Tuesday I listened to a teleseminar speaker explain that when prayer got taken out of public schools and when the Woodstock music festival occurred our culture went downhill and now we are at a crisis point so Christians need to this time get really serious about standing up for Judeo-Christian values or it's going to get worse.
I was irritated. First, taking (school-led) prayer out of schools was not a cause of cultural disintegration, nor was Woodstock. They may have been symptoms, but not causes. What this telespeaker and so many other of our brothers and sisters for so long have believed is that the church and the culture were fine and dandy before the hippies and legal abortion, etc., but that somehow those things appeared out of nowhere. And the prescription, we are told, is to reclaim what we were doing before these things showed up.
But setting aside for the moment that American culture was not rosy before the late 60's -- or at least, it wasn't for people who weren't white -- I think it's more likely that once the church began to assume moralism as its primary message, it ceased to capture hearts and do what it claimed to do: compel behavior. So the hippie movement, legal abortion, prayer out of school, etc. may all be symptoms of an evangelicalism that traded the gospel and the all-sufficiency of Christ for "be good" and now we're both ignorant about the connection and ignorant enough to think if we go back to moralism -- for that's what championing Judeo-Christian values usually is -- we can turn the tide we gave rise to to begin with.
I talked to an older lady yesterday who is struggling in her Christian walk. She fears she is not fruitful enough. She said she's been in Bible studies and the like for 30 years and isn't sure what she's learned. I asked her, "If you could boil down all those studies and all the messages you've heard from the church for the past 30 years into one main point that they're all trying to teach you, what would it be?" After some thought, she replied: "Be a better person." And yet here she sat, not lacking in education in being a better person but certainly not feeling like it made a hill a beans worth of difference.
I wonder if the evangelical church is figuring this out yet. When Willow determined in its REVEAL study that after several decades of the highest quality production and teaching, with no lack of steps and tips and information presented with excellence and attractiveness, they were seriously lacking in "fully devoted followers of Christ," it was an alarm bell to them. Shouldn't it be to hundreds of other churches assuming the same methods?
Shouldn't more churches figure out that throwing steps, tips, and applications at people for decades has only produced Christians a mile wide and an inch deep? For all our efforts at producing better Christians, we're failing. I want to say to many architects of the attractional/applicational paradigm, Your system is perfectly designed for the results you are achieving. I want to say to the teleseminar speaker, "We've been doing the Judeo-Christian values thing for 3 decades now. Remember Christian Coalition, Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, etc etc. And things are getting worse, you say? Maybe our system is designed perfectly for the results we are receiving."
But of course the results are up to God, not us, anyway. We ought to be faithful to the message of Christianity. I reminded the dear lady I was speaking to that "Be a better person" is not the essential message of the Christian faith, and that perhaps all the instructions and information about being better were a non-starter because they had neglected the power of transformation: the gospel. So I reminded her of that, in different ways.
Let's remember that do, do, do is just the flipside of the legalism coin from don't, don't, don't. If we have not staked our hope on the gospel.
It sounds counterintuitive. Pastors and teachers think people don't do stuff because they don't know the stuff to do or how to do it. But the gospel is counterintuitive. ("Wisdom of men," and all that.)
Let's reclaim the gospel of Jesus. Let's trust that. Let's design our system around that.