In his Christianity Today article “The Scandal of the Public Evangelical” Mark Galli gives a stark challenge to the evangelical movement. Pointing to the many recent scandals that have involved evangelicals, he writes, “We assume that with sufficient exhortation and moral effort, our sins will become smaller than a widow’s mite and our righteousness larger than life. This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle.”
I found a number of things troubling about Galli’s argument. The first was his starting point: the failing of a few public evangelicals, in particular Carrie Prejean, the Gosselins, and Mark Sanford.
It seems to me that Galli has fallen victim to the celebrity based mentality so prevalent in our media driven culture, a culture that is normally very hostile to evangelicals, at least when they are not just ignoring them. The sad story of Carrie Prejean, Miss California, demonstrates this very well. She rockets to fame because she took a mild stance in favor of traditional marriage, and for that she becomes a star for evangelicals, and target for the media.
This brings me to one of Galli’s statements that I believe was exaggerated to the point of being a straw man. This was his claim that “our sins will become smaller than a widow’s mite and our righteousness larger than life.” Now perhaps that is what he is hearing on Sunday mornings, but it has not been my experience. In fact, I see almost the opposite; the stress on being just “sinners saved by grace” to the point of downplaying of sin; the increased stress on the praise portion of the service, and the downplaying of the actual study of the Bible; the growing idea among the young that church is a fun activity rather than a serious commitment to God.
But even if that were not the case, Prejean’s is to me more an example of the viciousness of the media than any weakness among evangelicals. Even if we could all reach perfection in Christ, we would still all have a past, and given enough media animosity, a past that could be exposed. After all just look how Jesus was attacked, and he was perfect. So how much more can we, mere sinners, be attacked.
Neither the Gosselins nor Mark Sanford are representative of what I would consider “average” evangelical role models. They are the “role models” the world chooses for us, but they should not be the role models we as the body of Christ look to. Our role models are of little interest to the world but can be found in virtually every church should we care to look. They are those who live godly lives of service, with little or no fanfare, but a love for the Lord.
Galli’s argument has at its root an additional flaw. If we seriously follow Christ I do believe, in Galli’s words, “that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle.” Following Christ will have an impact on us, how we live, and how we interact with others. This, in fact can be seen in the decline in things like honesty in the culture as it has moved away from Christianity and embraced a more secular view.
But there is a huge difference between better and perfect. We are not, and I believe never will be, in this world at least, perfect followers of Christ. We all still struggle with sin, and will continue do so while we live. But we are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and leading a spirit filled life will have a impact on how we live. It will not make us perfect, but it will, if we seek to follow our Lord, make us better. And this should be something we have to offer the world. That so many Christians often resemble the world is, I believe, a failure of the Church.
That said, Galli does make a valid point that this is not the only thing we have to offer the world. It is not even the primary thing we have to offer. As he points out toward the end of his article, “What we offer the world is not ourselves or our moral example or our spiritual integrity. What we offer the world is our broken lives, saying, ‘We are sinners saved by grace.’ What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
That is, and always should be our primary message to a world that is lost; the message of Gospel. The recent public failures should serve only to remind us that the world is hostile to the message of God and will use whatever it can to discredit it. This will not change, nor will Christians in the limelight cease to disappoint us from time to time. But our goal is not to please a celebrity enthralled culture, it is to reach world with the Gospel, and to serve a risen Lord.