Evangelicalism is not a Christian Religion

Because religions are transcendent.

Evangelicals are probably the most united movement of Christianity in history. They account for a quarter of all Americans making them the largest religious demographic in the country. And the fact that they're not even a real denomination only makes them all the more impressive.

For those who don't know, there is no Evangelical Church. There is no central leadership to evangelicalism as a whole. It is barely a loose confederation made up of dozens of other Christian denominations and independent Bible churches.

But none of these denominations answer to each other on doctrinal matters, and none of them speak for evangelicalism any more than the others. Yet, their size alone indicates that their unity must come from something, if not strong leadership.

The National Association of Evangelicals claims that their unity comes from a commitment to certain ideals:
  • Biblical authority
  • Evangelism
  • Christ's sacrifice
  • Exclusivity
So when Pew Research's latest religion report came out last year, evangelical news outlets congratulated themselves for only being down 0.9% in seven years. Compare that to Catholics (down 3.1%) and mainline Protestants (down 3.4%), and you might want to agree that evangelical ideals are the right ones.

However, few Christians from any denomination would outright disagree with things like biblical authority or exclusivity, to varying degrees of nuance. Furthermore, those aren't the things that actually unite evangelicals.

Ask someone how they would describe a Lutheran, a Catholic, and an Orthodox Christian and they might say sola fide, apostolic succession, and the veneration of icons--things related to their faith. But ask anyone how they would describe an evangelical and you'll hear pro-life, anti-LGBT, pro-gun, anti-Muslim, pro-Israel, and anti-evolution.

The things that unite evangelicals are not common beliefs as much as a common culture. So no, they don't all agree on the role of evangelism or the nature of Christ's sacrifice. But they do all mostly listen to Christian music, watch Christian movies, support Christian-owned businesses like Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby, buy Christian discipleship materials of some kind, and freak out whenever they discover a celebrity is a Christian (did anyone else notice that Christians didn't care about Christina Grimmie until after she died?).

What's interesting about evangelicalism is that none of its cultural trappings existed in Christianity prior to 1776. In fact, much or what defines it equally defines American culture, like what you buy. The two are so entwined together that the source of such strong unity seems unavoidable: evangelical culture is based on consumerism.

Think about it, consumer culture is what drives America. Consider the following statistics:
  • We have about 300,000 items in our homes
  • We have more TV's in our homes than people
  • We spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than on higher education
  • We have 3.1% of the world's children but 40% of the toys
  • We spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods
Compare that to all of the Christian records, books, t-shirts and other paraphernalia injected into stores and media. In 2014, Christian or Gospel records sold over 17 million copies, and religious books sold over 52 million units. They may be intended to offer a wholesome alternative to the "secular" versions, but they mostly provide a prooftexted avenue for Christians into the consumption lifestyle.

Evangelical church services are also an exercise in consumer pageantry, complete with entertaining pastors, contemporary music, and coffee bars. While most other church services haven't changed for decades, evangelical services are constantly evolving to serve every whim of the congregant consumer.

Likewise, it's no coincidence that most Catholic, Orthodox, or mainline Protestant priests and pastors don't have book deals and radio programs. For evangelicalism, sermons are products. They turn them into podcasts, bible studies, conferences, and bestsellers because they're just another piece of media to be repurposed.

If your pastor hocking his sermons all over the internet feels like a betrayal, it should. There was a time when sermons were used to teach us about God. Now it feels like their goal is to get reprinted or published. We expect this kind of behavior from celebrities--that's why no one bats an eye when Kanye West starts a clothing line made of his old sweaters. But pastors are supposed lead us to Christ, not Costco.

Religious culture should be transcendent. When God gave the Israelites instructions for the tabernacle, the vessels were patterned after heavenly things as a way of drawing them into his presence. In the same way, the church gave us rituals like the Eucharist and baptism, seasons like Epiphany and Lent, and symbols like the chi-rho and the cross to focus our minds on the kingdom not of this world.

Part of why I left evangelicalism is because it feels more American than transcendent. Instead of prioritizing kingdom work like helping the needy, it convinced me that discipleship came at the low, low price of $12.95. Sacrifice and selflessness are nothing compared to the glorious splendor of the world's decaying treasures.

With our eyes completely off of eternal things, we're free to argue over who sells the best spiritual growth. Just like a feud between Coke and Pepsi fans, evangelicals spend much of their time defending their favorite brand of packaged piety. Personal preference is the cornerstone of any healthy consumer society, so it only makes sense that evangelicalism champion the same under the banner of "conviction".

It's no surprise then that evangelicals like to kick folks out of the kingdom. They say it's for doctrinal reasons but it boils down to a dislike for their culture and products, which they conveniently connect back to doctrine. How truly sad that breaking fellowship can literally happen over where you choose to break bread.

In order to support the right beliefs, you have to buy the right products from the right places. Good works include boycotting Starbucks in 2013 and Target in 2016. It's not a Christian religion; evangelicalism is a consumer-centric, pseudo-spiritual subculture of America. It's the purest form of worship in this country because it glorifies our appetites as love for God. And nothing is more ubiquitous or unifying than the hunger for self-satisfaction.

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Comments

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