What are people getting “saved to?” I am increasingly wondering this, and was an idea that was first introduced to me way back in seminary (02-03) by the professor of my Church and Culture class, Dr. Paul Metzger. I have continued to think about this, on the back, but in reality I think this is something that really has been pressing in on me with full frontal force, and increasingly so! I look around at the state of (my context) N. American evangelicalism and I have absolutely no idea what it is even about anymore. I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist pastor (as so many of you know already), and have been in the heart of evangelicalism right through my undergrad/grad experience and into the present. I am currently 41 years old, and in my short years I have seen evangelicalism move from a tight type of fundamentalism to now either a hyper-loose progressivism, or more in the main, an irrelevant “mainline-evangelicalism;” so even in my short span we can see the basis of the problem (i.e. Fundamentalism, and its proto-rationalism and turn to the subject as the norming norm of Christian spirituality).
This is just a personal reflection, as you will notice. But who I am thinking about in this are those who are outside of the church. I know that there are plenty of people still coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ, but then I wonder (for them): now what?! Most of the evangelical churches in America are more concerned with being “relevant” based upon their socially awkward perceptions of what they even thinks this means. As I already noted above, their pursuit for being “relevant” whatever that means (from my perception of what that means as it is played out in evangelicals churches [and I’ve visited many] what this looks like is that they attempting to make their church services feel and look like an Apple launching of a new product with their CEO [“lead” pastor] doing the launch etc.) has made them irrelevant! The church of Jesus Christ is not in the business of selling or projecting anything, we are in the business of bearing prophetic witness to Jesus Christ the concrete ground and inner reality of all things church. But this doesn’t seem “relevant” so instead what I see happening in most of evangelicalism is a Pelagian (oops … I said it!) short sell to people trying to make them feel like they fit in the broader culture. And yes, often times the pastor will challenge the body to some hard things in passive aggressive ways, but usually only to play the part (i.e. there is no real teeth to what is being communicated).
There is also this sense, apparently, for evangelicals that church history started either when they personally came to Christ or not much before the 20th century at the very latest! This is problematic for many reasons. For example: evangelicals tacitly endorse orthodox Christology (i.e. the full divinity and humanity of Christ); they endorse, in word, the Trinity (i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); they endorse justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, but in all of this it is only inchoately affirmed (but they have no idea why, and if they had to explain what any of that even meant, by way of reference to the historical grammar supporting their affirmations they couldn’t even come close … and the really sad thing is is that they don’t even care for the most part!). So evangelicals are left to the wind of the culture, and to their own rationales to carve out a way for their personal style of Christianity. And so they have chosen in the 21st century to be relevant, to demonstrate how Jesus is relevant to the broader culture, and hope that He will be accepted, and that they then will be accepted. This gets cashed out most prominently in the “culture wars.” Evangelicals are conversionists, and so they hope, in order to feel good about themselves through acceptance by the “world” that the world will be converted to their projection of who Jesus Christ is with the result that the fabric of USA culture will look like the insides of the evangelical church in North America. But once we get to those insides one wonders where the substance is? Jesus looks and sounds ever so much like the evangelicals seeking to make Him relevant (like a projection of themselves). And this takes us full circle: who are people getting “saved to?” I ask!