Saturday, September 20, 2008

Take the Insider's Tour of Evangelicalism

I'm a former Baptist missionary, aid worker, and Senior Writer for World Vision. I want to take you on an insider tour of evangelicalism, one of the fastest growing religious movements in America today. If you’re tired of Bible thumping or were ever tempted to thump a Bible thumper, this tour could be your cure. Laced with wit and humor (I hope you think so too), my journey takes you from my conversion amidst the 1970s Jesus Movement to Muslim animistic Africa with plenty of church-experience stops along the way to expose the good, bad, and the ugly of the evangelical movement.

But I don't stop there. Often disillusioned with evangelical institutions and dogma, I venture into the realm of the radical Left and their response to the Christian Right, only to find that religious conservatives don’t have a monopoly on fundamentalist mindsets. With clowns to the Christian Right and jokers to the secular Left, what is the average Joe to do who believes in God, is weary of organized religion, enjoys sex, watches the Daily Show (OK, Comedy Central also works), and can’t turn down a good microbrew? Well, before you throw in the towel and affix the new nifty atheist symbol to your bumper, you might want to check out my proposed alternate way: recover a reasonable faith that takes the New Testament call for freedom from man-made religion seriously, rejects narrow literalism, and insists on going where the evidence leads.

In my unique iconoclastic style (again, I hope so), I explore the fundamentalist roots of the church, charismatic and mainstream evangelicalism, the new progressives, including the emergent church, and over reactions to the Christian Right such as the writings of Bishop Shelby Spong and Sam Harris. By weaving personal stories and anecdotes together with some of the most controversial hot-potato issues of our day, I ponder such thought-provoking questions as these while answering them with clear reasoning and meticulous references from scholars, historians, and scientists:

• How and why do some Christians abuse the Bible?
• Why is the traditional doctrine of hell based more on tradition than on what the Bible truly affirms?
• Why is the evangelical church wrong on the gay rights issue?
• What’s all this rigmarole about the end of the world and Jesus’ return?
• Why are Christians wrong when they claim someone like Gandhi isn’t “saved?”
• Is there a reasonable way to solve the religion vs. science debate?
• Is materialistic atheism really ruling the day intellectually?
• And the real stumper, Can we ever recover from the damage done by the Teletubbies?

If you want to learn how to squash fundamentalism wherever it rears its ugly head, on the Right or the Left, and yearn for some clarity in religious thought and the culture wars, my tour in the form of a new book called Confessions of a Bible Thumper, may be your ticket to an authentic and progressive spirituality independent of dogmatic trappings. What part of this tour are you fascinated with?


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael
I chanced upon your blog while doing web searches on Philo Thelos. I have grown up through the 80's/90's as an evangelical Christian, invested an inordinate amount of time 'serving' in church ministries, only to be asked to serve even more. I am tired, cynical about evangelicalism, devoid of a life outside of my church circle, and did I mention that I have also spent the last two decades trying to be healed and delivered from homosexuality?
Reading your posts injected me with fresh hopes that it is possible to be set free from the legalistic excesses in evangelicalism without swinging all the way to godless liberalism. I am glad to be able to start considering loving Jesus passionately without having my spirituality measured by my consistency in quiet time, ability to quote scriptures from memory, and whether or not i masturbate. I hope you blog often and I look forward to reading more of your insights.

Michael said...

Yes, love God and Jesus without being bound by others' litmus tests and measuring rods for spirituality. Add to the list, attend an institutional church, tithe, serve in church ministries, adhere to statements of faith, drink alcohol, smoke, read erotic literature, etc., etc, ad nauseam. Legalistic religion has lost sight of the principal that Jesus and Paul explained--love God and your neighbor and you have fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Or as Martin Luther said, "Love God and do as you please." Religionists don't want people to govern themselves under the "law of love," they want to hand out written and unwritten lists.

Michael said...

I'm really glad my posts have given you fresh hope that we can love Jesus without the religious trappings.

Brad said...

I went to church a few times, both evangelical and progressive/mainline and catholic and orthodox. I got absolutely nothing out of it.
To be blunt, I don't need Jesus' permission to read whatever I want. Or Martin Luther's (a violent anti-semite), either. The bible has some interesting passages, but a lot of it is either unfathomable, ridiculous or disgusting; why bother with it?
Religion reminds me of those 'exercise' machines sold about 40 years ago, the ones that had loops attached to machines that shook the fat away. Turns out they did nothing, wasted people's time and effort and money and people ended up about as physically fit as they'd been before all the effort and money and time.
If something asks you to spend money, time and energy on it and you're no farther along than those who haven't used it or done it, it is a waste of time, effort and money.
Please don't tell me that I need faith to be a better person. There are fewer atheists in prison than our numbers warrant, especially for violent crimes. If you think there's a correlation between belief and crime, you're right-but it's in favor of non-belief, rather like the correlation between non-smoking and lung cancer.

Michael said...

I have no problem with atheists if they don't have an axe to grind and are just going where they see the evidence leading. Bear in mind, others disagree with you and find meaning in Jesus' teaching. Yes, Luther was an anti-semite, regrettably. America's founding fathers were slave owners too. People are imperfect. Yes, I find good people among atheists. My big idea is that Religion (with an "R") is organized and therefore controlling and manipulative, but religious thought is free of institutionalization and can be meaningful, powerful, and life-changing.