A Lover’s Lament over American Evangelicalism

There is a review by Mark Galli, An Evangelical Lament, of a new book written by journalist Warren Cole Smith entitled, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church. I’ve just finished reading Frank Schaeffer’s, Crazy for God, and his recounting of his and his father’s (Francis Schaeffer) influence on the rise of the Religious Right and his subsequent disillusionment with the movement. I’ve noticed more and more books that more negatively critique the current American religious landscape dominated by the politicized Religious Right of American-Evangelicalism, and now this book.
I think they are all right in the basic critique that something has gone terribly wrong with the expression of American Christianity. That is no surprise to anyone I talk to about this subject or to those who may have read this blog from time-to-time.
Part of my work in the development of the ImagoDei Society and the Red Hook Project is devoted to finding ways to regain once again the central mission of the Church – the Cure of Souls – and to simply call people to and help bring about reconciliation between God and people and between people, period. Mainline Christianity from the 1960’s through the mid-80’s lost that imperative with the rise of the Social Gospel when liberal sociopolitical ideology overwhelmed theology (liberal or otherwise) within the predominate mainline denominations. Evangelical Christianity lost that imperative from the mid- 80’s through the turn of the century with the rise of the Religious Right as neo-Conservative sociopolitical ideology has overwhelmed Evangelical Christianity in America. What, then, can we do to regain the central focus of the Church, God’s call to us for reconciliation of soul and life, without descending into yet another “liberal” or “conservative” trap? That is the challenge.
Here are a couple paragraphs from the review:

In writing about what he calls “the Christian-industrial complex,” Smith estimates that $50 million a year is collected and distributed to copyright holders of contemporary worship songs. And he notes that whereas in the past, theologians and trained church musicians determined what songs would go into hymnbooks, now it’s “what gets played on Christian radio [that] gets promoted to church musicians and church leaders.”
As Smith sums up, “As we pursue these industrial models of ministry, industry thrives, but ministry is weakened. One of the ironies we’re beginning to see is that … even the world wants the church to be the church. It is the church that doesn’t want to be the church. That’s the core problem.”

Here is a review by Gary Haywood in The Charlotte World. A couple paragraphs

Joel Osteen’s effervescent smile to the contrary, all is not well in American Evangelicalism. If you grew up evangelical, or spent all your Christian life in that domain, you might, like the proverbial frog in the kettle, not know how influenced by American culture modern American Evangelicalism is. Warren Cole Smith, veteran journalist and fellow evangelical traveler, is our guide to how accomodative and consumeristic we evangelicals are in relation to culture.


Evangelicals are also often guilty of a new provincialism. Provincialism usually means our outlook is narrowly determined by our small localized setting. For evangelicals, our narrowness is due to being stuck only in the “now.” Regarding seeker-friendly churches that are seeking earnestly to be relevant, Smith states,”Everything about these new churches reflects the rootless, existential, modernist condition of the world.” Smith says that such evangelicals are so into the “ever present now” that they are disconnected from the lessons of history, (what C. S. Lewis called the “clean sea breezes of the past.”) (I wonder – could this be the reason that some thoughtful evangelicals have been attracted to Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or even Roman Catholicism? It does bring to mind Joseph Sobran’s comment that he “had rather be in a church that is 500 years behind the times that one that is five minutes behind the times, huffing and puffing, trying to catch up.”)