Is there a problem within evangelicalism in American? I had an acute sense of something being very wrong when I watched Tom Brokaw’s special last night on evangelical Christianity in America. “In God They Trust” was an hour long report on who evangelicals are and their involvement in American culture and politics.
Brokaw made a particular church in Colorado the focus of his reporting. New Life Church is a charismatic fellowship in Colorado Springs, and their pastor Ted Haggard is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. One of Brokaw’s exchanges with Haggard in particular typifies what is wrong with American Evangelicalim today:
Brokaw: Most of the churches that I know of, and certainly the ones I attended, at some point, you out loud acknowledge that you were a sinner or that you came face-to-face to guilt that you may feel.
Brokaw: I didn’t see any of that here.
Haggard: Well, we do talk about sin. But, see, the issue is Jesus took care of our sin. And Jesus removes guilt from our life. So the emphasis in our church isn’t how to get your sins removed because that’s pretty easy to do. Jesus did that on the cross. The emphasis in our church is how to fulfill the destiny that God’s called you to.
Brokaw: You’re making it easier for them.
Haggard: Making it easier for them just like Jesus did, just like Moses did.
How can it be that a Christian pastor and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals could glide so carelessly over the cross of Jesus Christ? The cross is the central event of human history, the focal point of the entire Bible, and the only basis upon which sinful humans can be reconciled to an offended God. How could a shepherd of God’s people ever consider the removal of guilt through the cross of Christ to be anything other than the central concern of Christianity? This seems to be a far cry from the kind of ministry the apostle Paul had when he said to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Could it be that evangelicals have largely abandoned the evangel in favor of something else? Could it be that evangelicals have left their anchor of life in Christ to set sail to find their “Best Life Now”?
John Piper has correctly observed that “God rests lightly on the church in America. He is not felt as a weighty concern” (source). Likewise, David Wells has written in his important book No Place for Truth, “It is this God, majestic and holy in his being, this God whose love knows no bounds because his holiness knows no limits, who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world” (p. 300).
It is a tragic irony that the purported God of evangelical faith is scarcely heard of in many evangelical churches. The Holy and Almighty Maker of heaven and earth who has revealed Himself definitively in Jesus Christ crucified and raised no longer remains as the focus of evangelical worship and piety.
So-called “evangelicalism” will die within a generation if evangelical churches do not recapture the evangel. It will not do simply to affirm the doctrine of inerrancy if the implications of inerrancy aren’t carried out in the life and worship of the church. That means (among other things) that evangelicals must restore the preaching of the word of God back to its central place in church life. This is the only way to keep the God of the Bible in, and to keep the God of our own imaginations out.