Why I Left Evangelicalism

I will never go back. Thankfully, they've made it clear that they wouldn't have me anyway.

Before I hand over my easy-to-remember, one-word answer, let me make a couple things clear.

First, I didn't leave evangelicalism because I found greener grass somewhere else. I'm not another Rachel Held Evans advocating for the motions of a different expression of Christianity.

Second, I didn't leave evangelicalism because I'm creating something better. I'm not another Don Miller arguing for "doing church" (read: hanging out with like-minded people) instead of going to church.

I left evangelicalism because I think it operates on a value fundamentally antithetical to Christianity: self-centeredness.

For most of my life, evangelicalism was the only brand of Christianity I knew. It was the type of church I was born into, the type of school I went to, even the type of job I had for several years. In many respects, it was my religious home.

But it didn't bring me closer to Jesus. I did all the right things from Sunday School and VBS to worship team and camp counseling. And I didn't see Jesus in any of it. All I could see was me, patting myself on the back.

As I looked around, I noticed everyone else doing the same thing. The hermeneutics were self-assured, the ministry was self-serving, and the politics were self-righteous. Neither Jesus nor his greatest commandments were anywhere to be found.

Completely disillusioned, I left the church for four years and processed my frustrations through writing. The deeper I dug inward, the more I realized the answers were outside of me. Christianity wasn't about me. And it wasn't about God either--evangelicals say that to sanctify the self-help they mistake for true religion.

Christianity is about us. Jesus didn't die for you or me, he died for us and he wants to be loved by us. We do that by obeying him and we obey him by loving people. It's an absurdly simple religion.

It's also incredibly incongruous with evangelicalism. As refreshing as it was to finally have real purpose beyond myself, it was a revelation that was not well-received. My years of writing were scrutinized by petty detractors and I was accused of spiritual immaturity (the go-to ad hominem for Christians who take their own word over God's word).

Indeed, the more I posited selflessness as the defining characteristic of Christianity, the more I saw how self-centered evangelicalism was.

Its very foundation is built on the subconscious belief that their hermeneutic is inspired. Sola scriptura hadn't sat well with me for years; however, the utter rejection of church tradition made their accountability suspect. They claim that the Bible itself supports their interpretation of it, yet this is no different than saying their interpretation of the Bible supports their interpretation of the Bible.

Circular reasoning is just a clever distraction from the true object of their trust: themselves. Rather than trust the Holy Spirit to speak through the community of faith, evangelicalism turns Bible readers into vigilante theologians. It tears God's authority away from his church and places it in the pages of a book.

And the funny thing about answering to a book is that you can make it say whatever you want because it can't talk back. You're essentially answering to yourself. Which explains why I often hear evangelicals talk about submitting to Scripture, but rarely about submitting to their spiritual leaders.

People are fallible while the Bible is not, say the fallible people who resist the teaching of their elders when it conflicts with how they read the Bible.

The theological ramifications of such self-assurance are vast, perverting sanctification into a matter of personal victory and self-improvement. But it doesn't stop there.

While evangelicals are busy working on themselves in Jesus name, they're ignoring the hurting world around them. Tithes are given priority over needy neighbors, devotions steal time from family and friends seeking affection, and doing ministry replaces loving people. I know because I too did these things in the name of "spiritual growth".

Nothing will stand in the way of their satisfaction. Whenever governments try to regulate their ministry, they cry persecution and guilt support with phrases like religious freedom and biblical values. Christians are called to suffer yet evangelicals seem to prefer self-preservation.

The brazen selfishness of it all still astonishes me, especially for such a simple religion. But the weight on my soul for too many years began to make sense and leaving it behind gave me an incredible sense of freedom. The oppression of trying to find God in myself was lifted and I was finally free to find him in others.

So where am I now?

Theologically, I tend to identify most with the ELCA, but I don't go to a Lutheran church. I go to a church based solely on what I believe matters most in Christianity: loving my community.

I go to a church that honestly looks and feels a lot like an evangelical church and with which I disagree on a number of doctrinal points.

But I'm happy to attend there because membership doesn't require conformity.

I'm happy to submit to the leadership because my differences are accepted, not despised.

I'm happy to call it home because, unlike so many evangelicals, they actually understand the gospel. And through their efforts, so does the rest of the town.

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  1. In essentials, unity.
    In opinions, liberty.
    In all things, love.

    There are waaaaaay too many opinions that get turned into essentials.
    We must learn the value of the 3rd part of that slogan - in ALL things - LOVE!
    So even if we disagree on certain points of doctrine, we don't have to be disagreeable.
    Philippians 3:15 says that God will make clear the things we think differently on.
    Let's listen to His Spirit and His Word and love each other until we reach home.

  2. Dear Alex,
    I have a great deal of sympathy for your struggles and disenchantment. However, I'd quite simply like to ask, "who gave you permission to leave?" Beware of crying hypocrisy and self-centeredness, for those things all too often characterize ourselves. I would even venture to say that leaving a tradition based upon these grievances, based upon your soul-searching, your thinking, etc., is a bit, well, self-centered. (Even blogs as a mode of expression, no matter how well-meaning, seem to me to be a bit self-centered.) Self-centeredness and hypocrisy at the very least are simply part of the human condition and can therefore can be found in any Christian tradition where there are people. You may even frequently meet with narrow minded convictions as well. Therefore, as you seem to be blessed with an astute mind, please remember that simply because your gifts and insights may not be appreciated by those around you, this does not mean thereby that those gifts are not needed within your tradition and specifically your local portion of the Body. And if we experience misunderstanding or even aspersion in our community of faith, perhaps we ought to rejoice that we are experiencing nothing less than what the Lord experienced as He sought to walk among those He was called to serve.


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