The gerbil is a cute but vicious animal. We sell them at pet stores and keep them in tanks with wood chips and water bottles, feeding them pellets. But these are social animals, needing to live with those of their same clan, their same family. And are known to kill those of different origins than themselves. Evil, vicious animals really. Cute but evil.
What about evangelicals? Cute but evil? Probably not to many, but to some on the outside looking in, that is what they see. Cute in their own ways; with their own language; their own families; their own tribes to which they gather around and keep close to themselves. But many people see them as those who are known to attack others outside of their clan, their tribe as well, those who aren’t like them, those who are different than themselves.
What is an evangelical anyway? An evangelical is a branch of Christianity. A branch long seen from the outside as fundamentalist. A branch long seen as against modernity, against culture, against even the current age of post-modernity or even as some call it, post-Christendom. Dude. Heavy stuff.
Let me back up here a moment. Modernity? Post-Modernity? Post-Christendom? Wow. Okay. What the heck. You might be thinking that this was supposed to be about cute Christian rodents or something.
There are a number of scholars who say that we’re living in a world that the church is no longer the center of society. And that we’ve been living not only in a world where the church is no longer center but that there is a pluralistic sense of life where Christianity is no longer the center, main religion but seen as one of many. That from the 4th century (getting nerdy here) when Christianity was first made into a legal religion until about 50 years ago, western society (western Europe, North America, etc) was seen as mainly Christian, hence Christendom. This has changed in the last 50 years. And there are some who haven’t caught on to the fact that things have changed.
And things have changed. And many evangelical Christians are seen by the outside to have not noticed the change. In fact, it seems from the outside like the evangelical church is trying to catch up to the 90’s.
There seems to be seen from the outside, a desire of evangelical Christians want to make things they way they used to be. And when that doesn’t happen, they appear to be retreatist in nature, forming their own communities, using their own language, and attacking those that are outside of their own circles–much like cute little vicious gerbils. Evangelicals are even known from the outside world to shoot their own wounded.
Many evangelicals have shied away from mainline denominations, creating nondenominational churches, churches where there is no structure but only the lead pastor. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some great churches with structure and accountability like Willow Creek, but that is the exception, not the norm. And some of these evangelical churches have become huge, taking over giant malls and football stadiums. While some mainline denominations are in decline, there is a rise in large number of mega churches, bringing in people from other churches in droves.
Harsh words? I don’t know. I’m a pastor of a small church in west Michigan. It could be easily said that I’m jealous. It could be said that I’m fighting against my own brothers and sisters in Christ.
Instead, this is a desperate plea. People are leaving the church in droves. There is in evangelical circles where people have watered down the Gospel message to just happy thoughts and health and wealth. If you think the right attitude, say the right prayer, do the right thing, then you have fire insurance and a get out of hell free card. That’s not Christianity. That’s not deep. It’s thin and shallow (sorry).
And then people wonder why there is a mass exodus out of the church, mainly by those who are called the Millennial generation. Gen Xers have left the church, so have Baby Boomers. Why?
Evangelical gerbils. Evangelical gerbils who have run in evangelical circles for so long that they have lost what it means to be in the world but not of it. There is too much not being in the world but of it instead where they seem to live like the rest and not be distinct and different. There is no longer a distinctiveness to it. There is no longer an authenticity to things. There is no longer a differentness to it. It is just one sub-group amongst many others.
This is the call for Christians everywhere in a post-Christendom world–live differently. Live in such a way that you are different from the rest. The past is gone. Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow’s yet to come. Live today differently and distinctly. Live today in such a way that you don’t look like a gerbil but like Jesus.
What can the church do today that’s different than the rest? What can the church do to not look like gerbils but instead look like the body of Christ that it is supposed to be like? Good questions to ponder. How can we not be like Evangelical gerbils?