Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wasting Our Evangelical Industrial Complex?

If unchurched Joe Schmoe were to stumble across any of evangelical Christendom's many websites, how do you think he'd react to the content he'd find?

"Pope Francis and the Re-Marianization of the Papacy."

"Carl Henry: Not Just for Calvinists."

"How Dallas Willard Befriended Rookie Pastor Richard Foster."

"Making the Real Jesus Non-Ignorable In Our City and Far Beyond."

These headlines and bylines are from today's home pages for The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and Immanuel Church of Nashville.  And while you and I might recognize this subject matter, who else outside of our evangelical "ghetto" would?

Does it matter?

For some reason, it's struck me recently how our Christianized reality really is its own self-perpetuating universe.  Not that this is a bad thing, but how might it distort our purpose here on this planet?  Some of us really get worked-up over predestination, for example, but I don't think any of my unsaved friends know what "Reformed" and "Arminian" mean, and they don't really care.  To them, Calvinism is something to do with some old fashion designer.  Or maybe a defunct - albeit brilliant - cartoon character.  I don't even know what "re-marianization" means.  And what's up with "non-ignorable?"  Is Immanuel Church, the Acts 29 church in Music City that originated that term, making it up?

Oh - and by the way, - they go by the single word "Immanuel," assuming all of their website's visitors will automatically know it's a church.  Does God really need such haughty - or sly - marketing?

And how many Christians know what an "Acts 29" church is?

At first glace, for us churched folk, perhaps none of this seems very contrived, except for that Immanuel stuff, which isn't very non-ignorable.  It's just the way our churched culture has become.  For the unchurched like Joe Schmoe, however, for whose outreach all of this other content should at least partially be equipping us, it's likely all gibberish.

Not that the content behind these headlines and bylines isn't worthwhile and God-centered.  And it's not that any of this content has been written for an audience of unchurched people.  This isn't a critique on the legitimacy or efficacy of such content.  The point here isn't to advocate for everything in our evangelical ghetto to be instantly relevant to unsaved people who happen to come across it.  But can you see how prescient Dr. Carl Trueman has been with his description of our Christian culture as an "evangelical industrial complex?"

See how easy it is?  Even I name-dropped just there.

We make heroes of Christian leaders when we ignore the Apostle Paul's 1 Corinthians criticism of our tendency of "following" anybody but Christ.  We turn pastors and preachers into commodities based on how well they echo our opinions, instead of how the Holy Spirit uses them to shepherd His local flock.  We turn faith into some sort of exclusive codeword club like our government bureaucracy with all of its acronyms and insider jargon.  It also paints a picture of us evangelicals running some sort of clandestine world of programs, rituals, efficiency standards, protocols, advertising, and sales drives for souls, instead of ministry to real people hurting from real sin and a lack of real grace.

Granted, I talk a lot about "being in the world but not of it."  Many Christians try and see how close they can get to the world, its systems, and its pleasures, before they've crossed the line into sin.  In a way, then, having this Christian ghetto serves as an ironic juxtaposition to the flagrant worldliness in our churches.  Then too, growing in our faith is a noble and worthwhile goal towards which much of our evangelical industrial complex has been created to support.  There is also a certain value in being able to discuss theological and doctrinal concepts so that we can relate the practical aspects of these concepts to how we best serve and honor God - and, by extension, others.  In fact, I do a lot of that on this blog, and in my articles for Crosswalk.com.  It's not even like anything on these Gospel-themed websites - or any website, for that matter - can intentionally or unintentionally thwart God's salvific plans for Joe Schmoe or anybody else who visits them.

Isn't that a comforting and encouraging realization?!

Might it also mean, however, that a lot of our Christian rhetoric, posturing, and marketing has a lot less "Kingdom impact" than we assume it does?

Indeed, might the extent to which we ensconce ourselves into this contrived Christianized ghetto likely be the extent to which we package and parse our faith into a commodity we can use to measure ourselves against others?  Whether that's determining who's more spiritual, or what ministry is more "relevant,"or how to vote, we tend to instinctively check with people we perceive to be experts within our Christian ghetto even before we pray to our Creator or read His Word to us.

Think about it:  we Americans of faith are the most Christian-saturated people in the history of the world, and look at what's happening to our country all around us.  How many Bibles do you have in your home?  How many Christian music CDs, DVDs, and MP3s, do you have in your possession?  When was the last time it crossed your mind that most Christians around our planet worship in fear of facing death for their faith?  Are we salt and light, or salt that has lost its savor?  With all of the resources that we have at our disposal here in North America for God's glorious work around this world, how much of it is tied up in consumeristic stuff to prop up our ghetto?

We've been lulled into a false sense of security as we've let our evangelical industrial complex metastasize all around us.  Meanwhile, society is still as lost and consumed with its own vain pursuits as it ever was, only now, more brazenly.  So does this mean that all of our preachers, websites, writers, blogs, seminaries, churches, books, music, seminars, and charitable organizations are wrong, useless, or misguided?

Of course not.  Most of these resources feature solid, God-honoring content and are led by Godly people.

What it means is that we consumers of this evangelical industrial complex aren't putting this wealth of resources to good use.  We're not applying them personally.  Just like every other type of consumer who adopts the malaise of excess, we evangelicals don't understand that "to whom much is given, much is required."

To Joe Schmoe, that might sound like wealth redistribution.

To God, however, it's about not wasting good gifts.


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