An Evangelical addiction to strength

I wonder sometimes how much our religious focus as evangelicals relates to what we find in scripture. Certainly, at the heart of evangelicalism is the greek word euaggelion (good news) and as evangelicals, we strive to be evangelistic with that good news. But I wonder, at times, if we have a firm grasp on what the good news actually is.

This came to mind recently when I read a great article about the Theology of Donald Trump. The article rightly points out that Trump’s philosophy of life is much more Neitzschean than Biblical. Trump shows nothing but disdain for the weak and praises only the strong. Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr., James Dobson, Eric Metaxes, and Robert Jeffress in praising him unintentionally show that their commitment to a Biblical philosophy is not what it should be.

These Christian leaders are not as much an anomaly as some other Christian leaders would like to think. The reality is that we have developed an evangelical culture that is less reliant on a Biblical ethic than it should be. As evangelicals, we are addicted to strength and influence.

The Heritage of the Evangelical Addiction to Strength

Since the 1980s, the evangelical political agenda has been very focused and effective at controlling the political discourse. When I taught at an SBC college all the talk was about “Changing the World for Christ.” The rhetoric was similar if less “in your face” at other evangelical colleges at which I’ve taught. Recently, I was at a church leaders training seminar where the speaker said that he felt Churches should be at least 700 people because they needed to be that size to have influence in their community. Even today, I read a blurb from a new blogger who is writing for Christian professionals encouraging them to “influence & impact.”

On one level, there is nothing wrong with any of this. It may even be good. But on another level, it equates our faithfulness with power and influence rather than with…well… faithfulness.

As Christians, we so often want to have an impact and change the world for Jesus. Heck, part of the reason for this website is to encourage people to think just a little differently…hopefully more Christianly. But, it also occurs to me that Jesus didn’t come to earth to change this world for himself. He came to seek and to find. He came to change individual hearts, to turn individual lives toward himself. With time, that did change the world. His goal, though, was the individual.

The Consequence of the Evangelical Addiction to Strength

When our goal becomes to change the world rather than individual hearts we begin to focus on systems rather than persons. We begin to seek the power and influence that it takes to implement those systemic changes.

We begin to say:

Blessed are the powerful rather than
Blessed are the poor in spirit;

Blessed are those with positive mental attitudes rather than
Blessed are those that mourn;

Blessed are the mighty rather than
Blessed are the meek;

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for influence rather than
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness;
Blessed are those who get things done rather than
Blessed are the merciful;
Blessed are the strong of heart rather than
Blessed are the pure of heart;
Blessed are the difference makers rather than
Blessed are the peacemakers;
and we forget all together
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We forget that God is our strength and begin to believe that we are his strength. We forget that his strength is meant to allow us to be good and faithful, not powerful and influential.

What God wants from Us

We forget that God has already, in his word, told us what is good and what He wants from us. God does not require us to be powerful or influential. He does grant that to some and it is a burden that many take far too lightly. God does not require us to win friends and influence people, though by his mercy some of us do. All he requires is that we, in the words of the prophet Micah, “do justice…love kindness, and…walk humbly with [our] God”.

Or in the words of Christ himself, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… And…love your neighbour as yourself.”

God grants some of us worldly strength. Yet, we are not to relish that strength and power. Our power is to be perfected in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

The euaggelion (good news) is not that God has made us strong but that we are weak and can rest in his strength.

This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today. This piece was first published on July 11, 2016, and has been lightly edited and updated.

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