The Pride That Pervades Me and Evangelicalism

Jun 17, 2022 by David Fowler

The Pride That Pervades Me and Evangelicalism
It is “Pride Month” for those who believe in the LGBTQ community’s understanding of human identity and dignity. Many in the conservative evangelical community who know what the Bible says about pride condemn even the concept of celebrating pride, let alone what those with an LGBTQ belief system celebrate. For me, though, it was cause to think more deeply about my pridefulness and the protestant version of the gospel dominate in evangelicalism today. If you dare read, please hang with me to the end, because what follows may not be pleasant. 

My reflection began with an email I received over a year ago from a conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical pastor in response to a commentary I wrote about a celebrity’s transition during a crisis of identity involving gender. More on that in a moment; but as I thought about his email and the revelation of sex scandals among Christian clergy (not just Southern Baptists) and their institutional cover-up, I found myself turning to a passage of Scripture often employed against evangelicals to shut them up, Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

The verse’s use is often effective in that regard, but it must be read in its fuller context. 

What Was Jesus Telling His People About Judging?

But not judging at all is impossible, and Jesus knows that. Thus, the Apostle John notes that Jesus also said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). That is in accord with that which immediately follows Jesus’ statement about judging in the sermon on the mount:
“For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus’ words presume we will judge, because judgment lies behind every decision we make. So He gives instruction about judging and these instructions should strike fear in everyone’s heart, particularly Christians, given that they are the word of God incarnate. But even those who only believe in a mechanical cause and effect universe in a Karma sense ought to quake. 

Then Jesus takes on those who do not take seriously what He said: 
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

That is what brings me to the email I received from the pastor.

The Pride That Pervades Me and Evangelicalism

Pride is part of what the Apostle Paul calls “this body of death” (Romans 7:24) that I can’t wait to shed. It is a constant struggle for me. 

However, the level of pride in me was not fully and adequately exposed by the doctrines I was taught in the evangelical, Bible believing churches I grew up in. I was steeped in a prideful form of gospel. So, I have no stones to cast, but that such pride as was endemic to my theology may be considered by others, I will lay it out.

The Pastor’s Email to Me
The email from the pastor was in response to a commentary in which I had said that all of us, even the transgendered person, are trying to come to grips with what it means to be human and to find our identity. He said my commentary “missed the mark of TRUTH” and he would “have to reconsider [his] appreciation of FACT.”
The pastor’s objection to me saying the search for identity is common to us all was this:
I guess what bothered me so was your comparison with the transgender’s search with [the] Christian’s search.  I have had to deal with this issue in a very close way.  What I have personally seen does not allow [me] to consider that what the transgenders are seeking is in any way the same as what Christians are seeking. 
Here was my reply:
May I encourage you to consider searching your own heart more that you might readily accept the fact that before Christ you and all other persons in the whole world were lost and undeserving of any mercy or grace, whether transgendered, alcoholic, workaholic, porn addict, or a person who found their identity in being a good “church member” but to whom the Lord will say, “I know you did miracles in my name but depart from me because ‘I never knew you.”
Christians who somehow think they are better than the sinners around them because of something in them or that somehow everybody else was worse than we were before God saved us were the objects of Jesus sharpest rebukes.  They were the religious people we know as Pharisees.
I’m not saying you are one, but I know I was one even though I was in the church all my life. I did not know God, and I know God did not know me [in a saving way]. Knowing God could save someone like me as lost as I was yet in the church, has given me a tenderness to others who are searching. 
Blessings my friend and may God make our hearts as tender towards those still lost as his was towards us.
I have not heard from the pastor since.

Is Pride Month God’s Judgment on the Church?

Pride is resident in every evangelical who thinks he or she took the initiative to search for God, when none of us do (Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3; Romans 3:10-12), or mustered up enough faith to believe, when faith itself is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8)[i]. People who come to know they were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-6) know the dead cannot do one little thing by virtue of their own strength or will. Go to a graveyard and check it out. Only God can make “dead bones” “live again” (Ezekiel 37:1-14).  
Too many pastors I’ve heard or read over the course of my lifetime will find some way not to give those verses their full weight, and such has been the case since Pelagius in the Fourth century and Arminius in the late 16th century. To many, doing so would make God look bad in the eyes of reasonable people, because they also believe not everyone is going to be saved; not wanting God to look bad is what also can lead institutions to sweep sins among the clergy under the rug. 
If the emailed statement of this pastor is consistent with what he preaches, then he preaches a gospel that allows people to boast in something other than God[ii] (Ephesians 2:9, Romans 3:27)—their own efforts or mustered up faith[iii], no matter how feeble or small. 
That was the “gospel” I heard most of my life, and its fruit in my life was awful. In the final analysis my salvation was rooted in something I did of my own accord and initiative, no matter how seemingly insignificant by way of comparison it was to what God has done.[iv] Maybe God gave what little good there was in me a boost, but even that "little bit" of inherent good in me opened the door for me to be prideful in relation to those who choose not to do likewise.
Given what Jesus said about His judgments corresponding to the way His people judge, perhaps Pride Month is His judgment against evangelicals who proclaim a gospel infused, at bottom, with human pride. Perhaps God wants Christians to see what our pride looks like when its full grown that we might abase ourselves before Him as we ought.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

[i] To keep God from being blamed because someone had faith—like me—and others didn’t, Ephesians 2:8 was taught as a tautology. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” “It” in the last part of the verse was said to refer to grace in the first part of the verse, not to the immediately preceding word “faith.” But, grace is a “gift” of God. So, this interpretation makes the last part of the verse repetitious with the first part. It is taught as a tautology: the gift of salvation is the gift of God. But faith can then be claimed as our own doing and not a gift from God; we contribute something of our own to our salvation. Now, we merit salvation and that is not grace.

[ii] Since it is God who saves, not the preacher, I not implying that the one who preaches this form of gospel is not saved or that God cannot save those who He brings to faith notwithstanding the soundness of what is preached (see Philippians 1:15-18). What a relief that should be to every preacher and everyone who stumbles around when telling others what they believe about God and salvation!

[iii] Faith in the Bible is not saving faith if it is only a belief that what the Bible says is rational, that is, more likely or more probably true than not or than other belief systems. Saving faith includes that—a belief that the gospel is the most rational thing in the world—but if saving faith is not more than that, it is simply rationalism and bypasses a true transformation of our affections, the heart, and leaves our will constantly in conflict. For a better understanding of rationalism in evangelicalism, listen to episodes 44 and 45 of God, Law & Liberty on apologetics.

[iv] Some will protest saying I have faith because God, in his foreknowledge, knew I would take advantage of faith if given to me, but that is no answer. First, it reduces omniscience to bare foreknowledge, means God’s knowledge is dependent on something outside His own being, and, in any event, it was something in me that provoked God to make the gift.  That is a form of merit, not faith and faith excludes all form of merit (Romans ).

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