positive press?

the other day the new york times ran an article entitled "Learning from the Sin of Sodom," which talked about evangelicals in a mostly positive light.  it was written by nicholas d. kristof, columnist and winner of two pulitzers.  i don't read the times, but it's gotten some play on several blogs i read so i thought i would check it out.  it's not very long, so go read it, and then continuing reading my post.  or don't, and just keep reading.

my first thought after reading this article was "oh good, some positive press and exposure for the evangelical church--and actually from a really legitimate source."  but then i thought about how the evangelical church would most likely botch this up--how they would get all excited about how someone if finally noticing how great they are and all the good things they do.  chalk up a few good points on the board.  maybe it's the cynic in me, but i can't help but think of it like this.  like when christians get all excited about an athlete or a politician because he is a strong christian--like we should be for him cause he's "in the club."  note the importance of the word "strong," which is an important modifier, lest we confuse them with the nominal faith of just about every politician.

this is not such a bad thing in and of itself perhaps.  it is probably good for people to see that evangelicals are not all single-issue hyper-conservatives.  and it is ok for christians to be proud of other Christ-followers doing well in the world.  what i'm concerned about though is that evangelicals will be so happy to receive a little praise from the world, that they may fail to see what it is they are being praised for.

let's look at the conclusion of the article:
"If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality."

doesn't that sound nice?  a little cooperation and appreciation for one another and we may actually get some things done to make this world a better place.  so what's the problem with this?

first let me draw up a distinction.  i have been referring to evangelicals in the third person because i tend to not count myself among them.  not because i disagree with the basic historical tenets that compromise evangelicalim (biblical authority, centrality of jesus, personal salvation), but because of all that term has come to represent.  for awhile the term post-evangelical gained some vogue, but it was amorphous and often confusing.  people mixed it up with emerging church and though this article was helpful, it is still rather unclear.  probably most accurately it was a way to distinguish younger generation church-raised kids who were disgruntled at some of the abuses and narrowness of the evangelical church, or its perception as such.  for me it was mostly because of perception, and the desire to draw from other christian traditions the richness and healthy components of christianity lacking in modern evangelicalism.  that's a long topic though, maybe for another post.

i bring this up because this ny times article will really appeal to the post-evangelical (particularly) youth.  social action is a big concern for post-evangelicals.  it is one of their major critiques of the conservative evangelical church, concerned only with personal morality and gnostic conversion experiences (affects the soul alone).  this was a healthy critique, but now the danger is that we simply go about trying to make the world a better place while not really giving attention to people's eternal destiny, or the acknowledgement of sin in humility and the need for repentence--what was once overemphasized is now often passively set aside or even forbidden.  see world vision's policy reflected in the ny times article. 

whether this is a misrepresentation of their attitude or not, it is clearly the reflection of the opinion of the secular world what is needed.  "they can go and do all this good work as long as they aren't using it as a means to just create more converts."  because this stands in the way of progress.  don't try to convert, just work for the common good.

there's a theological side to all of this playing out in many emerging and next-generation churches, but i won't get into all that here.  i write all of this i guess more just as a counter balance, for whenever the "world" praises us we should be not necessarily immediately elated, but rather immediately cautious.  because the world is not supposed to like us, according to Jesus.  we don't like to remember that because as people and as a group we want to be liked--and we want to have a good witness.  and we should have a good witness, and we should really make sure that if as christians we aren't liked it's for the right reasons: because we are truly following the principles of Jesus, not because of our lack of love or our stubborn arrogance and superiority. 

John knew all of this quite well: 

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 

John 17:14-16

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
John 15:18-19

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
I John 3:11-24


  1. i think the things that keeps me in check is that the motive in doing social acts is to participate in bring His kingdom to earth...which means the ultimate goal is that whoever I serve would see Christ's love and come to know Him...because that is the kingdom, good because of the fellowship and love we have through Him.

    i like this.

  2. Luke, good post. These are definitely important questions to ask. I lean more towards the celebratory side, not because I think we have it all figured out and finally the world is recognizing our "amazing efforts"...but because hey...maybe we are finally exploring what it means to love our neighbor. I do recognize the danger in solely focusing on our tangible efforts here and in merely growing popular in the Social Justice Club. But I think that while caution is necessary, it is not the end all. It is still worth the risk and the challenges it brings. Thanks for sharing.