The American Conservative had an article today titled ‘Confessions of an Ex-Evangelical, Pro-SSM Millenial‘ that was very interesting and troubling. It comes from someone my own age who has turned away from their Evangelical upbringing and is attempting to explain why. He begins the article with one caveat: that he is only 24 years old and may not be speaking for everyone, but does share his own experience. A couple paragraphs in he writes:
We were taught that our church not only had the absolute truth, but that there was no earthly history between the Bible and the doctrines being presented to us. I went to Evangelical churches fifty-two Sundays a year for the better part of 19 years, and I cannot for the life of me remember once when the name of a theologian was mentioned. There was one interpretation of scripture, and it was absolutely true. And, in fact, even the various doctrines that were taught were never mentioned by name, because the presence of the name might suggest that there were alternatives.
This is shocking to me! And is quite the opposite of what I’ve experience in my Evangelical upbringing. I was taught that there was an overwhelming abundance of connection between the earthly history and the theology I was taught. I was regularly told that no archaeological find of the past 2,000 years ran contradictory to Scripture. And I was told that there was 1 TRUE interpretation of Scripture, but then different applications of that text to our own lives. And my dad was using big theological terms that I still don’t understand (except for general and special revelation, that’s the one big thing I still remember, thanks Dad!).
Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion. Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation. Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar
This sounds to me like his experience in church is limited to one church that is very traditional. I’ve only seen an alter call twice, and both times it was at local events that weren’t at the church my family went to. In fact, my experience at church has been so focused on intellect that I didn’t think I could relate my faith to my emotions. It wasn’t until college that I understood I could have an emotional response to God, the Bible and my relationship with him.
You see SSM advocates as employing emotive arguments in order to win, but you have to realize that a lot of the Christians that are being argued against have traded in nothing but emotion for the last 30 years. Salvation is a weeping, sinners-prayer mumbling, emotional roller coaster, and the emoting never stops. In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It’s the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness: Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.
Yes, salvation CAN be an incredibly emotional response, but it also needs to be an intellectual response. We need to worship God with our whole being. It’s very easy to emphasize one of these areas at the expense of the other. For example, throughout most of my life in Jr High and High School, I only wanted to read the Bible because it was the right thing to do (which meant I didn’t really want to). But as I got into later High School and college, I started to have an emotional connection to Scripture as God revealed himself to me through His Word. Yes, I could understand the grow in my knowledge and understanding to God, but that should naturally lead to an emotional response of worship of God (just read the Psalms, they’re overflowing with emotion!).
Unfortunately, the churches response to homosexuality has been to condemn or condone not lovingly come alongside and point back to Scripture (Wesley Hill says this far better than I ever could in his book ‘Washed and Waiting‘).
When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed. This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their “turning point” on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay. If your belief on SSM is based on a learned disgust at the thought of a gay person, the moment a gay person, any gay person, ceases to disgust you, you have nothing left. In short, the anti-SSM side, and really the Christian side of the culture war in general, is responsible for its own collapse. It failed to train up the young people on its own side preferring instead to harness their energy while providing them no doctrinal depth by keeping them in a bubble of emotion dependent on their never engaging with the outside world on anything but warlike terms.
This is true that the moment many millennials befriend a homosexual their belief falls apart. When you don’t have any background in how to study Scripture your beliefs will fall apart at the slightest breeze (Ephesians 4:14). Yes, many who experience same sex attraction are incredibly nice people (just like many people who experience heterosexual attraction are), but that doesn’t change the fact that they are sinners in need of grace, just like me. In fact the entire world is full of sinners who are in need of God’s grace in their lives to represent Christ to a dead and broken world.
So if the church continues to emphasize intellect OR emotion as the only response to faith, there will continue to be people who refuse to believe what the Bible teaches. We need to emotionally connect to God AND intellectually “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
-Jaraslov Pelikan in The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities