Has Society Forgotten Gods Laws?
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The most famous is Charles Finney. It is a purely philosophical [meaning, scientific] result of the right use of constituted means. This morphed into a religion of crisis, a religion of decision, and a religion where the manipulation of emotion became the centerpiece.
Instead of a genuine encounter with the living God, the movement became infected with too many who sought not so much to know and love God as to have a remarkable religious experience. This has been our Achilles heel ever since—more of that below. Some were alert to this corruption early on and reacted against it. One reason: Try as they might, this genuine religious ecstasy never came to them. Out of this grew the holiness movement, where complete sanctification stood erect at the center. The life of faith became for many not so much a pining after God but after moral perfection, not so much seeking grace as pummeling the will into submission.
No question that there was a need to depend on the power of the Spirit, and to be sure, many rigorously pursued holiness that they might see God. This movement produced more than its share of Protestant saints. But much of it also predictably degenerated into religious narcissism.
For many, it was more and more about the pursuit of personal holiness and not so much the pursuit of the Holy One. This passion for personal reform soon spilled over into the social realm, so that evangelical believers also became known for striving for the reformation of society—from prison reform to abstinence to the abolition of slavery to care for the urban poor.
And for some, this blossomed into the social gospel movement, whose gospel origins and godly motives one cannot deny. More of that in coming essays in this series.
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It is to be commended and encouraged. One of the jobs of the church is indeed to love the world. But when mission becomes the center, the focal point of the Christian life, I believe that life will inevitably degenerate into an active and busy religious life void of God. It will become a life increasingly fascinated with technique as it seeks to efficiently accomplish mission.
In the midst of this drift toward action, another movement arose, a new spiritual romanticism that tried to check our fascination with the horizontal and re-engage us with the vertical. The Pentecostal movement exploded on the scene at the turn of the 20th century and made its way into mainstream churches as charismatic Christianity beginning in the s. It began well enough—more than well enough—as men and women enjoyed the immediate presence of God as he came to them in the Holy Spirit.
People came to these meetings in droves because they wanted God; they yearned for God. Instead of God, people began wanting, and leaders began demanding, that people experience the gifts of God.
How We Have Forgotten God
This is not throwing stones, believe me. As a person who has been blessed with experiencing some extraordinary spiritual gifts, I have longed for a spiritual experience for its own sake, for a certain type of exquisite feeling and emotion—and truth be told, I wanted this more than I wanted God. Most people who have experienced such extraordinary gifts know of this temptation.
Today we also see a contemporary expression of the holiness movement and its concern for the moral life. A fair number of evangelicals have become fascinated with virtue ethics or character formation.
Seeing Jesus in the Books of the Bible
The emphasis is on my transformation. God too easily becomes a means to my end. In its more extreme forms, we hear evangelicals adopting critical theory, in which power dynamics are front and center, especially in race and gender relations.
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Anyone with even a brief familiarity with history already is aware of these dynamics, as well as the role that class and economics can play in all this. One problem with critical theory is that everything is about power, just as class was everything with Marxism. Another is that it is impervious to criticism—those that disagree are considered trapped in power dynamics. But as with virtue ethics, passion for social justice is tempted to forget God, in particular in three ways, which many social justice advocates are the first to acknowledge: First, there is increasing passion, and often anger, regarding justice between people, eclipsing the passion for justice, or justification with God.
Second, there is an increasing assumption that it is our job to bring in the kingdom of God. Third, when there is an acknowledgment that God is critical to the work of social justice, God can become a means to an end. One cannot but be thankful for our newfound passion for social justice. But the Enemy has a way of twisting our passions so that God slowly gets put in his place.
One more feature of our common evangelical life needs to be noted: the spirituality movement, which seems to undermine the thesis of this essay! Again there is much to be lauded here, and one can only be grateful that, even if it engages only a small percentage of evangelicals, that is not nothing. But the fact that the interest is small and sporadic suggests that evangelicals are not much interested in practicing the spiritual disciplines in an effort to know and love God more deeply.
One temptation is to want to become spiritual, whatever we conceive that to be; we want to become a certain type of religious person more than we want to meet God.
This is all so silly, but as I said, anyone who has attempted to practice the disciplines knows whereof I speak. He explained to me that, indeed, he has been striving to make God his be all and end all, one for whom he pants after as a deer after water. The prayer time includes reading the Psalms and other Scripture, as well as quiet meditation and brief prayer.
All of this lasts no more than 10 to 15 minutes, but he says he finds it is a practice he enjoys, not in the sense of checking off a box but in the sense that he is slowly but surely finding that his love for God is growing. But he also told me how confused his heart remains. One day recently he left work early to take care of some personal business. On the way home, he determined to have a prayer time at home as he picked up a few papers. Yet he found himself in the car 30 minutes later, having completely forgotten about his intent to pray for a mere 10 minutes before he left home.
Why was he so intent on getting these tasks done that they consumed his mind? Why did his to-do list fill up his imagination rather than prayer or God? And why is it, he also wondered, that many mornings he notes a reluctance in his heart to sit down to pray, especially when there are so many things to get done? If he loves and desires God, as he says he wants to, why do the loves and desires of so much else actually shape his day and his heart?
To let grace have a word: This is a common human condition and certainly no surprise to God, who is still willing to work with us despite our attempts to use him for our ends. It is not remarkably evil that we are so distracted by life and responsibilities and earthly desires that God takes a decided back seat. This essay in particular and this series is intended not as wholesale condemnation but as a wake-up call, or at least the start of a larger conversation.
I think it is incumbent on evangelical Christians to take this with special seriousness. We have rightly prided ourselves in practicing a form of faith that emphasizes the personal relationship with Jesus one can enjoy. And among us are many who can be characterized in just this way.
It’s Official: We Have Forgotten God
But overall I believe our movement has degenerated in ways I have described above, with the vast majority of us falling into patterns that emphasize the horizontal at the expense of the vertical. Today, we are known for our politics left and right , our voting patterns, our ethical hypocrisy, our compromise with materialism, church-planting techniques, growing churches, entrepreneurial skill, and a relentless activism to improve ourselves and our society.
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If you want to be alerted to these essays as they appear, subscribe to The Galli Report. As noted in the last article, he resembles the British Charles in his role as family man; here is another point of resemblance! But the religion we were taught was quite different. Charles Coulombe. Slice 1. Read on Is King Charles I a saint?
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