It’s all a joke until . . .

There is an unfortunate smugness permeating evangelicalism (yes, I’m still using the term “evangelicalism” even as I become increasingly sympathetic to D.G. Hart’s analysis in Deconstructing Evangelicalism as well as Carl Trueman’s recent musings at Reformation 21). By this I mean a readiness to critique American Christianity in a self-righteous manner.

It’s been my observation that evangelicals spend far too much time finding various segments of the church that the world would laugh at and joining them in that laughter. Worse, many evangelicals want to be the first to crack up.

How does this manifest itself? Usually in a sarcastic rebellion against any real or perceived form of moral legalism. Evangelicals seem to be tripping over themselves to show a snickering world that our “religion” is not like our father’s. Indeed, we don’t have a list of rules to live by or codes of conduct. We want to show the world that we’ve stripped evangelicalism of all those “trappings” and can enjoy the world just like non-believers. We can drink, smoke, speak, and purchase just like our secular neighbors–and we’ll laugh out loud at the remnant of Christians that still think holiness matters. (Examples of this are readily available in our local churches, on blogs and social networking platforms, and in the evangelical publishing industry.)

The book of James is a sobering wake-up call for evangelicals drunk with this kind of smugness. James is blood-earnest in his drive to root out false faith while demonstrating what genuine faith looks like. Consider just these radical passages:

  • Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (1:19-21).
  • Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (1:27).
  • You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4).

What so many of us call legalism and shun, James seems to think is our life. Indeed, genuine faith looks like something–something beautifully unlike the world.

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