Do You Recall When You Realized the Problems in Evangelicalism? Despite Our Longing We Can’t Go Back to How Life was Before

Do you remember what your life was like before you realized that evangelicalism is broken? Do you recall what it was like before you dealt with spiritual abuse or authoritarianism? In what seems like an eternity many people do. In the classic work Ragtime by E.L. Doctrow in a time of change and upheaval it was also realized that you can’t go back to how life was before. When you come out of the dark side of evangelicalism the only way ahead is to go forward. You may crave or desire to go back for a number of personal reasons. But there is no turning back. These journeys are for the brave.

“Behind innocence there gathers a clotted mass of superstition, of twisted and misdirected impulse; clandestine flirtation, fads, and ragtime fill the unventilated mind.”

Walter Lippmann

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 NIV

That is me after I was baptized at Fresno Evangelical Free in April of 2000. I was such a different person then, so much so that I don’t recognize myself. So much change has taken place. 

American literature is very rich with writers and novelists. I want to lean upon a classic work in this post as I continue to discuss the problems and issues with American evangelicalism.

 

E.L. Doctrow’s Literary Classic Ragtime 

In 1975 E.L. Doctrow published a book which would become an American masterpiece. Ragtime was selected by Modern Library as one of the 100 best important novels of all time. The work that E.L Doctrow created showcased how vibrant writing can be done. This genre that Doctrow really supported is called historical fiction. Ragtime looks at a dark time in American history. It takes place in the New York City area and starts in 1902 and goes to 1912 but even mentions the United States entering World War I. Ragtime explores a changing culture and time. Some of the issues that Ragtime looks at are immigration, racial strife, industrialization, radical anarchism, politics, and the changing role of women. Into all these issues as a historical fiction novel you have characters such as Henry Ford, Evelyn Nesbit, Matthew Perry, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Booker T. Washington woven into the plot of a fictional family. Ragtime is the story of Mother, Father, Younger Brother, and Grandfather. Each of those characters deals with  different issues. Younger brother who sees injustice and organized labor becomes influenced by Emma Goldman and becomes a revolutionary. Father is an old school individual who is very conservative and Victorian who goes on journeys. Mother was the dotting wife who found an abandoned black child in her garden. She becomes more concerned with racism and brings a young African-American women into the house and helps her. Mother also realizes the limits of Victorian  culture. Then you have Coalhouse Walker Jr who is a talented Ragtime musician who is the father of the young black child and attached to the young female. Coalhouse has a run in with a white racist fire chief who destroys his car and has him arrested. Coalhouse runs into issues when he pursues justice. In the process of trying to find justice the person he cares about is killed. After losing everything he becomes a radical who demands justice and engages in domestic terrorism as he see systematic racism as a part of American culture. In this novel you read about the influence in American culture of Henry Ford and the invention of the assembly line or of scandal with the trial of Evelyn Nesbit and how that influences American culture. Ragtime was turned into a movie in 1981 and a Broadway musical in 1998. 

 

Do You Remember What Evangelicalism Was Like Before You Discovered the Systemic Issues? 

Can you recall what it was like before you realized evangelicalism is broken? Can you remember your life before you experienced the dark side of evangelicalism and abuse, authoritarianism, control, corruption and more? 

Or do you remember attending your first evangelical service? Or sitting through your first Bile study? How many remember when you looked forward to Sunday morning so you could attend church and see friends? Remember when you went to church and you met the pastor and respected him? Do you recall what it was like to give , money to a church because you believed in supporting the effort or reaching the lost? Do you remember picking up Christian material at book shops?  How many recall going to your first Christian contemporary music concert? What about your first Christian music festival? Do you recall building friendships with people who you thought would be friends for life? Do you remember when you were scared about dating because of sexual purity? Worried and in knots about each movie or form of entertainment sexually tempting you?  Remember how you did accountability through your church or ministry? How many recall your experiences in organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship or the Navigators? Do you recall when you looked at all churches as being healthy? And when you accept people talking about how solid the non-denominational model is? How about when you respected the Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, Evangelical Free Church of America, and so many other denominations? Do you recall when you used to trust your children to pastors or ministries? If you remember the concept of sex abuse was so foreign it just didn’t seem possible. Do you recall when you dated on the basis of faith, married, had kids, took jobs, and lived thinking you were doing the will of God? 

Do you remember all this? It seems like almost a century ago. In a different time and in a different era. That time in your life is now a distant fog that seems blurry. When I was in that world I drank the Kool Aid. I was naive and a complete fool. I was brainwashed and tried to honor the Lord as it was defined. Its been a long time but it was a different time. You look at pictures like the one I have posted above and you see the Kool Aid on  your face.  The glossed over eyes? Do you remember all of that? 

Do you remember how your life was before you realized that evangelicalism is broken and can not be repaired? That is failures are cultural and systemic. 

 

Just Like Mother in Ragtime We Can’t Go Back to How it Was Before. The Future is About Moving Forward and its Only For the Brave 

 I wrote about Ragtime because there is a theme in the book that I think plays itself well in this post. In the book, movie and the musical one of the issues deals with the  changes that Mother goes through. Mother is a product of the Victorian era. She lets her husband make her decisions for her. Women can’t vote and she believes her place is at home and to submit to her husband. As her life unfolds in Ragtime she slowly realizes there are problems and that the world she is a part of is not so straight and narrow as she once thought. She realizes that she wants to be free from control and live her life in a way that gives her more. In her journey she comes to a crossroads and makes a decision that life can’t go back to the way it was before. Her previous life was not as healthy or solid as she thought it was. In the musical Mother sings a song called “Back to Before” which I will have below. In it she states that life is more complicated and that its time to go forward and how we can’t go back to life like it was before. 

When you leave something it takes courage. You have to keep moving forward. Some people are tempted to go back to the ministries or organizations that they have left. When I was talking with some of the people from Harvest Bible Chapel I learned of how some people who decided to return to Harvest after all that happened. I am not going to name the ministry or church but not long ago I spoke to another person who was embroiled in a church scandal. It was high profile and difficult. In the end I learned that one person decided to go back to what they left and turned their back on friends who stood by this person. It left her friends disappointed. I have pushed back from evangelicalism and I have been moving forward. Step by step its been a hard and difficult walk. These kinds of journeys are not for the faint of heart. Instead they are for the brave and the courageous. Why? Because sometimes you know that leaving can mean losing friends or family. But you also need to be honest and true to yourself. When its 5:45 in the morning and you get out of bed and are staring at yourself in the mirror you need to be honest and true. Lying to yourself can be some of the most troubling aspects to these situations that this blog writes about. But remember no matter how you are tempted, or how hard it is one has to keep moving forward. The days of evangelicalism for people like myself and others are over. You can’t go back to how life was before. 

5 thoughts on “Do You Recall When You Realized the Problems in Evangelicalism? Despite Our Longing We Can’t Go Back to How Life was Before

  1. Wondering,

    This comment won’t have any sarcasm, so don’t worry.

    I never ever experienced anything like this personally. I still don’t know what an EVANGELICAL is, in today’s use of the word. I stick to the word “CHRISTIAN”, and call it good. Don’t get me wrong, I do know the definition of Evangelical, but today’s use…it’s a dirty word.

    It wasn’t until I was doing my normal Yahoo Trolling that I stumbled upon a story that CNN ran, regarding Julie Anne Smith, and 4 others being sued by their pastor for 1/2 million dollars did I even learn of anything regarding THE DARK SIDE, if you will.

    I can’t remember how, but somehow I got in touch with her on the phone, and we talked for a couple of hours on the phone, and this was about 3-4 months before she started her blog.

    About 6 months before learning of Julie Anne, through YouTube I discovered Calvinism, so I had a hint of the goofy doctrines, but I had no idea of the abuses that came with those goofy doctrines. And her case got me curious to explore the relationship between the doctrines and the abuse. One thing that stuck out for me with Julie Anne was when she told me that Romans 9, in her church, was taught over a 7 week period, I think it was, if my memory serves me correctly. My first thought, “that’s really odd”. What is the point of making this such a long and drawn out sermon? My discoveries of doctrine and abuse was astonishing. I could not believe what I was hearing on YouTube in the sermons. Then i discovered blogs of Pulpit and Pen, and saw the venom of Christians toward other Christians. Then I saw more blogs, and discovered that Baptists and Cavlinists co-existing, when they both have differing beliefs, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around that, and the covertness of Calvinists turning a NORMAL church (even tho I disagree with their doctrines, I’ll still call it normal), into a Calvinist church using STEALTH mode.

    Dude, the stuff I was learning, it blew my mind. You know that I harp about victims calling the law enforcement, but I learned of a doctrine that THEY ALL call “church discipline”, and that makes them afraid of calling the cops, because their pastor/elders is their sheriff, their chief of police, their judge, their jury, and it boils down to being a cult.

    Then the whole mess of Ergun Cantor caught in lies, and his son died of a suicide, and someone at Pulpit and Pen was harassing that son about his dad (no one brought legal charges, but should have).

    I say all this because this is NOT the Christianity that I grew up in. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t begin STUDYING the bible until many years after I became a Christian, and my journey involved a Jehovah’s Witness attempting to proselytize me. He was a good friend, tho. He made the mistake of loaning me his little brown book, which is better known as his book to KNOW what to respond with, when people ask him Jehovah Witness questions. They have sections where it states, “When speaking to a Muslim, say the following”,” when speaking to a Mormon, say the following”, etc.

    Well, I read that whole book in one night. We’ve all heard that they are a cult, so I wanted to find out WHY. How can I prove them wrong if I have no clue what my bible even states. Sure we all know a verse here and there, but what do we really know? Which is my point about YOUR journey, what do you really know?

    So I made a point to read the bible from cover to cover 5 (FIVE) times before I even considered STUDYING it. At the time, I didn’t have a Strong’s Concordance, but I have an NIVr and a KJV. I figured I had better learn the KJV, so I read it FIRST from the NIVr, due to EASY ENGLISH, and then slowly work my way over to the KJV, but I’m not beholden to it, just so you know. I’ll look at many versions.

    Then, since I had no concordance (and I certainly did NOT wish to read ANY commentaries whatsoever, for how could I make up MY OWN mind?), if I could NOT remember where I read something, I purposefully began again at Genesis 1:1 until I found what I was looking for. This learning technique was great for me, but when I got that concordance, it was FUN going on rabbit trails, cuz I learned things just off of WORDS that was very interesting. Then I had an interest in Hebrew words, so I had a Jewish friend of mine teach me a class on the Jewish Alphabet, and how to write words in Hebrew, including my own name. That was fun.

    In any case, MY FORM of study was to FIRST, learn their doctrines inside and out, THEN take it back to the bible that I read 5 times, plus the knowledge that I received from needing to BEGIN AGAIN, and the rabbit trails, and right away, I knew how to debunk their doctrines…and from then on, it’s been FUN for me to purposefully seek out controversies, and this Calvinism is THE WORST of the cults that I have ever studied. The JW’s are abusive, but not to the extent of Calvinism. I’ve never heard of abuse in the 7th Day Adventists, but they got strange doctrines. The word of faith movement, take it or leave it, prosperity gospel, just change the channel, but Calvinism…they have a psychological hold on every aspect of your life.

    I have an advantage, due to KNOWING that bible. The pew sitters in Calvinism/Baptist church’s, which you call EVANGELICALS, they don’t have a CLUE regarding the bible. Their colleged preachers are all about EXPOSITORY preaching, and they tought it as the ONLY MEANS to teach the bible. They have to see EXPLICIT words, LINE BY LINE, PRECEPT BY PRECEPT.

    So I ask them, well, if you were to use the HEBREW scriptures only, how would YOU know that Jesus is the promised seed? You wouldn’t. Why? Because according to the HEBREW scriptures, Isaac is the promised seed. Not only that, Isaiah tells us that HIS NAME WILL BE EMANUEL. Nothing about some dude named Jesus. Expository, huh? No, I’m not into expository preaching, although it is history, but that history tells a story 2 ways, one carnal, and two spiritual.

    Yes, Christianity exists outside of this abuse. I leave you with this video. Former Band members of a Christian rock band PETRA, PLUS, a former lead singer of KANSAS, and a LAWYER. The other singer in grey hair is the former lead singer of Petra. By the way, the OTHER lead singer of Kansas, his whole trek in the band KANSAS was a spiritual one, and in the end, he is a Christian, but so is THIS former lead singer a Christian as well. The song is a COVER of Styx “Fooling Yourself”, and the lyrics have meaning! But, even tho this is a cover, they NAILED it. All Christians singing a “secular” song. Imagine that!

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  2. All those days? I still remember. I was one of the “young people” back then and we’d attend Christian camps… sports festivals, Cantatas… missed those days

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  3. I can’t answer your question in quite the way you ask it, since I still consider myself to have at least a foot in the evangelical world, although often uncomfortably so. Perhaps part of the reason I still consider myself evangelical (in the theological sense of the word, not the current sociopolitical sense of the word) is because I never fully drank the Kool-Aid. I always had a sense of tension, of seeing things I agreed with within evangelicalism, but also things I was skeptical of, and other things I outright disagreed with.

    I acknowledge that I didn’t realize the extent to which there were things I disagreed with until probably ten years ago or so. Before then, I thought I had some minor disagreements but was willing to sort of set those off to the side. Today, I have a lot more awareness of specific concerns and disagreements, and I face them head-on.

    One good outcome of this: if I was ever tempted to do so, I now no longer have any temptation whatsoever to put my faith in man (i.e. people). I know that people will fail and will inevitably disappoint if I view them as my object of faith. More than ever, I know that I can only trust in God.

    Another good outcome of this: I know that no single “systematic theology” can fully or even adequately convey the truth. I value having theological understanding, and I value searching for the truth as contained in the Bible, but I have no expectation whatsoever that any single system, or statement of faith, or denomination, or teaching will suffice. I now have more of an “a la carte” approach to things. I appreciate one group’s perspective on topic A but not topic B, I see value in someone else’s understanding of topic B but not topic C, etc. I see that there is truth and knowledge to be gained from a variety of sources, though constantly measuring those things against what I understand as the truths of the Bible.

    So yes, I can answer in the affirmative your question of “Do You Recall When You Realized the Problems in Evangelicalism?”, and I resonate with your observation that “Despite Our Longing We Can’t Go Back to How Life was Before.” It is just in my particular case that I haven’t turned my back on evangelical Christianity or fled it, I have just come to a different (and I believe better) understanding of it, and a greater awareness of the negatives and pitfalls contained therein.

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  4. There are at least four different ways to define evangelical and the most important one to me, a set of beliefs, is not threatened by misdeeds of people who label themselves part of the American Evangelical movement. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, even after becoming Christians, so it does not surprise me when someone proclaiming Christ turns out to also be a sinner. It is sad, but not surprising.

    I did have a transformational series of experiences regarding how I looked upon the churches that I called home. When I was a kid we attended a somewhat fundamentalist church and I believed that we were the only ones who knew the truth; there may have been other Christians around the world but the majority of so-called Christians were people who just go through the motions without having a personal relationship with Christ. In other words, they were cultural Christians. What I came to realize around the time of my college years was that my own churches, and indeed myself, were not immune to this. One of the things that many pastors struggle with is getting their own members and attenders out of the going-through-the-motions rut and into real relationship with Jesus Christ. In college I attended a parachurch ministry that had true believers who were from a variety of different denominations, which expanded my understanding of who was part of the body of Christ.

    When I was in college, my parents’ EFCA church had a problem with divorce. They had a growing number of church members who seemed to suddenly jettison their spouses and then show up six months later married to someone else and wanting to jump right back into the church family. As part of trying to find their way through this situation, the church leadership (which included my parents at that time) read (and shared with me) the book Four Christian Views on Divorce (I may have gotten the title slightly wrong). This was a formative book for me because it introduced me to evangelical Christians disagreeing about important theological things, and since then I have greatly enjoyed the various X Christian Views Of Y books. They use a multi-author format where each author writes a chapter, and then each author writes a response to each of the other chapters. I’m currently reading the one about the compatibility between Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Almost every church I have attended has been struck by tragedy and public sin in one form or another. This is a normal part of human life. Even though we are Christians, we are not sanctified until we reach heaven. It’s not unique to churches; every organization has people who sin. My view is, what better place for sinners to go than to church?

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