20th Jun 2005

Blog :: Dissing Evangelicalism

In my ongoing efforts at self-disclosure I should metablog a little bit.  I intend to discuss theology and christianity quite a bit on my blog.  These topics are long term interests for me; representing both personal and academic interests.  I will, however, tend to mix the two quite a bit: I might discuss my reading of Ellul or Dallas Willard (one of my more recent interests) in the context of my church experience or my own experiences of faith.

It is inevitable, then, that my discontents will find targets in the communities in which I have personal experience.  I'm not likely to discuss the Anglican Church's decision to allow gay clergy to *marry* as long as they stay celibate.  Not my community, not my relationships, not really my problem.  On the other hand I will probably have a lot to say, over time, about Brethren tendencies towards legalism or Evangelicaldom's general shallowness.  This is not  meant to imply that I think Evangelicals are "worse" than the Church or England or something.  I'm just sticking to the old writers dictum of writing what you know.  Prov 27:6, right?

That said I want to rant a little about Evangelicaldom.  I'm currently going through a lecture series based on Dallas Willard's book "Renovation of the Heart".  The kit I bought contained DVD's with lectures by Willard and impromptu discussions between Willard and a couple of other Christian authors, participant's guides, and a Leader's guide.  While I have enormously enjoyed the video presentations, after only the 4th session I have had to abandon completely the Leader's guide and participant guides.  The problem is that they are consistently too shallow.  The leader's guide presents a complete script for each meeting: Opening prayer and introductory thought, Video Lecture, questions about the lecture, Video Conversation, questions about the conversation, and (optionally) a brief Bible study.  The questions about the video segments have been of very mixed quality: sometimes falling to the level of "fill-in-the-missing-word" style questions (which I personally find demeaning when asked in a group) and frequently content to stay at a purely emotive level (How does it make you feel when you think of God as a Father?)

The last straw, however, is the quality of the (optional) Bible Studies.  To exaggerate only a little, the ideal Bible Study appears to be composed of a cute anecdote, the meditative reading of a brief text, and a question or two about the emotional state of the participants.  What makes it all the more irritating to me is that Willard frequently has an unorthodox perspective on key Christian terms (Grace, Spirit, Soul) that makes for interesting Biblical survey at least.  It isn't as though the subject material is completely barren of any exegetical topics. 

This isn't really intended as an indictment of Lifesprings.  They are actually presenting material of more than usual depth by producing this series.  We're quite a distance from Mantra of Jabez or even 40 Days of Marketing style studies.  It seems to me to be more representative a general trend than of individual shortcomings.  While not a new observation, I continue to be disappointed with the overall shallowness of Evangelical Christians: the products of their Mega-Churches, Worship Industry, and Publishing Industry consistently strike me as catering to, rather than challenging middle American Culture.

Update: I fixed the link which was pointing to the Student edition of Renovation of the Heart to point to the hardcover edition instead.  Thanks Justin!

Posted on Jun 20th 2005, 09:01 PM