Monday, August 3, 2009

25 Evangelical Myths

What are the myths we persist in believing?

The first five come from Michael Spencer, in response to a question asked of him on his site. The rest are a mixture of my own thoughts and inspirations from the #evangelicalmyths trend on Twitter yesterday.

1. The "victorious Christian life"

2. Biblical principles make things work better

3. Non-Christians are bad

4. Jesus is all about church growth

5. Well known pastors and preachers are telling the truth

6. The Bible exists to help you be successful and happy

7. God will bless America (again) if we'll only get a godly president, put prayer back in schools, repent of homosexuality/abortion, etc.

8. Worship = music

9. We have lots of people, so God must be blessing what we're doing

10. The reason we don't have what we want is because we're not praying hard enough

11. Making "Christian" versions of popular music, games, movies, clothes, etc. is an effective evangelism tool

12. Jesus taught in parables so that everyone would understand what he was saying

13. If you aren't happy, you aren't a good Christian

14. Lost people sense a void in their life

15. Teenagers think youth ministers are cool :-)

16. We will help the poor in our community by spending $25 million on a new building

17. Jesus would vote Republican/Democrat

18. I can't worship if there isn't a rockin' band

19. Asking Jesus into your heart after walking an aisle gets you the insurance so you can go on living any way you please

20. Hurting someone's feelings is a sin

21. Ten alliterative points in a fill-in-the-blank outline is effective for sermon retention

22. Abstinence pledges are an effective means of preventing premarital sex

23. We don't need to pay attention to anything that happened in Christian history before the 19th century. Everything before that was Catholic or something

24. If you make a decision that blows up in your face, you stepped out of God's will for your life

25. Type-A leaders with dynamic speaking abilities make the best pastors

There's more. Feel free to contribute your own in the comments . . .


Matt Redmond said...


wait... can I use 'awesome' for anything besides a description of God? ;-)

Kurt N. said...

So maybe I'm just a bleeding heart, but I'd rewrite #20. Too many people happy to hide behind what they feel is correct doctrine while ignoring the humanity of those around them.

If you preach the Gospel and it hurts people's feelings, good for the gospel.

If you're a jerk and hurt people's feelings and write it off as just being faithful, shame on you.

Raindream said...

#10 hurts.
#24 should be on billboards throughout Tenneesee and Georgia.

Jared said...

Kurt, I agree with your nuances. But the statement is a "true myth" as written because it is not inherently wrong to hurt someone's feelings.

Kurt N. said...

Jared: Maybe it would have fit better as two myths, then:

20. Hurting somebody's feelings is always a sin.

21. Hurting somebody's feelings is never a sin.


Jared said...

Point(s) taken. :-)

Jason said...

Wow...that's one of those lists that makes you sit there mouth agape.

I have one but don't know to make it a trite phrase (but I'll try.)

"It doesn't matter how big we get because if we have small groups no one will fall through the cracks."

(Feel free to re-write that so it makes more sense.)

Rich said...

Explain number 3. Aren't non-christians bad?

I guess I'd have to understand what iMonk means by bad?

The verse that came to mind was Isa 53:6 "We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

I've been wrestling with the idea of limited atonement and what it means and whether I agree with it. So the so-called "myth" of non-christians are bad got me thinking. If the "Lord laid the iniquity of us all" meant just the elect, than does that mean that the "us" earlier in the verse is also just the elect and therefore only the elect are bad? :)

Jared, I love reading your blog and getting pointed to great links and videos around the web. Very encouraging to me as a young pastor in Virginia. Keep it up!

Jared said...

Rich, thanks for the opportunity to expand on that. I personally thought it was the stickiest wicket of the bunch myself.

I cannot speak for iMonk, but my understanding is that he probably meant to address the belief that nonChristians can't be moral.

I affirm total depravity, as you may know.
I also affirm that anybody can be "moral." Lots of moral people will go to hell.

I am assuming that is what iMonk meant.
It is a "myth" I sort of tackled in a recent sermon where I argued that the message of the gospel isn't "Behave!"

The message of many churches appears to be that if the lost world would just behave, we'd be a more peaceful and blessed nation. And plenty of lost people are behaving great already, and no closer to the kingdom for it.

Anonymous said...

Love the list - great job.
Might add bearing in mind the usual evangelical pendulum swings:
8b - Music ≠ worship at all

Bill Blair said...

How about:
"If God is in it, it will grow"

That usually translates into #9 after people cause growth through manipulation.

It is funny, a lot of these seem to follow the same logic that Job's counselors used. There really is nothing new under the sun is there?

Marc Backes said...


#13 in some sense isn't a myth - it's very true...

And I'm not talking about "happy happy joy joy" "have a blessed day in Jesus and annoy the crap out of everyone around you because you're so happy happy joy joy"....

But I am talking in the sense (and I preached on this yesterday)...when Jesus healed the paralytic in Matthew 9 - He told him to "take heart" "be of good cheer" ...your sins are forgiven you....

There is a sense where if all our life consists of is dour, sour, depressed, we could put a bullet through our head at any moment type behavior, then we in a very real sense are denying and even defaming the greatness of the forgiveness of sin...

Paul said as much when he said that he didn't count the sufferings of this life worthy to be mentioned when compared with what was to come for us because of our sin being forgiven...

#13 is a myth if we expect we'll never be anything other than happy, but wouldn't put it in the same category as "Jesus was a Republican/Democrat" category...

The rest of the list...very appropriate...should be framed heading into every church or printed in every church bulletin!

The Navy Christian said...

I might add this one: "Putting as much technology into a service as we can will make people more spiritual."

Unknown said...

*(for charismatics) Nothing happened in church history between the last apostle and Azusa Street, except for the Catholics and Baptists :)

*If you're a male and not married by age 22, the sole provider for your stay-at-home wife and father of your 4 or 5 children, and not exercising authority and leadership equal to that of a type-A calvinistic church planter, you're worthless.

*Contemporary Christian music is as good as, if not superior to, its mainstream counterpart ;)

*The bigger the church the better it is.

Si Hollett said...

#26 Children's groups are about instilling morals and/or biblical literacy/catechising.

#27 Sermons are about instilling morals and/or biblical literacy/catechising.

#28 Being a man filling his God-given roles is about being an Alpha-male jock: you should be macho. Husbands should be the sole bread-winners. Jesus couldn't have been a guy we could have beat up - that Jesus would be crap.

#29 Any godly guy is able to preach, lead Bible studies, etc

#30 Church experiences should always be fun and lively, especially for children.

Joseph said...

- God's will is the safest place to be.

- If God' is in it, the money will be there to make it happen.

Anonymous said...


I don't quite understand your number 12...wasn't one of the reasons Jesus taught in parables so that his teaching could be more accessible to the average ancient Jew?

Jared said...

Perhaps. Not necessarily.

Not according to Luke 8.

If the parables were ancient versions of sermon illustrations, Jesus stunk as a teacher, b/c they were and often still are very confusing. The disciples kept asking him to explain them.

I track with Craig Blomberg on the function of parables.

And my next book -- Postcards from the Revolution: The Parables as Sabotage -- is on the subject, so stay tuned. :-)

Persiflage said...

+ 10 for myth #20

The fact that so many Christians believe this one does unbelievable things in the church. I would say it's a major contributor to churches separating and pastors losing their jobs.

- 10 for Hollet's proposed #28

Not a John Eldredge or Brad Stine fan are we?

Other proposed Evangelical myths -

#__ - Having more women than men in your church is normal/just to be expected.

#__ - The individual believer is a bride of Christ.

#__ - Changing the worship chorus to a higher key for the 10th repetition means you're feeling the Holy Spirit.

#__ - Not every Christian has the "spiritual gift" of really studying the Bible.

#__ - Since I'm not Calvinist then I must be an Arminian.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Marc, that's such a qualification of the word "happy" I think Jared's myth still stands as most people would define happiness. :)

20 points to a bigger truth that is hard to sum up in a single simple sentence. What I have seen in my neck of the woods is that there can be a double standard that works. It goes something like this:

if I offend you or hurt your feelings you need to just get over yourself, forgive me, and move on.

if you offend me or hurt my feelings it's a sin issue and you're in rebellion and unrepentent and this may need church discipline/legal action/forceful words wherein you will be confronted with your sinful heart.

I have seen and demonstrated a LOT of this double-standardized definition of offense and sin where I've been to church in the last ten years. I'm not going to say where but it does have me thinking about how a person can attempt to address what seem to be culture-level problems in relationship in a church.

Chitchat said...

as a follow-up to #19, how about: 10% (of net, of course) keeps my insurance paid up

Jared said...

Chitchat, I think you might mean the gross?

Chitchat said...

"Chitchat, I think you might mean the gross?"

I was looking for the minimal possible premium for my insurance...but yours probably reflects what would be said as the 10% of net was put into the basket.

Jared said...

Ah, I got ya.

I thought you were referring to the customary friendly reminders from church leadership about tithing. :-)

Si Hollett said...

Persiflage:"- 10 for Hollet's proposed #28

Not a John Eldredge or Brad Stine fan are we?"

Never heard of them. A quick look on wikipedia suggests that they take the American culture of jocks and cowboys and project that back on Jesus in order to correct the mistake of making Jesus too meek and mild. I have seen this come through in several places, but mostly in Driscoll (perhaps his biggest flaw is that to try and reach the jocks - a great ministry, he's slamming all other types of men, those that aren't like him). I just can't see the Biblical requirement to go this far with complementarianism.

This CT article is rather good on the whole men should be macho view.

The fruit of the Spirit are love, patience, peacefulness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. This is for men and women alike, not just the women There isn't a men's set of spiritual fruit that consist of belching, bushcraft, punching, banter, brashness and hand-eye co-ordination.

Some men are macho, beer-quaffing, sports-playing ultimate fighting champions and others are weedy, latte-sipping, play-watching mummy's boys. Most men are somewhere in the middle. There's stuff that needs changing in all of their lives - the mummy's boy are often too chicken to pick up their role at the head of the family, the ultimate fighting champions often to proud to let their wives carry some of the financial burden. Both need to sort that out.

I'm not an egalitarian, however, I'm also not going swing too far the other way to counter it.

Perhaps I should have had the other side of the pendulum swing as an error as well, however I don't feel that, pastorally and theologically, 'wussification' is as bad as 'jockification'.

Pete Scribner said...

Another candidate...

We must TRY REALLY HARD to show that we are "real" and "authentic."

Jason said...

#___ "God is not doing anything in town like He is here!

Anonymous said...

We've got to reclaim spiritual territory in this town...

Mature christians tithe faithfully

Fruit= deeds/work

Financial success= proof God approves

Nate Carr said...

This post, and the related comments have caused me to laugh out loud several times! (Si Hollett, if belching isn't technically a fruit of the spirit, can we at least get it classified as speaking in tongues?)

So many painfully accurate myths...I hesitate to try and add to such a list, but with a grain of salt:

#___ - Any suggested changes to the "status quo" of "church" or "Christian life" are superficial and not focused on God.

#___ - REAL Christians all agree, either that or one isn't actually reading their Bible and taking it seriously.

#___ - Being able to quote St. Augustine (and say his name "correctly") automatically wins any theological argument.

#___ - Saying something in Latin makes it more official/Godly.

#___ - The _______ translation is most inspired by God.

jason salamun said...

Some taglines I've seen from churches that perpetuate the myths.

"This ain't your grandma's church!" Because we're too stupid to see grandma might have something to teach us about the gospel.

"It's like church on steroids!" Just want your agnostic neighbor wants to hear.

"You've never experienced church like this." Welcome to the big show called church.

"We've got something for the whole family." Meanwhile, half of society is single.

Anonymous said...

A few additional

- 3 points on how to have a stress free life (and referencing a bible verse) is transformative preaching

- If the pastor stands up for his entire sermon, he might intimidate someone

- If we sing the chorus an 11th consecutive time, it will really sink in

- A commitment to excellence in everything thing we do (multi-media, music, speaking) is the HIGHEST value for a worship service

Unknown said...

1. White Evangelicals know everything about culture, including what its like to come to a mostly all white church as a minority.
2. There aren’t evangelical churches working and ministering in poor communities.
3. Our famous speakers will change the communities with good preaching.
4. We should plant more churches in minority communities because we know what’s best to fix them.
5. We will be more successful than the other churches in the community because we are different
6. Church’s marketing, websites, and Web 2.0 is really about promoting the Gospel.
7. We know how to cure the urban plight by showing up a couple of times a year to do ministry.
8. The Church is full of perfect people, who really love Jesus.
9. Church Assimilation is really about making you apart of us.

Anonymous said...

No victorious Christian life?
Rom. 6:6 "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

He has completed our victory- how can we live as if we are defeated?

Bill said...

Great list Jared.

A few of them gave me pause. This would probably be good fodder for conversation at our next Moot, because, on these issues, I feel completely out of it compared to most of the Christian blogosphere (well, the guy Christian blogosphere) that I read.

They are #1 and #2.

#1 - I believe that the Christian life is a victorious one. I don't believe that in the same way a prosperity gospel preacher might, but I believe that in the way that Romans 8:31-39 says it.

There are a number of blogs out there that rebel against the idea that the Victorious Christian Life is true. In fact - well, as you've done here, it's called a myth. The overall message I get at some places is almost "don't try Jesus. He doesn't work. Look what a mess my life has become. Look at what a mess I am."

I believe, and teach, that being a Christian will make your life harder if you actually live it. But I don't think that has a thing to do with whether or not a Christian is victorious. By definition, those of us who are God's children through Christ are victorious already. We are more than conquerors.

So, in other words, I'm not sure why the Victorious Life gets such awful press. I believe that what Jesus offered people was victory. He is the victory of God, and in him we have that, even if we're lowly lepers, paupers, and prostitutes.

On #2 - I believe following the Bible is the path of wisdom. Calling that a myth seems to me to be laying out a very clear message that following the Bible doesn't do much good at all. I don't think that's what you're saying. But, evidently, a number of people agree with that.

I'd be screwed if I didn't have the guidance of the Word. Again - following the Bible will likely make your life harder. But it is wisdom, and wisdom = better, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm right there with you on most of the others. But, a few other notes

#5 bothers me a bit. Well known, not so well known, I didn't realize that was a gauge for truth-telling. Piper? Driscoll? Chandler?

#14 - I can't speak for other lost people, but I sure did.

Bill said...

Oh, and Si Hollett - thanks.

Jared said...

Anon and Bill:

No victorious Christian life?

I believe iMonk is referring to the "doctrine" of victorious Christian life, the pseudo-prosperity, Neil Anderson derived thing. The borderline "It's possible not to sin" type stuff.

You guys agree that's bogus, right?

believe following the Bible is the path of wisdom. Calling that a myth seems to me to be laying out a very clear message that following the Bible doesn't do much good at all

Again, context would help, I think. Do you really think iMonk is (or I am) saying the Bible isn't true, right, wise, etc.?

I can't speak for iMonk necessarily, but I took that to mean the sort of "employ these principles from the Bible and your spouse will start being more affectionate" or whatever. There's even a new book out right now called "How to Have a New Husband By Friday."
And our churches are full of this stuff.

I understand that myth to be that if you just do what the Bible says the world will be like a vending machine for you. Or, if you do what the Bible says, your life will get easier.

You guys don't believe that, right?

The Sermon on the Mount is wholly impractical.
But it is right and good and godly.

Well known, not so well known, I didn't realize that was a gauge for truth-telling.

This one seemed straight forward to me. It's not saying if a guy's well known he's not telling the truth. It says that being well known is not a guarantee a guy is telling the truth.

We can agree on that as well, right?

#14 - I can't speak for other lost people, but I sure did.

Lots do.
But lots don't. I have one rather close to me who thinks everything's great.

I think this gets at our evangelistic approach. I thin it also ties into the "Lost people are bad" myth. I mean, yes, they are sinners in need of a savior. But they can be pretty good, moral people.
And we have to stop evangelizing as if every lost person feels themselves to be a helpless seeker just waiting to be shown the Romans Road (or what have you).

Lots of lost people are happy, healthy, and pretty dang moral.

Hope that clarifies some of these thoughts.

I don't believe he meant we don't have victory through Jesus and that sin isn't conquered at the cross, or that he is denying progressive sanctification.

I took him to mean Victorious Christian Life (TM). :-)

Bill said...

Thanks Jared - and, yes, I took a guess at most of the context and kind of agree with a lot of it.

But I still don't think I'm on the same page as iMonk, and possibly not even on the same page as you (even though I love both of you guys!). I see an awful lot of baby being thrown out with the bathwater here. For instance, just because some dude decided to preach an erroneous view of what Victory means . . . we just let him own that word?

Better for an in-person talk than on the blog, I think . . .

Jared said...

Probably so.

I guess I wouldn't expect safe babies on a pithy sort of post like this. If I were doing essays on these things and still avoiding nuance, I could see it.

I don't think we let anybody own the word "victory." But the phrase "Victorious Christian Life" connotes a line of theology that is pretty prevalent and pretty shoddy. I don't know what to do about that except preach about true victory in the Christian life and against "The Victorious Christian Life."


Bill said...

I guess I wouldn't expect safe babies on a pithy sort of post like this.

And I probably need to quit being a jerk in my comments. :-)

My brain's too binary, being the computer nerd that I am . . . I don't handle nuance well. I think that's my biggest problem w the blogosphere and why I so often feel like I'm not really getting it.

Riley said...

I want to take the discussion of #3 a little deeper. Jared, I see where you're going with the "non-christians are bad" myth. My question is.. is it really 'good' if the Spirit isn't actively at work in it?

We all know this passage:

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Romans 3:9-20 (NIV)

I'm under the impression that even the lost person's greatest attempts at righteousness are at their core rooted in lies, deceit, and selfishness. Isn't morality based on God? Perhaps they are morally righteous relative to the world's definitions, and to this I am understanding. But the world's definitions are still unrighteous and selfish. I see a lose-lose in trying to call anything a lost person does (including things that I did and would do by myself without Christ) inherently good.

I dig the evangelical myths thing and I understand that battles over these are often battles over semantics.

I need to read your blog more. I dig it all :)

Jared said...

Riley, yes. I agree with you theologically, and I believe Spencer would as well. (Of course, by that definition, all of us, Christian and non-, are immoral. We all need the gospel.)

I think what the "myth" gets at is that the older brother was just as lost as the prodigal, perhaps "more so" if degrees of lostness can enter the equation, b/c he was trusting his moral turpitude for righteousness while the prodigal wasn't even thinking about righteousness until he decided to throw himself at his father's mercy.

If I had written that entry in the list, I probably would have written it this way: "Lost people can't be moral" or some such thing. That still begs the question you answer about "Can one be moral apart from God?"

I think practically and behavioristically one can be, as the Pharisees well proved. But of course forensically and spiritually, none of us can be apart from the Spirit's application of Christ's atoning work.

Riley Sheehan said...

Amen to that. Definitely. :-)

Brian said...

Too late for one more?

- Hearing God's voice is a learned skill and your proficiency at it is directly related to your spiritual maturity

III said...

Not because I think we disagree, but for the sake of those who might read this blog and not know exactly where you stand:

"Lots of lost people are happy, healthy, and pretty dang moral"

But they are still dead. And blind even to the fact that they are dead. And while Jesus won't "make their life better", they don't know Life (John 17:3) until they know Jesus (a point I believe you made toward the end of your book).

Sorry. I just wanted to set the record straight

III said...

And one other comment:

I've had some Mormons come talk to me several times recently, and have had some very interesting discussion with them. But to my surprise, I found that although they are totally heretical in their foundational beliefs, a lot of what they believe is just a corruption of the truth. They started with good doctrine--that faith without works is dead, for example--and took it too far by making salvation by "faith alone....and works" (direct quote), and thus fell into error. And while it angers me that thousands/millions of souls are held in bondage because of the deception perpetuated by the Mormon church, I am at the same time saddened for them. My heart breaks because they are so close to Truth, and yet so far away, because [II Cor. 4:4]. And so if what Mormons believe began with a gem of truth, how much more will the doctrine of those "evangelicals", who will affirm the divinity of Christ and salvation by grace alone, be rooted in some truth? And if they began in truth, and truly loved Christ at some point, should our hearts not break for their error rather than burn with angry self-righteousness?

Don't get me wrong, I agree with Driscoll that we need to "rebuke the swine, bark at the dogs, and shoot the wolves" (from the sermon "How Sharp the Edge"), and that empty, false religion which binds and blinds people should stir us to great indignation and even wrath. But it should also stir us to great heartbreak and mourning for those sheep who were led astray. And as Driscoll warned in his aforementioned sermon, the tricky part is discerning who's who. And as Derek Webb puts it, we must not confuse peace and idolatry (it works both ways).

Don't get me wrong--I'm not condemning this list or saying you're wrong for posting it or anything. I think a very large number of the "american church" needs to hear this, and be shocked out of their senses. And I agree with many/most of your points. But I also know that many young men (myself included) need to be reminded that when Jesus saw the crowds, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, he had deep, gut-wrenching compassion.

If nothing else, I'm preaching this at myself, because I forget it so often. I love words and books and theology and philosophy well, and call it a love of (capital T) Truth. But I often forget that the best I way I can love God is to love the people that are made in his image. So, Jared, please don't take this as a rebuke of any sort (I'm in absolutely no place to do that), but rather keep on with your total devotion to the true Gospel, because we need to hear it so much. But to all the passionate young men like me, let us not forget to temper our zeal for the truth and righteous anger against un-truth with love.

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (I Cor. 16)

"If you have all prophetic power, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge...but have not love, you are nothing" (I Cor 13)

Jared said...

iii, yes. That's why I affirmed total depravity and made reference to the Pharisees' morality.
Thanks for further clarifying, though.

Jared said...

Crud. Teach me to respond as I'm approving comments instead of waiting.

My comment above ("yes...") refers to your second to last comment, iii, not your last one.

In regards to your last one, no offense taken. I like your heart.

When I do things like this -- poking the eyes of whoever -- I tend to think of it as in the context of my entire site and the body of my work. I know that's hard for people who aren't regular readers to do. I get chastized all the time for not talking about such and such by people who don't know I just posted on such and such the previous week. Or whatever.

And it works the other way. Sometimes I do really tender, sensitive posts and one may wonder where my backbone is.

I think that's the nature of blogging, where each post can't possibly say or allow everything.

But I appreciate your tempering what's here with good gospel reminders.

III said...

I hope my comment didn't come across as chastisement. I've read your blog for a while, and commend you for balancing devotion to sound doctrine with loving people, and especially the church--it has really been a challenge and encouragement to me. I guess my comment was mainly so that hot-headed people like me wouldn't stumble upon this blog and read only this post, and get all riled up against "evangelicals", and forget that though their theology might be off, they are people too. So thank you for allowing me to preach at myself.

Martin said...

Here's another myth for Rich's benefit:
To be a good historically-aligned reformed christian you have to believe in "limited atonement".

You can stop wrestling Rich. There's more than an enough evidence to say you don't need to. 1 John 2:2 is a good place to start. However, this is not to say that unlimited atonement is right either. The problem is that people like to simplify it and make it an either/or false dichotomy. Originally atonement meant litorally at-one-ment i.e. reconcilliation but now people expand it to include propitiation. Propitiation is what makes atonement possible but scripture nowhere limits the extent of propitiation to be the same as those who are actually reconciled. So, along with many great Calvinists we can say that in one sense the atonement is limited and in another sense it is unlimited. ;-)

Check out for more on this.

zachary said...

50. We should get our information on what Christianity is from the internet.