Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You May Say I'm a Cynic

Cue John Lennon's Imagine.

Instead of "you may say I'm a dreamer," however, the lyrics for me would go something like, "you may say I'm too analytical."  Which, I guess, may mean I care too much about things for which others don't care as deeply.

Some say my standards are unrealistic.  Which could mean I actually have greater assumptions and expectations about the quality of certain things than other people have.

Some say I'm judgmental, which in itself is a judgment, isn't it?

People also say I'm cynical, but what is cynicism, really, if not an unadulterated view of reality?  I'll admit that I often become gloomy from my cynicism, and I understand that blissfully ignorant people are more fun to be around, but can't the virtue of my disposition at least be seen in its steadfastness?

And it's not like my analytical objectivism is unique among evangelical Christians.  Indeed, you may say I'm a cynic, but you know what?  I'm not the only one!  Just today, I came across two articles that actually help to reinforce a couple of themes I've been pursuing in my essays on this blog.

Beware the Vast Evangelical Industrial Complex

The first one comes from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and their website, Reformation21.orgAn opinion piece of theirs written by Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor, Dr. Carl Trueman, takes a cue from President Dwight Eisenhower's warning of a "vast military industrial complex" and ponders whether we conservative Christians are creating our own "evangelical industrial complex."

Of course, the immediate flaw in Trueman's analogy is that it's likely to be lost on the vast portion of evangelicals who vote Republican and have no problem with America's military industrial complex, despite admonishment against it from a prominent member of their own party.  But I'm not cynical enough to assume the Holy Spirit can't break through our entrenched fallacies and use Trueman's article for God's glory.

It's something I've tried to point out, but not in nearly as clever a fashion as Trueman:  the evangelical sub-culture we conservative Christians have built for ourselves threatens to undermine Biblical ministry at the local level, where the work is harder, longer, far less glamorous, and discouragingly less rewarding than we want to believe it is.

Trueman paints what any objective Christian knows to be far less hypothetical a picture of modern evangelicalism than his lighthearted prose suggests.  What if celebrities existed in our Christian sub-culture, he asks, as if they already don't?  What if these celebrities were held to less stringent expectations that those we hold for our local pastors and elders?  What if we Christians could enjoy a steady diet of sermons, catch-phrases, and study material without the celebrities getting to really know us - but we could feel like we know them?  What if our Christian celebrities could enjoy a form of privacy we deny the leaders in our local congregations?

What if we celebrated certain leaders in our evangelical sub-culture using the world's metrics of success, instead of Christ's?  What if we simply ignored people like me who ask questions and get too analytical about how we do things in our evangelical sub-culture?  What if our celebrity leaders held grand seminars and conferences, seeking to flesh-out new nuances from old doctrines so they could create new ministry strategies, generate new books, and teach faithful followers their new systems?

What if all the drudgery of local church work was glossed-over in favor of incessantly pursuing the newest of these systems and strategies?  What if new technologies enabled this evangelical industrial complex to flourish with such success that you'd be foolish to say it wasn't ordained of the Lord?  After all, "success" supplants "sanctification" in our Americanized version of Christianity, doesn't it?

As Trueman says, how thankful we should be that this isn't happening right in front of our eyes!

Um... right?

Proof of Hypocrisy?

Then there's Barna Group, the pollsters and researchers, who've apparently come up with statistical data proving that we modern evangelicals are more like pharisees than Christ.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I've been saying this in various ways for years, but since nobody takes me seriously, maybe they'll listen to Barna's folks.

But the cynic in me tells me not to hold my breath.

Granted, Barna isn't the most trusted name in evangelicalism, since they have been one of the biggest advocates for making the church contemporary.  How much credence should we give an organization like Barna that expects us to make decisions based on polling trends?  Isn't that what we chided Bill Clinton for doing all during his presidency?

Still, the numbers Barna obtains and then crunches for its latest survey paint their own interesting picture.  Barna compiled two short list of characteristics experts have identified as being Christ-like qualities and Pharisaical, respectively.  Then they ran their study and found that most of us - 51% overall - act and think like hard-core pharisees.

Barna asked respondents to rank themselves according to statements like, "I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me."  And, "It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves."  Then they cross-referenced the responses based on the type of Christianity the respondent identified for themself, such as evangelical, Catholic, etc.

If numbers don't lie, it appears that many of us do.  We say we love Christ, but in both our attitudes and our actions, according to Barna, we mock the Fruit of the Spirit that's supposed to show we're redeemed:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Frankly, Barna's results shouldn't really surprise many of us, but they probably will anyway.  One of the reasons for this likely stems from the fact that, as Dr. Trueman has already posited, we've created a celebrity leadership pattern in our evangelical sub-culture that mirrors the celebrity phenomenon outside of it in the "secular" world.  Celebrities may be allowed to stray from popular opinion from time to time, in order to appear cutting-edge and attractively leader-like, but they can't stray too far from the majority opinion because celebrity, after all, is based on popularity.

Yet popularity, like democracy, isn't always right.

Then again, if Trueman is wrong, and we don't have a problem with celebrity worship in our evangelical industrial complex, maybe we're just acting like pharisees because we listen more to Rush Limbaugh than we do to God.  After all, if you compare what most of talk radio's conservative talkers say with what Christ teaches in His Word, there's little that matches.

Of course, Barna's polling could be wrong, too.  But something tells me we didn't need to have Barna run the numbers to know that we evangelicals have a bad problem with hypocrisy.

For the believer in Christ, Lennon's famous song is replete with heresy, obviously, except for one line.  It's a very true phrase, unfortunately, but not in the way he intended it to be.

"Imagine all the people living for today."

Might we in the church be doing that more than we realize?  It's probably only a cynical question if we can prove we're not.


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