What in the world are Evangelicals? Other Christians seem even more confused than non-Christians. According to Mr. Trump, Evangelicals love him. According to polls, they are a key voting block. Yet who are they, and what do they believe?
I grew up in Evangelical Christianity. We called ourselves “Non-Denominational,” not “Evangelical.” In my desire to become a devout Christian, I began to study the Bible often and comprehensively. Very rapidly, I became aware of a device I now know to be called “cherry picking.” Evangelical, Non-Denominational preachers avoid the majority of Bible verses in their sermons and teaching. Certain scriptures are carefully selected which create an ideological framework for the central messages of the Modern Gospel. These verses are not exclusively New or Old Testament, but they do avoid certain topics.
Ideas such as sacrifice, persecution, loss, and anti-materialism receive brief mention, but are rarely the subject of discussion or preaching. In fact, Evangelical leaders typically cast suffering as “the curse” instead of as a natural result of following Christ. Some churches omit anti-materialism completely. Common stories, such as Jesus ejecting the money changers from the temple, are not the centerpiece of any sermons or messages, and they are read with no further explanation.
It is a gospel of familiarity. People are familiar with certain chapters, such as Genesis 2, Deuteronomy 28, Psalm 91, Matthew 13, John 1, Romans 8, I Corinthians 13, Ephesians 3, Ephesians 6, or Hebrews 11. This allows them to think that they know a lot about the Bible when they hear these passages read in church, and they remember hearing them before. However, provide them with unfamiliar verses, and they become confused and disconnected. Their brains are settled and comforted with their “Gospel” and they have no intention of leaving that comfort zone.
The most disturbing aspect is a certain blindness to the character of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus’ opponents in the gospels. His main opponents are largely ignored, and the antagonistic force in the Gospels is recast as Satan or demons. While it is true the Devil was a key player, Jesus dispensed with him before his ministry even began. “Demons” were no problem for Jesus, and yet casting out Demons is discussed in Evangelical circles as the central conflict Christians face.
This is highly significant. When casting a spiritual force as an enemy, the focus is taken off ourselves. Certainly, we have nothing in common with demons. However, human enemies have character traits we share. If we look closely at the Pharisees, we must ask ourselves, how similar or different are we from the enemies of Christ? The Evangelical Gospel is presented as a war between clearly defined sides: Jesus at one end and Satan at the other. Christ’s actual gospel is a war on human nature itself. In essence, the hardest part of following Christ becomes totally irrelevant to the Evangelical person.
Suffering is essential to Christ’s message. He saved people from the suffering of sickness and guilt, but he asked them to give up their families, their belongings, their pride, and their traditional practices. He required them to be observant of the “yeast,” or sin, of the Pharisees — a guise of faith masking selfish intentions. He required them to fast from food and comforts in order to hear his message. He assured his followers repeatedly that people would hate them, lie about them, and hurt them. Yet he did not allow his followers to retaliate on their own behalf. Not only did he commit the ultimate sacrifice of death, he asked his followers to do the same.
This suffering doctrine is totally absent from the new Evangelical, Non-Denominational Gospel. People can feel spiritual and forgiven without doing any one of the things that would make them that way. It is a gospel of the head, heart, and wallet, not physical action. Church is comfortable and familiar, and truth is obvious, not something that requires a lifetime of searching and knocking. The Pharisees become characters in a story, not archetypes of our worst selves. People become so busy fighting Satan in “spiritual warfare” that they do not defend the weak or address their sinful nature.
By “cherry picking” from the Bible, the leaders of the Evangelical Church have become the Pharisees themselves. Unless they, like Nicodemus, come to Christ begging for answers, they will be cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I write this in answer to my Christian friends who want to understand Evangelicals or Non-Denominational Christians. They did not fall for magic “snake oil.” They draw their doctrines from the Bible, and they talk about their cherry picked verses all the time. They are not stupid, and they are not evil, but they are selectively underinformed about the Bible. While their beliefs may be worlds apart from other Christians, they are taking their ideas from the same source. Unfortunately, they cling to the familiar verses and avoid self-inspection, so they are not likely to ever realize the truth or see beyond their limited version of Christ.
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8
Click here to see an article on the history of Evangelical support for Trump.