[An Uncharitable Summary of the Traditional Evangelical Reading of Romans]: there’s something wrong with us such that it’s impossible for us to do the right thing, but if we believe in a certain story, then it’s alright. I know I should be more respectful, but no one seemed very disturbed by it. Perhaps I can get away with it because it’s obvious that I know a lot about the Bible and it means something to me (albeit in some kind of weird way). And in fact, that’s what motivates my dismissal of the traditional reading — it renders Romans (and the Bible more broadly) meaningless.
The traditional narrative of salvation, especially in its Protestant inflection, is one that never made much sense to me. I struggled mightily with it, growing up in a particularly evangelical/fundamentalist corner of the Church of the Nazarene. I could never figure out why I as a Gentile ever needed to be released from the burden of the Jewish Law, why “works righteousness” was such an appalling thing, why getting baptized or going to the altar to ask forgiveness wasn’t a “work,” etc., etc.[...]
I still can’t get my mind around the Protestant problematic of faith and works and justification. On a practical level, raising children within the Protestant problematic seems like a recipe for neurosis at best (me and all my closest friends) and moral nihilism at worst (all the evangelical Trump supporters, the most prominent of which are precisely the sons of the first wave of leaders).[...]
[A reading of Romans that offers problems that make sense:] What do we do when law seems impotent to produce the justice it aims for? How can we maintain integrity while living in a corrupt system that coerces us into complicity with injustice? What would it mean if we really didn’t have to be afraid of death anymore? I find it hard to believe in the resurrection of the dead, but it at least means something in a way that finagling your immortal soul into heaven simply does not in my view.I think this critique properly explains why Evangelicalism lacks any sense of inner tension with what it preaches and what that actually means. At least in the past, imperial churches still maintained some biblical conscience that problematized many things (i.e. Byzantine soldiers had to spend three years in penitent disconnect from the Eucharist if they killed a man in battle). Evangelicals see no problem with American Imperium and are the most able bodied foot-soldiers. But not only this. Evangelicals are also active proponents of the excesses of Capitalism, eager to adopt mass-media and propaganda in order to "evangelize", and an ironic destruction of family integrity even as it claims to be a bulwark for it.
Easy-Believism is only part of the problem. I think that Protestantism more generally is at a crisis point. Without the State apparatus, any sense of Scripture-as-Canon is quickly eroding. The Holy Spirit is confused with the Zeitgeist, as is apparent in quite many Evangelical arguments for everything between endorsing Donald Trump and supporting new gender-confused age. There is the dual belief that the Church is a business and that the Church is a NGO, two organizations that reflect the spirit of the age.
I believe that Ecclesiology is not a second-order issue, but is a first order, at the same level as Christology. Salvation, let alone justification by faith, makes no sense without the Church. Christ without His Church is to decapitate the Son of God. Protestants, by and large, have failed to present a coherent ecclesiology (with the exception of serious Anglicans, some more traditional/fundamentalist Presbyterians, and the occasional man in the desert).
Why does Ecclesiology matter? Because it is the context in which we understand both the notion of faith and the notion of works. To separate one's soul from any context of relation or community is an invitation towards erotic mysticism, as is exampled by centuries of gnosticism, bridal mysticism, and many other heresies. The Bible reveals salvation as a social phenomenon, involving not only our individual selves (constituted of heart, body, soul, mind etc.), but our persons connected with other persons in complex and overlapping groupings. Who we find ourselves to be depends upon how we relate with others. To be Human is to never be decontextualized (we would cease to be creatures at that point!).
If you're a Christian and reading this, seek God in prayer for answers in this age and turn to the Scripture for guidance. Christo-Americanism is a destructive heresy attacking whatever faithful remain in this cursed empire of desire.