Embarrassment: Duane W.H. Arnold
I guess I should admit it, my antipathy towards American evangelicals has more to do with embarrassment than it has to do with anything else. What I mean by this is that I find it hard to understand how evangelicalism has failed to mature. Whether it is their almost fundamentalist approach to the Bible or they’re seemingly complete ignorance when it comes to church history, I simply do not understand the lack of growth in understanding and knowledge. Now, I know that this is not true of all evangelicals, but it does seem to be the case with many who claim to speak for the movement. Even if one ignores the intrusion of right wing politics into American evangelicalism, the intellectual basis (or the lack thereof) for the movement tends to make one blush.
I recognize, however, that such embarrassment is personal. That is, you have to have a personal stake in the matter to be embarrassed. If you are at a party, and someone at the party starts making inappropriate remarks, you can easily walk away. If, however, the person making the inappropriate remarks is your husband, or your wife, or your date, the situation is much different. The embarrassment you feel, and perhaps express, is because you care.
Perhaps what makes it worse, is that I have spent the majority of my life being a teacher or an educator. I believe in the value of education. I have the idea that if one is exposed to books and to learning, one can mature intellectually. In maturing intellectually, one sees other points of views and understands the meaning of nuance. One begins to understand that all issues are not binary. Everything is not a matter of black and white. One also begins to realize, as one person has said, the facts are “stubborn things” and that, indeed, facts matter. Moreover, the more than one learns, the more one realizes how much more there is to learn. It is a process that runs throughout our lives until that time when “we will know, even as we are known”.
Some people, however, desire certainty in the here and now. They desire an inerrant Bible, despite the witness of the texts, regardless of errors and contradictions that are well known. That certainty appears to extend to a view of church history that is measured in mere decades rather than the rich tapestry of two millennia. That certainty now appears to encompass politics as well. While it almost goes without saying that Christian nationalism is a heresy, the suggestion that secular politics will somehow usher in the kingdom of God is simply embarrassing.
It is embarrassing because I care.
As most will know, I began my faith journey among evangelicals. I hold close to my heart many of the things that I learned in those heady days of the late 1960s and 1970s. I still have friends from those days. Watching the films of the attack on the Capitol with people carrying crosses and signs that proclaimed “Jesus saves” it would be easy to be angry, or perhaps sad. One might be tempted to rage in reply. Outside the confines of church I find my reaction is one of embarrassment. I saw people my age, people who might’ve sat next to me at a concert or in a church in Southern California or Ohio. I saw people that I might have known, and I was embarrassed for what this aberrant form of evangelicalism had become.
Walter Martin once said the cults were the unpaid bills of the Church. What he meant by this was that cults came in and found adherents because of what the church failed to do and failed to teach. Despite hour long sermons and weekly Bible studies, evangelicalism has largely failed in the formation of disciples. Unwittingly, they have followed the pattern of the mainline churches, most of which have also failed in this endeavor. In both instances the gospel was not enough. It had to be the gospel plus politics (right or left) or the gospel plus social action (for or against).
Too many of us have forgotten what it means to be the church. We speak the words of exile and pilgrimage, but we do it without conviction. We are the ones who are saying the gospel is not enough, that something more needs to be added for us to be content.
We should be embarrassed not just for others, but for ourselves as well.
Well stated and agree. Even if we remove politics from this discussion (which is hard to accomplish because of how visible it is), we see things that are embarrassing. My faith journey also is rooted in Evangelicalism/the Lutheran church, and I have been guilty of throwing evangelicalism under the bus.
We’re embarrassed because we actually care…
Sharing in your embarrassment here.
It hits all of us where we live…
Absolutely true Duane! I actually didn’t realize that maybe it is because I care that I get embarrassed and angry.
If it were otherwise, we would just laugh and walk on…
Are Evangelicals alone the source of your Christian embarrassment? So it seems from your constant writing about it? “Antipathy” is what I have reacted to over and again here.
No. As I said in the article, there is enough embarrassment to go around – evangelicals, mainline, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc. The evangelicals, however, have placed themselves way out in front in recent years…
“Are Evangelicals alone the source of your Christian embarrassment? So it seems from your constant writing about it?”
….And, BTW, of the over 300 articles I’ve published here, only 61 mention evangelicals, and mostly as an aside…
I love them and have not left them ….
Jesus promised to never leave me and he keeps sending them
So I think I will die with them …
Hopefully in my sleep… like most of the church… and not in some fool’s errand like 1/6
Duane, what do you mean by evangelical movement. American evangelicalism is such a broad brush label that to be embarrassed for them is quite silly. It would be helpful to narrow down your embarrassment to a more understandable group to those you really care about.
Our choices have become more difficult, and one path does not fit all. I maintain friendships with evangelicals, friends who’ve embraced Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, the Anglican way and so many other paths…
A broad brush is needed because its a a broad movement that transcends any single denominational or associational identity.
Duane, I contend its not a movement at all. A movement has to have something that unites it and moves it forward. That’s what I am asking you to define. Evangelicalism does not appear to be a movement unless you can define what it is. I aggree it doesn’t follow denominational boundaries but it must have something unique or distinctive to be called a movement.
I must confess I have a nostalgic affection for the Evangelicals. However, when I meet up with one of my old co-religionists, sadly, we have nothing to say to each other. They want to talk about political issues and their connection with the Rapture and I want to talk about the day’s Saint. Very little common ground, with one notable exception being my neighbor.
Consult the Pew Research Center which has tracked American and worldwide Evangelical identity and markers for a number of years…
Duane, this is what I found on wiki. Evangelicalism: A world-wide Protestant movement which maintains the belief that the essence of the gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ’s atonement.
Would you call yourself an evangelical with this definition?
I could be wrong, but there seems less common ground these days…
Now that is a broad brush!!!! You could incorporate much of world Christianity under that definition!
Duane, exactly! That’s my point.
Evangelical faith is purely and simply the drive of the evangel to see the world won to Christ by any and all means. America has been the perfect soil for a movement that stresses personal faith… Individual rights and responsibilities has been the entrepreneurial soil of a faith driven by the desire to coalesce followers around the simple credo Jesus is Lord.
The evangelicalism that is falling apart is that movement that came to be dominated by an inerrant bible, any moment rapture theology and the rewarding of human personality to ascend to the head of organizations.
Rapture theology more than any other thing wedded evangelicals to politics. This is why this particular blog has had an enduring niche. The disappointed defrauded followers of that stuff and their children have fallen into cynicism and moral confusion. Idolatry and immorality are the twin thieves of innocence. They are the beasts that intimidate and deceive.
Simplistic but true enough
There probably are millions of Xns around the world who’d ID themselves as evangelical. It is a worldwide movement.
I agree with most, apart from the American emphasis… American exceptionalism does not extend to the gospel.
After almost eight years of living abroad, I agree.
Explain for me… how would we not see the spirit of the nation paired with the culture of the churches … seems to me they were founded in the same soil of evangelical fervor and enlightenment anthropology.
When I read of the great awakening and of the founding fathers I see the same core. And the thread of nationalism in terms of new Jerusalem was inextricable … christian nationalism may have had a great flurry of revival with the moral majority but it is deeply embedded in the American psyche
Not avoiding, but having cocktails with my wife… but I will be delighted to answer in due time!
Enjoy the better offer and no hurry
“When I read of the great awakening and of the founding fathers I see the same core.”
You see it because it was born out of the philosophy of John Locke and the experience of the English civil war, which provided the “myth” for our revolution, but not the pattern of government. It is separating the myth from the reality that is needed.
On a side note, American evangelicalism has more to do with the Cane Ridge revival than with Whitfield and the great awakening.
BTW, in taking this view, I’m informed by Ahlstrom’s ‘A Religious History of the American People’…
On American Evangelicalism, a useful bibliography can be found here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/erik-raymond/resources-history-evangelicalism-america/
These are good and helpful answers.
I need to think on them – especially that tightly packed Locke paragraph.
It seems to me that all American revivalism is centered on the experience of Christ and the specific ministry of the Spirit in that matter. It also mostly seems to be focused upon converting the adherents. That is where we are seeing a change. Our unconverted members, specifically our children are choosing secular religions and activism over faith and mission.
I see Cane Ridge as seminal to the Pentecostal/charismatic river and Finney as more formative to the Evangelical non-charismatic!
Ahlstrom is so good. That list is mostly familiar to me. I was unaware of Wells more recent offerings. I want to delve into those titles.
“Our unconverted members, specifically our children are choosing secular religions and activism over faith and mission.”
I think the alternative is old-fashioned materialism. In a post- Christian society, spirituality is pushed to the corner. Compared to the 1960s and 1970s, I’ve yet to see effective activism. That at least would provide some pushback to our material culture.
Many evangelicals are embarrassed by the actions of their evangelical brothers and sisters too
I know… I hear from them often.
This article seems to express a balanced position from an evangelical perspective. I am not ashamed that I have evangelical beliefs regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, but I am embarrassed about how many evangelicals express themselves. I’ve started describing myself more as a Christ follower than as an evangelical. The word “evangelical” itself brings up all kinds of visceral reactions from people.
Flip side-many of my “woke” co-workers are almost as bad. Everything is an invitation to talk about oppressors, the oppressed, who our allies are, etc. I’ve chosen not to yell “fire” (see attached article). I work hard at engaging, acknowledging what is correct (yes, I do agree with 400 years of Black oppression and that their lives matter). If I don’t agree, I still try to find the points where I can comment (yes, it is hard to be a single mother. Have you considered that birth control information and means should be more available to people? At the same time, I’ll mention my own commitment of celibacy until marriage. ) It doesn’t always work, but every now and then, a thoughtful conversation will ensue. I don’t always get the same kind of response from a fellow evangelical when we discuss something controversial. So, I usually politely withdraw before the building burns down.
Yeah. Good article.
Duane what is the myth our revolution and what pattern of government?
“You see it because it was born out of the philosophy of John Locke and the experience of the English civil war, which provided the “myth” for our revolution, but not the pattern of government. It is separating the myth from the reality that is needed.”
Officerhoppy and Duane,
And that is exactly where I am at. I am an evangelical and probably will alway be, and I do care, so hell yes I wil be embarrassed. Like I care because we are family, not because I want to tear them a new one.
My previous post was written because I am sick of being told that I have to apologize for how I feel and think about some things. And yes, I am fully aware of the fact that I too can be a part of the problem.
Many historians view the English Civil War as a continuation of the English reformation and therefore essentially a religious conflict. Even though in the American Revolution many of the revolutionaries harkened back to the English Civil War, it was really to the myth of the English Civil War rather than the reality. There are many good books to read on the subject.
There is a mass of material on the political and religious radicalism unleashed during and after the English Civil War. Despite some criticism, C Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (1972) is still the classic account. Other broad studies include F Dow, Radicalism in the English Revolution (1985) and J McGregor & B Reay (eds), Radical Religion in the English Revolution (1984). Puritanism is reassessed by W Lamont, Puritanism and Historical Controversy (1996), J Spurr, English Puritanism (1998), and C Durston & J Eales (eds), The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700 (1996).
The American revolution, by contrast, tended to be a conservative revolution without the religious overtones. These were often Virginia planters who were Deists, even if they attended the local Anglican parish, or Unitarians from the New England colonies, even if they attended a Congregational or Presbyterian Church.
I should add, a reading of Ahlstrom is helpful.
This book is also helpful in understanding this issue…
Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding
Steven K. Green
Oxford University Press
“This book examines the evidence supporting claims that America’s founding principles are based in part on religion. These claims usually center on the Puritan background to republican government (e.g. the Mayflower Compact), assertions of divine providence directing the leaders and events of the American Revolution, and the religious beliefs of various Founders. The book demonstrates that the notion of a Christian origin for American government is one of the nation’s leading founding myths, one that was consciously created during the early nineteenth century as part of the drive to establish a national identity. In seeking to unify the nation and proclaim its unique status to the world, proponents created the myth of America’s religious origins out of a desire to sanctify the founding. Modern-day proponents of America’s religious foundations need to understand the purposeful origins of the narrative upon which they rely.”
Green’s work is only $9.99 on Kindle. Looks like an interesting read.
If only I could spend all my time reading and writing. So many books, so little time……..
He’s in Oregon (I think Salem) … you might look him up…