Perhaps it is the Francis Schaeffer influence (I've been listening to MP3's of his lectures), but I have been concerned of late that many in the evangelical church have bought into a kind of Christian existentialism where the main thing is "my experience with Jesus". These folks tend to emphasize above all else the “worship experience”, while looking down upon the dry bones of history, tradition, and doctrine. The strength of Christianity is that it is based upon things that really happened in space, time and history. In short, it is true.
Below is a link to a must-read article about someone whose Christianity was based upon a religious conversion experience, not upon content, and whose faith suffered loss after being exposed to abuse and corruption among Christians. Granted, abuse among those who put up the “banner of Jesus” is real and needs to be reckoned with. But the fact that the sick feelings this man felt when he examined the abuse trumped the good feelings he felt at a men's conference shows the danger we face when we preach a gospel that relies on emotional response, not on truth.
This is important for those of us who personally witnessed the dark underbelly of Christendom during our Assembly experience. Those who went into the Assembly convinced that the atonement, resurrection and ascension of Jesus were historically true and relevant to our lives tended to leave wounded but with something to hang on to. Those who came who became followers of Jesus in the Assembly because (as Debbie Boone sang), “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right”, found that when the Assembly experience collapsed, they had nothing left to hold on to.
When you read this man's experience, pay close attention to his conversion experience and how, after witnessing much abuse, he concludes that, 1) belief is a “leap of faith” in something that does not necessarily have to be real, and 2) faith is an attribute that you may or may not have, like musical rhythm or ability to run fast. This is not Christianity, which believes in historical facts regardless of our feelings, but existentialism.
Campus Crusade for Christ helped me with the diagram of the fact-faith-feelings train. Fact is the engine. Faith is the coal car. Feelings are the caboose. Facts drive the Christian life. Faith is put in the facts to make the train go. Feelings may (or may not) go along for the ride and certainly do not drive the train.
Comments from Readers
Editor: Amy Wellborn is a well-known Catholic blogger. In her response to this news article, which is applicable to us from the Assembly as well, she says:
It is interesting to me that many anti-religionists....accuse believers of taking an easy way out. Of embracing a sweet vision of life and reality that avoids hard questions, or, in the end, is satisfied with platitudes.
It is not so, is it? For faith is hard. Does anyone really think that faith is easy in the face of the innocent suffering of a child? Or the ravages of Alzheimer's? Or the existence of evil? Or, as we're talking about here, the ironies, paradoxes and counter-witness of the Church? (Read more....)
July 30, 2007, Anonymous: I don't see what his experience had to do with Jesus. He begins the article by saying he was a "strong Christian", but this is misleading. He wasn't. He probably thought he was a strong Christian, but he did not and still does not know what that means. In the article, he sites example after example of men's corruption and then says that because of this he has lost faith. Faith in what?
He says he was a "strong Christian." I've heard this phrase before but never quite understood it. Is there some meter determining the potency of a person's status with God? If we're strong, why do we need Jesus? I think the phrase is a bit of a misnomer and further shows he does not understand what he is talking about.
A Christian is a follower of Christ. If he truly was a Christian, why would learning of man's corruption make him to no longer be a Christian? What do any of the examples he presented have to do with his faith in Jesus? Did he see Jesus rip someone off? Did Jesus start the TBN or is he Benny Hinn's silent partner? Did Jesus molest an altar boy? Um, no to all the above.
His article makes no sense. He is saying, "I am a strong (whatever that means) follower of Christ. Christ loved sinners, and gave his life for them. He also harshly rebuked the religious pretenders and exposed them as frauds. Over the past 8 years, I've seen religious pretenders do really bad things. Because of this I no longer follow Christ."
Huh? Sorry, but that does not follow.
It's clear he neither believed in nor followed Jesus Christ. His focus always has been on other mere mortal men, and of course he's been disappointed. Any wonder? What's sad is that a vast majority of humanity does not grasp this simple truth. If he were a true follower of Christ, he may have learned the following:
"But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man."
"The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."
"I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence."
These passages give a clear picture of who Jesus was and why he is different from any mere mortal man.
Christians follow Christ. Christ entrusted himself not unto men but unto his Father in Heaven, and he was not disappointed.
On a separate note, knowing the bent of the LA Times, this article is just another one of their pot-shots at religion in general because they hate anything that has to do with God or a higher power telling them that their reprobate behavior is wrong. Nothing new under the sun there. If the author really was making a run of it, then this guy is like Pliable in Pilgrim's Progress, all his perverted editor and reporter friends are patting him on the back for coming to his senses about that silly religion stuff. And keep in mind that these bathhouse frequenters have done far worse than some of the bad things he listed in his article. Yup, they're hypocrites right up there with Benny Hinn.
Editor: Lobdell thought he was "a strong Christian" because of his earnestness and zeal. But that didn't make him strong in faith nor, as "Anonymous" points out, did it make him a follower of Christ. It is extremely important for those who have been disillusioned as he was to go back to the basics of the Christian faith and become rooted in the truth. It is an intensely difficult battle at times like this, because the Adversary has temporarily knocked you out of the action. But just because you're down doesn't necessarily mean the final bell has rung.