Core Contemporary Evangelical Concepts
If we would take a thousand typical evangelical sermons, ones preached by prominent evangelical pastors, and extract the underlying message regarding the relationship of the individual to God, the core residual concepts would be as follows:
- We are saved by grace. Grace entails God accepting us just as we are—unconditionally. Therefore, we are saved by acknowledging and receiving the gift of God’s unconditional acceptance.
- The Christian life does not consist of a list of do’s and don’t’s. Christ delivered us from legalism. Rather, as believers we need to recognize that when God looks on us He does not see our flaws and mistakes, but rather He sees Christ—i.e. we are accepted in the Beloved. Therefore, the essence of the Christian life entails recognizing that God accepts us unconditionally. We don’t have to perform to be accepted by Him. As the song teaches, “It is not in trying but in trusting.”
- As we live in the awareness of God’s unconditional acceptance, this will transform us into the person God wants us to be.
In summary, salvation and Christian living both are based on God’s unconditional acceptance, and as we experience God’s unconditional acceptance we are transformed into the person God wants us to be.
Parallels to the Model of Carl Rogers
This evangelical message parallels the model of Carl Rogers (described in a previous post) in two fundamental ways.
- Rogers and evangelicals both teach that for us to be healthy people we need to receive unconditional acceptance from significant others. Evangelicals further believe this need for unconditional acceptance is fulfilled by God, the ultimate significant other.
- Both Rogers’ theory and the evangelical message teach that unconditional acceptance comprises the change agent. Therefore, evangelicals conclude that becoming the person God designed us to be does not result from trying to keep rules but from the experiencing of God’s unconditional acceptance.
The Cause and Cure of Human Pathologies
Another similarity to the model of Rogers is found in the evangelical view that our problems stem from the conditional acceptance, the pharisaical legalism, displayed by many churches and individuals. They condemn unbelievers with their hell fire and brimstone presentation of the gospel. Likewise, they seek to keep believers in line by conveying that we can only be accepted by God if we keep a list of rules, by performing. This heaps condemnation and the resulting guilt on individuals, making them feel that they are never good enough, which inflicts the individual with both psychological and spiritual maladies and drives them away from Christianity. Instead of administering healing and restoration, these judgmental types comprise the only army that shoots its wounded.
By way of contrast, contemporary evangelicals call Christians to follow the model of Christ by extended unconditional acceptance to others. Sharing the gospel entails conveying God’s unconditional acceptance to the pre-evangelized. Likewise, their interaction with other believers is characterized by the unconditional acceptance of Christ. This is especially the objective of church leadership, who seek to create an environment in which those attending do not feel judged but instead can breathe the air of God’s unconditional acceptance. In keeping with this objective, sermons are geared to make people understand that they are objects of God’s grace—not His condemnation.
We find, then, that American evangelical culture in many ways reflects American secular culture, especially its cornerstone of unconditional acceptance propagated by Carl Rogers. It should be emphasized that the positions above constitute core evangelical teachings. They represent the essence of the contemporary evangelical message regarding our relationship with God, the nature of the Christian life, and the mission of the church.
This raises the question of whether the set of core evangelical beliefs presented above is compatible with Scripture or whether they constitute impurities from secular culture that have infiltrated evangelical thinking. Yet another possibility, suggested by some evangelicals, is that these concepts have been latent in the Bible all along but have now come to light through the teaching of Carl Rogers related to unconditional acceptance—i.e. that Rogers through his psychological research stumbled onto biblical truth.
The posts ahead will provide analysis of these contemporary evangelical perspectives.