Thursday, August 25, 2011

The New Political Wave in Evangelicalism.

If anyone has known me since I started college, they know I've made my rounds in the Church. My undergraduate days were marked with desperation to find some sort of ecclesial identity and to embrace a particular Christian confession. This desire took me to many parts of the church from the hippie house-Church movement all the way to the wonders of Eastern Orthodoxy. Along the way, I ended up getting involved with the International House of Prayer (IHOP). I use the word "involved" rather loosely since I only attended their "One Thing" conference every New Years for three years. Despite the fact that the movement and its corruption almost led me to abandon the Christian religion (that is for another time), I am thankful for my experiences. That is why when I heard this interview about Rick Perry and the new political movement in evangelicalism on NPR's Fresh Air, I understood the seriousness of what was being discussed more than I would like to admit. You can go here to listen to the fascinating interview:

The IHOP movement is distinct from other charismatic movements in various ways. First, this movement is distinctly young-adult oriented. Sure, there are older folks who show up, but the stadiums are packed with thousands upon thousands of well-meaning and sincere youth. Second, there is an emphatic emphasis upon the supernatural. Everything goes - hearing the audible voice of God (Mike Bickle heard God's audible voice telling him to start the IHOP back in 1999), exorcisms, speaking in tongues, shaking uncontrollably on the floor, prophesying endlessly, words of knowledge, visions, dreams, etc. There is also a continual obsession with Satan, demons, and their influence upon the earth. Even more, these aspects of the "supernatural" realm should not be considered "supernatural" but rather "natural"; anything less would demean the presence of God at work in the life of Christians. Every Christian should expect this type of supernatural activity in their lives on a daily basis. One of the reasons I always felt like an outsider to this movement is that I never spoke in tongues (I tried once but it didn't work), I never attempted to cast out demons (nor did I want to), I never had radical dreams or visions, and I never fell down when a "prayer warrior" came and touched my forehead. I always wondered how one could have confidence that these things were actually "from God" and not simply a product of self-deception. Third, the movement is radically political. I think this is probably the most important thing to emphasize. Everything is about "reclaiming" and "taking back" in America what has been stolen by Satan and the demonic realm. While this assumes that America was ever in alignment with the Christian God from the beginning (and you don't even need to read Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn to admit that), the leaders of this movement are very persuasive and powerful in their rhetoric. You might laugh and think you could never be brainwashed into thinking this stuff. But when you attend these conferences with thousands upon thousands of young adults who passionately and desperately embrace the words of leaders who claim they have "heard the audible voice of God" and had "dreams and visions" of America's future, it all becomes more confusing than you'd ever like to imagine. One of the reasons this movement must be political is that the people inside and associated with IHOP believe that Christians are genuinely responsible for "ushering in" the Kingdom of God and the second return of Christ. Until so many people convert to Christianity or repent from their blatant sin, Jesus Christ will not return to reclaim "the Bride of Christ" (the Church). Therefore, Christians must repent of their complacency and unabashedly become involved in changing the political system. This type of change comes through voting for Republican candidates because only Republicans genuinely understand the two issues that are closest to the "heart of God" and those issues are homosexuality and abortion. This feeds on the greatest vulnerabilities of evangelical youth since almost everyone in evangelicalism from a young age has been taught that these two issues are very serious and show "just how far" America has strayed from the truth of God's word (Let's be honest: no matter how "liberal" ex-evangelical youth become, most will never abandon their pro-life stance). But contrary to the ways of the past, this movement claims to be marked by love and peace. These aren't the folks who terrorize abortion clinics. Rather, they peacefully stand outside the Supreme Court with red tape over their mouth with the word "LIFE" written on it as they pray and fast for the lives of the unborn sometimes for forty days at a time. The commitment and sacrifice is genuinely impressive no matter how far off you think these Christians are. Finally, the movement is marked by a sense of martyrdom. These are Christians who are willing to be killed, persecuted, beaten, and ostracized for their beliefs. In fact, this would mean that they are doing something right since any opposition to the political system ("the demonic forces") would naturally result in this type of backlash. In a way, this opposition means progress. They don't believe in the rapture of our parent's generation. Christians will remain on earth and must endure the persecution necessary to bring about Christ's return.

Some might be wondering how anyone could genuinely be wrapped up in this movement. An outside observer might assume that these individuals are crazy and are simply not intelligent. While there might be unstable and unintelligent individuals in this movement like any other, that isn't the root of the problem. If only! The issue is far more complicated and I won't pretend to pinpoint all of the many essential problems of this movement here (there are so many issues with their political assumptions that I wouldn't even know where to begin). But I do wish to offer one specific point,which I believe highlights the reason that this type of movement is so popular and persuasive, especially among young adults. It is no surprise that evangelicalism as a whole has lost an identity and is doctrinally anemic. Apart from a lack of catechesis, there is simply a lack of distinct Christian identity. There is no sense of what Christians might actually believe or have confessed since Pentecost because a lot of evangelical Churches are led by clergy who are also uneducated. This type of theological illiteracy goes so far that most evangelicals lack very basic understandings of the Trinity, Christology, and Scripture. As such, there is this desperate longing present among evangelical youth which asks what qualifies me as a Christian? In our parent's age, it was personal piety. But the evangelical youth of today have seen through such shallow false righteousness and desire a more genuine Christian orientation. Absent theological education and responsible Christian leadership, evangelical youth attend these conferences hoping to hear an answer to these questions from leaders like Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Jason Upton, and all the rest. These youth witness leaders who are seemingly far more sincere in their faith than most anyone else they've ever known (fasting for 40 days?! They heard God's voice?!) and so they gain credibility. And the youth really listen to these men and women. What is more, these youth crave a type of Christian identity that is radical and all-encompassing. Young evangelicals are attracted to whatever Christian expression they can find which bleeds into every area of one's life. That is exactly what you will find at IHOP. These Christians are not fooling around! There is no dichotomy between the private and public. This Christian confession pervades every part of life.

In short, it is my assertion that the reason these misguided and dangerous movements occur is due to the fact that evangelicalism has lost its Christian identity. The aspects of the Christian religion that classify its particularity have been lost. Young American evangelicals want something to fill that void. And they've found it. Unfortunately, they've traded their whitewashed tombs for an unconstitutional, superstitious, and idolatrous political orientation that has little in common with orthodox Christian belief. Most people will hear about this movement and laugh or think it not serious. But when you have political candidates like Rick Perry and Sarah Palin directly or indirectly endorsing these movements, you can't deny their dangerous influence any longer. I simply hope that evangelicalism will realize that movements like these are a direct product of its own theological illiteracy.


Adam said...

I am not as negative toward IHOP and some similar organizations, but I was never a close part of them either. From my vantage point, I think you are right in voicing your concerns. And you are right in your tone of calling the church toward the gospel.

My only caveat is that I have friends that are in some of these ministries. And while I disagree with them theologically and politically, they are striving after God, or at least attempting to. You have found your way in the church (or at least are finding your way). I would encourage you to stay involved with at least some friends that you disagree with.

I have continued to get together with friends from college. We are widely different in our theological outlooks, but because of shared history and trust that we all have a real faith in Christ (even if we disagree) we continue to push against one another and learn from one another.

I am currently reading Peter Enns via email with a couple and we are moving on to Christian Smith's Bible Made Impossible.

(This feels like a 'it get's better' comment. But it is sort of true.)

Gretchen Fagan said...

I appreciate this post. I have had some interaction with the IHOP movement and know a number of people who were very involved, one who attended their "school" for 6 months. She and another friend who was involved would heartily agree with your thoughts and critiques. I believe this movement is on a very dangerous path and unfortunately "preys" on the young and vulnerable; probably unintentionally but still a concern no less.

Dan Lacey said...

I think when Christians witness the world acting along 'Christian' purposes without the support of and in direct conflict with what they perceive to be the gospel message, and because of this then begin to harbor the suspicion that there may be something wrong with their faith, they are vulnerable to accepting the affirmations of political power. The hardest thing is stand in your faith on uncertain ground, questioning your faith where it deserves to be questioned, without falling prey to manipulative wolves who not only declare themselves to be your Christian compatriots, but actually are.

History has seen this play itself over and over again, and Christians just need to be honest with themselves that they are vulnerable to this sort of thing, that the root of the problem is insecurity regarding their own faith. You have a God who likes to hide, who send obtuse and oblique signs if any, and leaves good people to fail and suffer. Into this void rushes organizations and movements waving banners of coming victory and defeat of an enemy. This has happened over and over again, and this time around the time is ripe in the world for Christians to receive another good reaming.

If the world belongs to the devil, Christians, as Jesus himself declares, just let the devil have it and proceed along acting in unbiased love towards your 'enemies.' That is all that is required and is challenge enough. If socially motivated Christians were to withdraw in mass from political movements and dedicate themselves to hidden good works alone, the world would shift on its axis.

David Richards said...

You are much nicer than I would be. I have been involved, on an intimate level, with the Evangelical Charismatic movement. I say avoid things like IHOP at all costs. They encourage massive spiritual deception and self-delusion. Its leaders are taking their disciples down an extremely dangerous path spiritually when they encourage them to seek "an experience with God" like the ones you describe. The devil masquerades as an angel of light, and why think any of these people have the discernment of an Apostle Paul to tell the difference between a demonic apparition and a Spiritual one? HOW WOULD THEY EVEN KNOW??

It's a wicked generation that seeks a sign.

David Baruch said...

Any movement that does not see itself within the larger(c)atholic church that began at Pentecost, moved through the trials of the early church and medieval scholasticism, reformed with Luther, and persevered through modernity, will unfortunately think they are talking to Jesus in a dream, only to then realize they are their own man, on their own island, looking at their broken reflection in a dark well!

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