Touchstone on Evangelicalism Today

Very interesting symposium over at Touchstone on the subject of Evangelicalism. The most stunning quote to me is this one:

Sociologist Christian Smith has recently described American spirituality as “moralistic, therapeutic deism,” and he says that this fits those raised in Evangelical churches as well as any others. If Fundamentalism reduced sin to sins (or at least things they considered vices), contemporary Evangelicals seem to have reduced sin to dysfunction. In this context, Jesus is not the savior from the curse of the law, but a life coach who leads us to a better self, better marriages, and happier kids.

(HT: Treaders)


3 thoughts on “Touchstone on Evangelicalism Today”

  1. Wow, lot of good discussion there. I could pull out a number of quotes, but the following sums up much of my thinking over the last several months:

    Evangelicals have rarely understood that the lowest-common-denominator Christianity they have used to achieve success (and to move the mainline Protestant churches off the front page) does not do justice to the fullness of biblical truth. To their credit, Evangelicals revere Scripture and continue to know their Bibles as well as any group of American Christians.

    But they do not see that their sacred book has a lot more to say than the fairly brief list of essential doctrines that Evangelicals use for fellowship. This means that although being a Presbyterian looks like a narrower version of Christian—it certainly has fewer members—it is broader in the sense that its creeds, catechism, directory of worship and church government go into much more detail about the teaching of Scripture than Evangelicalism.

    Consequently, as demographically broad as Evangelicalism may look, it is theologically narrow when compared to other historic Christian traditions.

    Increasingly, I think that lowest-common-denominator way of looking at things, more often than not, produces a nominal Christianity—one that bores people and leaves them saying, “Is this really it?” It would seem that the recent Willow Creek survey lends some credence to that. But closer to home, I’ve seen my own boredom and frustration. Now that I’m looking back and drawing from tradition with more breadth (and depth), I don’t feel that anymore. I feel that I was swimming in the lake, but now I’m learning to swim in the ocean.

  2. I’ll have to take a look at the symposium, but I cannot help commenting on your chosen quote.

    There is a trouble, I believe, in pointing out the therapeutic nature of Evangelicalism. The trouble is that Evangelicals have been among the most ignorant and resistant subgroups when it comes to psychotherapy. My limited experience with the average Evangelical is that they are unable to discern that Smith is likely not speaking of professional and scientific psychotherapy, and instead he speaking of creating a therapeutic ecclesiology that is mostly uninformed of the findings of psychotherapy.

    There is then a distinction between “therapeutic” and “therapy”. And the truth is that most good Christian therapists repudiate the therapeutic nature of Evangelicalism.

  3. Dave,

    Right you are. I wonder if there’s a further trouble in identifying such “therapeutic deists” as evangelicals.

    I imagine the symposium participants, and Smith himself, have in mind adherents to the “health-and-wealth” philosophy, particularly its current incarnation in the books and messages of Joel Osteen.

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