The Evangelical Hammer

Church in Batey 1The Naked Pastor has a moving and perceptive piece on another moving and perceptive piece by Ted Haggard. Both are worth reading.

Haggard notes the one dimensionality problem of some evangelicals.

In my case, I was taught that life transformation took place at salvation and the power to overcome was inherent with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. My early Christian training was given by those who did not respect the mental health profession, nor the field of neural science. So I believed the solution to my struggle was exclusively spiritual, which turned out to be counterproductive.

If I prayed and fasted, I was more tempted. If I just worked in ministry, I experienced relief and was not tempted. I thought it was spiritual warfare. It was not. My struggle was easily explained by a competent therapeutic team.

Basically evangelicals have religious hammers and all they see in the world are nails to pound them with.

Hayward thinks Haggard hasn’t gone far enough and in his conclusion basically takes the safe evangelical punt. Hayward looks more deeply into religion and what it does by borrowing from M. Scott Peck.

I would change Peck’s emphasis. The greatest motive of religion is disguise! The greatest function of religion is to conceal evil not only from others but from ourselves. If we perceive that this is the same greatest motive as evil then we begin to see the complexity of our problem. So I would go further than Peck and assert that this does not just apply to evil people trying to conceal their guilt with religion, but with all people including sincere ones. In other words, religion allows us to be sincere and sinful at the same time. Even though religion promises transformation, it actually saves us from having to do it. You can look transformed while you stay the same. I agree with Haggard: almost every pastor and church leader I ever met were very sincere followers of Christ. But I would go further than Haggard and assert that at the same time these sincere followers of Christ were the problem. While meaning to do good they wreaked havoc in the lives of people.

This is the problem Haggard flirted with: the church is precisely the epicenter of where this hypocrisy occurs. The problem is not more bible study or more personal application. The problem is we need to be more self-aware and more honest with ourselves. I also claim that this will not solve our problem but only make us aware of it, which in itself is the solution.

They’re both right. 

Evangelicalism is too often too simplistic. Yes we also need to be more honest and self-aware with our own self-deceit. The problem is, of course, seeing the problem and applying an “ought” isn’t a solution.

Solutions don’t often come in sentences, paragraphs and admonitions. They come in lives usually through series of breakthroughs and failures and sometimes they don’t come at all.

Mirrors

The church offers a lot in this, as do other groups like 12 step groups but none are simply universally effective. We see ourselves by others being mirrors for us, but that capacity of course requires listening and believing the words of other imperfect mirrors. Others see through our disguises better than we see through our own, but they too are fooled, distorted and biased because they wear disguises too. We’re all in the same boat together.

Similarly the complexity of the disorder (that Haggard points to) suggests the complexity of the path to healing. By grace failure is sometimes a step towards healing.

The temptations are often to dismiss helpful pathways towards healing. “Ditch the church, get a therapist.” “Therapists are broken people too, you need God to free you…” “Get a new religion, better religion, no religion, all religions…”

It is a telling mirror that the Christian story says the defining moment of our path to healing begins with a horrendous act of injustice, a good man dying beneath an ironic sign. His admonitions about cross taking seemed strange but will tend to track with both of what Haggard and Hayward observe. We can only know the complex monsters we are by seeing the truth of what our hands do to ourselves and each other. Then the man upon the cross and the group who gather beneath it do hard work together on uumasking our disguises.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Missional, Pastoral Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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