My friend Krista Dalton tweeted last week:
Was told Lent was “stupid” by a fellow Christian at school. Good reminder why I am not evangelical!
I had to fes’ up to her that I used to say crap like that and I repented.
So what is it about Lent that evangelicals hate so much? I have a two-tiered theory.
The first involves a Theology of Glory. The second is not a cause – it is an effect – but it is born our of strangeness and suspicion.
Theology of Glory
Back in Christian history, back to the roots of evangelicalism in the Protestant Reformation, are two major approaches (if you will). The first is a Theology of the Cross held up by Luther. The second is a Theology of Glory brought forward by Calvin.
I don’t have time to get into all the sorted details, but suffice to say … that the American evangelical church has not just majored in a Theology of Glory but almost to the near neglect of a Theology of Cross.
Here is a really helpful article on the differences:
“Theologies of glory” are approaches to Christianity (and to life) that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or to move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end-an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential. As Luther puts it, the theologian of glory “does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.” The theology of glory is the natural default setting for human beings addicted to control and measurement. This perspective puts us squarely in the driver’s seat, after all.
It’s not that we don’t like the cross – oh we love the Cross – we sing about it (the wonderful cross) and we wear them around our necks!
It’s so bad that Dallas Willard has coined the phrase “Vampire Christians” for us. He says that we love Jesus for his blood and little else. Ouch – that one stings.
It shows up in other ways too. We are almost completely ignorant of the apophatic tradition. We are so kataphatic (speaking of God in the positive) that we have no idea that there are other options! We have no negativa or posteri – it is all presence all time.
Look at our worship services. Just ask yourself: what would it take to lift your hands and sing “Shout to the Lord” at the top of your lungs … and then ask if that seems compatible with fasting or Lent. They are just two different muscle groups. Unfortunately, those who use the one often neglect the other and vice-versa
Strangeness and Suspicion
I’m not saying that this element causes the unfamiliarity – but once there is alienation this next element adds fuel to the fire. The suspicion is syncretism.
Think about it this way: Lent isn’t in the Bible. Historically evangelicals have been a sola scriptura bunch (don’t look into that too much) and Lent is a foreign concept. It doesn’t’ take long to dig up some dirt on Lent and find out that it has its roots in Egyptian-Pagan worship borrowed by the Roman cults. Isis lost a son for 40 days so we mourn for 40 days and then have Isis eggs that are colorfully decorated is the story that come to me.
So, I’m not saying that explains all of the animosity that evangelicals have toward Lent, but I just wanted to offer up my two-tiered theory.
It starts with neglect and ends with accusations.
It’s same reason that we kinda try on Good Friday … have NO idea what to do on Saturday … but LOVE Resurrection Sunday!
February 21, 2013 at 7:01 pm
I’m not sure I completely agree. I’ve been an evangelical, working in an evangelical church and we’ve been observing Lent as a body for quite a long time. There are a few folks here that are anti-lent because of some past experiences, but overall our people are very positive about Lent.
February 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm
That is great to hear! So cool.
Unfotunatly … it has been my overwheliming experience that this is not the majority case.
I’m happy for you. I really am. But across the board … I have seen quite the opposite. -Bo
February 22, 2013 at 3:39 am
yeah, I’ve run into that lot as well. But I would put them in the fundamentalist category rather than evangelical. At least, that’s how I think about it.
March 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm
“…we have NO idea what to do on Saturday…”
Might be some of the truest words you’ve ever said, Bo. 🙂
I’m not sure I’ve linked these two thoughts together before.
We have some kind of trauma or crisis or revelation. It can be somber sometimes intense. Much the same way Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and a need for repentance. But then come the next 40 days. We believe, in faith, that there is resurrection and life at the end, somewhere in the future. So we decide to believe it, much like Tony’s “God, today I choose to believe you exist,” over and over again, even though we’re still in the midst of a lot of ambiguity and darkness and possibly even danger. But what do we do in the meantime? What do you do with the time between when the promise is spoken, and when the promise comes to fulfillment.
Revelation may happen immediately. But transformation always has a Saturday. Sometimes a really long one. A very real and tangible demonstration of the concept of the “already, and not yet,” And we do not know what to do with it. It’s easier to do something (anything) including throwing stones at the very proposition, than to sit in the uncertainty and ambiguity, the unresolved chord.
Lent is the season of Saturday. No wonder so many of us tend to spend the whole time like we’re standing around awkwardly with our hands in our pockets.
March 6, 2013 at 12:53 am
I really love your take on this 🙂 -Bo