January 2, 2021

Evangelicals, Nobody’s Listening Anymore

“Dad, are you Santa Claus?” I wiped my young daughter’s tears and sat her down to explain that, yes, mom and dad had shared an untrue story for the first eight Christmases of her life. The gifts did, in fact, come from us, not from a fat man mysteriously coming down the chimney and eating the cookies we left for him on the kitchen table. It was a sad moment, but perhaps became even more significant to me a few hours later when my daughter approached with another question.
 
“Dad, the Tooth Fairy?” I quickly began to calculate how many other false stories we’d told the kids in naïve efforts to create special magic in their lives. And quickly I catalogued the truths that might now be open for my daughter’s reconsideration.
 
“Nope, there’s no Tooth Fairy, nor an Easter Bunny,” I told Sydney as I pulled her to my lap, “But you need to know – God? God is real. I promise.” I kissed my girl as she squirmed away and sat wondering if my daughter would ever again fully trust my words.
 
I feel the same about today’s Evangelical Church. Have we gone so deep into magical stories about political conspiracies and worldwide cabals that when we tell the story of God and the Bible nobody believes us anymore? In fact, is our voice in culture now completely written off? When you think about it, why shouldn’t it be?

DON'T BE LEFT OUT OF NPE

Sign up for our Insider's List and Never miss a moment with the Non-Partisan Evangelical community.

17162
This is my experience with the “Santa Claus” stories of evangelicalism that make me question what I hear from any evangelical leader today: 
 
A friend, who had an amazing ability to know things he shouldn’t have known (we call that a ‘prophetic gift’ in the lineage of my Christian faith) told me I needed to watch videos about QAnon. I’d vaguely heard of this shadowy, extreme right-wing online conspiracy theory, so out of respect for my friend and knowledge that many people in my church were paying attention to this stuff, I watched four hours of video from links he shared. By the time I finished, I was so sickened by what I’d seen and heard, I needed brisk walk and some fresh air.
 
I called my friend and as graciously as I could, shared what I had seen not only failed to be convincing, but was greatly concerning to me that this was being shared with other Christians.
 
“You need to reconsider,” he responded dramatically. “These are important messages from God.” My friend told me he would prove to me he was right with a ‘prophetic word.’
 
“Hilary Clinton will be in prison for pedophilia by the end of 2018,” he predicted. “If she’s not, I’ll never share a prophetic word with you again.” On New Year’s Day 2019 I sat with this friend. He couldn’t admit his word had been wrong and, today, is still sharing outrageous QAnon conspiracy theories through his platform as a Christian prophet.
There are many more “Santa Claus” stories I could share from my evangelical experience. I could share about the evangelist who sat in front of me tearfully repenting that God had told him he was not to speak about politics in the pulpit yet two weeks later moved to Nevada because the “Democrats of California have made the state so evil.” Today that evangelist makes a great deal of money in California holding tent crusades in which he assails our governor and any Christian who would dare speak well of a Democrat.
 
Or I could share of the prophet who said President Obama would have a “major encounter with the Lord” in his second term and that encounter would bring a big change in the president and how Christians spoke of him. And then another prophet who said the exact same thing about President Donald Trump.
 
Or the prophet who said, on Fox News, that Covid-19 would disappear by April of 2020, or the multitude of prophets who said President Trump would win the November 2020 election in a “Red Wave” landslide, then said the election was stolen despite their assertion during four years of Trump that Romans 13:1-5 informed us all that God put people into governmental power.
 
I look at all these examples of how wrong we’ve been and can’t help but want to shout: EVANGELICALS, NOBODY IS LISTENING ANYMORE!
“…when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:22

When God instituted the idea of a “prophet,” someone who could presume to hear from heaven and share with the world, God told us to no longer heed that person if what they shared proved to be untrue (in fact, God also said they should die, but let’s not be quite that nihilistic.)

Why was getting it right so important to God? Because if someone could say “thus saith the Lord” falsely, and be unwilling to own getting it wrong, how could anyone trust what they heard from that prophet or any other ever again?

Access Audiobook Series, exclusive commentary from the author, join in discussion groups. Click to join our NPE Patreon Community.

Likewise, today, if we evangelicals say “God is good and has good things for you if you turn to him” why would they believe that to be true? Why would they listen to share our theological views when we have proven to be so hypocritical (and wrong) in our ideological ones? I believe this is the reason Jesus so despised the nationalistic, pragmatic religion of the first century. It spoke of a harsh bondage of an angry God who wanted to dominate people through laws and government, rather than a God of relationship who wants his best to be written on human hearts and minds. I believe Jesus would be equally dubious of evangelical beliefs today.

The Danger of "Seven Mountains" Theology

There is a theology in my lineage of Christianity called “The Seven Mountains” theology. It’s a belief that Christian faith should not be contained in the church building, but should impact the spheres (or ‘mountains’) of culture. I’ve believed in this theology, still do, but I believe leaders, like extreme Trump-follower Lance Walnau, have misused this idea. Walnau often would say that Christians should “take” these cultural mountains, or impose our Christian morality upon them. He once reached out to me and my wife, who was serving as an elected official at the time. When I responded that we believed Christians should ‘serve’ the spheres of culture and work for justice in our cities, rather than politically religious domination, we never heard from Walnau again.
 
It’s time for evangelical voices to own our mistakes, admit we got it wrong – and MAYBE, we can win back the trust of our culture. It will be hard work, it will be embarrassing and it will cost us attendees (and tithers) in our churches. But isn’t the Gospel of Jesus Christ worth such sacrifice? Or do we need Jesus to come and turn over tables in our churches all over again?
 
No matter our decision, I believe God will win back heaven’s credibility. A post-evangelical America is at hand, with voices rising up that haven’t bowed to the idol or right-wing, conspiracy theory politics and they are voices that draw people to God, not drive them away. I believe God has allowed our hearts to be laid bare in this season, so that the old that drove us to those incorrect prophetic words can diminish, and a new language of the Church can arise. The weary world rejoices with a thrill of hope that those wrong voices will not be the dominant voices of the church for much longer. Let’s pray 2021 is a year the Evangelical Church can admit that Santa Claus – and our desire for a messiah president to save us all – are just myths, and not the true story of the Creator come to earth.

8 comments

  1. Rev. Michael B. Coats says:

    Very well stated, Paul!
    Here is an alternate title suggestion: “No Virginia, There is No Trumpy Claus”

  2. Charles Shuler says:

    I think you are correct Pastor Paul. The Evangelicals have pushed to many lies that God is going to allow it to continue. I personally think that COVID-19 is a plague sent by God to tell the modern Evangelical Church to “Let My people go.” I say this because I think God had to do something this drastic because the Evangelical Churchs have sold their soul to the right wing political power hungry politicians that will say and do anything to stay in power. If it had not been for COVID-19 I think Trump would have won and God didn’t want to let it happen.

  3. Charles Shuler says:

    I think you are correct Pastor Paul. I think that the Evangelical Churches have sold their souls to the power of the political far right that will say and do anything to say in power even abuse the Christians to accomplish this. I think that COVID-19 might be a plague sent by God to say “Let My people go.” I say this because if it had not happened I think Trump would have won and we would be in real trouble. If he was reelected he would made himself dictator and would have dropped his false Christian stance and Christantany would fall in the USA

  4. Randy Dean says:

    The phrase you use, ?post Evangelical Christianity? got me in some hot water in 2016 when I preached a few sermons by that title. Thank you Paul for the courage to call this out today. It was true then, it?s even more true now.

    1. That?s awesome Randy. We should connect sometime.

      1. Joe Kimmes says:

        This a million times. Half my church has turned into lunatics. “There’s going to be a Civil War!”. Gulping down raw lies from the President. It’s made a horrible joke of the Church.

        1. These are crazy times. Thanks for sharing!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top