Seeker-sensitive Christianity

Although I was rudely ejected from American Thinker by its editor a couple of years ago, for the anti-Semitic sin of describing supporters of President Bush’s democratization policy as “neoconservatives,” it’s good to see that some traditionalist thinkers are nevertheless getting published there. Alan Roebuck has an interesting and disturbing piece on a profound transformation taking place within evangelical Christianity—and, I suspect, within much of Christianity as a whole. He calls it “seeker-sensitive” Christianity. The view of seeker-sensitive evangelical pastors, who Roebuck says now form a majority of evangelical pastors, is that Christians today will not be attracted to real Christianity, with its unwelcome news that man is a sinner in need of atonement. In order to fill their pews, seeker-sensitive pastors give their congregations feel good sermons, self-esteem, and self-help. Writes Roebuck: they “have no interest in what [Rick] Warren (and theological liberals) dismissively call ‘doctrine,’ that is, the actual content of the religion preached by Christ and the Apostles.”

Roebuck then cleverly applies the idea of seeker-sensitive Christianity to conservatism, via a traditionalist analysis. He argues that there is a seeker-sensitive conservatism which consists of opposing specific liberal policies, because that is easy and fun, rather than opposing liberalism as such, because that is difficult and because the conservatives themselves believe in liberalism and don’t want to give it up—just as people are attached to their sins and don’t want to give them up. But just as true Christians are called to follow Christ, not just feel-good sermons and music, true conservatives are called to oppose liberalism as such, not just a handful of especially egregious and easy-to-target liberal policies.

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Alan Roebuck writes:

Thanks. While your post is substantially correct, one point should be emphasized:

Seeker-sensitive Christianity is distinct from the liberal Christianity that is more familiar, I think, to traditionalists. Whereas liberal Christian pastors explicitly disbelieve the troubling doctrines (mostly the ones having to do with the supernatural and with punishment of sinners), seeker-sensitive clergy generally do believe these doctrines. What makes them seeker-sensitive is that they have knowingly signed on to a program, created (or at least perfected) by Rick Warren, which allows them to continue to believe these doctrines, and teach them to those parishioners who indicate a desire to learn them, while at the same time effectively “censoring” them from the worship service, i.e., the place where visitors go to learn about Christianity. So a seeker could attend for many years, and have only a vague idea of Christianity.

This is especially insidious, because it takes a great deal of insight and research for the average churchgoer to realize what’s going on. People such as me who blow the whistle often receive irate messages from members of seeker-sensitive churches accusing us of lying: after all, they say, “I heard our pastor preach the Gospel just last Sunday.” But it is a “Gospel” tailored to contain just enough Christian terminology to satisfy the conscience of the evangelical pastor preaching it, but not so much content that the seekers will be offended. [LA replies: It’s just like modern conservatism: conservative in form, liberal in substance.]

Furthermore, Warren has written books and websites for pastors, in which he lays out explicitly his philosophy and plan. We don’t have to infer what he’s up to from his sermons, he has explicitly told of his desire for a “second Reformation,” in which the focus of the church is changed from teaching “doctrine” to a plan (he calls it his P.E.A.C.E. plan; I forget the exact acronym) for global social transformation which he is attempting to implement through the cooperation of international leaders, both Christian (mostly) and non-Christian.

Kristor writes:

Seeker-sensitive Christianity? This is bass-ackwards, no? One of the first lessons of Christianity—or for that matter of any religion whatsoever—is that it’s not about you, and you should get over yourself. And what an amazing and wonderful relief that is! Thinking it is all about you is the infant’s version of idolatry; getting over it, and worshipping the god instead, is the very first step in religious consciousness.

I know nothing about Rick Warren, but if this is what the Evangelical tradition is coming to, then I am sad to say that it’s over, its leaven exhausted—just as Rome predicted 400 odd years ago. This because it can’t last long. Rodney Stark has found that the more a religion demands of its adherents, the stronger its hold on them, the faster it grows, or—if it does not proselytize—the more likely it is to survive. Orthodox Jews and Amish pay heavily for their faith, and are heavily committed. Ditto for monastics of all stripes. And ditto for old-time Evangelicals. It is a principle well-known to salesmen: the more a customer must pay for a deal, the greater his emotional commitment thereto—and the more likely he is to feel well-satisfied. But it goes deeper than that. The religious life is, Stark would argue, essentially an economic bet: your old life, with all its disappointments, in exchange for a new. If your new life boils down to your old life with a few ritual obeisances thrown in, how wonderful can it possibly be? It’ll be mostly the same old thing, no? “Seeker-sensitive Christianity” sounds like a way to chew the same old cud a bit more carefully. Even if you get a Cadillac out of the deal, how much better is a Caddy than your old Ford, when the confrontation with the grave is in the final analysis the question at hand? But if your new life involves heroism of one sort or another—heroic asceticism or charity in the case of Christianity or Buddhism, heroic jihad in the case of Islam—how wrong can it be? Is not heroism—the sacrifice of the self in favor of a larger nobler cause—the basic ingredient of the good life?

My religion—Anglo-Catholicism—asks me to spend an hour now and then on my knees, dressed like an old-money WASP, and to give say one percent of my income to the church. In other words, it asks almost nothing (I take Anglo-Catholicism a lot more seriously than it takes me). Under Stark’s hypothesis, Anglo-Catholicism is not likely to last. But it will last a lot longer than Warren’s watered down Evangelicalism, if for no other reason than that it expects me, every time I participate in its animating liturgy, to confess my sins and profess my obedience.

George R. writes:

“But if your new life involves heroism of one sort or another—heroic asceticism or charity in the case of Christianity or Buddhism, heroic jihad in the case of Islam—how wrong can it be?”

Kristor is peddling pure relativism. I’m surprised that no one else at this site has seen this.

LA replies:

I agree that Kristor needs to explain his comment, which does seem to be saying that the intensity and sincerity of one’s belief is the proof that it is true.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 02, 2008 12:41 PM | Send

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