TCEC: The Blight of Moralism

In my initial re-posting of The Coming Evangelical Collapse  (TCEC), I didn’t include a section which briefly outlines the “why” elements of the predicted collapse.  That’s the stuff I want to talk about now.  How is it that (from Spencer’s view along with my own) Evangelicalism has become so compromised on so many fronts?  In the coming posts I want to explore a few key elements that are perhaps leading up to a dis-ingratiation of founding evangelical values.

Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith. -Michael Spencer

I previously blogged about the red herring of moralistic political efforts among evangelicals, but here I want to broaden things out a bit to talk about the blight of general moralism within the general evangelical community.  Moralism, as I am defining it here, is a practical works-based righteousness that operates under the disguise of false holiness.  One lives a certain way out of duty rather than love, because it is not the Holy Spirit that informs their behavior, but the false assumption that to be a Christian is to first and foremost do good in the world.  This way of being necessarily creates a divided Christian. One who lives at war with themselves because they are afraid to not do good, but they are also afraid that in doing good they will “lose” the rest of themselves.  Doing good is like paying a tax with the constant concern of whether or not there will be enough to live on once all the dues are paid.

The tricky thing about moralism is that it’s so darn attractive to the activist impulse within the evangelical mind.  It very true that we are a sent people, told by our Lord to GO and do stuff.  The New Testament clearly articulates that to not do good works is to have a “dead faith” (Jas. 2:17).  It all comes back to the question of by what power and in whose name do we do these things?  What is our purpose? Is God anywhere to be found in these purposes?  Do our good works actually demand that Christ be a part of them in order to succeed?

Moralism sneaks in during many Sunday sermons in evangelical churches.  All you need to do is take a quick preview of sermon titles from this past Sunday in order to get my point.  Even as I write this, I’m looking at a series that focuses on “Breaking Free” from a list of personal issues, one of which is “inadequacy”.  Most of the people who here such sermons walk away with a DIY spirituality not rooted in the Gospel of Jesus.  They, like their preachers, recognize that something is wrong.  The trouble is, Christ and him crucified (1Cor. 2:2) isn’t brought forth as the real practical solution…they are too pragmatic for that, but I’ll leave that issue for another post.