The Christian Post’s series “Leaving Christianity” explores the reasons why many Americans are rejecting the faith they grew up with. In this eight-part series, we feature testimonies and look at trends, church failures and how Christians can respond to those who are questioning their beliefs. This is part 5. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Are churches failing their congregants when it comes to helping them grow confidently in their faith?
Tommy Hinson, rector of Church of the Advent in Washington, D.C., believes the faith that many grow up with is too narrow.
“What I am seeing among the [younger] generations that comprise our church is that most people, if they are not going through a full deconstruction of their faith, are going through a kind of partial deconstruction of a version of evangelical Christianity that they grew up with that they are realizing is far too narrow, far too simplistic to explain their lived experience and how they make sense of the world,” Hinson said in a recent sit-down interview with CP.
“That the version of the Christianity they inherited was inadequate to stand up to the challenges and the complexities of life as it is now.”
Offering examples, he pointed to the purity culture on the right and intersectionality on the left. Hinson argued that perspectives like these are not so incorrect as they are incomplete.
“I think there is a human tendency to want to reduce and simplify,” the Anglican pastor explained.
He emphasized that the “Gospel has a lot to say about sexuality and its relationship to spirituality” and “about issues of power and oppression, even systemic oppression.”
“But the problem is when you take those issues and extract them from the much larger metanarrative of the Scripture, they tend to become distorted. They tend to inflate and become their own metaphysical worldview. And that’s where you go wrong.”
The only way to keep those issues proportionate is to ensconce them in the much larger metanarrative of the Gospel.
When Joshua Harris apologized last year for his popular 1997 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, it triggered a host of reactions, including from those in the evangelical church who felt harmed by it.
Doug Bender, a writer at I am Second, concluded that Harris made “sexual purity a transactional morality” in the book — that if you simply avoid dating and abstain from sex (and even kissing) before marriage, you will be able to have a great marriage and great sex in marriage. And that premise was the “central error” of the book, he argued.
“Morality is not something that you do and then gain a just reward,” Bender stated. “Good behavior … has an [e]ffect. But this [e]ffect is not the formulaic reward of that behavior.”
When it comes to the larger teaching of the Gospel in many evangelical churches, Hinson sees the same error of reducing and simplifying.
Of the four “chapters” of the Gospel — creation, fall, redemption, new creation — evangelicals tend to overemphasize the middle two of fall and redemption, he noted.
“We don’t talk a lot about creation and we don’t talk a lot about new creation and the hope of that,” which is to be distinguished from merely speaking about Heaven, he said.
“Because of that, then, we have this tendency to truncate what our vision of the Christian life is — that it’s only about resisting sin and trying to obey the kind of Christian moral vision of the good life that is meant to replace sinful behavior.
“I think if you do that in any way, whether you’re talking about sexuality or drinking or any of these other things that have become these sort of markers of Christian holiness, there’s a way of doing that where you’re missing the larger telos of the larger Christian life, which is this movement into a new creation world.”
Alan Briggs, lead creative for Stay Forth Designs from Colorado Springs, also pointed to the ramifications of a truncated Gospel.
“For too long faith was just fire insurance, which isn’t faith,” he told CP. “It’s just ‘I’m saved so when I die what does it matter now?’ Hence, considerably less or no care for the environment or about social issues or loving our neighbor.”
Functionally, the operative question has been: “What does it matter if it’s all going to burn some day.”
“It is painfully obvious that we haven’t had enough imagination around what we are and who we are as new creations in Christ and the work of God in renewing all things,” Briggs added.
The Christian life doesn’t end at redemption. There are “next steps.”
“Jesus was always inviting people into the next steps, into obedience. And in this information age, people are longing for an apprenticeship into the ways of Jesus,” Briggs said.
Real discipleship entails relational, experiential and formal learning; and the U.S. church has heavily emphasized formal learning at the expense of the other dimensions, he pointed out. Following Jesus is an apprenticeship with Him and the U.S. church has largely missed two-thirds of the equation.
Teaching sound doctrine is important. But much like Hinson, Briggs believes that on its own, it’s incomplete.
Church leaders are mistaken to think that reasserting sound doctrine again and again will provide an antidote to what is ailing the Church, he said.
“We have taken the bait, believing that in an information age if we just teach more of the right information then we’re going to get [Christianity] correct,” said Briggs, who leads a cadre of life coaches, Christian leaders and content creators who work with pastors and other influencers.
But the Christian faith is not about information so much as it is about transformation.
Christians should say that God has called us to a new way of living and it is the Kingdom of God — theology that Jesus talked about — that was set into motion with creation, he said.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett