A markedly different—and jarring—model of a disillusioned evangelical

I also happened to sincerely believe in my father’s message, though “believe” is perhaps the wrong word. Rather, I had not yet begun to question my indoctrination.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God.

I have almost certainly grumbled about Franky Schaeffer here in the past (he’s so like me in so many ways that his biliousness worries me), but his distinction between belief and indoctrination has some merit, and has its analogs in my own Christian pilgrimage.

But what do you do when your indoctrination gives way to incompatible belief? What do you do particularly if you have made a career of passing the indoctrination along? In some cases, obviously, people just go right along as before, becoming the rankest hypocrites in the process.

Immediately preceding the block-quote above is this revealing glimpse into Schaeffer:

What is sad to me now (in a maudlin, self-pitying way) is that some of my paintings were good. And they were getting better. If I’d had the discipline to concentrate on my art and had found a way of distancing myself from the evangelical community (and the easy money it soon offered), I might have gotten somewhere. In fact, I was getting somewhere in New York, Geneva (Aubonne), and London. But I was also broke. And Genie was pregnant with our second child.

I think that Franky Schaeffer came to a place where he didn’t believe as an Evangelical Christian any longer, and deeply regretted his (exaggerated) role in the Religious Right. I give him partial credit for not continuing to sell a product in which he no longer believed.

But, having foregone art training, he also lacked marketable skills other than polemical writing, so to polemical writing about his parents, his Evangelical acquaintances, and his former political allies he turned with unseemly ardor. At last sighting, he was a regular at the Huffington Post, preaching to a choir of "all those religious people are phonies" types.

That type certainly comes from somewhere, of course, and Southern Baptist misfit Russell Moore (via Anglican Alan Jacobs), lays out a damning thesis:

When I was fifteen years old, I considered suicide—and it was because I didn’t want to lose my religion. As I’ve written about elsewhere, I went through a prolonged spiritual crisis then because of what I was seeing all around me in Bible Belt Christianity. Not only were the televangelist scandals all over the news, but also I knew that this wasn’t the half of it.

I started to wonder whether religion itself—or at least the kind of Christianity that showed up in the slogans all around me—might really be about something else: southern culture or politics. If so, I thought, that would mean that Jesus is not the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but a means to an end. And that would mean that the gospel is not “You must be born again,” but “You must be one of us.”

[T]he evidence is mounting that a significant amount of secularization is accelerated and driven not by the “secular culture,” but by evangelicalism itself.

Many of us have observed, anecdotally, a hemorrhaging of younger evangelicals from churches and institutions in recent years. What seems different about this quiet exodus is that the departures are heightened not among the peripheries of the church—those “nominal” or “cultural” Christians who grow up to rebel against their parents’ beliefs—but instead among those who are the most committed to what were previously thought to be the hardest aspects of Christian religion in modernity: belief in “the supernatural,” the rigorous demands of discipleship, and a longing for community and accountability in a multigenerational church with ancient roots and transcendent authority.

Where a “de-churched” (to use an anachronistic term) “ex-vangelical” (to use another) in the early 1920s was likely to have walked away due to the fact that she found the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection to be outdated and superstitious or because he found moral libertinism to be more attractive than the “outmoded” strict moral code of his past or because she wanted to escape the stifling bonds of a home church for an autonomous individualism, now we see a markedly different—and jarring—model of a disillusioned evangelical. We now see young evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches. The presenting issue in this secularization is not scientism and hedonism but disillusionment and cynicism.

(Emphasis added)

Alan Jacobs, who pointed me to the Moore article, adds his own take:

Thousands upon thousands of young people are leaving evangelicalism because they have been told all their lives that evangelicals hold up Jesus as Lord and the Bible as God’s Word — and have seen all their lives that many evangelical leaders ignore Jesus and ignore Scripture whenever those witnesses conflict with the leaders’ preferred cultural politics. “And what if people don’t leave the church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis.”

My own initial reaction to Moore was an unspoken "What a stinging indictment! I hope it produces repentance and course correction!"

But as things fermented a bit more I realized that the political offensiveness is a feature, not a bug, in a faith whose Great Commission is "go ye into all the world and own the libs." There is no hypocrisy because there is no awareness that the Christian faith must never be instrumentalized. So there will be no repentance.

A subsidiary reaction was "Moore is being typically evangelical-insouciant, referring to ‘the Church’ as if Evangelicalism was all the Church there is.

I can speak with high confidence only about my own Orthodox Parish, since I don’t get around to many others, but of it I can say it is not the "kind of Christianity that showed up in the slogans all around" younger Russell Moore. It’s my strong impression that Orthodox Christianity in other parishes is also, if only because of structural constraints, politically agnostic: there’s almost no opportunity to inject politics into Orthodox liturgy outside of the homily.

Should a newly-minted "none" of the sort Russell Moore describes happen to read this, I implore them to come and see how Orthodox Christian Churches does believe the Christian faith it professes.

Oh, yeah: Orthodox Christianity is where Frank Schaeffer (last I knew; he said something to the effect that it was the last stop, and if it didn’t work, he’d be out of Christianity altogether) and I both ended up after interrogating our prior traditions in the clumsy and episodic ways people do.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

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