One big reason why Christianity has gotten a bad rap in post-world WWII Europe is that increasingly it began to be seen as hypocritical and disingenuous. Partly, as a result, the churches saw massive losses in the 60s and 70s. Statistics show that in my own country the Netherlands, for instance, the decline has still not come to a halt. I realize that a reduction to a single cause of any historical phenomenon is asking for trouble. But I’m not a historian and my purpose in this article is not to give an exhaustive overview of the decline of Christianity in Europe. Rather, I want to address a similar problem in evangelicalism where the accusation of hypocrisy points to a weird tension between evangelical theology and justice.
Religious Trauma is a real thing. I know it. I feel it. I see it in others. And there is official recognition these days! A few years ago, I interviewed Teresa Mateus. Our Skype connection did not work so I had my computer record the squeaky voice that came through the speaker of my iPhone 4s. It worked. As I spoke to her, Teresa seemed to discuss people who have undergone serious abuse in the church. I did realize that such abuse happens in many different forms and intensities. I suppose in the back of my mind I even realized that I was affected too but I was mainly thinking about people other than myself.
I’m not a fundie watchdog. So when I hear Fundamentalists say something weird it always comes to through leftwing or liberal media. And, yes, today was when I heard about Jim Bakker making the fantastic claim that those who mock Trump bring the apocalypse closer. Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. Most of us know Trump as the man whose behavior and speech inspire comparisons with the situation in Germany before World War II. And people who resist him are now ushering in Armageddon? Apparently!
I recently got interviewed by Clint Heacock from the MindShift Podcast about the deconstruction of my evangelical faith. Clint also asked me about the theological process involved and if there was any reconstruction after it all fell apart. I did retain something—or better, found something new—after all. It is called the theology of the cross.
By the way, the theologian I refer to but whose name eludes me (as always) during the interview is Justo L. González.
The following is an excerpt from a chapter that I am contributing to a book about and by evangelicals who fell through the bottom of their faith and deconstructed hard. Except for sharing on social media the following should not be copied or used otherwise. It’s personal and real though there is much more to my story that is in the chapter and not here. But still, enjoy.
The Slippery Slope of Black and White
Given the personal circumstances I found myself in after one year of Seminary, I slowly started dissembling the evangelical bulwark. One beautiful thing with tightly knit systems of thought is that once one piece of it goes broke the whole building disintegrates. Once one piece topples, the whole system becomes a cascading row of dominos. This process can take a couple of years but for those who do not shy away from the challenges and manage to avoid the boomerang effect (the snapping back to the old paradigm upon returning to one’s original community of faith), the collapse is unavoidable.
A long time ago, there was peace between God and humanity. They were happy together. In fact, you could hardly distinguish one from the other, for God walked among her people as one of them. She loved them as though they were her own children which, in a way, they were. God took care of the people to the best of her abilities and the people worshiped and thanked her for all she did to the measure of their blessedness and gratitude. The latter never quite measured up to the former, of course, but God was ok with that. After all, it is human to fall short of expectations.
My friend, Dwaine Sutherland, was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) this weekend in Minnesota. I’ve known Dwaine for some years and from the first moment I met him in the library of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, I realized, by observing his body language and listening to his Southern accent, that he was not your typical Lutheran. Like me, he has a background in evangelicalism. This is the story of his struggle away from double predestination Calvinism toward becoming a Lutheran pastor. Congrats on your ordination Dwaine! May you be a faithful shepherd of God’s flock.
I have opened many sermons, preaching at congregations that had not met me before, with a humorous, “No I am not from Minnesota”. My southern accent does stand out and it is a novelty for some to hear the liturgy done with a Tennessee country accent. So, how did a small-town Tennessee boy end up as a Lutheran Pastor in the Midwest? I get this question quite often.
What To Do When God is Unfaithful
We often talk about human unfaithfulness. Novels become bestsellers partly to the extent their plots involve the right amounts of betrayal, infidelity, and intrigue. Why is this? The answer is that human beings are prone to unfaithfulness even though they know it is a vice rather than a virtue. Unfaithfulness is all around us. Not just in marriages. How often don’t we fail to live up to our friend’s expectations? How often don’t we break our own rules? We disappoint friends, let down colleagues, break promises to our children, etc.. In short, being human is to be unfaithful.
This article is the fourth and final installment of my series on evangelicalism. The central question is whether there is faith after evangelicalism and a theology to support it. Obviously, there is; there are post-evangelicals. If understood purely temporally, there are a lot of people who once were evangelical but are now “post,” i.e. “after.” They’re done. It is also obvious that there are plenty of post-evangelical theologians when we understand the “post” in post-evangelical temporally. I happily call myself a post-evangelical theologian in that sense. I once was able to dig the gig and then I couldn’t and then I didn’t. I became “post.”
Not too long ago I had an interesting conversation with a long lost friend who had become an atheist. As we reminisced long-forgotten memories we also had to talk about faith and unfaith. Both of us grew up in a fundamentalist faith community and it was during that time that we had met. We lost touch, but over the years, at different times and in different ways, both of us distanced ourselves from the faith we once belonged to. Unlike my friend, though, I decided not to become an atheist, though the option is always open to me as a genuine possibility.