What’s Wrong with Evangelicalism?

Is there a problem within evangelicalism in American? I had an acute sense of something being very wrong when I watched Tom Brokaw’s special last night on evangelical Christianity in America. “In God They Trust“ was an hour long report on who evangelicals are and their involvement in American culture and politics.

Brokaw made a particular church in Colorado the focus of his reporting. New Life Church is a charismatic fellowship in Colorado Springs, and their pastor Ted Haggard is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. One of Brokaw’s exchanges with Haggard in particular typifies what is wrong with American Evangelicalim today:

Brokaw: Most of the churches that I know of, and certainly the ones I attended, at some point, you out loud acknowledge that you were a sinner or that you came face-to-face to guilt that you may feel.

Haggard: Right.

Brokaw: I didn’t see any of that here.

Haggard: Well, we do talk about sin. But, see, the issue is Jesus took care of our sin. And Jesus removes guilt from our life. So the emphasis in our church isn’t how to get your sins removed because that’s pretty easy to do. Jesus did that on the cross. The emphasis in our church is how to fulfill the destiny that God’s called you to.

Brokaw: You’re making it easier for them.

Haggard: Making it easier for them just like Jesus did, just like Moses did.

How can it be that a Christian pastor and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals could glide so carelessly over the cross of Jesus Christ? The cross is the central event of human history, the focal point of the entire Bible, and the only basis upon which sinful humans can be reconciled to an offended God. How could a shepherd of God’s people ever consider the removal of guilt through the cross of Christ to be anything other than the central concern of Christianity? This seems to be a far cry from the kind of ministry the apostle Paul had when he said to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Could it be that evangelicals have largely abandoned the evangel in favor of something else? Could it be that evangelicals have left their anchor of life in Christ to set sail to find their “Best Life Now“?

John Piper has correctly observed that “God rests lightly on the church in America. He is not felt as a weighty concern” (source). Likewise, David Wells has written in his important book No Place for Truth, “It is this God, majestic and holy in his being, this God whose love knows no bounds because his holiness knows no limits, who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world” (p. 300).

It is a tragic irony that the purported God of evangelical faith is scarcely heard of in many evangelical churches. The Holy and Almighty Maker of heaven and earth who has revealed Himself definitively in Jesus Christ crucified and raised no longer remains as the focus of evangelical worship and piety.

So-called “evangelicalism” will die within a generation if evangelical churches do not recapture the evangel. It will not do simply to affirm the doctrine of inerrancy if the implications of inerrancy aren’t carried out in the life and worship of the church. That means (among other things) that evangelicals must restore the preaching of the word of God back to its central place in church life. This is the only way to keep the God of the Bible in, and to keep the God of our own imaginations out.


  • John Rush

    Not focusing on getting rid of sin? Incredible. If the conept of sin dies in the church, let’s shut the doors. I do see that dealing with sin is the first step toward other growth issues, but those other growth issues are rooted in Christ’s work on the cross.

    God help us. It is sad to think that such a philosophy is considered to be what “evangelicalism” is.


  • Nathan White

    Good thoughts. And your right, intead of counting the cost and denying yourself Jesus *really* wanted us to focus on our best life now. And the disciples were so foolish to say to Jesus ‘who then can be saved’! Didnt they know that was the easy part?

    There truly was nothing evangelical about those evangelicals. I was shocked indeed.


  • John

    Folks, be very careful how you judge a man of God. It’s irresponsible to make a judgement on anybody without spending quality time with them.

    Regarding the issue presented in your post. Many people are so sin focused that they nearly discount how incredibly powerful the blood of Jesus is. Did Jesus wash away our sins or did he not? Should we help him in the process of washing our sins away by continually remembering our past condition? He forgets our sins as far as the east is from the west!

    Do we still sin? Yes. Do we have to? No. Can we live a life of a totally redeemed person or are we only partially redeemed? Is the blood not enough? Is there more to the equation?

    Sanctification takes time, for sure… but, we must get past a defeated mindset and focus on the freedom, liberty and power we have in Jesus. His blood set us free INDEED!… but now there is much to accomplish. We are to live holy lives, we are to press ahead… we can live lives of passion and power and victory without guilt. If we sin, hit our knees, repent, fall in love with Jesus again and move on as someone totally free from the power of death, hell and the grave. Remember, we are seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus!

  • sofyst

    John, it is true that some focus on sin too much (demeaning the blood of Christ), but it is likewise true that some take the opposite extreme and demean sin too much (extending the blood of Christ to places it was never intended to go).

    You talk about hitting our knees and repenting if we do in fact sin. But the way most churches are, they would have no idea when this time would come. They do not talk about sin AT ALL, hence their average lay person truly does not know what sin is…

    Or the worse error has come. They have been told so much that their sin has been covered and forgiven, that they see no reason for repentance after they do in fact committ sin.

  • John

    Here’s the issue- our sin and the blood of Christ is a critical topic. However, it’s a starting point instead of an end point.

    Pastors have 52 Sundays a year to cover untold numbers of critical topics including holiness, personal ministry, how to love your spouse, freedom from addiction, world missions, finances, etc. Sin can’t and shouldn’t be the only topic if we want people to grow beyond habitual disobedience.

    The reality is this- as Christians we simply should not have to deal with an ongoing sin issue. If we keep sinning, we should stop. Jesus’ blood is sufficient to supernaturally free us from the act of sin. Many believe people somehow have to sin every day. That we’re predestined to sin continually. Human weakness is highlighted over the strength and finality of the cross.

    I don’t believe sin should be an issue every week at church because sin shouldn’t be an issue every week in our lives. If we maintain an atmosphere of intense worship, passion, service and holiness… fasting, personal study in the Word, etc., then the issue of sin will be handled appropriately- we simply won’t want to do it!

    Sin is a very easy topic to deal with. It’s fairly black and white. Sure, deliverance at times is necessary, repentance should be a wonderful part of a believer’s life as it draws us closer and closer to God.

    God wants us to focus on leaving the elementary things behind and on maturing into anointed men and women of God who live holy lives and are shaking the world for Jesus.

  • Scott Mitchell

    My wife and I happened to watch Brokaw’s piece on 10/28/05. Although the Christians interviewed were well-spoken (I was glad to see “normal” Christians who could explain their faith), it was sad to see video of a church that looked like a shopping mall. Also, I was waiting for Brokaw to eventually blast Christians. However, when he asked the question about sin and guilt, I thought, “Wow! Brokaw is Balaam’s donkey! He got it right!” I was especially sad to hear Haggard’s answer. Sin is an issue that Christians must deal with every day. The daily life of the believer should be marked by repentance and confession. This does not negate Rom 8:1 – there is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. From God’s viewpoint, we are holy and blameless (Eph. 1), but from our viewpoint, we are wise to adopt what Paul says in Rom 7 – I don’t do what I want to do . . . John’s post seems to take issue with this view. In humility and meekness, I believe that John’s post displays the problem with Haggard’s comment to Brokaw. For example, John’s use of the term “fall in love with Jesus” is not a biblical view of our union with Christ. Rather, it is part of the soft lingo adopted by evangelicals today to soften the doctrines of Savior/sinner. If y’all want a further reading that is parallel to Browkaw’s question, check out, and search for a GQ article from 2001 or 2002. It’s a must read regarding the Christian ghetto that we evangelicals have created in our culture.

  • John

    Here’s the problem with focusing so much on the sin issue- it keeps people from what Jesus died for in the first place- deep intimacy.

    We are the bride of Christ. We are Christ’s lover, his chosen people. If we assume that our life still separates us from that love, our sin keeps us from what the cross provided, then we are without hope.

    Jesus’ blood cleansed us of all sin- past, present and future. That’s why repentance is so wonderful! If we fail, and we really should not fail a lot as intentionally growing believers, but if we do we can repent and enjoy such an intimate and passionate love relationship with the person of Jesus.

    Spending hours in worship and adoration of the one we love and the one that loves us is exhilerating- when we realize we are washed, free, loved with a passion and alive in Christ.

    It’s easy to smile and laugh and rejoice because no weapon formed against us can prosper!

    I’m not sure why you would have an issue with a church that looks like a shopping mall- it may be personal preferrence. Much of the apostolic anointing that’s stirring in these end times will result in entire cities being Christian- blocks of commercial buildings bought up, Christians starting their own businesses there, etc. A prophecy center on one corner, a worship center on another, a book store on another. A Christian owned restaurant, a coffee shop, beauty salon, etc. I think it’s amazing when the anointing of God causes something to grow and grow and prosper and serve more and more people. Just my opinion, though.

  • sofyst

    Let us then focus on the marriage analogy. What marriage do you know prospers by a complete ignoring of each other’s faults? If the husband constantly ignores his errors or bad habits, or his sins towards his wife, and the wife likewise ignores his and her own, absolutely no good can follow. This is true not only of marriage but of every relationship. It is utter foolishness to say that you can have a deep intimate relationship with someone if you are unwilling to ackowledge their downfalls.

    I would say that I am friends with Dr. Burk, but I am not intimately close with him. He does not know my dark secrets, neither I his. We can become best friends and grow closer, yet until he is knowledgeable about the true Adam, the one that is not always brought to the surface, then he truly does not know me intimately and closely. Likewise until I am aware of the true Adam, I cannot either begin to know another.

    Relationships thrive off of truth. We cannot have intimate relationships with our LORD if we ignore the depth of Him and the depth of ourselves.

    Calvin said you can only know God by knowing yourself.

    We would all be in agreement that there is an unhealthy focus that can occur. IF we dwell constantly upon the sin of ourselves, and that only, we will not have a good relationship with our Lover. However, the opposite extreme (of which you appear to be promoting) is to ignore completely our sin. This likewise is just as erroneous and foolish.

    All in all I cannot see how you can ever think to say that you can be intimate with another if you are unwilling to be intimate with yourself. How can someone truly know me and love me if they only know the shallow me and I likewise ignore the depth of myself…you cannot.

  • John

    I agree with you. We must be continually growing. But, the love of Jesus is intimate and powerful regardless of our current condition. That’s the key.

    Our relationship with Jesus isn’t dependant on our realization of our sinfulness, but rather on his act on the cross. It’s done. We’re clean. The veil has been torn and we can enter the Holy of Holies.

    The sin issue is simple- if sin is revealed to us, we simply repent and go deeper into the Holy Place that very moment.

    There is so much to accomplish here on earth. If we are hung up on weaknesses, we won’t move ahead in joy and freedom and effectiveness.

    We are already victorious, already redeemed, already washed in the blood, already more than conquerors, already seated in heavenly places with Jesus. We’re the head and not the tail. We have authority to get the job done. Because of the blood of Jesus on our lives, God the Father looks at us as totally and completely free, clean and redeemed.

    So, if we move into ministry from that perspective, we will do many great things for the Kingdom. We won’t want to sin, and if we do we simply pray and move ahead in victory and ministry!

  • Tom Wilkins

    “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

    God’s word drives the point home… if we are paying attention.

    Paul did NOT write “I determined to know nothing among you except victory in Jesus Christ.” Yet… he declared that God “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57)

    Paul did NOT write “I determined to know nothing among you except my sin.” Yet… he calls himself the “worst of sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

    Paul DID say, “Jesus Christ, AND Him crucified.”

    Why “and Him crucified?”
    Why not our sin?
    Why not our victory?
    …Why the cross?

    The cross points to HIM.
    The cross points to HIS grace, HIS mercy, HIS power, HIS glory.
    The cross reveals the depth our sin.
    The cross reveals the height of our victory.

    Sin does not lead us to the cross.
    Sin leads us to the grave.

    A hope of a victorious life does not lead us to the cross.
    A victorious life is the result of the cross.

    Both, sin and victory are revealed for what they truly are… at the cross.

    The cross keeps sin before us yet atoned for.
    The cross keeps victory before us yet in humility.
    We will misunderstand and underestimate both apart from the cross.

    If we do not resolve to know nothing except “Jesus Christ AND him crucified,” sin will be victorious not us.

    If we do not resolve to know nothing except “Jesus Christ AND him crucified,” then the “victory” we preach will not be the victory of scripture but rather a snake oil that will NEVER deliver as promised.

    If we do not resolve to know nothing except “Jesus Christ AND him crucified,” then in our sin we remain in our guilt and in our victory, we will glory in ourselves.

    If we refuse to preach the cross itself and everything else in view of the cross, what in the world then are we preaching?… call it “Reflections On Sin”… call it “Victorious Considerations”… call it anything but evangelical… call it anything but the Gospel.

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