If you had the will or inclination to comb through the Christian blogosphere yesterday you would have seen many Lenten and Ash Wednesday reflections about Sin, Confession and our mortality. Many have observed, and to which I add my voice, that among current Evangelicals there is a discomfort with confession and penitence. I preached a sermon a couple of years back on Psalm 51 and observed that our discomfort with sin, is really discomfort with talking about our own sin and confessing it. My friend Axel tweeted yesterday, “Why does penitence seem so foreign to evangelicals now? It’s certainly in the Bible!” I tweeted back that evangelicals no longer read their bibles, a fact of which we are in sad agreement.
So if we can agree that confession of sin is something that is part of the biblical (and Christian) spiritual life, why don’t we do it?
I can think of several cultural factors which contribute to us getting honest with God and one another about our sin:
1. We’ve over-corrected our bad evangelism
Years ago Evangelicals thought the way to get people see their need is to show people how bad they were (because otherwise why would they want a God?). There is a certain internal logic to this and people do come to Christ being brought by the Spirit under conviction of Sin. Unfortunately preachers and evangelists have seen fit to do the Spirit’s work and have employed every method they know how to make people feel guilty, sinful and rotten to the core. Evangelicals today look at some of these methods as manipulation, judgmental and they cringe and rightfully so. Unfortunately this has signaled a retreat in addressing personal sin, almost all together.
2. We live in a self-help, therapeutic culture.
Most of us have not read I’m Okay, You’re Okay but we have imbibed its message (I think, I haven’t read it). Our culture is infatuated with helping people achieve their best, be their best, be comfortable in their own skin and follow their bliss. And the church follows. Do you want to write a Christian book that no one will read? Write about holiness or write about repentance. It won’t make the Christian best sellers list. What does? Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now and books of that ilk. Whatever the merits of books like that are (I don’t know I haven’t read them) they are written to appeal to our longing for self fulfillment but do not face our weaknesses.
3. The church has a leadership fetish.
Everywhere you look there are books, conferences, speakers, personalities which tell us how to be effective and successful leaders. You can take tests which gage your strengths, your Emotional intelligence, your gifts, your leadership style. I have taken some of these tests and read a lot of leadership books and see their value, but they don’t tell the whole story. Tom Rath’s Strength Finder 2.0 urges you to play to your strengths and leadership and not spend all your time and energy developing your ‘weak areas.’ There is a certain logic to this, but when applied to our moral life and character it is deadly.
4. We live in a culture of tolerance .
The motto of our current culture is: different strokes for different folks. Nobody wants to be seen as intolerant and judgmental of other people’s decisions (unless they infringe on us personally) so we have grown accustom to not addressing issues of sin in our culture. Is it any wonder that we do not recognize the sin of our own heart?
5. But this is who I am and it feels right
Without starting a debate on my blog on hotly debated political and theological issues the assumption that activities that feel natural should always be enjoyed is flawed. We live in a culture where personal preferences and desires exert a tyrannical rule over our lives. We all want the freedom to pursue the things we enjoy, but a disordered desire always takes us down a tangled path. With the wider culture, evangelicals have lost the ability to name internal sin. We are still good at pointing out when someone has crossed the line, but we have grown lousy at naming the ways our own passions bring us to ruin.
Put together is it any wonder that evangelicals no longer give much thought to penitence? Certainly there are issues and emphases in the history of evangelicalism that we are wise to not repeat, but naming our own sins is not one of them. As you enter this season what are you doing to reign in the sin of your own heart?