Three Errors of Evangelicalism

Jason Micheli —  January 23, 2018 — 4 Comments

Thanks to professors at UVA and Princeton, I first fell in love with Martin Luther and John Calvin by tracking back to them through the footnotes in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Even Barth admitted he would’ve made a good Lutheran. The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year past prompted me to reread a lot of Luther without Karl chaperoning. What I’ve (re)discovered in Luther is someone who is able to diagnose my dis-ease with evangelicalism.

One of the charms of Martin Luther (if you’re predisposed towards him) is how gun shy he was not when it came to polemic and bald assertion. More than any other church ‘father’ Luther wasn’t afraid to risk being wrong in arguing what was at stake in being right. In that same spirit, owing to Luther, here are three errors inherent in evangelicalism.

Proving that evangelicalism (or, really, pietism) is the water in which we all swim, these errors are just as often evident in the mainline church, especially in the UMC, as they are in your friendly neighborhood bible or baptist church.

Evangelicalism denies the complete reconciliation of humanity with God through the saving death of Christ upon the Cross, which amounts to a denial of Christ himself. Redemption, contrary to what you’ll hear from most evangelicals and- because they’re the majority- Methodists too, is complete.

The sins of the world, all of them, have been blotted out. Neither Christ nor Paul is a liar. It is finished; therefore, there is now no condemnation for sinners.

If Christ died for the sins of all people, then that’s the same as all people dying and making satisfaction for their sins. Nothing, therefore, is required of any of us save the faith which saves. Righteousness lies ready to be received it is not achieved.

Evangelicalism turns the Gospel into a conditional promise, contingent upon the disposition of the hearer. Whether it’s 3 biblical principles for an improved marriage, 5 tips to become a better you, 7 steps to tap into the fullness of the Spirit, or just inviting Jesus into your heart- all of which are derivative of the anxious bench altar call- evangelicalism is premised upon what you need to do to get to Christ rather than getting you to recognize that God in Christ has already gotten to you by coming down and dying for your sins and, by baptism, incorporated you into Christ fully.

The Gospel promise, shorn of any ifs ands or buts, is one in which we’re passive objects at best. In the Gospel, God carries the action of the verbs, for it is not Gospel if God is not the subject of the verbs.

Evangelicalism manipulates “faith” into a work by making it the mechanism by which we are the agents of our salvation. Evangelicalism, in other words, makes the same rhetorical blunder as the rich young ruler who asked “What must I do to be saved?” The answer to the rich young ruler is the same given to the jailor in Acts 16: “You are to do nothing except accept what God has done for you.”

Faith, according to the New Testament, is not a rational decision such that “making a decision for Christ” is what saves you; faith is the trusting recognition that Christ has saved you by his shed blood for sinners. Faith contributes nothing to salvation. Just as God created Adam’s world ex nihilo so God kills the Old Adam in us and makes of us a New Creation ex nihilo.

Faith does not contribute; faith clings to Christ who already contributed everything necessary for our salvation.

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Jason Micheli


4 responses to Three Errors of Evangelicalism

  1. Daniel Hungerford January 23, 2018 at 8:40 AM

    So, if I understand this correctly, are you saying that everyone is automatically saved? What about when Jesus told the woman at the well to go and sin no more. Isn’t repentance a thing? Paul said we aren’t supposed to keep sinning so that Grace will increase… I’m a little confused by what you’re saying….

  2. I love the description of following Luther through Barth’s small print — I’ve done the same myself! So, this is really good, but…. Luther finally gets to where he does by denying any human free will at all. Melancthon quickly modifies this. Don’t we _have_ to modify it, somewhat? The Gospel does call for an authentically human response (as the Catholic Catechism puts it), which, while not in any way earning the fruits of the Gospel, and while not turning the response into a mere transaction, is nevertheless in some real, human sense “free.” This part of the instinct of pietism — including later Lutheran pietism! — should be affirmed, even if we have to maintain that tension between human freedom and Divine grace.

  3. You wrote: “Nothing, therefore, is required of any of us save the faith which saves.” Later you wrote: “Faith contributes nothing to salvation.” Aren’t these two assertions contradictory? If faith is required of us because it saves, how can it be that it contributes nothing to salvation?

  4. Thanks JASON! I really appreciated your “Three Errors of Evangelisim” art. I will read/look for more great stuff!
    I am retired and living in Lithuania.

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