Evangelicalism — a modern Christian heresy

Oct 20, 2017 by

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As Gnosticism was a Christian movement that was refuted as heresy, evangelicalism is a Christian movement with ideas that go far afield from Jesus, the Gospels and Christian orthodoxy.

I have come to this conclusion after several years. From my earliest job out of college doing audio-visuals about Christian service for young people, I was thrust into contacts and tasks with evangelicals.

Of course, interacting with Mennonite congregations and conferences for more than 25 years brought me in working relationships with many evangelicals, who also happened to be Mennonite. One of my high school Bible teachers was trained in an evangelical Bible college (as are most evangelical pastors). He brought his training to our classroom at a time when I did not know evangelical distinctions.

Being the Mennonite representative on the board of a local Campus Life/Youth for Christ Teen Center and then its interim director took me to exciting large rallies in several cities, and it taught me about their approach to becoming Christian and to what good Christians should believe.

Here is what I learned mainstream evangelicals believe:

True faith must be acquired and expressed in certain prescribed ways and phrases, such as “born again.” That alone would not make it a heresy. But I question the insistence that a person cannot be saved unless he says being born again is his experience.

The Bible is equally inspired throughout without error. Unfortunately, this position keeps them from a personal questioning engagement and wrestling with Scripture. It keeps rigorous study and scrutiny from being their academic experience, as in many seminaries. Evangelicals mainly see their role as defenders of Scripture.

My first awareness that all Scripture is not viewed as equally inspired, as evangelicals believe, came upon hearing a debate between the head of the National Association of Evangelicals and a Mennonite scholar who was a university president, Myron Augsburger. A group of us from the Penn State InterVarsity Christian Fellowship traveled to a nearby college for the debate. Augsburger espoused a high view of the Gospels through whose lens all other Scripture is to be viewed, namely and especially through the teachings and ministry of Jesus.

I’ve noted in the years since then that wherever this high view is held with any diligence and vigor, it works itself into congregational worship and teaching. My early days in youth ministry brought this to the fore. A staff colleague reported no one ever preached from the Gospels in her evangelical church. If a guest did, he was viewed as a liberal and not to be trusted. In addition, there was a board member, a Southern Baptist pastor, who held a common, very rigid prescribed statement of evangelical faith. He excluded every kind of Christian, from mainline to Pentecostals, as being of the devil, except his own.

“Faithfully following Jesus in life” are not words or encouragement you will hear in evangelical circles. The portion of Scripture evangelicals raise above others are the epistles, with the Apostle Paul being their chief revealer of Christian religion.

The clincher to place evangelicals in the heresy category among certain other Christian groups, past or present, is their belief that some individuals are beyond God’s creative workmanship, especially LGBTQ people, and who cannot be church members.

This leads to a false doctrine of God, who God is, God’s will, God’s realm and God’s work in the world. You will note that the evangelical’s position begins not with an extensive study of God, but a narrow study of certain words or situations in Scripture, such as homosexuality. No centering on God and Jesus’ teachings and whom Jesus calls, accepts, serves or ministers to.

Evangelicals have not trained themselves to search Scripture and the Word that became flesh in a fully rigorous, questioning manner in order to know and follow God.

Moral compromises are evangelicals’ main way of working in the world. Evangelicals in my lifetime have focused on electing Republicans, appointing conservative judges, and cultural/sexual/women’s issues. Very little of what their pastors preach and teach presents anything that Jesus proclaimed.

God as mystery and God’s role in bringing people to God’s self are topics unexplored by evangelicals. I remember an evangelical colleague literally weeping as he spoke about millions going to hell unless evangelicals invited them to be born again.

All the while I think of the dozens or hundreds that I know in mainline congregations who have never invited Jesus into their hearts, and never were born again. But, like the early disciples, they were invited to give the hungry food, to prepare meals for someone who lost a loved one, to help heal or provide shelter for the homeless, or welcomed an outcast or refugee into their community.

In time of crisis or just during a faithful time of quietude, they have responded, faithfully following Jesus, making themselves and their worship space a welcoming space for everyone from young mothers, fathers and children, people of many orientations and lifestyles, to the elderly and infirm.

As I look into the face of an older woman who has brought a huge pot of her homemade pasta to a homeless shelter, now diligently praying the rosary, fingers moving rapidly, silently, I think, yes, her faith is saving her. It’s as strong and certain for her salvation as any signed evangelical confession of being born again.

Jesse Glick of Middletown, Conn., is a member of First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Portland, and maintains his membership at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.


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  • Daniel Hoopert

    Jesse, You wrote, “The Bible is equally inspired throughout without error. Unfortunately, this position keeps them from a personal questioning engagement and wrestling with Scripture. It keeps rigorous study and scrutiny from being their academic experience, as in many seminaries.” I consider myself evangelical, and also Mennonite and Anabaptist. I attended both EMS and another seminary, and have been involved in reading what others have written, and in study of the Scriptures. I protest that evangelicals are very rigorous n studying and engaging Scripture. Very rigorous and thorough. When I say rigorous, I am referring to studying the text, and studying the text in its (especially) literary context. I must also say that no one can be a follower of Jesus unless that person has been renewed by faith in Jesus Christ as the one who died as a sacrifice to forgive that person’s sin; and no one can who accepts Christ on the basis of faith can continue to not be a disciple of Christ, dying daily, especially as Christ taught in Mark – dying to the things that a person would aspire to that would cause him or another person to sin, dying to things that a person would do that would cause him or someone else to sin, and dying to going to things that would cause him to sin or cause someone else to sin. That is, plucking out one’s eye, cutting of one’s hand, and cutting off one’s foot, if any of these cause a person to sin.

  • David Bontrager

    Which one of the triune Godhead is the greatest: GOD, JESUS or the HOLY SPIRIT? Are you
    suggesting that accepting the CROSS is not necessary for salvation, only replication of JESUS acts?
    I cannot turn water into wine, feed 5000, heal the sick. My acts of love and giving are good but are
    powerless for salvation of others to which we are called without acceptance of the blood of JESUS CHRIST in my heart. I view your words as false academic religion and heresy against the WORD which
    is GOD.

  • Rainer Moeller

    Everyone reads into the Gospel what he wants. Jesse Glick reads that people are saved by their own works. Paul and Luther read that sin is a central part of our life, that we have to live as a community of sinners and that there is still a chance for us as sinners to find forgiving: namely by faith in the substitutive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

    Now I have no problem with people who believe in their own goodness and look for their own way to happiness. Only, if people deny that salvation of sinners by substitutive sacrifice is possible, next step is they deny that we are at all a community of sinners and that sin and forgiving are central factors of human life. To deny the solution means to deny that there is a problem at first.

    As we are so open to LGBTQ people nowadays, may I tell you a bit about their (our) sexual lore? LGBTQ people have a slightly derogatory term for sex in which every allusion to the “dark” side of sex has been eliminated: “vanilla sex”. In exactly this sense, Jesse Glick and a lot of others are looking for a “vanilla faith”.

    • Jesse Glick

      No, you misquoted me. I quoted Jesus who says, “follow me and I will make you….” We are called by Jesus to do the works that he did and does. Following and Doing is the central part of the life of faith. Making Paul the central interpreter of the Jesus Way is my reason to say Evangelicalism is a Christian heresy.
      But still Christian, still part of Jesus’ body. as long as you return again and again to accept the Jesus who acknowledged God’s prophetic call and ordination of his ministry. All this baffled those in his “church” who thought they already knew God’s way to overcome sin. — Jesse Glick

  • Rainer Moeller

    By the way: Evangelicalism spread out of Methodism and was at first defined by its missionary zeal. (Fundamentalism came later, around 1900.)
    Now, even if modern Mennonites tend to be anti-evangelical, how come that they never criticize mission?

    The reason, as I see it, is structural. Mennonite thinking is determined by an oligarchy of professionals – pastors etc which share the same college influences and which get their income from the church. So they are interested in a “strong” church with many members and many money – so they are interested in mission as a means to get more members and more money.

  • Ken Fellenbaum

    This headline and article is so off base that I hardly know where or how to respond but will offer a few thoughts. First of all, “evangelical” comes from the word “Evangel” which means the Good News of God’s redemptive grace. Secondly, to state that “Evangelicalism” is a modern heresy is a gross misrepresentation – and an offense to those who defend the Scriptures as the Word of God and salvation thru faith alone – the main tenets of the Reformation.