Younger evangelicals put happiness and popularity over morality

Here’s an interesting post by Mark Tooley in the American Spectator. (H/T Jay Richards)


A new generation of evangelical elites is imploring evangelicals to step back from the culture wars. Mostly they want to escape polarizing strong stances on same-sex marriage and abortion, and perhaps also contentious church-state issues, like the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.

Purportedly the evangelical church is failing to reach young, upwardly mobile professionals because evangelicals, who now broadly comprise perhaps one third of all Americans, are seen as reactionary and hateful. On their college campuses, at their coffee shops, and in their yoga classes, among other venues, some outspoken hip young evangelicals want a new public image for their faith.

[…]A popular young evangelical blogger echoing Merritt’s theme is Rachel Evans, who conveniently grew up in the Tennessee small town famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial. Her 2010 book was Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. “We are tired of the culture wars,” she explained in a recent interview. “We are tired of politics.” Lamenting the church’s preoccupation with “shame and guilt,” she urged evangelicals to reconsider their opposition to same-sex unions.

The post has a nice history of how evangelicals have always been involved in moral and political issues, and it’s worth reading. But I want to make a different point below.

What’s at the root of this movement to back away from moral issues? Here’s what I think is the problem. When you advocate for moral causes like protecting the unborn, or school choice, or freeing the slaves, a bunch of people are not going to like you. Christians in the time of Jesus knew that being bold about their Christian convictions would make a lot of people think bad things about them – they expected it. But young evangelicals have gotten the idea that being a Christian should not involve any sort of unhappiness and unpopularity. They wouldn’t have learned this from the Bible, because the Bible emphasizes suffering and unpopularity as part of the normal Christian life. It is their experience of church (and the hedonistic culture around them) that is likely to reinforce that view.

What young evangelicals learn in many churches is that religion is something that is centered on the Bible and the church building – it is not something that flows into real life. They learn that you can’t find out anything about God from the Big Bang, the DNA, the fossil record, or even from the peer-reviewed research on abortion, divorce, or gay marriage. They learn from the Bible that helping the poor is good, but then they never pick up an economic textbook to see which economic system really helps the poor. What you learn about in church is that religion is private and has no connection to reality whatsoever. This fits in with their view that Christianity should make them happy, because they’ve learned that it doesn’t involve any studying to connect the Bible to the real world.

What follows from having a view that Christianity only lives in the Bible and church, and not out there in the real world of telescopes and microscopes? Well, most young evangelicals interpret what their pastor is telling them as “our flavor of ice cream” or “our cultural preference”. They don’t link Christianity to the real world, they don’t think that it’s true for everyone. They think that you just accept what the Bible says on faith, and that’s all. No reasons can be given to non-Christians outside of just asking them to accept the Bible. Younger evangelicals believe that there are no facts that confirm or disprove Christianity – it’s just a blind belief. Young evangelicals think that their faith doesn’t have to be complemented with careful study of how things work in the real world.

What is the result of this anti-intellectual compartmentalization of faith? The result is that young evangelicals will balk at the idea of telling someone that they are going to Hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. They will balk at the idea that feminism is to blame for the destruction of the family. They will balk at the idea that the best way to help the poor is to push for free market capitalism. They will balk at the idea that it is wrong to kill unborn children. They will balk at the idea that disarmament and pacifism embolden terrorists and tyrants to attack peace-loving people. They will balk at the idea that traditional marriage is better for society and children. They will balk at the idea that man-made catastrophic global warming is not supported by science. They lack courage because they first lack knowledge. They don’t know how to make the case using hard evidence. They don’t learn that hard evidence is important in church.

If the purpose of religion is to have happy feelings and be liked, then studying the real world to find out whether the Bible is true is bad religion. If religion is divorced from reality, then it’s just a personal preference influenced by how a person was raised. No young evangelical is going to lift a finger to take bold moral stands if they think their worldview is just one option among many – like the flavors of ice cream in the frozen section of the grocery store. They have to know that what they are saying is true – then they will be bold. An example: there was a time when people believed that God did not create the first living cell, because it was just a simple lump of protoplasm that could easily come about by accident. Now we know better, and we can boldly make the case for intelligent design based on hard evidence – if we put in the time to study the evidence. And it is the same for everything – from theological claims, to moral claims, to social claims, to economic claims, to foreign policy claims. It doesn’t matter if people call you names when you have the facts to support unpopular claims, and that’s why public, authentic Christianity is built on facts. Non-Christians being offended by your claims doesn’t change the way the world is.

We have to turn away from our own ignorance, laziness and cowardice if we hope to have the ability to stand up for our beliefs in public. Christianity is not about being happy and feeling good and being liked by others. In a society that is increasingly secular and relativistic, studying outside the Bible necessarily precedes an authentic Christian life. There is no shortcut. We might have been able to get away with fideism 50 years ago, but not anymore. Not now.

19 thoughts on “Younger evangelicals put happiness and popularity over morality”

  1. Outstanding article. Once I finally came to the conclusion that: A) What God thinks of me is more important than what people think of me, B) That our actions on earth have eternal ramifications, C) Heaven and Hell are real places and D) That the worst thing that can happen to me is that someone murders me and sends me to heaven that much sooner…my motivation and courage in sharing the gospel skyrocketed.

    We need to live in light of eternity and many churches are failing to instill this mindset in their congregation, especially in the youth.


  2. “Young evangelicals have gotten the idea that being a Christian should not involve any sort of unhappiness and unpopularity.”

    Yet another example of theologically incorrect churchianity making people think that following Christ is easy.

    “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
    ~1 Peter 4:12-13


    1. That’s exactly the verse I would point to prove my point. Also Matthew 5:10-16.

      I know this is going to seem like an odd idea to many, but what if the Christian life actually involved imitating Christ and sharing in his suffering for being obedient to God?


  3. Excellent post, WK! Well diagnosed. This attitude is stunting the ability of many Christians to make a difference for the Kingdom of God.


    1. Thanks, M. It is so weird for me to see people concerned about who likes them and who doesn’t like them. I would think that they would be most concerned with what God thinks of them.


  4. If a follower of Christ is not allowed to use Christ as the role model, and the “Young Evangelical” tells me: “I’d rather be like Yoko Ono,” then I’d answer back: “Then all you are is a band-wrecker.”

    If they answer back: “Who would you rather be like than Jesus? And the answer cannot be from an explicitly Christian work.”

    I’d reply: “Optimus Prime. He’s practically Robot Jesus, and his creators made him an analogue of Christ without really trying to. The voice actor is Jewish. A way better role model than Yoko Oh-No.”

    At that point, they’d walk away frustrated. And good riddance.


    1. Well, I want to be Secret Agent John Drake from the television show “Danger Man”. He’s not exactly like Jesus, but he is chaste and he puts the mission first.

      John Drake:

      See him in action:


    2. I think the problem lies in using Christ as a role model. Why use Christ as a role model? That will only produce behavioral change. The Christian is not looking for behavioral change. This is the problem. Every human being is capable of changing behavior and becoming a “moral person” or “virtuous person” (whichever term you prefer…), but that isn’t good enough to please God. We cannot work our way intol pleasing God. The cool thing about the whole ordeal is that someone has already pleased God and that someone is Christ.

      The Christian must be a person totally dependent on the work of Christ alone. Trust in Christ and He will clothe you in His righteousness. We don’t need a role model. We need a Hero to rescue us from the predicament.


  5. Honestly, I think that anyone who really believes that God and the church exist to make them happy, or that belief in God = monetary comfort and business and family success never really read the Bible. You can’t read about the lives of those who lived in ancient times and conclude that God is leading us to have happy, easy lives.

    There is a line in a Rich Mullins song that goes “the hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.” There is a terrible irony located in the fact that the Christ that many claim to worship would not be welcome in the building in many places because of his mode of dress and lack of status. God forbid that we actually become uncomfortable to proclaim the gospel that He and many of his disciples died for. (sarcasm, in case it doesn’t come across in print)


  6. I think it was Al Mohler who described the current popular belief among young evangelicals as Therapeutic Moral Deism. That is an apt description and resonates with your excellent analysis here.


  7. I’m not sure why this popped up in my RSS reader as having come out 6 hours ago instead of a year ago, but I thought it was really well timed. I recently got banned from a website I really enjoyed because I dared to start commenting on one post in particular that basically said that staying a virgin until married doesn’t really matter.

    The argument went that since God forgives all of our sins, we’re all basically virgins anyway. Only pride would cause any people who stayed chaste until marriage to get mad about it. Several people did get mad, and were called out as being prideful. The only people not called out were people who didn’t stay chaste until marriage, who were praised for not being prideful. It was a total inversion of morality, and enough of one that opposing it resulted in a ban (no name-calling, evidence to back up argument, staying on topic, being respectful; none of that seemed to matter).

    I think this is a HUGE problem and is getting worse. But I think the result is that churches or Christian leaders who go the route of “morality doesn’t matter” are going to be worthless at attracting followers, just as liberal denominations are known for. Who wants to believe a worldview that has no practical implications?


    1. I think I know the post you mean – if it’s that post written by that woman who thinks that having sex before marriage if you are in love is praiseworthy and not shameworthy.

      Is this the post?

      I read that and I still want to blog on it. As a virgin who knows what he is doing, I see this attitude a lot from women. Christian women often believe that feelings and spontaneity should rein in relationships. They balk at the idea of thinking about means and ends in a marriage, and responsibilities and obligations. I am trying to run the relationship like an engineering project, given the risks and potential benefits to God, and they want to break all the rules, play the victim, and make the whole thing about their happiness. I have tried and tried to find single women who liked being led to study hard things and have an impact on the church and university, and I only found a couple, and they were both older than 30. It’s really hard to get them to take the Bible seriously, and to consult evidence outside the Bible to confirm what the Bible says so that their behavior matches the Bible. They don’t want to be ruled by Scripture or facts that confirm Scripture. They want to do whatever they feel like and then claim that it is God’s mystical unknown will. If anything goes wrong, they expect forgiveness and no consequences or restitution. You don’t want to be working with women like the Deeper Story women, and her commenters are even worse. Claiming Jesus as savior with no discipleship. Count me out.


      1. “Claiming Jesus as savior with no discipleship. Count me out.”

        That’s where I think most people are at. This emotional-driven stuff put out by sites like DeeperStory (and the ones I have come across elsewhere) that claims purity, morality, virtue, etc don’t matter is just going to make them worthless in the end. The early Christians took morality very seriously, and it attracted followers; it didn’t drive them away. People saw that there was something concrete and practical as a result of believing something intellectually.

        These new-age lukewarm Christian anti-moralists are going to do the exact opposite.


  8. It is a cute trick they play: Churches can’t talk about politics, and non-believers get to decide what qualifies as “politics.” The definition is basically anything they don’t want churches to talk about. Convenient, eh?

    As I like to remind people, God is sovereign over everything. Every last molecule in the universe. The church should talk about whatever it likes without caring about what the world has to say about it.


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