I coach a pastor of a mid-sized church here in Idaho. He's bright, young at 44 and one of those men in all of our lives who gives life to others. I'm a better man after every time I am with him. Hopefully he is, as well.
We met Tuesday to discuss key issues in his ministry and his life. That's what good coaching does. Properly done, coaching challenges the person being coached towards personal goals that inherent blindsides most often stop us from seeing.
At one point today I think we coached each other. Allow me to explain.
As we had a respite in our official time together, he and I began to discuss the recent NY Times Op Ed piece entitled "The Decline of Evangelical America" by Pastor John S. Dickerson.
In discussing it, we lit on the ending of Pastor Dickerson's piece (below). It's a logical summary of his overall piece and it sounds full-bodied - but it isn't. I'll explain at the end of my post.
Here it is:
"We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“euangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.
I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture. The Scripture calls us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), but American evangelicals have not acted with the humility and homesickness of aliens. The proper response to our sexualized and hedonistic culture is not to chastise, but to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
Some evangelical leaders are embarrassed by our movement’s present paralysis. I am not. Weakness is a potent purifier. As Paul wrote, “I am content with weaknesses ... for the sake of Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:10). For me, the deterioration and disarray of the movement is a source of hope: hope that churches will stop angling for human power and start proclaiming the power of Christ.
Simple faith in Christ’s sacrifice will march on, unchallenged by empires and eras. As the English writer G. K. Chesterton put it, “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”" (More here.)
As we discussed this section, I was reminded of the very thing that brought me into a right relationship with Jesus Christ... and very quickly thereafter into the world of evangelicalism.
And it wasn't love and free forgiveness, as the pastor stresses. It wasn't the self-humbling nature of "weakness" or the appealing and inviting prospect of "strength".
I already had a form of "love" for myself, when I started exploring Christianity. In fact, I loved myself too much at times. I was the center of my life and therefore expected to be treated as such by friends and family.
And I would argue that most of us might be a tad bit self-focused, wouldn't you agree?
No, I came to a life-saving awareness of myself because I finally saw myself as I truly was: a lying, broken, man who manipulated people around me to achieve what I desired. I was 23 years old and I was a mess, if I would only be honest with myself at the time.
But I wasn't honest with myself; not until I received a letter from a younger sibling stating how much she looked up to me - and how much she wanted to be like me.
Like me? Are you kidding? I wept as I read her precious note to me.
I was convicted right then and there of my blackened heart, my deep sin.
And it took the conviction of that sinful heart for me to change.
The same with my pastor friend. Dirt bags, both of us, until we were washed clean.
And we only came to an awareness that we needed to be clean because we realized just how dirty we really were. It's called sin.
And Christ died for sinners. Me. My buddy. You? Yep.
When the author writes that the world needs to see the love, he's correct, but only half so correct. The truer statement is that each of us needs to see how terribly self-centered and yet in need of others help we are, if only to avoid spiritual self-strangulation.
We need a lifeguard to stop us from hurting ourselves - not a spiritual white-water guru to help us navigate the churning waters of our lives. We're drowning and we must have a lifeguard!
So, is Evangelical America drowning and going away? Yes, of course!
We were never meant to be a commanding majority in this land - or any other land. We are strangers in a strange land. All the "Americanization" of the Gospel to make us feel good about ourselves is wasted in the long run. Not a whole lot of selfish folks make it through the eye of a needle, it seems. Jesus penned that hard saying, not me. I'm only re-tweeting it....
America won't last into eternity. It was never meant to. Only people enter into eternity and are judged.
Nations are judged on this earth at this time - and every time throughout history.
So, belly up to the judgement bar, my friends. Don't worry that the prosecuting attorney is some Evangelical born-again Christian who got elected to that position by a landslide of popular votes.
Many Americans never needed him as they succeeded. Many don't need him now.
And in the future?
It seems that in Heaven and in eternity we all might just get what we always wanted on Earth.
I want Jesus.