Wrestling with Hypocrisy in the Church
As our newsfeeds continue to fill with disheartening headlines about the state of the church in North America, Nathan and Cameron discuss the perennial challenge of hypocrisy, and argue that Christianity helps us make sense of our consistent moral shortcomings.
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Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to Thinking Out Loud, this podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your co-host, Cameron McAllister.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm your co-host, Nathan Rittenhouse.
Cameron McAllister: All right. Sorry guys, at long last we're back. We do, I think, have a legitimate excuse. Both of our households have increased. The Rittenhousehold...see what I did there? So Rittenhouse, you've got a new life-form in your house. Is that right?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yep. Carbon-based, made in the image of God.
Cameron McAllister: There you go. And a new life-form in McAllister household as well, carbon-based, made in the image of God. So we are gloriously tired, happy, and waking up at all hours of the night. Our wives are real heroes, and we are just learning the new dynamics and the new ropes of bigger households. So there you go.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, and it is a little bit weird. I mean, when you look at across our RZIM speaking team, there've been quite a few additions here recently.
Cameron McAllister: There really have.
Nathan Rittenhouse: There's no conspiracy.
Cameron McAllister: No.
Nathan Rittenhouse: This kind of points do the weirdness of the similarities of our lives.
Cameron McAllister: It does. Yeah, a little bit of a trend there.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Our diversity is the fact that I have a beard, and you don't.
Cameron McAllister: There you go. I think that's an important factor right there. If you were to meet the two of us, I think that would be your first takeaway instantly.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So...
Cameron McAllister: So...
Nathan Rittenhouse: Life is fun and chaotic in the household, but when you look at the world, what do you see?
Cameron McAllister: Well, we're seeing, I think, a lot of dismay. I think a lot of people are shaking their heads, and I think chaos is a word that comes to mind. On a serious note, I think a lot of us, more so than ever when we scan the headlines, we're not just shaking our heads. I think there's a growing weariness that's entering in now. And it's not just, "What do we do?" It's just, "How much more of this can we take?" It's not just that all of this is those outside the church making allegations and throwing stones. That's always been the case. But this feels more...this is more insider these days, isn't it? It's, we're looking around, and we're kind of thinking, "What is happening in our own house?" so to speak. So I think that's upping the stakes a little bit.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yep. And then, I would say that probably the direction, and some of this will go in our conversation, is kind of looking at the ways in which different groups, or different Christians that we know, are processing some of the allegations, and brokenness, and hypocrisy and stuff in the church. Actually, it really, I think, highlights some of our theological presuppositions and expectations. And then, those express themselves in the way that we respond to, and maybe “chaos” is the best word. Maybe that's actually a bit strong comparatively for world history, but I think there is a sense of unrest and unpredictability. So it's a mild chaos that gives us an uncertainty and a destabilizing sense of who we are, and what we're doing, and what's going on.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. Let's start with, so the topic of hypocrisy always looms large. It's gaining traction now, of course, for obvious reasons. It does seem every day there's a new story. You were saying earlier, Nathan, by the time this podcast airs, sadly, there will probably be more stories and more controversies. I mean, at this point, there's a special urgency that seems to be attaching to that question. And I've got some ideas here about what's upped the ante a little bit in recent years-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, hit me.
Cameron McAllister: ...On the question of hypocrisy, and really the growing hunger for not only transparency, but I, at least in my experience with younger people, no longer are they satisfied by just a slick presentation. They want more. They want to see something holistic. So what do you think are some of the contributing factors that-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, here's what I think we've done in the past is, have we moved past the cultural moment of authenticity? I mean, we're still kind of there, aren't we?
Cameron McAllister: ...I think so.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So what we've done though is we've substituted transparency, authenticity. Those are great, but in doing so, say, you take your high school youth group guys, and you bring in some young college guy to talk about his life. And in order to be transparent and authentic, he just tells them how he's exactly messed up in the same way all of them are. And it's a woe is us in order to be authentic. What we aren't seeing, and what we long for is authenticity, transparency, and holiness.
Cameron McAllister: Oh man, holiness, you got to expand on that a little bit.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So a sense of somebody who actually has integrity in their lives, where what they're proclaiming through the microphone and their skinny jeans in front of the congregation is actually part of the depths of their inner lives, in the ordering of that, in the way that they act behind closed doors, in the details. I sense this in my own life. What it does for me is it produces a massive skepticism. I've told well-known Christian leaders this before in meeting with them to say, "Hey, you know what? I think I like you, but you need to know this, it takes me a long time to generate respect for people now because talk is cheap. It's easy to grow a big church with the right marketing metrics. So it's great I hear you saying that. Do it for 30 years, and I'll be impressed." That's a bit cynical on my part, but on the other hand, it's not unjustified.
Cameron McAllister: I don't think it's that cynical. No, I mean, and I think one manifestation of this in the popular arena, in pop culture, would be the current obsession with Mr. Rogers. I think it's actually a really beautiful, legitimate thing. We have one of our children, our oldest, Dylan, he's almost three. He loves Mr. Rogers. So, of course, if he loves Mr. Rogers, that means we have to absorb lots of Mr. Rogers, and so we watch him a lot. But it really is remarkable to see.
I think what's drawing people in so much is not only here's a man whose basic message was to treat everyone with decency, and love, and kindness, and wonder of wonders. It turns out there really aren't any skeletons in this man's closet. He really was that wonderful of a person. He was just such a decent kind human being. All these documentaries coming out, and I think it forms this stark contrast, for instance, with Bill Cosby. I mean, this man, Bill Cosby, was for many years sort of the poster man of the all-American val-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Family comedian.
Cameron McAllister: ...Yeah. Dad, family values, and all of that, so that was another sort of very disillusioning moment. But with Mr. Rogers that you've got the real deal there. But again, I think it speaks to, on a deeper level, what you're...Authenticity, transparency, and holiness, there's the missing part for so many of these cases. That's a really insightful comment, actually.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, and it has struck me to listen to people who went and watched the Mr. Rogers movie when it came out, and told me that they cried through it.
Cameron McAllister: Everyone, yeah. Everyone I know said, "Oh my goodness, I was crying, crying."
Nathan Rittenhouse: So don't you think that points to a natural human hunger for somebody who actually just does what they say they do?
Cameron McAllister: I think so. The other really encouraging factor here is that...So I'm a literary guy. I like literature, and novels, and lots of all of that stuff English majors are supposed to like. But I can tell you it's very hard to make holiness believable, and interesting, and compelling. Right?
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's right, yeah.
Cameron McAllister: It's difficult. I mean, and a lot of great, great authors tried their hand at it. Actually, this will push some of you if you're real nerds, and there are some in-house disagreements on this, but I don't think Dostoyevsky, for instance, quite succeeds with The Idiot where he tries to create a genuine Christ-like beautiful character, Prince Myshkin. Now, Jill Carattini, our editor in chief of “A Slice of Infinity,” brilliant writer, she totally disagrees with me, so take it with a grain of salt. But I don't think Myshkin quite works because rather than coming across as holy, he comes across as weak and ineffectual.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Okay, yeah.
Cameron McAllister: So it's very difficult to make goodness interesting, compelling, and realistic, and yet now there's such a genuine hunger for that. People really want that. When you have the, I don't know, call it the Mr. Rogers effect, he's a guy who actually does exhibit these qualities and is interesting, compelling, and right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: There was an interesting moment a year or so ago that I really appreciated. There was something that had happened in my home congregation that was very sneaky and kind of behind closed doors, but it was an act of great selfless giving that had been hidden. It was a true 'don't let your right hand know what your right left hand is doing' sort of thing, but it was totally under wraps. It was sneaky in that sense. Somehow my wife found it out, and I just remember her yelling, "I love our church!" That's not to say our church is perfect, but I think that's fun when we uncover a deep secret about somebody, and it's good. When was the last time that happened?
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, how rare. Yep, where the skeleton in the closet isn't a skeleton at all. It's a treasure. All right, so now we're getting all fluffy, but the time that we're talking about is very unfluffy. So, Nathan, let's turn it in a more somber direction just for a second, or maybe not so somber, but you know what? I talk to you, and we hang out, and guess what? Neither you nor I are that downtrodden right now.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I really enjoy being a human.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, I do too. I can honestly say, I mean, all things being equal, I'm not that discouraged. I think there's a lot to be sad about. I think there always has. So let's talk about, how do we cultivate the right perspective in the midst of the wreckage? And how do we gain a perspective that's maybe a little larger than our cultural moment, maybe not seeing it so much in this sort of tunnel vision that we get?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, right. Not to be flippant, because there are real things, but just to...So both of us, I think, have at various points in time talked about that, actually, Jesus Christ, when he talks about humanity, when he talks about humanity's interaction with God, when he talks about discipleship, when he talks about religion, he's just laying out so clearly things that just make sense even in our time. For example, I've been thinking in the last few weeks when he talks about the parable of the sower and the seeds. He talks about the word being proclaimed, and some receive it, and it springs up. And then, for various stages, it sticks, and then it disappears, and the birds come and get you trampled.
So let's say you have somebody who really starts off with a lot of momentum and energy in their Christian faith and then steps away from it. And Christians are saying, "Oh, I just can't see how something like that could happen." You're like, "It's right there in the parable of Jesus." We have a clear roadmap of...For me, I think, it comes back to, for myself, personally, doing a good job of engaging in the teachings of Jesus that aren't the warm, fuzzy-feely ones, but are just where he's very blunt about the human heart. Armed with that in the back of my mind, these things make sense.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. What you're saying puts me in mind as a certain...Yeah, so this comes at the end of John 2. I've been thinking about these words a lot lately in light of all of the events and also in light of, basically, under the heading of how realistic Scripture is, and how realistic Jesus is. He knows the human heart, but you know these well. This comes after the cleansing of the temple, by the way. Jesus performs some pretty rash and aggressive, even, behavior there. He drives out all of the livestock and overturns the tables, and the money changers, and so on and so forth.
Nathan Rittenhouse: This is not Dostoyevsky's weak Jesus.
Cameron McAllister: This is not Prince Myshkin. No, this is the side of Jesus that makes us uncomfortable sometimes. But, I don't know, as you grow mature in your faith, I think I also find it very encouraging. I liked these passages. The temple authorities want one thing from him. They want him to show signs so that he can basically vindicate his authority for doing something like this. At the end of that...It's a very eventful chapter, by the way. You got the wedding at Cana, which is, "Okay, so there's his first miracle," and then this.
So two very, very powerful signs of his authority. Says this in verse 23, "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them because he knew a whole people and needed no one to bear witness about man for he himself knew what was in man." Those are really interesting words right there. Right?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: I think about those all the time when there's a case of, let's say, real moral failure, and we hear the now familiar lines, "But this person was so gifted. This person was so powerful in their proclamation. This person, there was real change. They just had such command of a stage." But their heart was in a different place. And I think of Jesus's words, none of this would surprise him.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's all fine and good, but then how do you cultivate real trust?
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, and therein lies the question. Real trust, I think part of what we have to do is we've got to...And this is me literally thinking out loud here with you, Nathan, because Nathan does me the favor of asking tough questions on the spot.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Just for a couple thousand people to listen to you.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, the stakes aren't high. I don't have a script. "Here, hold on. Pardon me while I go to Wikipedia. That should help." No, but I actually have been saying this for a little while. I think one of the major mistakes that we've made in the North American church is that we have mistaken giftedness for devotion to Christ.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Say that one more time.
Cameron McAllister: We have mistaken giftedness for devotion to Christ. They're not the same thing. Now, they're not mutually opposed either. I mean, they're not incompatible. However, if we're paying attention, for instance, to what the apostle Paul is saying in I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, it's actually a very unsentimental chapter, very tough. He's saying, I mean, you can perform miracles and prophecies, you can do all these things and not be a Christian. Right?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: If you are without love, so that is, if you don't love Christ supremely, if your heart doesn't belong to him, ulterior motives can creep in. I think we need to move away from that overestimation of giftedness, and that might be the beginning of learning to build trust and actually learning to...One of my friends said this to me, and it's very profound. We were talking about pastors. This is my editor. He said to me, "Get yourself a dopey pastor who loves the word, is filled with compassion, knows the complexity of human circumstances, and you're in good hands."
That just speaks to the heart of it. I mean, the last thing we need is another person who can give a TED Talk or who is a really, really sharp dresser. Not that those things are necessarily wrong or anything like that, but we need, in other words, the whole deal, a person who truly loves Jesus above all else and is devoted to him and not an audience.
Nathan Rittenhouse: You mean a machine isn't a fruit of the spirit?
Cameron McAllister: Possibly.
Nathan Rittenhouse: We don't want to be overly harsh here.
Cameron McAllister: No, no.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I mean, look at the diversity and the complexity of the ways in which people minister in different contexts. But I do think there's an opportunity here for...I'm not cynical, and there are people that I do trust deeply. But it loops back around to developing an expectation of, well, people come to me and say, "Well, this happened. This with the church, this person did this, and they said this, and it's just a bunch of full of hypocrites." I'll even say, "That's exactly how Jesus felt." They come to him and say, "This, this, this." And he says, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and you don't do what I say?"
And then, if I'm engaging with a skeptic, I also often flip that, kind of it's like, "So you really agree with the Jesus on that. What else do you agree with Jesus on?" That's just kind of a funny and slightly awkward conversation continuous. But this doesn't surprise Christ. He himself addressed and rustled with people coming and going. When people left, he didn't run after them. He just said to the disciples, "Do you too want to go?" So I think what happens here is we have, and the I John's very clear on this too, about this is how we know, talking about walking as he did, about loving our brothers. There is a metric there in Scripture for seeing what authentic Christian living looks like.
This comes into a thought then that I had for you that I think moving forward in the chaos of culture that we have to reattach apologetics and discipleship. Because unless Christianity offers a way of life that's categorically different and fundamentally, or objectively, more stable, that type of life is not attractive if it doesn't make a change. So the role of apologetics isn't even necessary if the thing that is being offered nobody wants. You don't have to prove something that's true if nobody cares whether or not it's true. I think there's a call here for continuity in my own life, and this is where I can start to flip this back around as we like to do and make it self-deprecating. Not self-deprecating, but taking the plank out of our own eye, right?
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Of saying, "Is my life worthy of the name of being a disciple?" I often think about, if I was Jesus, I would sort of be scared to have me representing him sort of thing. So there's a risk there, but do our lives match up? They won't always, but that speaks to the complexities of the Gospel, and what it means to be human. But then, on the other hand, to recognize that their Israel brokenness, even behind the lights, and the glare, and the glamor of the world, we get to live in the middle of that.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. It might be helpful to just step back a few paces here and define our terms because discipleship, I wish it were self-explanatory. I don't think it is. But, basically, all discipleship means is that Jesus is your Lord, and you are aiming to be like him. You're his apprentice. Of course, the pictures are, we could take Jesus. Jesus was a carpenter. When you learn to be a carpenter, you've got a master carpenter who's teaching you. What do you do first? You watch. But, eventually, you got to start trying, and you got to get the splinters. You got to make mistakes.
But you take your own faltering steps under the guidance of a master. That's really what discipleship is, and it's day-to-day. The problem with so many of us here in North America is that Christianity, because of its influence in the past, that influence is waning. But because of its influence in the past, there's a whole Christian language. Christianity has a discourse, as sociologists would say. We all know that you can master the discourse without actually giving your heart to Christ.
You could get an A on a theology exam, you can memorize a lot of Scripture, but if you're not actually following Jesus, obeying him, seeking to have his manner and his sensibilities realized in your daily life. I mean, I think this often shows up in our testimony circuits as well. Because what we'll do is we like dramatic testimonies. Obviously, they're interesting, they're fun, they're compelling. But there's this sense in which you hear this dramatic testimony, and now we act as though now the person's come home, and that's it. Well, no.
Nathan Rittenhouse: What we're seeing here though is that discipleship is a commitment to a direction of growth rather than a declaration of reaching a destination.
Cameron McAllister: 100%, yep. And it's daily growth. I mean, this is an ongoing process. We Christians have a word for it, it's called sanctification. It's a day-to-day, and we're always learning.
Nathan Rittenhouse: But, again, this is where real theology of what the Scripture teaches about how a human forms and is shaped. Let's be clear, Romans 8, the purpose of this is that we be conformed to the image of the son. I think maybe the frustr... Actually, let's put this to kind of clarify in this way is that you can be somebody who is following Jesus, and that is the goal that you've chosen to grow in. And then, look at the disciples. Man, I mean, they get it wrong on repeat.
I've been preaching through Matthew, and it's hilarious when you start looking at them and bread. First, they don't have any bread, so they have to steal some from a little kid for Jesus to multiply. The next time, they're doing a little bit better, they have some with them. But then, there's another time they don't have any bread with them, and they are all hung up on the food thing, and Jesus is working. I'm just so encouraged by his graciousness with them in their inability. I mean, he does a little critique in there, "Why can't you get this?" basically. So there's that, and that's encouraging. That's hopeful. Look at the life of Peter himself.
Cameron McAllister: Oh man, yep.
Nathan Rittenhouse: The vacillations there, oscillations there of that. But he's growing in a direction. I think what we see within the church when we get disenfranchised with somebody is when we say, "Look, you're using religious language, but it appears to us that you're growing, seeking power, seeking influence, seeking fame, money, whatever."
Cameron McAllister: That's a different direction.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's a different direction. So you can almost have the actions that fail in the same sense, but the direction that you're going in dictates whether or not...Yeah, help me out there.
Cameron McAllister: Well, this is a really important distinction that you're making, and I think the imagery is really, really helpful in clarifying it. If you are going in the right direction, even if you're stumbling, you're staggering, you're falling, you're still moving forward. That's the imagery that Paul uses. Of course-
Nathan Rittenhouse: I fought the good fight.
Cameron McAllister: ...Yeah, I fought the good fight, or running the race with endurance. One thing I know I have not attained it yet, but-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Pressing on.
Cameron McAllister: ...Pressing on. That's the stead moving forward, bruises and all. We've both got babies now, think about the progression from starting to crawl, starting to walk. You can't do that without falling down, without bruises. Pediatricians will say when they look at your children, "I like to see these bruises and these lacerations. It means they're growing."
Nathan Rittenhouse: They're playing out there, yep.
Cameron McAllister: They're playing, they're learning. But you're going in the direction, in the right direction, and that direction is Christ likeness. It's possible though, when we look at somebody, if they're going after something that is in any way, basically, in the tent of selfishness; basically, in the direction of self-aggrandizement, or the realization of the world, that's the wrong direction. And the signs of the world, they take different forms, but they're basically pretty obvious, right?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yep.
Cameron McAllister: Power, recognition, fame, some form of human glorification, so if you're going in the wrong direction, here's my point, and I think the point that you're making. I'm just trying to amplify it. There's a massive difference between somebody who is stumbling forward in the right direction, and somebody who's going in the wrong direction entirely. Both are falling down, but the direction makes all the difference in the world. So Christians make mistakes, but the person who is claiming Christ and is going in a completely opposite direction, that's true hypocrisy. A Christian who admits, "I'm a sinner, saved by grace. By God's grace, I am pressing forward. I still make mistakes. I still fall. I'm not perfect yet, but I'm moving in that direction." Yeah, I think that's a great distinction.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And we see it expressed in the way in which people repent after getting caught. You stumble, and you've seen people who have messed up, and there's deep weeping, and sorrow, a brokenness that this is not-
Cameron McAllister: Real contrition.
Nathan Rittenhouse: ...I like how people, particularly it always pops up the news, and somebody, "Oh yeah, well, this came out, but that's not really who I am." Well, out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. It would be far more accurate to say, "Actually, shoot, this is who I am, but this is not who I want to be."
Cameron McAllister: Yes.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So there's a difference there of self-awareness and what happens within Christian community when somebody stumbles and asks for forgiveness. There's reconciliation, and redemption, and restoration there, and that's a beautiful thing. Whereas if somebody isn't trying to follow Jesus, and that's not their final goal, actually addressing that brokenness often leads to fracturing, and people stepping away from the church, and, "How did we get here?"
We started off talking about how the world seems to be chaotic at times. The point we're making is that this does not surprise God. The reminder that we're giving ourselves is that God creates order out of chaos. And the details of that and the way in which that happens in the human heart and human life are found in the teachings of Jesus in very clear, straightforward ways.
It sounds like we're on repeat here, but when you see Christians of high caliber leaving the church, Christians of high caliber with moral failures, again, I think we've often used the phrase, "We're sad but not surprised," as things external to the church. But as Christians, you can be sad but not surprised to things that happen within the church in the same way. Just because we're not surprised by it, it doesn't mean that we're not disappointed by it, but it doesn't actually...Maybe this is the unsettling thing for some Christians, is they say, "Well, this person had such gifting, such a stage presence, enacted so much change, and it was all a sham. Therefore, does that undercut-"
Cameron McAllister: Does it invalidate everything? Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: ..."Does it invalidate the thing that I believe?" I think that's where the unsettling nature comes from.
Cameron McAllister: Let's look at that philosophically for just a second, because I do hear this. I'm sympathetic to this line of thinking, but the analogy breaks down, all analogies do. But we all know that there are people who are massively gifted, for instance, in the sciences. Let's say you've got a really, really skilled neurosurgeon, and it turns out that he's been sleeping with the nurses and with his assistants. Now, would that invalidate all of the great work that he's done?
Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm trying to think if that's a true equivalent.
Cameron McAllister: It's not a true equivalent. It's a rough equivalent. In other words, it's possible for somebody to basically make some real achievements or to even...It's possible for somebody to lay claim of the truth even if with a duplicitous heart. So they could-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, it's also possible for God to use a complete scoundrel for his purpose who never was even trying.
Cameron McAllister: ...So if a complete scoundrel preaches, for instance, a Gospel-centered message, the Lord and His mercy can even work through that.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Okay, so if we're going to go that route, what we're saying therefore then is a call to return of being impressed by God at the proclamation of the message, not impressed by the preacher.
Cameron McAllister: Exactly, because if the Gospel is true, it remains sacrosanct, and it remains true regardless of the behavior of those who use it. We take God's name in vain all the time, just turn on your television. But we also take God's name in vain with our lives. Tim Keller once said, "Nobody has had their reputation, their name dragged through the mud more than Jesus." This is just inaccurate picture. There's that stark contrast. There's no necessary concomitant truth that if you see profound moral failure in this, one of the most lauded, or one of the more apparently gifted communicators, that it necessarily invalidates the Gospel. No. Philosophically, that's actually a pretty weak argument.
But, again, I'm sympathetic to it because we put our trust in these people. I think that gets to the essence of the problem too because, where are you placing your trust, ultimately? I mean, again, let's just bring in a couple of minor sociological data points because this is nothing new, but there are new manifestations of these old problems in every age. Here, I think we've got a couple of different factors in play. Number one, we're not reading our Bibles very much anymore because if we did, we would see very clearly what you've been talking about that the Bible doesn't turn a blind eye to hypocrisy. In fact, it's one of the biggest targets of Jesus, and we see it on display in the Scriptures. We never hide from that. Jesus knows what's in the heart of men.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And if you wonder how God feels about hypocrisy, you can also look at all of the Old Testament prophets.
Cameron McAllister: All of the Old Testament prophets, and, yeah, there's some frightening passages too. I mean, in some of the words He reserves for the religious leaders. But also, so we are in the United States here. I'm aware that we have listeners who are elsewhere, and we're so glad you're listening. But, of course, our context, it's weird to talk about the United States as a whole as a local, but our local context, we've...Okay, so the influence of Christianity has been quite strong in North America in the past. It's on the wane right now, and the evangelical influence's been very strong as well. Here's where I think that the emphasis on giftedness has come with some good intentions, but it's been misguided.
I'm drawing my thinking here from the historian John Fee and Mark Noll, these two guys. Mark Noll made a really wise offhanded comment once in an interview. Somebody asked him, this was, I think, the 20 year anniversary of “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” which was a book that caused quite a bit of discussion when it came out, still does. The famous first sentence of that is, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn't much of one." So they were asking later, all these years later, "Do you think there is a pronounced intellectual tradition within the evangelicalism?"
He said, "Well, in some ways, yeah. We've got research journals, we've got ETS and conferences. But, in a deeper sense, I don't think we'll ever have a robust intellectual emphasis and tradition like, say, Catholicism does because evangelicalism has always prized activism." That was a really interesting comment because from its roots, and I can't remember David Bebbington's quadrilateral right off the top of my head. I know the hallmarks are emphasis on conversion experience, the authority of Scripture, supremacy of Christ, I think, and there's a fourth one. But from its onset, especially in the United States, evangelicalism has been a real force to reckon with because it's been amazing at mobilizing people for a cause to spread the influence of the Gospel.
John Fee and some others have pointed that sometimes, and I'm aware, I don't want to get us in trouble here, that this has led to an overemphasis on politics sometimes. But also, I would say more largely speaking on the notion of cultural influence because cultural influence needs to be very, very carefully weighed at time. It's not basically a given that it's always a good thing. Getting a seat at certain tables can come with a real cost. I think that's what we are really coming to reckon with a little bit in the United States is that influence legacy because we've gotten pretty good at influence, but cultural influence has a way of really getting to our heads. It has a way of really misleading us on what really matters.
I'm trying to be generous. I think one of the strengths of evangelicalism is also one of its major weaknesses, and I think it's led to some misguided thinking on giftedness. And giftedness being the outward appearance of being a really charismatic person with great communication skills, the right connections, all of that. I think that the mindset was always…Yeah, but to get into those arenas, to influence the culture for good, but we can never underestimate the seductive nature of the world outside the church as well. I've rambled long enough, and you're shifting in your seat, so time to let you talk.
Nathan Rittenhouse: No, I think it's time to confess that we've done a great job of taking another half hour to think out loud and to...I don't know that, again, we've brought any clarity to this other than to provide some frameworks and some categories. I will just say, in response to what you just said, that perhaps, if we can make a little plug for theology here, that there's a sense in which, what does it mean to be saved? What does sanctification mean? What does discipleship look like? What are the true things that Christ is calling us to? And what are the seductive elements of the culture around us that can be assimilated into our way of thinking? Actually, those matter deeply and are formative for the way in which we respond.
So I think there's a challenge there for us that when we see certain things in the news, and you hear about failures in the church, individuals, pastors, university presidents, songwriters, whatever, authors, that we say, "Okay. We're rightfully frustrated about it," but that we use those elements for us to reevaluate what are our underlying presuppositions about what it is that Jesus taught about humanity, and what it is that he's calling each of us to do. And to be thankful for the way in which he allows us to participate in the way in which he is working his plan to continue to bring order out of the chaos of the world around us and the communities in which we live.
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