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A Hidden Treasure

There's a divine reason the church mirrors the culture.

Yet another book has crossed my desk bemoaning the sorry state of evangelicalism. And like many books before it, it highlights a number of scientific studies to prove it. The studies show that when it comes to rates of divorce, premarital sex, political bias, giving, or any number of social issues, "evangelicals" or the "born again" or "conservative Christians" (depending on the survey) are no better than the rest of America, and sometimes do worse.

These facts are usually followed by the dismayed evangelical author asking sometimes plaintively, sometimes prophetically: "Why does the church mirror the culture instead of lead it?" On the heels of righteous indignation come prescriptions and a pep talk. If the church would do "x"—something usually involving spiritual disciplines or church discipline—then the church would once again stand out as a city on a hill.

While we need prophets to exhort us to greater faithfulness, I tend to see such authors as inadvertent false prophets. I'm not thinking of the ones who lament our lukewarmness and then ask us to attend a $200 seminar to fix it. I'm thinking of the ones who are sincerely anxious about the state of the church. While their motives are good, their understanding of the church does not match Jesus' description of it.

I'm troubled by these authors' faith that statistics reveal deep realities of church life or spiritual growth—and by the sheer clumsiness with which they handle numbers. Christian Smith and John Stackhouse have already elaborated on this in articles in Books & Culture. My main concern lies elsewhere.

Their assumption that evangelical Christianity is supposed to be morally superior to other brands of the faith disturbs me. It shocks them when studies ...

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SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today and author, most recently, of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.
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