In “The Ragamuffin Gospel” Brennan Manning calls it a “Crisis of Faith.” It’s sort of a mid-life-crisis but instead of concerning your age, it concerns your Christianity. I never thought I’d have one…but I’m having one.
I became a Christian at the tender age of nine, after Sunday School one morning at the Baptist church of my childhood. I was convinced of my need for a Savior, and I asked Jesus to become that for me.
But even before that...I loved God. I attribute this to the godly grandmother who really raised me until I was five and my mother got married. My mother worked and we lived with my grandparents, and my grandmother really was more like my mom. She was a devout, wonderful, saintly woman of immense prayer and wisdom. The first songs I sang were Sunday School tunes. I remember bedtime prayers being among the first words I spoke.
I recall trying to read the Bible when I was maybe six or seven years old. The KJV was too dry for a little boy, but I really wanted to read that book. My mom came to Christ when I was nine, after a small earthquake in the middle of the night shook her to her core. We went to church the very next Sunday, and I’ve been going ever since.
I went to a Christian high school and a Christian college. I can’t recall a time when the Bible didn’t fascinate me, when reading it and studying it didn’t bring me immense joy, when teaching it to a group or sharing it one on one wasn’t a burning passion.
When I rediscovered my talent for writing, I also discovered how much I enjoyed writing about my Faith, and how good I was at it. Not that I broke new theological ground, but that I had a true gift for explaining timeless truths. I am good at word-pictures and this is useful in writing about the Faith.
In my life, I have wanted to pursue only a few differing passions as a vocation. I wanted to play hockey for the longest time. I love the game but I was realistic about my abilities. I satisfied myself with a couple of seasons at the collegiate level and that was that. I wanted to build a construction business and did that for a while. It pacified my creativity but it’s a tough racket. I succeeded in the mortgage business, mostly by default. I was very good at it, but it wasn’t my passion.
No matter what I was pursuing vocationally, there remained beneath the surface a deep desire to have some sort of ministry. I’d always thought –since I was a teenager—that, given my talents and gifts, I would be in ministry full time. That was always my goal and I have wrestled, for forty years now, with the feeling of shame, disappointment, and failure, that I never did achieve this goal.
I feel like I’ve failed God somehow, even though I’ve always been willing, and I have literally failed to achieve all that I might have in my other pursuits, because part of my heart was always looking for this phantom ministry opportunity.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to put this to bed once and for all. I think I finally have. I have, and it’s caused this Crisis of Faith I now find myself mired in. I’ve accepted the fact that there is no ministry door opening for me. Not full-time anyway. But it’s more than that. I’ve watched, especially over the last four years, as the Evangelical world of which I was a part, has become increasingly liberal, increasingly more godless, more commercially driven, more man-glorifying and Jesus ignoring. Oh, they’ll tell you they love Jesus, alright. But not the Jesus of the bible. He’s the Jesus of their own creation. The social justice warrior Jesus who’s only attribute is love. (at the expense of all other attributes of God…holiness, righteousness, etc.) Jesus is just a slightly better version of all of them, now. He’s no longer the holy son of God, who demands a pure, righteous life as a result of the salvation He bestows. Jesus wears skinny jeans. Jesus doesn’t believe in sin anymore. Jesus doesn’t demand change. Jesus confronts nobody about anything…except for capitalists. Neo-Jesus hates capitalists and wealthy people. He hates America and commands American Christians to walk around in sackcloth and apologies for being Americans. He hates Donald Trump and his followers had better not have voted for Trump or else they can just stop following right now.
Skinny-jeans Jesus wears trendy clothes, because otherwise He wouldn’t be relevant. He has a stupid, hipster beard because He isn’t sure whether he’s a man or not. In fact, nobody ever explained to him what manliness was, so he grew that beard because biologically, men can grow beards and so if he grows one, it must mean He’s a man. Neo-Jesus thinks homosexuality is okay. Not that He loves gay people…because all Christians do that, (the real ones at least) no…He literally thinks it’s okay. He thinks the Bible is wrong on the matter. He feels abortion is a matter of “deep personal conviction” (Neo-Jesus’ buddy Carl Lentz told us this so it has to be true) not murder, like Traditional Jesus said.
I’ve watched as we’ve created a star-making system within Christendom. If a “pastor” draws big numbers it HAS to be because he’s “anointed.” (A word so dreadfully overused, but poorly understood as to almost be criminal) If he tells great stories, and makes us feel warm and gooey inside, like a delicious gluten-free, vegan, Tollhouse cookie that our non-gender-specific parent baked or us when we were kids…they tell us he’s a great preacher. He lives in an enormous house, drives an expensive car, dresses like he’s twenty-five (even though he’s forty-five) and uses cool words. He’s known on all the social media outlets, but anonymous in Hell. He’ll greet you warmly if you’re famous, but ignore you if you’re everyman. He says less and less about the Gospel, salvation, sin, virtue, circumspect living, and anxious, desperate prayer…and more and more about success, blessings, prosperity, “love” (as he defines it) and social justice.
He’s never experienced a hardship and yet he is an expert on enduring them. He’s never spent an entire night in prayer, but he writes books on the matter. He can’t wait to drop the name of the entertainment idol who goes to his church, or the other famous Flockstars with whom he associates, but he couldn’t tell you anything at all about the guy who cleans the church during the week, or the kid who cuts his grass.
These people own the Christian media outlets and they have no need for guys like me with dirt under our fingernails, spit in our speech, and mud on our shoes. We wear regular Levis, construction boots that have actually seen a job site, and we’re man enough to not need a beard. (My bearded friends who sport them because they like them, notwithstanding) We’ve been broken and bent. We’ve cried out in the wolf hour and waited for an answer, and when no answers came, we soldiered on because we know Whom we have believed. We didn’t lick our wounds. We didn’t cry like woman and ask lisping existential questions of ourselves. We didn’t get a stress puppy or a facial. We sucked it up, got up off the ground, trusted that God was Who he said He was and we kept going. Our stories are born in actual life experience…not second-hand observation. We grant fame and honor to those worthy of it…not to some sawed-off pop singer who acts like a boorish frat boy but suddenly wants to “just love everyone” and call that Christianity. (COUGH Justin Beiber COUGH) We aren’t enamored with the famous, but the faithful.
There is no place left for guys like me. Not really. We’re offensive. We’re too rigid about things like truth, righteousness, holiness, purity. We’re too patriotic, too American, too conservative. The Neo-Jesus says we can’t be followers if we’re those things.
Well…Neo-Jesus wins. I can’t walk this world with this battle in my soul anymore. I can’t look at the state of Christianity as it is currently constructed, and see any place at all where I fit. Everywhere I look, I see the same faces clawing and grasping for power. Demanding that their opinion be adhered to. Not just heard…followed. Demanding that to be a Christian (as they define it) you must vote this way, act this way, listen to this music, read this book, (not the Bible of course) participate in this social cause, eat no meat, fell no trees, burn no fossil fuels…
I can’t stand the internal battle. So…I surrender. I’m not giving up my Faith, I never could. Jesus is no mere historical figure to me. He is everything. But these people have ruined it for me and I want no more to do with them. There is no place for me in their world, and so be it. I fear more and more real Christians will begin coming to this conclusion. Once the power brokers within modern evangelicalism realized they could actually steer their culture…they headed right for the rocks. I’m jumping ship.
I wanted to write faith-based books, and speak to churches and Christian organizations. But now I see that only as futility. It ain’t gonna happen and I’m not going to try any more. Neo-Jesus and his followers win. I surrender.
I feel better already. Not really, but I’ll keep telling myself that until it’s true.