Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church

On Tuesday I wrote that I was reading this book, and why. I also told you about my background, because my reactions to this book are largely colored by the fact that I am not a member of an evangelical Protestant church. Today I'm going to tell you about the book. As I noted in my last post, it is a book written by an evangelical Protestant about what is wrong with American Evangelical Protestantism. Some of his complaints deal with doctrine--or more precisely the lack thereof in some churches. The author, Warren Cole Smith, looks at "the Christian-Industrial Complex", "The Evangelical Myth", "The Triumph of Sentimentality", and "Body Count Evangelism. He compares the megachurch phenomenon to the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening. He looks at the effect the media has had on evangelicals, and the effect they have had on the media. He examines what happens when religion becomes involved in politics and gives numbers and dollar amounts from some of the large parachurch ministries such as Focus on the Family or Billy Graham's crusades.

In my last post I was hesitant to name what I didn't like about Evangelical Protestantism because I know from reading Protestants write about Catholicism that outsiders to not necessarily see us as we see ourselves and that when we see our way as normative, then other ways often look bad, even if they aren't, or they appear to us to be something they aren't. My favorite example of that is when Protestants see us kneeling in front of a statue of a saint and praying, they say we are worshipping the saint,when nothing could be further from the truth--but it truly appears that way to them. What I found in this book however, is that the author had the same impression about many things that I did. He decries the celebrity status of people like Joel Olsteen, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. He sees real problems with the short-term mission trips that have become all the rage in some circles. He sees megachurches and parachurch ministries drawing in large numbers of unchurched people, but having little to no long-term effect on these people's lives. He even questions the use of video presentation equipment during church services. He sees churches with no history, both in terms of theology and doctrine as well as in people, because both their pastors and their members are young.

So, what does this mean to me, a Catholic who has no intention of leaving the Church? Well, for one thing, it means I'm not the only one to get the creeps when I hear Joel Olsteen. It means the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, and that maybe those who used to sit next to me at mass may find their way back. It means, as many Catholics have discovered, that the Church has to stand for something. If it doesn't then it is just another form of entertainment (and not a very good one) or social club (definitely second rate). While there has to be outreach to where people are, the goal isn't to stay there with them, but lead them to the truth.

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