with Romanticist philosophy.  That is not the only example.  I have found that many Evangelicals—even some of the more thoughtful ones—are simply incapable of discussing commitment to one’s spouse or family in any terms other than the positive emotion one feels toward those people.  In other words the sentence, “I stay with my husband because I love him.” means “I stay with my husband because I feel positive emotions toward him.”  The problem with that is the corollary, “I forsake my husband because I no longer feel positive emotions toward him,” or the more common phrasing “I don’t love him any more.”  If a choice is justified only because of the prevalence of positive emotion, then it must be rejected if negative emotion prevails.  And Romanticism is only one example this slavery to cultural thought.

Inability to Effectively Critique Culture: I’m not talking about the fact that they couldn’t bring the culture to accept Christianity—that is a given.  What I mean is that Evangelicalism seems to have been impotent to biblically assess the trends of our culture.  For example, the Evangelical response to the cultural notion that homosexuality must be acceptable because “people are just born that way” has generally consisted of nothing more than the incensed retort “NO THEY’RE NOT!”  But, one need not know Christian theology very well to understand that we are all sinful by nature and that being “born that way” is no justification before God for our sin.

Prosperity Theology: Here again, I want to acknowledge that there are many Evangelicals who resist this trend; I applaud them.  Unfortunately, I have found Evangelical pastors and teachers commonly reject the ‘health and wealth gospel’ movement (good for them), but fail to reject the ideology.  They know that Joel Osteen is wrong, but often fail to see how some of the things they teach are not really any different.  For example, Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life is wildly popular with Evangelicals and received the 2001 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Award.

Zero Tolerance Policy Toward Any Who Point out Systemic Problems—Confrontation of individuals for their sin is occasionally acceptable (“Sister Jill, you should not have left your husband,” etc.)—at least in theory.  But if anyone ever dares to question the system (“Doesn’t hosting a board-breaking karate master for Sunday worship communicate an incorrect message about what the gospel is?’), that person gets blacklisted, marginalized, shunned, or even sent packing immediately (just try asking for a scriptural defense of the trend of ‘satellite’ churches)—and even that is better than how they treat the elderly members who dare to mention that they liked it better before the music was so loud.  Rather than thoughtful reflection on such questions, there is very commonly the execution of the questioner.

Tremendous muddling of the gospel of Christ—This is a powerful motivator for me.  It occurred to me that, if I stay in the Baptist denomination, my children are likely to get—from their time in church—a confused mishmash of ideas which bear very little resemblance to the true gospel.  I’ll quickly list just a few.  As you can see, there is quite a bit of overlap with my category of shallow theology.

  • Faithism (trust in one’s own state of—or ability to conjure up—belief)
  • Legalism (merit earned before God by means of keeping rules—or, by extension, anything else we do [self denial, charity, generosity, achievements of any sort])
  • Groupism (our standing before god established by our being in the most superior group—closely linked with hero worship)
  • Emotionalism (positive emotions are the substance of Christianity—or at least the most important part).  Think Max Lucado, etc.
  • Intellectualism (confidence before God is derived from our intellectual status–or that of our group or group’s leader)
  • Prosperity theology (discussed above)
  • Liberation theology—in its various forms—is alive, well, and the entire gospel according to some Evangelicals.  This was not the dominant feature of any of the churches that I visited, but it was not usually clearly rejected.
  • Environmentalism—as a culturally driven group, Evangelicalism tends to want to mimic the culture.  Environmentalism is, “all the rage” right now, and there are plenty of Evangelicals who appear more interested in being respected in the sight of the green crazed culture than in what scripture might teach on the subject.  Environmentalism is not so much a gospel as a prophecy of doom, but Evangelicals seem to be eating it up.

Where I Ended Up

These things were so prominent that I found myself thinking—as I discussed Christianity with an unbelieving friend—that the worst thing I could do, if I truly wanted him to become a Christian, would be to invite him to my church.  If my church would poison this friend against Christ, why should I expect my children to respond differently?  And, I was well aware that they could tell how perpetually dissatisfied I was with the churches we were going to.

I sincerely hope this post doesn’t come off as a rant.  I really intend it to be a lament.  I don’t even hope my words will cause others to follow me in my sorrowful walk of shame away from Evangelicalism.  I suppose I hope that, in some small way, these words will contribute to the good of calling the group to accountability.

I have at least hinted at where I have ended up.  Having been dragged kicking and screaming (John could well attest) to such basic theological reconsideration, I found the answers given by Lutherans to have some real weight.  Having come to grasp what is and is not being asserted by Lutherans in their talk about baptism and the lord’s supper (no small feat for someone who is accustomed to thinking in Baptist categories), I have accepted the Lutheran understanding of the sacraments.  As I stated in part one, that was the holdout issue for me.  Even four years ago I, with John, liked most everything else about Lutheranism (in it’s better expressions—I am told there are a few Lutheran churches which very much resemble Evangelical megachurhes) better than what I found in Evangelicalism.

I was recently confirmed as a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran church (Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in La Grange, KY).  I admit that the problems I have described are not entirely absent from my new church.  But, so far as I can tell, they do not at this point in time predominate.  I hope and pray they never will.  I believe that my children will get a far clearer understanding of the gospel from their time there than they would at any of the Evangelical churches we attended.  Furthermore, I have good reason to think that my own shortcomings will not preclude me from membership and full participation there, and that patience and forgiveness (both of which I need in generous amounts) can be found there.

KWR

About Rev. John Fraiser

Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church - LaGrange, KY htlc-lagrange.org
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48 Responses to Why I Walked Away from Evangelicalism (part 2 of 2)

  1. Pingback: Why I Walked Away from Evangelicalism (part 1 of 2) | CHAOS & OLD NIGHT

  2. I confess I am in sympathy and substantial agreement with nearly everything you have said! I really hate the personality cult mentality within evangelicalism, and I think the “stars” ought to do more about discouraging it (e.g. perhaps by NOT bringing out a new book every 6 months?).

    One thing you left out is pragmatism. Evangelicalism,especially of the American variety (I’m a Brit), is shot through with an “if it works,it’s right” mentality; even the leaders don’t seem to see it.
    Anyhow, I don’t agree that evangelicalism should be abandoned, but I do think you have identified things which are there!

    Thanks for the post, and may God lead you and bless your family.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Paul,

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad that you reject the Evangelical tendency toward hero worship as well. Calling the Ba’als into question puts one on a lonely road within Evangelicalism; I am glad at the company. I don’t remember ever hearing an Evangelical preacher discourage hero worship, but I am aware of at least one Evangelical pastor who argues that hero worship is proper behavior for Christians. Here’s my response to John Piper on that issue, in case you are interested.

      You are right that pragmatism is a great problem in this country. I think the pragmatism is rooted in bad theology. The mentality which believes “if it works, it’s right” assumes both that people know enough about and are wise enough to judge any action by it’s consequences. But, even worse, it refuses to deal with the question of what it means for something to “work” (anything we might do would “work” for some conceivable purpose). But, enough rambling. I definitely agree with your point.

      It was certainly hard for me to walk away from Evangelicalism; I think I can understand why you disagree with me about abandoning it. I hope you have found or are able to find a church which will rise above the norm.

  3. I agree with a huge percentage of your post – almost all – but could you state what you believe to be the Gospel? Specifically regarding the issue of submission/obedience to Christ? It seems that in my exposure to Lutheranism, that this idea was mostly absent.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Joshua,

      Thank you for your word of support. I’d be interested to know what your reservations are.

      I’m guessing that you have some specific issues of disagreement with Lutheranism. Tell me more about them; I’d be happy to discuss them as well as I am able.

      • I have recently left baptist fundamentalism for a church that is extremely biblical in everything. I seriously cannot think of one area of concern. I am thankful for that.

        I grew up around Lutheranism (in Wisconsin) so I am quite familiar with the denomination – many family and friends are in it. But even though I was looking for an alternative, I would have never looked to Lutheranism because their gospel is flawed. There is nothing of obedience, taking up one’s cross or submitting to Christ. Their doctrine (from my observations) is believe and love everyone . . . not much more.

      • OFelixCulpa says:

        Joshua,

        You write”

        “I have recently left baptist fundamentalism”

        I know much of that group; did you by chance attend Northland or Maranatha? Much like broader Evangelicalism, that group demands unquestioning loyalty no matter what (I’m sure you saw the 20/20 special about Ernie Willis and others).

        “for a church that is extremely biblical in everything. I seriously cannot think of one area of concern. I am thankful for that.”

        I am glad that things are going well in your church, but, not one fault? Doesn’t that seem a little unrealistic? Perhaps you meant no problems of a serious nature. Certainly any church, however great, will not be free of problems.

        “I grew up around Lutheranism (in Wisconsin) so I am quite familiar with the denomination – many family and friends are in it. But even though I was looking for an alternative, I would have never looked to Lutheranism because their gospel is flawed. There is nothing of obedience, taking up one’s cross or submitting to Christ.”

        From what you write here, I take it that you hold that a correct understanding of the gospel involves certain measures of obedience and submission. Is that an accurate statement? The Lutheran view does differ from that of Presbyterians and most other Evangelicals, but that does not necessitate that it is flawed.

        “Their doctrine (from my observations) is believe and love everyone . . . not much more.”

        That is not an accurate description of the gospel as I understand it, but I would say that our salvation comes in Christ, not in any deeds of obedience that we might do. Taking up one’s cross, obeying, and submitting are indeed required, but we in no sense participate in achieving our salvation by them.

        Perhaps I’m not quite understanding.

  4. Jim says:

    Your whole premise seems so narcissistic and self-consumed. Accordng to Paul in 1 Corinthians. you struggle with the carnal issue of “I am of Cephas; I am of Apollos; I am of Paul; I am of Christ.” What’s wrong with being a Christian who simply obeys the Bible to the best of your understanding? Christian movements will always disappoint you. The one you have now chosen wil not long satify you, I fear. A believer’s goal is not to search out a church where he can find all “his needs” met or one that agrees with all his private interpretation. It is to practice love of the brethren, to cling to the core teaching of Scripture, to carry out the Great Commission with passion, to practice Christian liberty toward those who have opinions that do no violate the fundamentals of the faith and has a good testimony among those who are “without.”, and an environment where spiritual growth to Christ-likeness can occur.. There will always be things, even in a Bible-believing church, that disappoint us, and you have rightly enumerated quite a few. It appears that your personality is perfectionistic and always in search of your “ideal” church. All this jumping about from one church ot another cannot possibly have a good effect on your wife and children. It is promoting dissatisfaction in them, and one might predict that they may struggle with finding their place in Christ’s ministry as they grow older.

    • Wayne Wilson says:

      I think you are right, Jim. That was my impression, too. This poor fellow could not possibly have been in any of the above mentioned churches long enough to build relationships and “be understood” for his obviously quirky personality. Of course some of his criticisms are valid, but he enters with a chip on his shoulder and ready to find fault, especially about how he is treated. You have graciously shown him the balanced and biblical response. Well said.

      • OFelixCulpa says:

        Wayne,

        Thank you for commenting as well. It is correct that I ruled out many churches without so much as a second visit–even more were ruled out by reading their websites. But that’s pretty much unavoidable, isn’t it? And, there were several that I joined and remained a member of for years at a time.

        As with Jim, I wonder a bit if you might be reading what someone else has said into my post. I know that many, many people complain about ‘how they were treated,’ but I never mentioned anything about that.

        Certainly it is possible that I am very wrong in my evaluation, but the charge that I “have a chip on my shoulder” seems unwarranted to me. Can you explain what in my post indicates that I have such a chip?

        Thanks for commenting. If there is something wrong in my thinking, I need other people to help me see it.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Jim,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll try to respond:

      “Your whole premise seems so narcissistic and self-consumed.”

      How so? In part one, I told a brief story of my experience. I suppose telling a story about oneself always runs of the risk of sounding narcissist, but I don’t see how mine did. Please explain a little more.

      “You struggle with the carnal issue of ‘I am of Cephas; I am of Apollos; I am of Paul; I am of Christ.’”

      I think I understand the danger you are concerned about, but, again, I don’t see how what I wrote indicates that I am in that situation. As far as I understand, that is exactly what I was criticizing when I mentioned ‘groupism.’

      “What’s wrong with being a Christian who simply obeys the Bible to the best of your understanding?”

      Nothing at all. I don’t mean to suggest that there is. Of course, the Bible does have much to say about the church; our participation in the church cannot really be considered separately from what the Bible says about it, right?

      “Christian movements will always disappoint you.”

      I think I understand your point, and I agree. That is why I wrote “I think it is fair to assume that any church will have every one of these problems to some degree.” It is entirely possible for us to have expectations that are unrealistic, but my goal in part two was to explain why I decided that remaining loyal to Evangelicalism would be unwise for me. There are some expectations which are absolutely necessary, wouldn’t you agree?

      “The one you have now chosen wil not long satify you, I fear.”

      I know what you mean. That fear is part of what kept me from walking away sooner. Of course, I hope that never happens, but I know that that it could. All I can say is that, if that does happen, I must trust myself to God’s care. Whatever may be wrong with my expectations, I must trust him to repair it.

      “A believer’s goal is not to search out a church where he can find all ‘his needs’ met or one that agrees with all his private interpretation.”

      I’m starting to wonder here if you have confused me with someone else. I know that those are very common complaints; many pastors are understandably frustrated with people giving vague subjective complaints like “my needs aren’t being met” or “I’m not being fed” and so on (perhaps you are a pastor who has had to deal with that). But I don’t see how anything I wrote equates to those complaints. I wrote nothing of my ‘needs,’ and the critiques I made are not issues of ‘private interpretation’–are they? I tried to be very careful in what I was writing; if I did go astray, I am eager to correct it.

      “[The believer's goal] is to practice love of the brethren, to cling to the core teaching of Scripture, to carry out the Great Commission with passion, to practice Christian liberty toward those who have opinions that do not violate the fundamentals of the faith and has a good testimony among those who are ‘without’ and an environment where spiritual growth to Christ-likeness can occur.”

      I think I agree with what you say here, though I might state it a little differently.

      “There will always be things, even in a Bible-believing church, that disappoint us, and you have rightly enumerated quite a few.”

      Again, I agree that every church will have problems. Apparently you agree with me about the existence of the problems I describe in Evangelicalism, so I assume that you disagree with me either about the predominance of those problems or about what a person’s response to those problems should be. Is that correct?

      “It appears that your personality is perfectionistic and always in search of your ‘ideal’ church.”

      Well, I do tend to be a perfectionist, but I do not, so far as I can tell, have some unrealistic ideal which I demand that every church must conform to. Obviously, there are non-negotiables; you listed quite a few, but, so far as I understand it, the list of non-negotiables that you give is even more extensive than what I was looking for.

      “All this jumping about from one church ot another cannot possibly have a good effect on your wife and children.”

      Agreed. That is one of the big reasons I decided that I should walk away from Evangelicalism. I tried very hard–I now think too hard–to stay in the group; for my family’s sake, I had to reconsider my loyalty.

      “It is promoting dissatisfaction in them, and one might predict that they may struggle with finding their place in Christ’s ministry as they grow older.”

      Again, I was aware of the negative impact, and that is why I walked away. I believe that have been the right thing to do. Beyond that, I must trust God to take care of me and my children.

      Thanks for interacting. I always appreciate it when people really engage.

  5. Job says:

    Why did you not start your own independent Baptist church? You had the background and the training for it. Even if it had been comprised of “only” about ten members, most of whom would have been members of your family, it still would have reflected the practices and theology that you know to best conform to the Bible, including but certainly not limited to full immersion baptism of professing believers as opposed to the sprinkling of infants, as well as free church theology as opposed to covenant theology.

    Incidentally, there are plenty of conservative Baptist churches that are not in broader evangelicalism.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Job,

      You ask a very good question. Friends have posed it to me many times. When I decided not to pursue professional ministry–either as a pastor or a teacher–I did so because I realized that I am sorely lacking in some of the natural people skills that are virtually indispensable for a pastor. If being a pastor only required that one be able to think about scripture and theology and teach about it, I would probably do well. But, like it or not, people skills are more essential to a pastor than exegetical and theological skills. I have come to realize that, though I like most people I meet, I really don’t understand them very well–I can’t ‘read’ them.

      Though I didn’t mention it in my post, I have substantial experience with conservative Baptists who identify themselves as outside of Evangelicalism. In my experience, their claim to be outside is really quite hollow, for they are–except for their denials–completely indistinguishable from those conservatives who do consider themselves Evangelical. Though I considered such churches in my search, I did not give them separate mention. As far as I can tell, the criticisms I make of Evangelicalism apply just as much to conservative Baptist ‘non-Evangelicals’ as they do to those who identify with Evangelicalism.

      Thank you for interacting.

  6. Pooka says:

    Mr. Fraiser,
    Your work is good reading. You’ve pinned down the issues that are heavy hitting in mainstream churches. Agreed, unfortunately, these are probably existent to some degree in every church, though not necessarily as obviously as you’ve presented in the article. I’m concerned most about your willingness to shift gears on soteriology as you rethink “basic theology.” I think I can say this because I’ve been there, tempted to drop twenty years of a particular belief in a doctrine when faced with an altogether better church environment.
    Being raised as a regular old Baptist, Reformed views on baptism were for me probably as difficult to tackle as were your dealings with Lutheran sacraments. I would challenge you to avoid throwing in the towel completely. Study the doctrines carefully and as long as you can, avoiding the easy pitfall of agreeing just because everything else is agreeable.
    Honestly, in reading your articles, the sense I get is that you simply found a Good Church, filled with Good People. Though that is the most desirable thing for a Christian here in this life, it isn’t really the most important. Fitting in should come second to right doctrine.
    If you’ve been thoroughly, carefully and prayerfully convinced of LCMS doctrines – that they are Biblical – that is one thing (though I would disagree with you). But if the environment has sweetened the deal to the point that you’re willing to embrace this doctrine in order to have the fellowship and escape the evils as you described, then it is a disservice to yourself and family.
    Elimination of the glaring faults of Mainline Evangelical Churches does not determine doctrinal acceptability.
    I submit out of care, having been there myself.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Pooka,

      Just to clarify, John Fraiser is the owner of Chaos & Old Night, and most of the posts here are written by him. He has allowed me (my name is Kevin Regal) to post things here from time to time.

      You make a very good point. It would be great foolishness and tragedy for someone to forsake Christ because someone who claimed to be a Christian sinned against him. It would, similarly, be foolish to forsake truth for the sake of pleasant company. That caused me a great deal of concern as I first began to consider leaving Evangelicalism. I was slow in coming to it, but I eventually concluded that remaining loyal to Evangelicalism would be foolish. At some point, you have to give up all the nonsense of “it’s a good car with a few issues’ and call the lemon a lemon.

      There were, of course, theological issues on which I felt Baptist/Evangelical positions were weak, but for me they came after my loyalty was broken. One is the issue of what is the status of the children of believers. Though Baptists technically believe that children are unbelievers, they almost never behave consistently with that belief. Also, there are some New Testament passages which are very difficult for Baptsits to fit into their theology of baptism. The more I started to believe that Evangelicalism did not deserve the loyalty that it demanded from me, the more significan those problem passages seemed.

      I don’t really think of myself as having “thrown in the towel completely.” The gospel is the important thing. Departing from Evangelicalism is, I have come to believe, the best way to ‘stay in the fight.’ I also don’t think I have ‘shifted gears’ soteriologically. I probably do differ from the majority of Lutherans on that issue, but Lutheranism doesn’t require that kind of conformity (for that matter, neither does Evangelicalism. I was in much the same position there).

      I have thought, prayed, and discussed the theological issues a great deal; I don’t think I’ve been too hasty. I can tell you that I decided to become LCMS before I had chosen a church, so I didn’t really know how good the environment would be.

      I really appreciate your thoughtful concern. Thanks for writing.

  7. Pooka says:

    Kevin-not-John, I apologize for flipping the names. I knew that, too.
    I’m right there with you on the baptism matters. I can’t support the Baptist model.
    Thank you for your gracious reply as well.

  8. Wayne Wilson says:

    Kevin,
    While I could certainly be wrong, I based my “chip on your shoulder” impression from your language:
    “always clinging to the hope that somewhere out there in the Evangelical circus was a church that I could stomach and that would be willing to tolerate me.” and searching for a “mythical—Evangelical church out there which both takes real Christianity really seriously and also accepts people like me.” You say you are “flawed even to the point of being rather dislikeable.” “the people in my church did not care about me and my family.”
    Your discussion of “poor fools” who dare to ask questions facing “blacklisting, marginalization, or even expulsion.” Or “blacklisted, marginalized, shunned, or even sent packing immediately.” And “Rather than thoughtful reflection on such questions, there is very commonly the execution of the questioner.” Are you talking about you? Have you asked anyone if you do this too much, or in an offensive manner? Why do people find you dislikable? Do people get tired of you challenging everything? Is that why you think they don’t love you? Do you give the impression you’re the only one in the room who takes Christianity “real seriously?”

    Brother, I know some churches shut down sincere questioners, but I very much doubt that is the norm. I know many solid Bible-believing, theologically Baptist churches where none of your criticisms are applicable to any large degree. Accepting that no place is perfect, I am sure I do not live in a garden of wonderful churches.

    if you are searching for a church you can “stomach,” that to me suggests a critical spirit going in…not a biblically discerning spirit, a critical one. Just my impression from reading your piece. By the way, I was raised Lutheran. Still love Luther…warts and all, and miss the ritual, but thank God someone shared the Gospel of God’s free grace with me in college.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Wayne,

      You list several phrases which lead you to believe that I “have a chip” on my shoulder (i.e., that I endeavored to cause trouble). I wonder if there is any way anyone could critique the problems I mentioned without causing that reaction for you. I can understand how Evangelicals could feel that my discussion of the problems in the group is nothing more than troublemaking. But the fact that a criticism is not well-received does not demonstrate that it was ill-intended.

      I wanted to be clear that I do not consider myself to be perfect, but I can’t give a very good explanation of my own weaknesses. But, as I said in part one, “even if I were a perfect person, the ubiquity of these problems should cause me to reconsider my loyalty to the group and the teachings on which the group is based.”

      I am curious about your distinction between a “critical spirit” and a “biblically discerning spirit.” That seems to be a very subjective distinction. Is there any way a person could objectively tell between them?

      I’m glad you like Luther; I do as well. Do you really think that he did not teach the “gospel of God’s free grace?”

      • Wayne Wilson says:

        Yes, Kevin,
        Yes, there is definitely a way one could make these criticisms without being perceived as having a chip on one’s shoulder. I don’t think a humble brother seeking a fellowship would say he was looking for a church he could “stomach.” That phrase sets off the critical spirit alarm at level 10. So does your other over-the-top language. There is nothing new in your criticisms of much that is wrong with the Evangelical world. I would agree with almost everything you said. So would many others. It’s just that they are not true of many, many churches. They are not ubiquitous. Not even close.

        The difference between a biblically discerning spirit and a critical spirit may be seen objectively (in demeanor and language), but primarily subjectively. That’s why I asked you questions for you to reflect on. I asked you very specific questions for you to discern if part of the problem might not be you. That you steered around them doesn’t lesson my concern. I don’t know you. I am giving you my impression from your use of loaded language.

        Yes, Luther taught the Gospel of God’s free grace. I just never heard it preached in the Lutheran church. It was in the liturgy, but I was too young to find it there.

      • OFelixCulpa says:

        Wayne,

        I understand that you feel my descriptions to be indicative of a “critical spirit,” but I disagree. The only way to resolve that is by appeal to an objective standard (hence my request). Without something objective to substantiate your opinion, it makes very little sense for me to discard my observations and opinions in favor of yours.

        I’m not trying to oversimplify the effect that language can have; I know that speech which looks benevolent can actually be malicious. I also know that sometimes we can have personal over-reactions to certain modes of expression that are not really outrageous. Could it not be that you are overly sensitive?

        Similarly, people can sometimes be numb to a thing which really is outrageous. Could it not be that you are numb regarding the appalling condition of Evangelicalism?

  9. Wayne Wilson says:

    No, it could not be that I am numb to them. I detest them as much as you, probably more, for I have not run away. It is simply that these things you mention are not true of many churches in the Evangelical/Fundamental world. That is objectively the case. Yes, overall, the church is a mess, but there are many exceptions. You chose the word “ubiquity.” That is objectively untrue, and sounds like the “always” and “never” words immature people use in arguments.

    But I was talking “objective” and subjective” in relation to you, and how you feel you were treated. So I asked you to think about how you come across, and why you feel unloved, ostracized, shunned, blacklisted, executed, sent packing, etc. I think most mature believers would hear a person say “I’m looking for a church I can stomach” and think there is something not quite right about the searcher…maybe more wrong than what he claims he is finding in his search.

    So, brother, I will ask my questions again. Have you asked anyone in the churches where you were so treated if you do this too much, or in an offensive manner? Why do people find you dislikable? Do people get tired of you challenging everything? Is that why you think they don’t love you? Do you give the impression you’re the only one in the room who takes Christianity “real seriously?” These are questions for you to help you discern whether or not you have a critical spirit rather than a noble defender of real Christianity in the midst of a circus. In my experience, people like you are totally unaware of how they come across, and they wonder the same things you do. “Why am I not loved? These people shy away from me. If only they could see how godly I am. They don’t have my keen insight. They are too wordly to understand me.” Right?

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Wayne,

      While I don’t want to seem nit-picky, I do want to clarify that some of your representations of what I wrote are not quite correct. As I pointed out before, I never said anything about “how I was treated”–I believe you brought that phrase into the discussion. I also did not identify myself as the target of most of the problems that I described. I also never said anything about “how godly I am,” “my keen insight,” etc. I feel like it is dishonest for someone to insinuate that I wrote or said those things.

      If someone is numb, he cannot speak with authority about the sensations to which he is numb, just as a blind man cannot say much about colors and shades. If you were numb to the appaling condition of Evangelicalism, you would not necessarily be aware of your own inability to sense what really is there. That’s the whole point.

      I would like to benefit from your concern. It is difficult (perhaps even unwise), though, to be confident of something simply because a single blogger asserts it to be so. I get that you think that “most mature believers would…think there is something wrong.” But I think that most mature believers would not be so quick to accuse. Why should I give your opinion more weight than my own or those of the commenters who come to different conclusions than you have?

      I am afraid that this exchange could soon turn negative, and that is not what I want. I would rather agree to disagree than have one of us, in frustration, say something unloving. Does that work for you?

  10. Wayne Wilson says:

    Yes, that works for me. I think I’ve done all that I can do. I will let other readers discern who is numb to reality.

  11. Melinda says:

    The reality is that the problems are ubiquitous. Having grown up in evangelicalism, I agree with Kevin that the problems he describes are pervasive and grievous. In my personal experience (subjective, I know, but also the standard Wayne used when he stated that he knows “many solid Bible-believing, theologically Baptist churches where none of your criticisms are applicable to any large degree”), I could not come up with a long list of said churches where the criticisms do not apply to a large degree. I know I would come up with a few but not many.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Melinda,
      Thanks for sharing. I am glad that you are aware of a few churches which rise above the crowd. I take it one of the ones you refer to is your church home. I hope it remains exceptional.

  12. Melinda says:

    Kevin, I married the best pastor I could find, so that I’d know that (Lord willing!) wherever I live, I could respect and trust the pastor under whom I serve and grow. I pray that he remains humble, honest and compassionately committed to the Gospel of grace that both saves and sanctifies us. :) (Do you remember Jason Clark from NBBC and Central?) http://www.fbcsteamboat.com. We’re striving to love people where they’re at, to point them to cross & resurrection that changes everything and then to walk with them through the slow and often difficult process of being transformed by grace. Not simple, not always tidy or neat, but worth the struggle. :)
    I shared your posts with Jason, and his response was, “If Kevin has found a church that will love & serve his family, where they will grow in grace and their love for the Gospel, then I’m glad. I hope the best for them and that God blesses him.”
    If you’re ever in Steamboat (not exactly next door to La Grange, I grant you), come see us. :)

    • Melinda says:

      To clarify, even as the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church, I acknowledge that the concerns you listed are systemic. Intentionally choosing not to drift along with the current is costly and difficult and flesh-rending.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Melinda,

      Of course I remember you and Jason! I had no idea that you lived in Colorado. We lived in Highlands Ranch from 2003-2008; too bad we weren’t aware that you were there before we moved away. Thanks for your invitation; if we make it back that way, we will definitely take you up on it. If you are ever near Kentucky, you must come see us as well.

      Please convey my thanks to Jason for his encouraging words. I wish him well in his service at FBC.

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  14. Armistead says:

    As a Lutheran and friend of Kevin’s, I admit that I am biased in giving this response. Having had both positive and negative past experiences as an Evangelical, I think that Kevin has made some painful, yet true observations. I don’t find it helpful to begin a response to Kevin’s post with “Your whole premise seems so narcissistic and self-consumed” or “This poor fellow could not possibly have been in any of the above mentioned churches long enough to build relationships and ‘be understood’ for his obviously quirky personality.” Responses like these immediately go after Kevin and make negative assumptions about his character, rather than offering a substantive question or challenge to his comments. As a friend of Kevin’s, let me say that Kevin is one of the kindest and most patient people I know. I believe that his post here reflects a love for the gospel and the church – not a self-serving quest. Even if Kevin was all of the things the he has been accused of here (I find the opposite to be true of him), pointing out character flaws doesn’t really address anything he has stated regarding the problems within Evangelical churches.

    I would also like to address a concern of Joshua’s regarding Lutheranism. Joshua writes, “I would have never looked to Lutheranism because their gospel is flawed. There is nothing of obedience, taking up one’s cross or submitting to Christ. Their doctrine (from my observations) is believe and love everyone . . . not much more.” Joshua, this may be true in your experiences of Lutheranism. I don’t think it is true of historic Lutheranism, however, and I think that you will find plenty about obedience and taking up one’s cross in Luther’s writings, in the writings of Lutheran theologians such as Bonhoeffer, as well as in the text in much of J.S. Bach’s music. Obedience and submitting to Christ are preached in the church I attend, but perhaps many Lutheran churches have no room for this. At the same time, I can say that having had plenty of experience with heavily focusing on my personal obedience to Christ hasn’t helped me much in dealing with sin. Only God’s grace and forgiveness can do that. Certainly, suffering and opportunities to take up one’s cross will happen for all Christians. But my own perpetual self-evaluation of those things (which I was taught to believe in evangelical circles) hasn’t done me much good. Rather it has served to make me feel either more righteous or less righteous than others. I am not assuming that you are implying this kind of self-analysis. It sounds like you are content with the church you attend at present – this is great. I hope that you will give historic Lutheranism a fair shake when seeking the gospel. I certainly appreciate your questions and remarks to Kevin.

    This is the first time I have posted on this blog. I hope my thoughts are helpful to some. Thanks.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Armistead,

      Biased or not, thank you for the kind remarks.

      The point you make is a good one, and it is interesting to note that most everyone who has commented agreed that the problems I describe are very prominent in the group. Those who expressed disagreement disagreed with my decision to leave, but not really with the validity of my reasons.

      You also make a good point about the gospel. I suspect that some might argue that the obedience urged by Lutherans has no ‘teeth’—because Lutherans reject the notion a believer can assess his standing before God by measuring his own obedience (what you termed “perpetual self-evaluation”). But I suppose I should allow Joshua to explain his position.

      Thanks for commenting!

  15. Darryl says:

    Kevin,

    What makes Lutheranism a valid alternative to evangelicalism’s peccadilloes? I agree with your assessment completely on evangelicalism, but I am not sure how you get to Lutheranism as a solution.

    thanks

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Darryl,

      Thanks for you comment. You ask a good question. Though I disagree with your characterization of Evangelicalism’s problems as ‘peccadilloes’ (small, relatively unimportant offenes or sins), it is possible that Lutheranisn could have many of the flaws I described as being predominant in Evangelicalism. I am aware of that; as I mentioned, I have been told that LCMS megachurches do exist. It is also true that all the problems which I mentioned are not necessary components of Evangelical doctrine (theoretically, there could be Evangelical churches out there which do not suffer from any of those problems in a serious way). But I searched a long time for such a church and never did find it. It was that long, painful, and fruitless search which led me to the conclusion that I must try something else. Having —as an outsider—considered Lutheranism very carefully for quite some time, I concluded that it has some things going for it which Evangelicalism generally does not.

      For example, the creedal consciousness among Lutherans does tend to restrain the sensational tendancies which seem to have enormous sway over Evangelicalism. I know that it is theoretically possible for Evangelicals to be consciously dedicated to historic condensations of Christian doctrine, but that bare possibility is little comfort. Also, the liturgical orientation of Lutheran worship makes the phenomenon of celebrity pastors much less likely. Generally Evangelical worship places a great deal of weight upon the performance of the preacher (and musicians); it is not surprising that charismatic pastors who wow listeners with their sensational performances develop into heroes. Further, the distinction between law and grace which is so important in Lutheranism would seem to help them avoid many of the confusions about the gospel which Evangelicalism has so fully assimilated (like decisionist theology).

      I can’t say that no execptions exist, but there don’t seem to be any superstar pastors who are Lutherans. The indulgence in megachurch silliness also seems to be much less common among Lutheran churches. Furthermore, I was with a very minimal amount of searching able to find a Lutheran church which is, though not perfect, far better than the many Evangelical churches I considered. Could my church take a turn for the worse at some point and become just as bad as the typical Evangelical church? Yes, that is possible. But an actual church in the LCMS, even with the possibility of following Evangelicalism’s unfortunate example, is better than only the theoretical possibility of a church within the ranks of Evangelicalism.

      I think it is interesting how much loyalty Evangelicalism demands and how little it offers to justify such loyalty. Many of the responses have gone something like, “Yes you are right; but, you should never have left.” I keep thinking, “Why not? If Evangelicalism is indeed rife with serious problems, why should Christians not seek an alternative?” Though it is never overtly stated, it seems Evangelicalism may have picked up on the “no matter what we do, we’re still the one true church” mantra of Roman Catholicism.

      Again, thanks for responding.

  16. Amanda says:

    Kevin,
    I am just a young college kid who, while surfing the internet, stumbled across this website/blogger page. After reading what you wrote, and that of others, it is pretty difficult on what to agree on. Many, as well as your self, made great points. But, of course the purpose of your blog, I believe, was not to have people merely provide great points, to agree, or disagree with. And of course, I too while I was reading all the above, felt an urge to add a great point myself. Perhaps to feel useful, or hopefully to just encourage a fellow brother in His walk in finding the proper Church life. I would just like to add that the Lord is always faithful, and if you keep asking (or ask) Him to give you the wisdom of discernment, discernment to find the Church life (church) most pleasing to Him..He will! :) Don’t give up, keep coming to the Lord with an open heart to show you where He needs you, just obey on what He shows you.
    Also, I myself, as have many, have questioned what is the best church out there. But in being so obsessed with this search, I felt more empty and angry. I even felt a wall between full enjoyment between God and I. I thought that in just focusing on what is the right church or the best one for me, I forgot about simply trusting in God. The Lord asks us not to be anxious, but to give all our burdens to Him, and that He will guide us and take care of us. To rely on Him rather than our selves. God is faithful…
    As for all that is wrong about Christianity, I agree completely. But we should not lose focus on what is truly important, and that is Christ and His person. And He calls us to to be diligent to keep the oneness, to tolerate one another in love, and to be One as He and the Father are one, so that we may be a testimony to the unbelievers. Our purpose on this earth are not to find that one special Church, but it is to diligently seek the Lord wherever you are, because He will show you the way and discernment. He will honor your seeking. But you must have a open and willing heart wherever you are. One can be at the most “correct” church, yet if we are not there with a pure heart, then we are useless and unpleasing to God. Its like wishing to be in the best University, for the sake of it being the best, yet not truly there willing to try the hardest to take advantage for the knowledge the university has, instead just for what it stands for. One can enjoy Christ anywhere by having that open heart and mind to be willing to please Him–Christ, who is reality, is in all those members who purely love and follow Him. But enjoying God anywhere doesn’t mean we should test Him and join the Mormons are Jehovah’s witness.

    Anywho, Brother, just remember to pray to Him always asking in a pure heart that He show you the way, and to give you grace to deny yourself (your concepts and opinions) take up the cross, and follow Him. What can go wrong in something Christ Himself asked us to do? But of course this is hard, I speak for myself, but this does not mean I will not exhort you on the matter. With your diligence to find the Lord’s true resting place, the Lord will bless you with believers pleasing to Him, and of course with teachings according to Him

    Also I believe these two following quotes by a brother named Witness Lee are pretty on boat on what you are feeling for Evangelicalism:
    I think they’re pretty cool and true to God’s way:
    “The church is expressed on this earth in localities, and where there is an expression of the church, that expression must be one. Let us be simple. Let us not be complicated by the confusion in Christianity. It is a shame to ask people what church they belong to. If someone is a brother, that is all we need to know. I belong to the church, and you belong to the church. We all belong to the church.” [21]

    According to Lee, “every local church should receive all kinds of genuine believers in Christ”, and having a name, such as Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, was divisive and contrary to the oneness all the saints have inherited in Christ.[22]

    “If a believer prefers to keep the Sabbath whereas we take the Lord’s Day, or if he eats only vegetables whereas we eat every kind of food, we still must receive him. We must receive him because God has received him (Rom. 14:3) and because Christ has received him (Rom. 15:7). We must receive every believer in Christ according to Christ (Rom. 15:5).” “If a church does not receive all kinds of genuine believers, it is divisive and becomes a sect.” “Therefore, although we should practice things such as baptism by immersion, the presbytery, and head covering, we should not make these things a special item that divides us from others. Furthermore, we should not make them our creed, and we should not designate ourselves by a name, such as Lutheran, Baptist, or Presbyterian, that is according to a particular teaching or practice.” [23]
    ….but anyways, brother, take care, and that the Lord will guide you in His way..But remember the Bible says be DILIGENT to keep the oneness, and to LOVE one another, and Tolerate one another in love, and to be ONE in all those under Christ. Meaning we need to really work hard to tolerate and love one another and cover each other in Christ, because in the end the only one who can judge, and judge righteously at that is Christ Himself. He is the only one who can say who is right or wrong. The time for that judgement will come soon, for now we must leave that to the Big Guy, trust, grow, and enjoy His meany riches…continue to pursue the Lord’s way and He will show you! Guarantee..Grace be with you, brother

    hope I made sense. Like I said I just stumbled on to this. Felt like sharing. Hope I encouraged, for that is my only intention

  17. Amanda says:

    I know the above sounds like the usual Christian answer for encouragement, but its not all about something new or fancy words, its about truth and reality.

  18. Jeffery Hunt says:

    Evangelical is such a broad term. Couldn’t many LCMS congregations fall under that umbrella? I attended an anglican (AMIA) church that considered itself to be evangelical.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Jeffrey,

      You are right about the term. Even when I considered myself an Evangelical, I often said that the term has virtually no meaning beyond “that group of people who call themselves ‘Evangelicals.'” You are also right that LCMS churches would technically fit the ‘Evangelical’ label given many of the definitions that are offered (which are usually descriptions of historical Christian orthodoxy).

      However, there is one big difference; LCMS Lutherans generally reject the label for themselves—they are not among the group who “call themselves Evangelical.” I think they are prudent to reject the label, because many things which are overwhelmingly true of American Evangelicals (i.e. Baptist understanding of baptism and the supper, Decisional theology, strong emphasis on ‘mega’ churches and pastoral superstars, etc.) are things which they decidedly reject. I am not saying that those are essential characteristics of Evangelicalism or that they are true of every church or person who takes the label. Rather, I mean that those things are so overwhelmingly common in Evangelical churches that it makes no sense to leave them out of a definition or explanation of what Evangelicalism is.

      I am not familiar with the AMIA. Do their churches generally consider themselves a part of the American version of Evangelicalism?

  19. pl says:

    Great post here. Coming across this as my wife forwarded it to me. We are near a crossroads ourselves as we attend an evangelical church (formerly ‘Baptist’, changed the name and denomination to become more ‘missional’). Your points are spot on and many of the issues resonate with us as we become increasingly disconnected with our local body and leadership.

    I think the one that hit home was regarding your unsaved friends. I feel the same way. Bringing my wife’s unsaved father to our church would be a great stumbling block to the progress that the Holy Spirit has been working in his heart for a number of reasons. Incidentally we have taken him to my son’s school’s church which is a WELS Lutheran church. We ourselves have been very filled and uplifted with its gospel orientation, the love amongst people there, and the humility of the leadership …and my FIL has begun asking serious questions.

    My issues with the Lutheran faith have been sanctification and its relationship with salvation. I’m not totally there yet but the more I understand it the more it seems to be an issue of semantics more than anything else. There was a time though my fundamentalist then reformed Baptist roots would have compelled me to dismiss this group out of hand.

    BTW you should check out the blog of Wade Burleson. He exposes some of these issues you mentioned from the inside as a Southern Baptist pastor (though I don’t agree with a lot of his non-pastoral articles) and some of the serious doctrinal fallacies overtaking the evangelical world. His article on the problem of authoritarianism in churches is the issue that really started me questioning why I continue on where I currently attend.

    Grace and peace to you brother.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      pl,

      Thanks for your encouraging words. I’ve been where you are, and I really feel for you. There is a lot of hesitation, fear, and sadness involved in coming to the decision to walk away from something that has been such an important part of your self-identity.

      About a year later I can say that I do not regret walking away. Part of what I still regret is that I didn’t have the wherewithal to do so sooner. I regret how much of my life I invested in trying to participate in that fellowship and embarrassed that I never realized that no acceptance was ever seriously offered. I feel really stupid when I realize that I trusted unrelentingly in things and people whom I could have, had I been willing to, seen were not worthy of that trust. But God is sovereign, and he works all things together for good, even when we are less than wise–“he remembers that we are dust.”

      Evangelicalism has a way of making its adherents subconsciously believe that “no one may come to the father except through”…the establishment known as Evangelicalism. Don’t believe it. You can trust God to take care of you and your family even if you depart from Evangelicalism.

  20. Mallory Griffin says:

    Kevin,

    Thank you for writing this post. I found this blog through a search of Google, and your specific posts after reading your friend John’s post about becoming a Lutheran. I wanted to thank you for sharing your story. Your entry (and John’s) articulate so well much of what is driving me to consider leaving the Baptist church for an LCMS church. (And, like you, I’ve also studied to be in ministry and have an MDiv from a Southern Baptist seminary.) I have only been attending an LCMS church for the last two months, so I’m still studying about Lutheranism/praying through what God would have me do. But, whatever I decide, it is encouraging to read the story of someone who’s been in this situation I find myself.

    Again, thank you for sharing.
    Mallory

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Mallory,

      Thank you. I’m glad that what I have written has been encouraging. You would be surprised at how many people are where you are.

      Have you found any particular issues to be problems for your consideration of leaving the Baptist denomination and joining the Lutheran denomination? I suspect you have found that Baptists are generally unwilling to discuss those kinds of questions.

      • Mallory Griffin says:

        Kevin,

        In Baptist fashion, the only issue that concerns me with regards to becoming Lutheran is their view of baptism (shocker, right?). At this point, my initial reaction is this: it seems like the Lutheran position involves talking out of both sides of the mouth to say that salvation is through faith in Christ, but a person is also saved at the moment of baptism. I’ve also noticed that, in some instances, depending on how it’s explained, the Lutheran view sounds almost identical to the Reformed/Calvinist view on baptism. But, there seems to be this fuzzy, hard to distinguish line between the two, and I can never always tell when I’ve crossed it.

        And as someone who’s naturally curious/ loves to learn, I’ve long been aware that the Baptist context isn’t the best for fostering learning…especially when it’s learning about anything outside the party line. As such, to have two different members of the staff of Peace Lutheran tell me that I’m free to ask all the questions I want and affirm that they’re willing to be part of whatever God is/isn’t doing right now was a HUGE blessing! As I mentioned to John in an email, I’d appreciate prayers that my head doesn’t explode in this whole process.

        Thanks, again.
        Mallory

        Mallory

      • OFelixCulpa says:

        Mallory,

        I completely understand what you are saying. Baptists and Lutherans have such different assumptions that it is very often difficult for them to make sense out of the others’ statements on Baptism. I’ll try to clarify where I can.

        First, Baptists invariably think of Baptism as an action that we perform (in obedience). That is why they view the idea of baptismal regeneration with such disdain–in their thinking it amounts to salvation by works. But Lutherans understand baptism as a work of God, so salvation through baptism does not have the same implications. Lutherans believe that God works through baptism just as he works through scripture.

        Second, the Lutheran emphasis on baptismal regeneration is very different from the revivalist/evangelical emphasis on the ‘moment of conversion.’ Evangelicals commonly reference the memory of a conversion experience to answer the question “how do I know that am I saved?” Luther (and Lutherans at their best) did not point troubled souls to an experience, but to Christ. Salvation is Christ’s work in every respect–it is not ours to do or undo. So, the question of the “moment of salvation” doesn’t compute the same way for Lutherans. For them, salvation is in Christ, and that he brought me to Baptism shows that he is for me. Chronology does not matter so much.

        Perhaps you could tell me more about how the Lutheran view of baptism sounds like the Reformed view. I always understood them to be entirely different, except that neither insists on immersion.

        Just curious, when did you go to SBTS? Perhaps we have some acquaintances in common.

      • Mallory Griffin says:

        Kevin,

        Would you mind elaborating on a couple of sentences for me? The first is this one: “Lutherans believe that God works through baptism just as he works through scripture.”

        The other is this one: “For them, salvation is in Christ, and that he brought me to Baptism shows that he is for me. Chronology does not matter so much.”

        As to how the Lutheran and Reformed views of baptism, there have been points where they seem very similar, especially as it regards the reasoning for baptizing infants. It could very well be a semantics issue I’m picking up on, but as the two views are laid out in one particular book I’ve been reading (Understanding Four Views of Baptism), there is a lot of overlap between the two.

        And to answer your last question, I’m actually in TX where I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) from 2005-2008, although several of my professors attended SBTS at one point or another in their educations/teaching careers.

      • OFelixCulpa says:

        Mallory,

        I know, the terminology seems really strange. I’ll attempt to clarify.

        Would you mind elaborating on a couple of sentences for me? The first is this one: “Lutherans believe that God works through baptism just as he works through scripture.”

        Baptists and Lutherans agree that God uses the scripture to convict of us of sin. Lutherans would argue that God similarly uses baptism to effect our regeneration. Baptists (because they assume that baptism is merely an action of ours) very often have difficulty understanding how Lutherans can speak of baptismal regeneration and reject salvation by works (the “both sides of the mouth” analogy comes up a lot). But Lutherans understand baptism to be God’s work, not ours.

        Imagine a charismatic group which argues that the protestant view (that God works faith by the means of scripture) entails salvation by works because to be received scripture must be read (or heard) and then mentally processed (things we do). We don’t deny that we are involved in activities (like reading or thinking) when God works through scripture, but those activities do not cause repentance and faith, God does. Similarly, Lutherans acknowledge baptism involves activities, but those activities do not accomplish our regeneration, God does.

        The other is this one: “For them, salvation is in Christ, and that he brought me to Baptism shows that he is for me. Chronology does not matter so much.”

        I really wasn’t very clear on this point; sorry. Let me try again. I was responding to your statement ” it seems like the Lutheran position involves talking out of both sides of the mouth to say that salvation is through faith in Christ, but a person is also saved at the moment of baptism.” Somehow I didn’t realize that you were likely thinking of infants, so I neglected a very important point of difference between Baptists and Lutherans. Baptists almost universally assume that it is impossible for infants to have faith. Lutherans reject that assumption. Baptists usualy cannot express or defend their assumption, but when they do it is usually something like: “Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word, faith cannot exist until a person is old enough to mentally process the propositional content of scripture.”

        It is important to remember that faith is entirely God’s doing. We are all (regardless of our age and mental ability) incapable of trusting God. Any person who has faith has it because God has acted supernaturally to give him or her what is naturally impossible. It is no more impossible for God to give that gift to an infant or a mentally handicapped person than to a fully rational adult. Lutherans also argue that infants are sinners who need what regeneration, are part of the group “all nations” who Christ commands us to baptize, and are specifically invited by Christ to come to him (“let the little children come…”).

        Second, Lutherans believe that God’s word is what makes a ritual baptism. Luther’s Small Catechism says, “For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism.” For Luterans, baptismal regeneration does not mean salvation by H20 or salvation by performace of a ceremony. It is salvation by Christ, who promised “Whoever believes and is baptist will be saved.”

        I think that is how I should have responded; I hope it makes sense. But you asked me to clarify the response I actually made, so I’ll try to explain that better. Here’s what I wrote: “salvation is in Christ, and that he brought me to baptism shows that he is for me. Chronology does not matter so much.” For most Baptists, justification is activated by and/or happens upon a person’s decision for Christ. Before that moment a person is condemned, after that moment they are saved; everything is determined by that all-important point in time. That is why, when a Christian has doubts, a Baptist counsellor usually begins by inquiring if the doubter recalls the moment of their conversion. The conversion experience is, for them, the certainty that Christians may cling to if they worry about their standing before God. Of course, such baptists wonder what someone who was baptized as an infant and has no recollection of a conversion experience would cling to.

        A good Lutheran answer is “We must look to Christ and his word (including his actions) rather than focusing on ourselves and our experiences. Christ brought you to baptism, you must trust him to keep his word.” For Lutherans, trusting Christ right now to keep his promises is the important thing, not determining exactly which moment it was that we first experienced trust in him.

        I haven’t read the four views book, so I’m not quite sure how the views were presented. I have seen Lutherans make the same “household baptism” argument that the Reformed are so fond of, but I think it is mistake for both groups. Usually it is put forward to answer the Baptist observation that scripture gives us no specific command to baptize infants or clear example of infant baptism (I really think that paedo baptists should grant that point). There probably is a lot of overlap, but the reasoning seems much different to me. The Reformed baptize babies for the same reason that Israel circumcised them (to mark them as a part of the covenant community). Lutherans baptize babies for the same reason that we engage in evangelism (they are people who need Christ).

        I’m struggling to explain; I hope I’m helping.

  21. Finally Home says:

    I’ll keep this short. I left the evangelical movement for several of the reasons you stated and then some.
    1. When I was in my early 20s I church shopped. I found one with people my age but apparently, I didn’t grow up in the church and because I was a city kid. I must have been too progressive for them and they alienated me.
    2. The younger people lived in an isolated world where they had no tribulations to speak of and would often create a problem just to have something to “relate.” Example; after 9/11, I attended a prayer group where we kind of all shared our worries about the events. People lost loved ones. One woman told of how her niece couldn’t fly her cello back because it was too big to carry on and would fit in storage and how it was just so tragic that she had to leave her cello. Seriously? People died.
    3. When a new trend called The Prayer of Jabez hit, they pushed that book as if it had some huge scriptural basis.
    4. When mega church minded pastor was asked to come pray over my sick mom, he arrived at the hospital only to realize there was no pastoral parking and they wouldn’t validate so he left.
    5. The constant pressure to find your calling, I.e. Working in the nursery. Was too much.
    6. Having gone and given testimony multiple times to the college aged group, I was given the plan of salvation and asked to accept Jesus. Um, did that ages ago.
    7. Upon being saved, new Christians were given a crash course in proselytizing complete with fresh literature. When a new Christian asked questions, they ignored her and sent her to give her testimony.
    8. The panel or review board that you had to go in front of to make your case for why they should accept you as a member was a bit much.
    9. The harassment received in public stores and coffee shops by young Christians who stalk you just waiting to tell you why their branch of Christianity was right and how you will go to hell if you don’t come to their college and careers bible group….too much
    10. We are called to be childlike in our faith, not childish. Some grown adults had a maturity level of teenagers because they never had exposure to non Christians. When going out in groups, all conversation had to have a G rating and usually involved 7 girls to 2 guys and there was a fierce battle for their attention.
    11. The pastor often grilled my on why I hadn’t been in church in two Sundays and showed no concern for my well being but for a body to fill a seat and for an offering.

    I don’t know if this makes any sense but to me, your very well written thoughts echo my sentiments exactly. I never felt the things they were preaching and I was made to feel less, a non believer, or not worthy of their presence. All of this forced my hand. I was teetering on faithlessness until I found an accepting home in the Catholic Church. While accepting doesn’t mean excusing my sin, it means welcoming, inviting, time taking to answer questions. I went through a wonderful conversion experience. I’ve never been asked to subscribe to a latest fad and my church has no PowerPoint presentations or flat screen tv. You may not agree with my choice in said faith but at the end of the day, you need to feel spiritually whole and here, I do.

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