"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Seeming Inevitable Lightness of Being an Evangelical

You may have heard of a fellow named David Kuo. He's an evangelical who, at one time, worked in the Bush White House. He then wrote a lightly-regarded book expressing his shock (his SHOCK!) that there were politicians in the White House and that the place didn't run like his high school youth group. (Ok, I made that last part up, but take a gander at the book and don't tell me that he wishes folks around there were singing kumbaya a bit more). The upshot was that David suggested that Evangelicals take a "fast" from politics (just in time for the 2004 elections, naturally). Folks wisely ignored him. So what's new with David? Well, he has a blog over at Beliefnet. Ain't that sweet? And he continues to be perhaps the most vacuous evangelical writer out there. Ok, there are no doubt worse ones around, but he's clearly an exemplar of that species evangelicus ditzus. My evidence? His recent blog posts:

First, there's the pair of posts detailing his shock (his SHOCK!) that the Pope is, well, Catholic. More to the point, he can't believe that the Pope didn't realize that some might take offense at his view that the Catholic Church is, well, the True Church and that the other Christian churches are something less. (For the record, I'm still "Protest"-ing so I didn't get my secret Opus Dei message owl telling me to bash an evangelical on Friday). So the Pope shouldn't say what he thinks because some might take offense and as a follow of Jesus, the Pope should know better, since "no one was more attentive to his marketing and the marketing of his message than Jesus." Yep, that's right, Jesus the marketer. In my New Testament, I seem to recall that same Jesus saying things like "take up your cross and follow me," "no one comes to the father except by me" (darned exclusivity again!), "you brood of vipers", etc. All perfectly focus-group tested and never, ever available for being misinterpreted. Nope, no Christians ever took the words of that marketing genius Jesus and turned them to bad ends. That bad Pope really should take a lesson.

Oh, and then there's the "I miss John Paul II" post. (Actually, it's one of the "Why is the Pope a Catholic" posts, but who's counting?) John Paul II would *never* have done what that mean Benedict XVI did. Or, what Mr. Kuo reads that he did, since he didn't have a chance to actually read the 12-PARAGRAPH DOCUMENT because he's on a "tight deadline" - must be all those blog editors really cracking the whip). Um, I guess if he *had* read it, then perhaps he would have noted that it's a reaffirmation of what some pope in the past had said before in an encyclical named Dominus Iesus. Who was that? Oh, John Paul II. Gosh, really miss him too, David.

Then, and now I feel like I'm beginning to bash just a bit, David lectures us for being cynical about John Edwards' "poverty tour," where Edwards is touring the most poverty-stricken parts of America to draw attention to them - and, maybe, just maybe, his own floundering presidential campaign. What's wrong with our cynicism? Well, at least Edwards is doing "something" about poverty and our cynicism is just a symptom of our "discomfort" with the fact that Edwards is "bug[ging] us." Hmmm....I hear a U2 song coming to mind...funny how Bono doesn't seem to worry about those folks in El Salvador these days...sorry, got distracted. Right, so John Edwards is so darned focused on poverty. Well, bully for him. But for Pete's sake (gosh, am I "Poping" again?) get that head a bit harder, David - the reason people are cynical about Edwards' "poverty tour" is precisely because it's in the middle of a presidential campaign and precisely because it is (cynically or not) designed to improve his chances of becoming president. It won't do a doggone thing to help folks in poverty. If John Edwards wanted to do something about poverty in America, he'd get together with his other gazzilionaire friends and invest in some businesses in those areas - y'know, create JOBS? Instead of piling money into, oh, I don't know, hedge funds, maybe he could start some businesses. But once a trial lawyer, always a trial lawyer - and for Edwards, the equation always is take from those have ill-gotten gains and give to those in need. Oh, and take a hefty cut for yourself in the process.

It's an interesting question as to why evangelicals all too often seem all too earnest and earnestly stupid when thinking in public. Why are we such lightweights? That's a good question.

9 comments:

Mike D'Virgilio said...

Michael, I remember when Kuo wrote the book after leaving the White House, and what a fawning reception he got from the MSM. I remember hearing an interview on NPR (vacuous drivel) and wondering who in the world would hire this guy! Especially for an initiative that Bush asserted was so important to him. I have to hand it to you. I couldn't get through an entire paragraph by the guy.

As to your final question, what kind of intellectual history does evangelicalism have? I happen to embrace the Reformed tradition of Christianity which appreciates the life of the mind. Most of Christianity, until maybe recently, has been distinctly anti-intellectual. And when you combine that with a desire to be accepted by the MSM and popular culture you have a problem.

Evanston2 said...

I'm tired of the term "evangelical." People describe themselves as such, and it's never questioned. Why? Nice manners...or in my mind, the fact that there is no decent definition for the term.

Mike describes himself as embracing the Reformed tradition. That's fairly well defined. The next post on this Blog describes how the Pope has tried to define how the Roman church is distinct in respect to protestant and orthodox churches. That's good. As authors, you all know that when a term loses its definition, we cannot communicate in a meaningful way.

So, getting back to the term "evangelical" at least one denomination (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is spreading some "stuff" that is difficult to match with Biblical truth...yet all its members likely believe they are evangelicals. I've seen numerous articles from all sorts of folks who treat the Bible as a work of fiction, yet say they are evangelicals. The only thing all so-called evangelicals now have in common is that they hold press conferences.

So let's stop using this sloppy, throwaway term and let the actual content of their speech define these folks in relation to the central item of the christian faith -- the Bible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Our sometimes but always welcome visitor, Francis J. Beckwith, resigned as president of the Evangelical Society due to his recent return to Catholicism.

Here's his announcement, and the comments are interesting...

Evanston2 said...

Tom, thanks for the link. In Beckwith's post, very little stood out except a repetitive return to sacerdotalism. Mostly loads of platitudes and vaguaries, like when he says "There is a conversation in ETS that must take place, a conversation about the relationship between Evangelicalism and what is called the “Great Tradition,” a tradition from which all Christians can trace their spiritual and ecclesiastical paternity." Hmm. A conversation. And that all Christians can (or "must"?) grant some sort of paternity to the Church (he capitalizes the "C" elsewhere)? Perhaps he needs mother church, mother Mary, the various fathers of the church (including the "Holy Father") and so on. Did this orphan ever know THE Father?

I've seen Beckwith's name for years and expect he's provided some nuggets of insight to "evangelicals." Perhaps they should reconsider their whole ill-defined Evangelical Theological Society? It's clear as you read the Comments below his Post that there's a division between those who welcome his move and those who reject it, yet all could lay equal claim to the wishy-washy meaningless title of "evangelical."

Personally, I assert you're either a Bible believer or you're not. In fact, the Word uses that same sort of dichotomy. For those who must grab the skirts of "priests" (don't read 1 Pet 2:9) light candles and insist on totally unbiblical doctrines concerning apostolic succession, veneration of Mary, purgatory,and salvation by sacrament (as well as pilgrimages, self mutilation, etc.)I do not need to ask "why did they go out from us?" They were never of us. 1 John 2:19

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dr. Beckwith answers. Many criticisms of Catholicism are based on an improper understanding.

And here. "...Christianity is a historical faith that did not vanish from the earth between the second and 16th centuries. That is what I mean by 'learning from the Great Tradition.' "

Akaky said...

The Pope is Catholic! My, the things you learn here on the Internet

Evanston2 said...

I was baptized in the Roman church, grew up among practicing catholics (my family was lazy cafeteria catholic), and am in a Bible study with a catholic friend.

Tom links to confusion about Roman beliefs, but whose fault is that? The "Church" does not equip the saints with any understanding. Case in point: its persistence in the Latin Mass until the 1960s, and now its partial return. Who needs to understand the words when all you need to do is participate? This is the essence of sacerdotalism -- a rejection of understanding replaced by a faith in participation in ceremonies. FYI, I took 4 years of Latin so I'm one of the few who would understand the phrases.

Overall, there is a pretend unity in the "Church." If you say catholics believe this or that, you will be pointed to the Catechism. But AS PRACTICED and as believed by its congregants, Romanism has huge problems. I told another catholic friend that I was in a Bible study. His response: "Why would you do that?" My rejoinder..."Well, if the Bible is truly the Word of God, don't you think it'd be good to read it?" Reaction: totally beyond him. He's a good catholic, free to put down one practice (whippings and faux crucifixions in the Philippines) while embracing others (the merit of pilgrimages). The "faith" of most practitioners has little content, it only exists in ceremonies and at the collection plate.

We must grant that many practices are not "officially" approved, but let's examine a few that ARE approved but antibiblical: perpetual virginity of Mary (the Immaculate Conception, a favorite of John Paul II and I believe the current pope) while the Gospels talk about Jesus' brothers and sisters (NOT cousins) and James and Judas wrote apostolic letters; the clear depiction in Acts of James as the leader of the church and Peter being confronted "to the face" by Paul when this father of all infallible (defined as convenient to the circumstances) pontiffs was in error; the absence of any mention by the Apostles, who ought to know, about "apostolic succession" and instead clear criteria for the independent selection of teachers and church leaders; among which are being a one-woman man, meaning you can be married; a rejection of asceticism (of the variety practiced by monks and some priestly orders) in the Pauline letters; the assertion that sacraments are validated by the views/practices of whoever presides (for example, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the one who is saved that matters, not the spiritual state of the presiding officer in water baptism).

Nonetheless, I assert that you certainly can grow up in the Roman church and be saved. It's just difficult because your changed heart will be in constant contact with unbiblical superficialities of the "Church." But to taste of the Truth, and then embrace the Roman antibiblical traditions and leadership is a sign that your faith had no root. I do not claim to know the ultimate fate of Dr. Beckwith (do not judge...), but I am commanded to exercise discernment (...do not throw your pearls at pigs) and I am glad that he has, in effect, Matthew 18'd himself.

Getting back to my rant about the term "evangelical" it is interesting to note that another President of an evangelical organization -- the National Association of Evangelicals -- had a much more messy scandal. But Ted Haggard's situation may be much more sanctified.

Ted Haggard at least recognized homosexuality as sin (even before he was "outed" he opposed the Colorado initiative, I expect because he knows how powerful that sin can be) and by all accounts he is repenting in a church framework. Again, I cannot judge but he seems to be "of us" who rely on Christ and His Word.

Feel free to delete this comment. I understand if I've gone beyond the permissible discourse of this blog.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Delete, hell!

Rock on, Mr. Evanston.

To touch on your points, there is a theology behind the Latin Mass. Think of it as trying to meet God halfway, in a sacred language rather than the vernacular. Jews learning Hebrew is the same idea of reverence, I think. Let us likewise give Muslims respect for learning Arabic in attempting to meet God not merely on man's own terms.

(Of course, man cannot meet God halfway or any fraction thereof. Still, we are told He appreciates the effort, and per the New Nestament, requires it.)

You are quite correct that Catholics, in comparison to evangelicals or Reformationists in general, are biblically illiterate. That is a flaw only in practice, though, albeit one that surely needs addressing. Unless you believe that they dropped the Bible and God (Jesus? The Holy Spirit?) took a vacation for 1500 years and simply restarted the Church of God over with Martin Luther and King James' scholars.

But falling off the turnip truck and picking up a KJV would tend to leave one unequipped to penetrate if one led it literally. A camel can't pass through the eye of a needle. This we know. It's too big, for one thing.

And if it's just as impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, then, according to our Democrat friends, anyone making over $200K is going to hell.

Me, well, I guess I'm still in the running to go Heaven, then. That's a relief. I knew there was a bright side to my impecuniousness.

Evanston2 said...

Tom, yes indeed we should be grateful for our impecuniousness. Uh, fer sure!?!
Regarding the Bible (and I'm no KJV only guy) no doubt we have to rely on others...as iron sharpens iron (Prov 27:17). My bottom line is that if we believe the Bible is really from God, and was written for our benefit, we should know it. I blame the abysmal ignorance of the laity on the clergy -- whether it be in the Roman church or PCUSA or whatever claims to work in the name of Christ. They are the ones who tell people it's OK to know nothing, just do what we say and throw some coinage in the plate.

Now, despite my diatribes, the only "takeaway" I really wanted anyone to have from my comments is that the term "Evangelical" has become meaningless.

I'll push the envelope a bit and also contend that these "Evangelical" associations (whether they be ETS or NAE) are little more than self-licking ice cream cones. Admittedly, I might be wrong. But outside of ChristianityToday.com articles regarding their scandals, I have never heard of these associations. No doubt they have nice looking mission statements and cheery conventions and newsletters. I think they'd be better off using the time to meet their neighbors and preaching Christ, and Him crucified (per 1 Cor 2:2).