One of the questions i received in January, after i had written, and quite a few people read my previous post ‘ Trying to survive after falling off the evangelical cliff’ (a link is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Kz) , in it i posed the question that it was possible to maintain an evangelical faith, but reject the practices of evangelicalism. Theres no doubt that so many people i have spoken to since that article went viral, have said that they too cling on to a faith that looks very similar to an evangelical one, but its the practices of it that seem to be at odds with the essence of that faith.
I think its the kind of evangelical practices where these kind of sentiments become common:
You know that didnt work – because we didnt pray enough
By praying this prayer you’ll be avoiding certain death.
Its part of your discipleship to make sure you come along to this meeting
If i was cruel i might suggest it was some kind of Evangelical guilt trip. But its worse than that, it is more of an Evangelical Anxiety. And it is this evangelical anxiety that is what i mean in the evangelical practices that are not only a turn off but also a reason for them to be called out and left behind.
The reason it is worse is that it encourages an ongoing angst and anxiety about the status of a person in their relationship to God. Encourages and also endorses that anxiety can become a key driving force for the actions of church, or the actions the way in which evangelism is conducted. I wonder how common this is, or peoples experience is.
As an extreme I remember being quite shocked at the Spiritual abuse that was handed out in the name of ‘evangelical/deliverance’ ministry in the fictional account in ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ – a book i studied at A level. And, i wonder if the ‘hell fire and brimstone’ type of evangelism, as one aspect of evangelical anxiety, has shifted somewhat. That was the 70’s wasn’t it, but does youth evangelism still play on these fears amongst impressionable young people?
But how often or frequent have you heard or even vocalised or dare i say it ‘manipulated’ a reaction in others, especially young people, that played on feelings of anxiety? At some point the person at the front creates a situation to be fearful of, and a person hearing this because of self esteem has a pre requisite to want to avoid fearful situations is likely to sign up to what is offered. It’s the ‘if you don’t buy a new car, the old one might break next week, scenario’ it’s fear and anxiety. Most of the time it’s well intentioned, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful. Or changed. In reality the free car is ready to be picked up as a gift.
Whats the good news. A gift. A gift of the love if God given to the world to save it. A gift that is to be accepted freely and in freedom a relationship to participate in.
The ironic thing is that the organisation and practices of the church can be good for people, from prayer as a calming moment, to groups as social connections, liturgies to help orientate a person to a higher goal and purpose. But the effect on mental health caused by evangelical anxiety might negate all of these positive effects. We have to question whether perpetuating anxiety is the appropriate motivator for participation and conformity in a church. Where it is used & what does it show? Lack of love? Poor image of God? Off key theology? Status anxiety and desperation to attract/keep people? Misuse of power?
If anxiety is the only way to attract or keep people in to faith, then something is seriously wrong somewhere. If God is love. Even a church of fallen people might act with love as it’s intent to itself and to others, making well meaning mistakes, in a culture of and intent to show the same love.
So, rejecting the practices of the evangelical faith, is less the goodness that the practices of them but how cultures of anxiety often surround them, creating distortions of grace, of love and the character of God. Developing from covenant, conviction and choice.
Can evangelicals do ‘guilt-free’ Jesus?