Interpreting a scandal

by Richard on January 25, 2005

Ron Sider has an interesting article in Christianity TodayThe Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (found via The Living Room)

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most “Christians” regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.
The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. “Gallup and Barna,” laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, “hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.”1 Divorce is more common among “born-again” Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.
Alan Wolfe, famous contemporary scholar and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, has just published a penetrating study of American religious life. Evangelicals figure prominently in his book. His evaluation? Today’s evangelicalism, Wolfe says, exhibits “so strong a desire to copy the culture of hotel chains and popular music that it loses what religious distinctiveness it once had.” Wolfe argues, “The truth is there is increasingly little difference between an essentially secular activity like the popular entertainment industry and the bring-’em-in-at-any-cost efforts of evangelical megachurches.”

It’s fascinating stuff, though I think it needs considerable unpacking. Using “evangelical” as a sub-set of “born-again”, for example. Is that an accurate use of language. I’d want to argue that it isn’t. And how about that phrase “Biblical worldview”? Usually that means “someone who believes in the Bible the same way that I do”.

I’m not surprised by the “news” that evangelical Christians are at least as materialistic as their neighbours. More than 200 years ago, John Wesley wrote, There is no one instance of spiritual infatuation in the world which is more amazing than this. Most of these very men read or hear the Bible read, – many of them every Lord’s day. They have read or heard these words an hundred times, and yet never suspect that they are themselves condemned thereby, any more than by those which forbid parents to offer up their sons or daughters unto Moloch. O that God would speak to these miserable self-deceivers with his own voice, his mighty voice! That they may at last awake out of the snare of the devil, and the scales may fall from their eyes!” The truth is that the church just hasn’t taken wealth seriously for a very long time. We’ve accepted the common wisdom about “private property”, wealth creation, economic efficiency and all the rest to the point where you could be excused for thinking they were doctrinal statements.

And it doesn’t look as though it is going to change any time soon.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }


Eugene 01.26.05 at 3:35 am

Amen John Wesley. We definitely need to reconsider how
worldly the Evangelical community has become. I have
had people ask me what exactly is the difference the music
sounds the same as secular.
Mea culpa!



Andy 01.26.05 at 4:05 pm

I could not agree more. I must check myself daily to keep from following others, from being just another example of the same, from praising God while my eyes are on my wallet. It’s hard, but when I’m serious, I’m working too hard to pull the beam from my eye to worry about the speck in my neighbor’s eye.


Mike 01.28.05 at 10:40 pm

Just FYI, that article is from the current issue of Books & Culture magazine — published by Christianity Today International, publisher of 11 print publications.


James 01.29.05 at 9:00 pm

“Born again” is actually used as a sub-set of “evangelicals” in the article, which might make a bit more sense to you.

I agree that this article was fascinating, though at the same time it’s not at all surprising. After all, Jesus was talking about the love of money two thousand years ago! I almost feel guilty getting such a charge out of reading the piece, since it’s not very charitable to think, Zing! Gotcha, hypocrites! Wham-o! And yet I can’t resist.


Richard 01.29.05 at 9:09 pm

>>““Born again” is actually used as a sub-set of “evangelicals” in the article, which might make a bit more sense to you.”
Top marks for spotting the deliberate mistake James! ;)

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