On the Influence of Sentimentality

It is all too often assumed that the apparent attractiveness of Evangelical Protestant materials (songs, books, sermons) is principally a result of the Evangelical composer’s ability to connect to Western culture. (Never mind that many parishioners born and raised in the Church’s historic homelands are themselves enamoured of these materials). In reality, however, these sentimentalist works are alien to even classical Protestantism, and are rather the product of modern trends towards the secularisation of religion. More specifically, churches morph into businesses which seek to retain youth for the sake of numbers; the salvation of souls becomes a peripheral concern. Effectively cloaked in sentimentality, anti-Christian therapeutic moralism is the powerful magnet deployed to keep youth (and indeed adults) in the church at all costs. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs when some quarters of the Church, instead of healing the congregation from such dangerous Western ideologies as individualism, materialism and postmodernism, on the contrary habituate them to these. Lord have mercy!

On the Influence of Sentimentality

Last week, over at Wings like Eagles blog, I read a short quote and was encouraged by the blog’s author to read a post called “Grace and the Psychology of God” by Father Stephen Freeman. As I read through the entry I came across this…

“In our modern culture, Christian belief has become divorced from the Christian Church (this was an intended outcome of the Reformation). Thus people, self-identified as individuals, struggle to have a “relationship” with God in a manner that is analogous to their “relationships” with other individuals. The nature of these “contractual” events is largely perceived as psychological. How we feel about one another and what we think about one another is seen to be the basis of how we treat one another. And so in our cultural “social contract” we seek to control, even to legislate how we feel about one another. We imagine that eliminating “hate” and “prejudice,” “racism” and “sexism” will impact violence. But despite the unflagging efforts of modernity, violence not only continues but escalates.

With God the “contract” is often extended or renamed a “covenant,” an agreement between a human being and God that stipulates requirements and behaviors and outcomes. Grace, perceived as a divine emotion or attitude, is part of the contract, God’s promised manner of performance.

The result of this imaginary divine milieu has been the gradual decrease of the Church (or anything resembling it). The Church as sacrament and mystery has been replaced by the sentimentality of the individual. People attend Christian assemblies because they “like” them and they encourage them to “feel” good. Teaching is interpreted as learning to manage the “relationship” (contract, emotions, obligations) with God.”

+ Fr Stephen Freeman, Grace and the Psychology of God,

http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/05/07/grace-and-the-psychology-of-god/

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“The Church as sacrament and mystery has been replaced by the sentimentality of the individual. People attend Christian assemblies because they “like” them and they encourage them to “feel” good.“

Father Stephen Freeman

Inklings

As I muse over these lines in Fr Stephen’s post, I’m reminded of the many times in an Orthodox Liturgy where I’ve appealed to my emotional state and “liked or disliked” the service because of some external condition and my predisposition for reductionism and brevity. I’m also reminded of the subtle way that even Orthodox Christians who receive the deep and rich intellectual and liturgical Tradition of the Saints, can be seduced by the glamour and rhetoric of the many pop-Christian manifestations today. Walk into any major bookstore chain and you’re more likely to find that the books and merchandise identified as “Christian” are from reductionist or fundamentalist Christian perspectives. There will be a huge appeal in these books and merchandise to what Fr Stephen has coined “The Second Storey“. It is prevalent, widespread, attractive and well packaged: drawing on reductionist tropes while offering hidden knowledge, higher truth and therapeutic solutions to a wide array of personal problems for an affordable (and sometimes not so affordable) price.

As Orthodox Christians we might be tempted choose from among the many pop-Christian canonical works, especially since they’re explicitly ascribed and labeled Christian. If our presuppositions are that the Orthodox Church is “old, irrelevant, stuffy, or too theological” these books also serve to help substantiate the perception that their authors (and their traditions) are “hip, modern, relevant, spiritual, and easy to read.” Surely these modern and sweet sounding evangelical titles could benefit the youth culture in the Orthodox Church, right?

I muse on this because one of the ways that reductionism can enter the Church is through an appeal to “relevant” youth culture…more specifically relevant consumerist youth culture and the presupposition that our youth are incapable of connecting, articulating, comprehending or discoursing in the Orthodox Church within her theological and liturgical Tradition. This approach to insulating our youth in the Church is a form of theological indoctrination and catechetical praxis called juvenilization. It is a very North American phenomenon, it is relatively recent (in the past 200 years), and the traditions that utilized it in the past are coming to grips with its consequences.

Juvenilization as a trend appears closely linked in much of the modern North-America Christian milieu with overt sentimentalism and reduction of the Way to a narcissistic personal relationship with the Divine. This sentimentality and primacy of emotional ecstasy has its roots in 18th century Protestant Revivalism and the pietism of the Charismatic movement. It’s also a phenomenon that has the very traditions which espouse it questioning its direction and theological implications.

Father Stephen Freeman’s quote identifies the soteriological basis for the current ethos in mainstream pop-Christian products developed for and marketed to a burgeoning Christian consumer demographic. I’d like to expand the scope of his initial analysis by looking at extracts of two researchers who suggest that the mainstream pop-Christian market is defined by juvenilization and sentimentality.

Of particular interest for Orthodox Christian communities is how influential and prevalent juvenilization and sentimentality can be in the Parishes in North America and Europe. I do not claim that we will discover any solutions should we realize that some Orthodox jurisdictions have been influenced by juvenilization and sentimentality. Perhaps by exploring the characteristics and possible implications of both juvenilization and sentimentalism in modern Protestant Evangelicalism, Orthodox pastors, catechists, youth and parents, can assess and gain insights on the influences of pop-Christian reductionism and what responses might be necessary. It is also not the intention of this exposition to decry Protestant Evangelicalism or to deny that benefit has resulted from Evangelical zeal, but rather that Orthodox Churches can benefit from understanding where Evangelical Protestant doctrine, theology and praxis might be at odds with Orthodox Tradition and where Orthodox adoption of pop-Christian methodologies and pop-Christian lex orandi might ultimately prove contrary to the Life and Witness of the Church.

Once we know the landscape we’re in, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to be like bees…

“Just as honeybees enjoy certain flowers for their color or fragrance yet draw no nectar from such, so too let us strive to derive only what is profitable from all sources, and treasure such within our souls.”

St Basil the Great, Protreptikos

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Juvenilization

The first issue to identify is that of juvenilization and then we can explore how this has permitted and led to significant adoption of evangelical sentimentalism. In his book “The Juvenilization of American Christianity,” Dr Thomas Bergler describes the history of juvenilization in North America during the various political upheavals in the last century. Of particular note to us is his assessment of the eventual impact of juvenilization when it became regarded as a successful model of retaining youth.

Here are some noteworthy extracts that appear throughout Bergler’s book:

“The new evangelical youth culture taught teenagers to see emotional states like “happiness and thrill” as central to Christianity and to its appeal.”

“Evangelical teenagers demanded that Christian music reflect the emotionally intense, romantic spirituality they were creating in their youth groups.”

“Christian teenagers were coming to believe that the Christian life could be best described as falling in love with Jesus and experiencing the “thrills” and “happiness” of a romantic relationship with him. Perhaps because evangelicals believed so strongly in a “personal relationshp” with Jesus as the center of Christianity, they didn’t question what might might be lost when that relationship was compared to an erotic, emotional attraction to a teen idol.”

“But teenagers always pressed for more, and grew up not knowing any world but one in which Christianity was fun and a relationship with Jesus provided better “thrills” than Elvis Presley. This juvenilized version of Christianity proved highly popular, but was ill suited to address some of the pressing challenges of the day.”

“They created adolescent versions of the faith seasoned with pop culture and individualized spiritual searching…styles that began as techniques for appealing to young people would eventually become the preferred ways to reach adults as well.”

“Evangelicals successfully attracted and retained young people because they aggressively marketed their version of Christian faith using the styles of the sixties youth counterculture…but the price was indeed high at times, as evangelical youth environments increasingly glorified entertainment and self-fulfillment and downplayed calls to spiritual maturity.”

It’s significant to note that retaining our youth is very important, but Bergler’s study reminds us that “juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity.” This is something which I believe Orthodox Churches can learn from. Quite often we argue that we want to make the faith accessible but often our methods don’t encourage our youth or our adults to embrace the intellectual and mature faith which we’ve inherited. We purposely seem to identify anything Orthodox as ‘extreme’, ‘complex’ or ‘theological’, and subtly encourage each other to adopt both the materials and teachings which promote and reinforce juvenilization because the content is considered ‘simple’, ‘spiritual’, ‘non-academic’ or ‘non-theological’.

At the end of his book, Bergler explores some of the implications of juvenilization and goes on to recommend a pressing need:

“Even in youth groups in which the leader is trying to communicate some clear beliefs that he or she hopes young people will come to accept, the teaching methods used often reinforce the cultural imperative toward individualized belief systems. Youth ministries pioneered group discussions and simplified, entertaining teaching styles. Many leaders idealized young people and hoped to remake the church in the image of youth. Some youth leaders actively criticized the adult church and taught young people to feel religiously superior to adults. In short, youth ministry activities communicated to young people that they and their opinions were all important….

…by glorifying the process of individual choice and by constantly trying to please young people and attract them to religious faith, youth ministries have formed generations of Americans who believe it is their privilege to pick and choose what to believe. Even worse, perhaps, is the widespread assumption that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you believe it “sincerely.”

…The Christian small groups that began in youth ministries and that have become pervasive among adults reveal the same patterns. Participation in these groups helps people strengthen their religious feelings. In one survey, the top five perceived benefits of group participation were “support each other emotionally” (92 percent), “feel better about yourself” (84 percent), “feel like you are not alone” (82 percent), “give encouragement when you are feeling down” (72 percent), and “feel closer to God” (66 percent). Although many groups report praying together and discussing the Bible, the only item on the list of perceived benefits that related to development of religious beliefs was “improve understanding of those with different religious perspectives” (55 percent). Other studies support the idea that membership in a church-based small group often encourages people to value relational intimacy and practical application of their faith more than formal theology or denominational loyalty. Small groups do help people learn about their faith. But sometimes this way of learning encourages people to think that their opinions are every bit as important as what the Bible or the church teaches. The discussion format may sometimes reinforce the idea that all theological beliefs are a matter of personal preference…

…So juvenilization has made the process of finding, maintaining, and submitting to religious truth more problematic. And the faith that Americans choose is increasingly the faith of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” To put it simply, they continue to believe what they learned in adolescence. And more and more often, they hear the same messages as adults. God, faith, and the church all exist to help me with my problems. Religious institutions are bad; only my “personal relationship with Jesus” matters. In other words, large numbers of Americans of all ages not only accept a Christianized version of adolescent narcissism, they often celebrate it as authentic spirituality.”

“…evangelicals invested heavily in young people and aggressively adapted to their preferences for an informal, entertaining, feel-good faith. They ended up with churches full of Christians who think that the purpose of God and the Christian faith is to help them feel better…”

“…the faith has become overly identified with emotional comfort. And it is only a short step from a personalized, emotionally comforting faith to a self-centered one… far too many Christians are inarticulate, indifferent, or confused about their theological beliefs. They view theology as an optional extra to faith, and assume that religious beliefs are a matter of personal preference… If we believe that a mature faith involves more than good feelings, vague beliefs, and living however we want, we must conclude that juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity…”

“…Pastors and youth leaders need to teach what the Bible says about spiritual maturity, with a special emphasis on those elements that are neglected by juvenilized Christians. Both teenagers and adults need to hear what Jesus and the apostles taught: that every Christian should reach spiritual maturity after a reasonable period of growth. Those who do not mature are abnormal, like babies who never progress from drinking milk to eating solid food. They are in spiritual danger, just as a tree that produces no fruit might be cut down (Heb. 5:11-6:2, Matt. 7:15-20, Matt. 12:33-37, Luke 13:6-9)”

[Bergler, Thomas. “The Juvenilization of American Christianity”
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2012) 219 – 229.]

Thomas Bergler identifies that juvenilization led to an increase in an emotional feel-good faith. For Orthodox Churches it might be helpful to see that the methods of emotionalized teaching arose particularly from Evangelical Protestant circles. These methods were leveraged initially as a way to bring Evangelical Protestant theology to the youth of America. As the methods were identified as successes, other American confessions (including Roman Catholics) began to introduce experiments in their congregations to capitalize on the successes of Evangelical Protestant Juvenilization. The fallout is that the methods gradually facilitated a minimalist approach to Christian teaching and teenagers who grew up were not encouraged to go deeper but rather inspired to model their theology and worship on the initial trends of juvenilization.

Juvenilization is both attractive and influential. Orthodox Churches have not been immune to these trends, especially as Orthodox pastors, catechists, teachers, youth leaders and the youth themselves begin to associate with and appropriate the language, direction and package of juvenilized Christianity which is presented by the Evangelical Protestant marketing machine. Orthodox communities have also begun to use the therapeutic language present in pop-Christian products and in the future may also demand that the Church be further juvenilized or cater to emotionalized sentiments which juvenilization depends on.

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“Modern evangelical literature and practice appear to be outlets to habituate practitioners to a culture of simplicity that reduces the practice of religion to the creation of feeling”

Todd M Brenneman

Sentimentality

If Bergler characterizes the impact of juvenilzation as Evangelical Protestants sought to utilize the adolescent culture of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Dr Todd M Brenneman explores an often overlooked aspect of this juvenilized Evangelical Protestant faith, that of sentimentality.

In “Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism,” particular attention is given to the use of sentimentality in contemporary pop-Christian mega-churches and their popular spokespersons. Brenneman points out how Evangelical Protestant literature continually appeals to the emotions of consumers and also encourages deep suspicion of doctrine, dogma and intellectual tradition while indoctrinating and upholding Evangelical Protestant doctrine, dogma, influence and authority.

Early in his study, Brenneman states:

“Modern evangelical literature and practice appear to be outlets to habituate practitioners to a culture of simplicity that reduces the practice of religion to the creation of feeling. In such a mind-set, human beings complicate life, but God offers something more straightforward. Doctrinal division, intellectual inquiry, and elaborate constructs of religiosity all move humanity farther from God, whereas emotionality can move them closer. To paraphrase Berlant, the work of evangelical culture is to sentimentally reconstruct the details of history, biblical interpretation, and theology to craft a vague or simple version of the religion. To do so requires a lot of resourcefulness or a lot of naivete. There is nothing simple about the history or habits of evangelicalism, a reality that sentimentality effectively (and affectively) obscures.”

“Evangelicals are replicating a culture of emotionality – particularly sentimental emotionality – with almost every book or album they produce, implanting sentimentality in the lived experience of consumers who read the book, listen to the music, or watch the video. With this aura of emotionality, it is important to recognize evangelicalism as an aesthetic as much as a set of doctrines or beliefs. The mechanisms of evangelical popular culture – publishing houses, record labels, and evangelical celebrities – continue to rely on the same tropes for describing the world, one’s place in it, and ultimately one’s “relationship” with God. This sensibility is pervasive in evangelicalism.”

“The sentimental appeal of modern evangelicals predominantly relies on narcissism rather than notions of common feeling…The center of the focus is on the reader and not the common experience of all human beings…Sentimentality obscures the deeper ideologies at work in evangelical emotional rhetoric and conceals certain aspects of human experience, such as structural inequalities from the evangelical gaze. Ultimately the narcissism of the sentimental appeal works against clear engagement with the difficulties of human life, focusing instead on the glorification of the individuals. Yet this individualistic approach is false. The stuff of evangelical sentimentality is mass-produced. Evangelical publishing houses do not create just one copy of a book that is specifically marketed to an individual. They print hundreds of thousands of copies and hope to sell them all and sell the next book and the next one, and so on. Whether or not God values each individual as a special creation and child, evangelical publishers advance the idea that He does so that they can continue to market more products to their consumers. The sentimentality of such works obscures the facts that the author does not really know the reader, that the individually addressed book is read by multitudes of people, and that the transformational vision of the author – whether godly or not – is motivated by economic interests. Publishers produce books to sell them.”

[Brenneman, Todd M. “Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary
American Evangelicalism” (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013) 12-15.]

Brenneman’s study suggests that much of modern Evangelicalism and mega-Church teaching appeals to the juvenilized faith that has been reduced primarily to the believer’s problems. Evangelical Protestant rhetoric appears to setup parallel and competing solutions to “secular” products and solutions, and locates the primary therapeutic answer in an emotional driven theology. The rhetoric also delivers a pedagogy that habituates the consumer into the minimalist, reductionist and “second storey” worldview.

For Orthodox Churches, St Basil’s metaphor of bees and honey in the Protreptikos reminds us to be able to draw on all that the world has in order to communicate the Orthodox…the Christian Faith. Brenneman states that “Everytime someone turns to the books of Max Lucado, Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen for help with some problem, they have demonstrated that they have internalized the authority of that particular minister.” (Brenneman, 89-90). For Orthodox communities it might be wise to be aware of how this pedagogy works and to be alert to where modern Evangelicalism also presents a reductionist and a theology contrary to the Orthodox Church. Again, St Basil’s metaphor can suggest that we draw on what is good and beneficial, but it would also mean expanding our sources to beyond what is marketed as “Christian” in the marketplace. Evangelical Protestant and mega-Churches are not the only place where Orthodox can encounter spermatikos Logos,” and we should not base our pedagogy and catechesis predominantly on the trends and methodologies of modern Evangelicalism.

Brenneman also defines modern Evangelicalism as an aesthetic, suggesting that it is not just a neutral expression of common Christian identity, but rather a movement based on an underlying set of principles. For Orthodox this ‘simply’ means that as an aesthetic, modern Evangelicalism is actively teaching theology…even as its authors and advocates claim otherwise or if their works successfully obscure this fact. Often what is not said is equally as important as what is.

The meta-narrative of this aesthetic or system, is frequent appeal to reductionism, emotionality, sentimentalism and therapeutic moralism. As we’ve seen with juvenilization, Orthodox Christians are not immune to these sentiments and more and more Orthodox priests, teachers, youth leaders and youth are attracted to this Evangelical Protestant aesthetic and have appropriated its ethos without sufficient assessment of its impact and influence on future generations and on Orthodox theology, creative expression and life.

Brenneman’s study repeatedly illustrates how sentimentality and emotionalism is employed by modern Evangelicalism to perpetuate the authority and theology of Evangelical Protestant Mega-churches:

“Whether it is asserting that one should be God’s best friend or should try Jesus instead of the church, many evangelicals are moving away from doctrinal aspects of Christianity. The encouraging of an antidoctrinal approach also provides a backdoor justification for anti-intellectualism under the guise of sentimentality. Because God loves all his children, doctrinal preferences…are not as important as accepting the love of God in Jesus. Moreover, sentimentality obscures the subsumed and assumed commitments to certain evangelical doctrines.” (Brenneman, 74-75)

While sentimentality is not blatant in every song, CCM artists rely on emotionality to encourage their listeners to believe that God loves them as individuals and cares deeply about having a relationship with them. Intentionally or not, they draw on a long tradition of evangelical music constructing how believers should understand God and the world around them. It is this sentimental product that is marketed through Christian magazines and Christian radio. These artists are asking people to engage in a religious practice of listening to their music, perhaps singing along with it, and accepting their views of God and how God sees the listeners. (Brenneman, 98)

Sentimentality is present not only in CCM, which may be listened to sporadically, but also how in how evangelicals worship when they gather together. The continual performance of sentimentality reinforces the belief that one should understand God through this aesthetic. Although evangelicals would certainly give lip service to theological descriptions of God that emphasize ideas like transcendence, sovereignty, inscrutability, and distance, the rituals of evangelicalism encourages its practitioners to accept the way God most often relates to human beings is through a certain type of affect…In much of evangelical music, evangelicals proffer to God the submission of ego if God will just show His favor. (Brenneman, 99)

The commodification of sentimentality also participates in this proliferation of authority, often extending the authority of the author or creator of a piece of popular culture. (Brenneman, 108)

“Such products offer a vision for what Christianity should be about” (Brenneman, 109)

Because of the capitalist bottom line that marketers must consider…scholars cannot simply accept that religious marketing is about the message. It is not. It is about what will sell, and diminishing doctrine in favor of emotional rhetoric will. (Brenneman, 110)

The authority evangelicals give to musicians, authors, and ministers who use sentimental rhetoric cyclically proves that such languages is the “true” way to understand and approach God. The very activities of singing, listening, and reading in a devotional manner often works to hide how these activities instantiate sentimentality even more deeply into evangelicalism. As ritual theorist Catherine Bell noted, “Ritual practices are produced with an intent to order, rectify, or transform a particular situation.” Sentimentality in practice -as part of religious practice – replicates itself to become a fundamental characteristic of modern evangelicalism. Sentimentality is not just about positive feelings of God’s love. It is also a mean to perpetuate the evangelical community and instantiate religious authority. Cute cartoon character or saccharine writing elides the deeper structural work that this type of evangelical emotionality does. It perpetuates a specific religious worldview, not through the intellectual assent to beliefs but through the internalization of emotional habits of seeing that world through sentimental eyes. Contemporary evangelical sentimentality is a conservative force to perpetuate authority. It is not just about telling people that God loves them. (Brenneman, 111)

Evangelicals may be traveling light because they have abandoned the burdens of theology and the life of the mind, but in so doing they have acquired additional baggage – a politicized faith manipulated by those who shape the evangelical market and those who want to shape the political course of the United States. (Brenneman, 155)

According to Fr John Breck, “our prayer is shaped by and expresses our theology, just as our theology is illumined and deepened by our prayer” (http://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0710.html), this principle is often summarized by a Latin phrase: lex orandi est lex credendi. Brenneman echoes the implications of this in his study by pointing out that overt appeal to sentimentality is a significant aspect of the “lex orandi” or “law of worship” of modern Protestant Evangelicalism:

“The beliefs of evangelicals do not exist separately from the practice components and objects that transfer those beliefs between evangelicals. Whether through listening to a sermon or music or reading a book or even a greeting card, evangelical ideas exist and perpetuate through practice. As Frykohlm emphasized, the beliefs of evangelicalism are vitally important to what it means to be evangelical. To be evangelical is to be connected to certain ideas, even if they are not always complex ideas. But those ideas are entrenched through religious practice. The conflation of belief and practice through the integration of emotion becomes a habitual way of seeing the world that defines evangelicals and evangelicalism in the contemporary period. (Brenneman, 160)

Orthodox Christians can certainly appreciate the zeal of our Evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters but we should also recognize and share our authentic witness and identity, our intellectual, philosophical and liturgical life, our inner Tradition. “This inner Tradition ‘handed down to us in a mystery’ is preserved above all in the Church’s worship. Lex orandi lex credendi: men’s faith is expressed in their prayer.” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, http://churchmotherofgod.org/articleschurch/articles-about-the-orthodox-church/2577-holy-tradition-the-source-of-the-orthodox-faith.html)

Could we not be of assistance to our Evangelical brothers and sisters who do not have the Tradition or the Theology of the Orthodox Church? Is it not our ‘evangelical’ ethos to give truth and life and pray for the life of the World? Would it not be better if Orthodox Churches (both “Eastern” and “Oriental”) drew on what makes the Church Orthodox, on the immense depth of the many Traditions so that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them”?

If juvenilization and reductionism has become the primary agenda of Evangelical Protestantism, should not the Orthodox be present to offer the Good News of the Resurrection to the poor and hungry of the world? To give the life sustaining Truth of the Gospel of Christ and not saccharine morsels that leave us malnourished? Should modern Evangelical Protestant trends and ethos that have deep roots in the Protestant Reformation give Orthodox reason to pause and reflect deeply on Orthodoxy’s response to modern challenges?

Near the end of his study Brenneman says that there are Evangelicals who are attempting to reassess their lex orandi, but points out that sentimentality is very deeply woven into the modern Evangelical ethos:

“While the Evangelicals of the manifesto might deprecate the therapeutic strand in their movement, it is a source of comfort and viality to many other evangelicals…Therapeutic evangelicalism is the culmination of the fusion of sentimentality and the self-help culture of the United States. This has led evangelicalism down a path evangelicals did not intend but has climaxed in a popular but narcissictic approach that focuses on the individual’s concerns as God’s primary interest…Even where sentimentalists like Lucado might support a rationalistic, belief-centered religion, this aspect of their ideology is subsumed to the emotionality. Although they might agree with doctrines about the nature of Christ, the truthfulness of the Bible, and the necessity of the new birth, these beliefs are either assumed or deployed for therapeutic, emotional ends. Doctrine is secondary to experience. In the end, the rationalists are correct about one aspect of sentimentality; it does foster – and count on – the anti-intellectualism of evangelicalism…It is probably worth noting that should any of the ministers investigated here decide to address the “tougher” intellectual questions that Christians face, they would probably lose their bestseller status.” (Brenneman, 148-149)

For Orthodox Christians we should take comfort that there are some Evangelicals who are critical of the trends of modern Evangelicalism. Such criticisms should temper our eagerness to adopt the theology, juvenilization and sentimentalism characteristic of pop-Christian Mega-Church Evangelicalism. Even though many Orthodox might perceive success in Evangelical Protestant methods, we should ask about the costs of such success. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

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Such is the Way

So we have explored three critiques of modern Evangelical approaches and hopefully this brief primer on Evangelical Sentimentality has raised some questions for Orthodox Christians.

We began with Father Stephen Freeman’s quote on the soteriological presupposition of modern pop-Christianity, which he argues is based on penal substitution and a result of the theological project of the Protestant Reformation. The resulting gradual reductionism has resulted in the Church as sacrament and mystery being replaced by the sentimentality of individualism (http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/05/07/grace-and-the-psychology-of-god/).

We then explored two recent scholarly works to examine the contours of this phenomenon of sentimentality and considered how Orthodox forays and adoption of Evangelical Protestant praxis might affect the Church. We looked at Thomas Bergler’s “The Juvenilization of American Christianity,” and saw that juvenilization has been influential and though it has retained youth to an extent, it has done so at the expense of a once vibrant Protestant intellectual tradition. In Todd M. Brenneman’s “Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism,” we have seen how the pre-existing regime of juvenilizaiton has continued in Evangelical Protestant mega-Churches and how sentimentality is utilized by modern Evangelicalism to legitimize and reinforce a distinct theological system.

While looking at these themes we have also asked if the Orthodox Church should be concerned about the implications and influence of juvenilization and sentimentality. Orthodox Christians could in theory adopt or adapt Evangelical Protestant methods and praxis, claiming to “baptize” the methods into an Orthodox understanding. To do so would also imply that Orthodox Christians understand and live in an Orthodox milieu and are well versed with the principle of “lex orandi est lex credendi” in order to recognize and mitigate the influence of Evangelical Protestant lex orandi which could shape and influence Orthodox lex credendi. If Orthodox Christians choose to adopt the sentimentalist and juvenilized approaches of mega-Church Evangelicals, one would hope that Orthodox Christians also do so with kenotic tour de force…in the image and likeness of God.

Our Lord Christ, being fully human and fully divine, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; “took what is ours and gave us what is His.”

Perhaps such is the Orthodox Way?

To give life. To live, give, pray, glorify the Holy Trinity, for the life of the World. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”

This primer is not to be perceived as an insult to non-Orthodox and non-Christian traditions, rather I pray it serves as a reminder to Orthodox Christians about the content of our unpackageable Faith. Of the Church, the Saints, the Liturgical Life of Orthodox Theology. Of the revelation of Divine Life and gift of Theosis, insofar as we can comprehend. Of Life with the Holy Spirit Who gives all things: makes prophecies flow, perfects priests, taught the unlettered wisdom, revealed fishermen to be theologians, and welds together the whole institution of the Church.

For we have been baptized and put on Christ forever. We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.

With such an inheritance, should we Orthodox not pray to see all of life touched and Transfigured by such Faith?

To quote Father John Breck:

Our task as Orthodox Christians is not to criticize and condemn those who have lost a sense for the vital unity that should exist between the Gospel and worship. It is rather to celebrate, with joy and humble gratitude, the gift of the God who blesses and sanctifies those who place their trust in Him. It is to acknowledge in the words of the apostle James, also taken up in the Prayer before the ambon, that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights,” including faith born of the Gospel. Our task, then, is to express this biblical faith through the liturgy of the Church, and thereby to “ascribe glory, thanksgiving and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”

Father John Breck, http://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0710.html

So through the intercessions of the Theotokos and all the Saints, let us pray to Christ our God, entreating Him to illuminate us sinners also with His everlasting light, as we sing saying:

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit: through them Thou hast fish the whole universe. O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee.

Source: http://thisgreatmystery.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/on-the-influence-of-sentimentality-anonymous-submission/