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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Evangelical Casualties I - Restless Experientialists

Evangelical Christianity has, over the past hundred years or so, failed in ways that can be both defined and seen in the results. In an effort to support my definition, I will first present the evidence of the failure, followed by the prescription for improvement.

The church has failed in how it relates to individuals in Western society. The external evidence of this has been suggested on many fronts, but whatever the reflection of the failure may have been, the results of it are seen in three groups of people. We shall call them the restless experientialists, the entrenched intellectualists, and the disaffected deviationists. These are not organized groups of opinion, but individual persons with characteristic mentalities that one meets over and over again.

First, the restless experientialists are a familiar breed, some of whom are certain to stumble by this blog. In fact, they are so common that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainment, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of Psalms 42, 88 and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.

It is no counter to these defects to appeal to the specialized counseling techniques that extrovert evangelicals have developed for pastoral purposes in recent years; for spiritual life is fostered, and spiritual maturity engendered, not by techniques but by truth, and if our techniques have been formed in terms of a defective notion of the truth to be conveyed and the goal to be aimed at they cannot make us better pastors or believers than we were before. The reason why the restless experientialists are lopsided is that they have fallen victim to a form of worldliness, a man-centered, anti-rational individualism, which turns Christian life into a thrill-seeking ego-trip. Such saints need the sort of maturing ministry that I shall present at the end of this series.

3 Comments:

  • I agree with much of what you are presenting so far, but I will wait to see where it goes. Yes the Christian life should include study and rationality and most certainly experience and feelings are not the only aspects to seek. Biblical love for one's neighbor is not about feelings it is about actions and laying aside ones own life for someone. The "desert" experience of dry times in prayer and worship are certainly to be expected. Hopefully though, "experience" is not shunted off to the side as if it is not necessary in the Christian life. We are called to a relationship with the Living God and so we should experience life with him in some of the same ways we experience life amongst our fellow human beings. He calls us to obedience and mission too. Also, we are called to rejoice always (even in the midst of suffering...not that I understand how that is done yet)so I am not sure what the jollility quote is about unless frivolous jollility is what is being spoken about.

    By Blogger Inheritor of Heaven, at 2/02/2006 03:28:00 PM  

  • IOH-
    I wasn't condemning jollity, just pointing out that the assumption of spontaneous jollity = Christian is false. Stick around, and see where we go...

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 2/03/2006 03:19:00 PM  

  • No problem.
    I figured that's what was assumed but thought it best to make sure.

    I will definitely stick around :)

    By Blogger Inheritor of Heaven, at 2/03/2006 04:04:00 PM  

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