"We can't support that?" the campus ministry leader informed us. "Not unless you include a tract or share the gospel in some way." My college roommate Dave and I had requested some material and volunteer support from the parachurch organization for a new project Dave had initiated. He wanted to show God's love on campus by raking leaves, cleaning frat houses, and providing hot chocolate on cold mornings. The ministry leader would have none of it. Showing kindness and love was not enough. For these acts to carry real value, he said, they had to be accompanied by something more.

That experience 20 years ago was my first encounter with the evangelical value of efficiency. One of the blessings of the evangelical tradition is it's commitment to proclaiming the gospel–a call that many other streams of Christianity have abandoned. This missional focus, however, is often accompanied by a tyrannical urgency that results in the devaluing of every other call. If the direct missional value of an activity cannot be demonstrated it is often dismissed as useless or at most a distraction from the saving of souls. The result is what I call "evangelical austerity"–the shedding of all activities and investments deemed unnecessary for soul-saving.

Evangelical austerity not only explains the campus ministry's refusal to help us rake leaves or clean up beer cans, but also the dreadful architecture of many evangelical buildings. A few weeks ago I was privileged to preach at the U.S. Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. The building is a soaring cathedral of stone and stained glass that seems out of place on this side of the Atlantic. The beauty of the space not only assists but also provokes worship. I can't remember the last time I felt ...

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