Evangelical amnesia

Scot McKnight was one of the first evangelical writers I read as a new Christian. If you have never read his books or his blog, I’d encourage you to do so.

Recently, he wrote a blog post about the demise of evangelical Christianity.

As an evangelical Methodist, I find much of what McKnight writes in his post compelling and on target. Indeed, I would say that much of what is troubling United Methodist churches that I have been a part of can be attributed to the degree to which we are afflicted by the ills McKnight outlines in his post. We United Methodists are evangelicals with a case of amnesia. We have forgotten that we are evangelicals. We have forgotten ourselves and therefore have no idea why we are here or what we should be doing.

McKnight highlight the following areas of trouble. See if any of these ring true to you.

The Bible is diminished – Preaching is not rooted deeply in it. People do not study it. We are not shaped, formed, and challenged by it on a daily basis.

Evangelism is diminished – We do lots of mission work, but somehow that activity has been divorced from church planting and the salvation of souls. Whether it is overseas or in our own communities, we are very eager to provide bread for the body but not food for the soul.

Vocations are diminishing – Is this one true in the UMC? McKnight writes that the numbers of people coming forward to seek vocations as pastors is decreasing. I don’t know if that is the case in my conference in the UMC. I know that my commissioning class was fairly large by recent standards, but that may be a decline overall from historic trends. I do know that there is much talk in my conference about retirements out-pacing new vocations.

The Cross is diminished — McKnight’s point is that there is a lot of confusion and contention around atonement theology. Camps are divided. Progressives seek theories that downplay or dismiss the notion that Christ died for our sins. Conservatives go all in on penal substitution and ignore other aspects of the work of Christ on the cross. In all this, we end up diminishing Cross and  — dare I say — emptying it of its power.

I’m sure these critiques are not valid in every place United Methodists gather, but much of McKnight’s critique seems like it applies to us as well. It feels in the church that we are much more comfortable with “doing good works” than we are in the hard work of sanctification or the often unrewarding work of preaching the gospel to those who have not heard it. And we are really, really, really good at clustering together with like-minded folks and clucking about how those “other Christians” are doing it all wrong.

What do you think? Does any of this seem on point to you?

What can we do to shake off our amnesia and help others to do the same?

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2 thoughts on “Evangelical amnesia

  1. Your post cuts to the quick. That’s a good thing. Many of us meet so many soul-hollow, sin-damaged people that we are swamped doing triage, and that becomes engulfing. But there is no real rescue if there is no reckoning with what’s wrong at the core. Preach Christ.

    1. Being swamped doing triage is a good way to put it. You quickly discover the needs of the people around so far exceed your ability to help that you are doomed to fail in that effort. As I progress more deeply into this life of ministry, I am reminded more and more of Peter’s words to the man on the grounds of the temple begging for help. I have no silver to give, but what I do have, I give freely — Jesus Christ.

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