evangelicalism

Defending older truths: Rod Dreher, Albert Mohler and St. Benedict in conversation

Defending older truths: Rod Dreher, Albert Mohler and St. Benedict in conversation

Journalist Rod Dreher used to find comfort when seeing rows of churches along roads in his home state of Louisiana.

The world might be going crazy in places like New York City and Washington, D.C. -- where Dreher had worked as a journalist -- but it felt good to know the Bible Belt still existed.

But that changed as the popular digital scribe -- his weblog at The American Conservative gets a million-plus hits a month -- kept digging into research about life inside most of those churches. The bottom line: There's a reason so many young Americans say they have zero ties to any faith tradition.

"God is not the center of American culture or of Western civilization anymore. But it's easy to think that this is alarmist when you look around you, especially if you live in the South as I do and see churches everywhere," said Dreher, during a podcast with R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ken. Mohler is an influential voice at all levels of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant flock.

"Go inside those churches," stressed Dreher. "Talk to the people about what they know about the historic Christian faith. You'll often find it's very, very thin. … And I think that the loss of faith among the elites in society is huge. Christianity is now a minority position and in many places at the highest levels of our society … orthodox Christianity is considered bigotry. This is not going to get any better."

It's easy for conservatives to bemoan public trends, such as amoral Hollywood sermons, the U.S. Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision and corporate giants backing the gender-blending of bathrooms and showers. However, some of the most sobering remarks by Mohler and Dreher were about Christian homes, schools and sanctuaries.

At the center of the conversation was Dreher's new book, "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation," which debuted at No. 7 on the New York Times bestseller list, while sparking fierce debates online.

Campolo, Neff signal that an open doctrinal left is emerging in evangelicalism

One moment defined old-school evangelicalism more than any other -- the altar-call ritual in which the Rev. Billy Graham urged sinners to come forward and repent, accept God's forgiveness and be born again. 

For decades, crusade choirs sang "Just As I Am," which proclaims: "Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come." 

So evangelical activist Tony Campolo knew he was grabbing heartstrings as he referenced this gospel hymn when announcing that he had changed his beliefs on marriage and homosexuality. 

"As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice," said the 80-year-old Campolo, for decades an influential voice on Christian campuses. "As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. 

"When we sing the old invitation hymn, 'Just As I Am,' I want us to mean it." 

With this nod, Campolo underlined crucial questions in heated debates linked to the emerging evangelical left: Since the movement called "evangelicalism" lacks a common structure and hierarchy, who decides what the Bible says about repentance and forgiveness? Who decides when acts cease being sinful and become blessed?  

Define ‘evangelical’ — 2013 edition

List America’s prominent evangelical Protestant voices and the Rev. Rick Warren remains near the top, up in the mix with the Rev. Brian McLaren, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Jim Wallis, the Rev. Tim Keller and others.

Many evangelicals, of course, like to argue about who belongs on that list. In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that the experts are finding it harder to decide who is and who is not an “evangelical” in the first place.

“I know what the word ‘evangelical’ is supposed to mean,” said Warren, 58, leader of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with its many branch congregations and ministries. “I mean, I know what the word ‘evangelical’ used to mean.”

The problem, he said, is that many Americans no longer link “evangelical” with a set of traditional doctrines, such as evangelistic efforts to reach the lost, the defense of biblical authority, projects to help the needy and the conviction that salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ, alone.

Somewhere during the George W. Bush years the word “evangelical” — a term used in church history — got “co-opted into being a political term,” said Warren, in a recent telephone interview.

Arguments about this vague word are not new. During a 1987 interview with the Rev. Billy Graham, I asked him point blank, “What does the word ‘evangelical’ mean?”

The world’s best-known evangelist responded, “Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody, too. … You go all the way from the extreme fundamentalists to the extreme liberals and, somewhere in between, there are the evangelicals.” Ultimately, Graham said an “evangelical” is someone who preaches salvation through faith in Jesus and believes all the doctrines in the Nicene Creed — especially in the resurrection.

Warren said he would certainly agree with Graham’s bottom line, which is that “evangelical” must be defined in terms of doctrine. The problem is that this isn’t how the term is being used in the public square — especially in the news media.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, he said, most journalists “seemed to think seemed to think that ‘evangelical’ meant that you backed the Iraq war, for some reason or another. … Right now, I don’t think there is any question that way too many people have decided that evangelicals are people who oppose gay rights — period. That’s all the word means.”

Warren based this judgment on his experiences during 22 interviews with major newspapers, magazines and television networks — a pre-Christmas blitz marking the release of an expanded, 10th anniversary edition of his book “The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?” The book has sold more than 32 million copies around the world, with translations in 50 languages.

By the end of that media storm, Warren said members of his team were starting to cast bets on whether the perfunctory gay-marriage question would be the first, or the second, question in each interview. On CNN, interviewer Piers Morgan noted that the U.S. Constitution and the Bible are “well-intentioned” but “inherently flawed.”

Morgan continued: “My point to you about gay rights for example — it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.”

Warren, of course, disagreed: “I do not believe the Bible is flawed, and I willingly admit … that I base my worldview on the Bible, which I believe is true, and truth. … It was true 1,000 years ago, it’ll be true 1,000 years from today.”

Time after time, said Warren, interviewers assumed that his beliefs on moral and cultural issues — from salvation to sexual ethics — were based on mere political convictions, rather than on the Bible and centuries of doctrine.

“I’ve decided that don’t have faith, so politics is their religion,” he said. “Politics is the only thing that is really real to many people in our world today. … So if politics isn’t at the center of your life, then many people just can’t understand what you’re saying.”

In the end, said Warren, it may be time for various brands of Protestants — charismatics, Baptists, Wesleyans, Lutherans, Calvinists and others — to stop trying to rally under a common “evangelical” umbrella and to start talking more about the specific traditions that shape their beliefs and actions.

“Maybe ‘evangelical’ will be like the word ‘liberal,’ ” he said. “When that word turned into a negative, all of a sudden everybody on the left turned into ‘progressives’ and they moved right on. … Perhaps it’s time to give ‘evangelical’ a rest.”

The heretical art of Thomas Kinkade

When describing his painting "Candlelight Cottage," the late Thomas Kinkade said its "candlelight has a cozy, intimate quality -- especially when it's suffused in the soft mist of this fine English evening." Actually, the cottage windows are glowing so brightly that the entire interior appears to be in flames.

This painting, noted National Catholic Register critic Simcha Fisher in 2011, only makes sense as "a depiction of an oncoming storm, with heavy smog in some spots and total visibility just inches away (blown by what wind, when the chimney smoke rises undisturbed?), several cordless Klieg lights, possibly a partial eclipse and that most cheerful of pastoral daydreams: a robust house fire."

This is as lovely, she argued, as music created when "all of your favorite instruments play as loudly as they can at the same time. Listen, and go mad."

Secular critics have long detested Kinkade's art, in part because of his great popularity among heartland evangelicals who were eager to claim the University of California at Berkeley trained painter as one of their own. Now, three months after his death at age 54 -- while struggling with alcoholism, bankruptcy and a shattered marriage -- some religious writers are focusing on what they see as another troubling question.

The bottom line: Was Kinkade selling bad theology, as well as bad art?

Believers often reject fine art and embrace "mediocre substitutes just because they're labeled 'Christian,' " noted John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center, in a recent BreakPoint radio commentary. "We've created for ourselves a kind of 'artistic ghetto.' ... 'Christian art' has become a synonym for anything that's charming, quaint or makes us feel good. It often portrays a one-sided world where evil doesn't exist and only 'positive' and 'uplifting' messages are allowed."

The problem is that this isn't the real world, which is full of sin and brokenness, as well as grace and beauty, he said, in a telephone interview. At it's core, art should be "a reflection of what it means to be human," he added. Believers who create culture are "supposed to look at all of creation, at all of human life, the good and the bad."

This issue looms over the Kinkade debates, he said, but it also shapes arguments about music, movies, fiction and other forms of popular and high culture.

"Squishy songs that turn Jesus into your boyfriend are not good art," said Stonestreet. "Christian romance novels are not good art. Naked little chubby angels in Christian bookstores are not good art."

Many debates about Kinkade have centered on his use of light, since he billed himself as the "Painter of Light" and said his glowing images represented God's comforting presence in the world. While the artist consistently avoided painting traditional religious scenes or symbols, he frequently said he was trying to capture the meaning of Bible verses, such as a lighthouse image that was said to represent John 8:12: "I am the light of the world."

Yet, in painting after painting, Christian critics note that Kinkade used light in a way that was completely different than in Christian iconography or the work of master painters. For centuries, religious artists have used light as a depiction of God's presence and activity in the real world -- often in the faces and forms of uniquely blessed people.

Thus, the source of this light is "explicitly God Himself," noted Fisher. Yet in Kinkade's work glowing, unreal, unnatural light is found everywhere -- seemingly at random. This matters because if "you follow the source of the light, you will find out where the artist thinks God is," she said.

For artists who are believers, the goal is to show God's light in the midst of the world's darkness, the work of God in the brokenness of real life.

Kinkade, on the other hand, sees "nothing beautiful in the world the way it is," argued Fisher. "He loves the world in the same way that a pageant mom thinks her child is just adorable -- or will be, after she loses 10 pounds, dyes and curls her hair, gets implants, and makes herself almost unrecognizable with a thick layer of make-up. ...

"Kinkade-style light ... doesn't reveal, it distorts. His paintings aren't merely trivial, they're a statement of contempt for the world. His vision of the world isn't just tacky, it's anti-Incarnational."

T.D. Jakes and the Trinity

For more than a decade, Pentecostal Bishop T.D. Jakes has lived in the shadow of a Time magazine cover that asked, "Is this man the next Billy Graham?" That was a loaded question, because of tensions behind the scenes between the multi-media Dallas superstar and many mainstream Christian leaders.

Now, this legendary preacher -- often listed as one of America's most powerful evangelicals -- has taken a big step toward convincing his critics that he is, in fact, an evangelical. Jakes has, after years of rumors about private assurances, publicly affirmed that he believes in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The Rev. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle asked the question directly, during the recent Elephant Room conference at the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. This annual event brings together Christian leaders from a variety of backgrounds to discuss tough subjects. Baptist Press has circulated the interview transcript nationwide.

"So you believe," said Driscoll, that "there's one God, three Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit? You believe Jesus was fully God, fully Man?"

Jakes didn't flinch: "Absolutely."

That one word represents a significant change for Jakes, the leader of The Potter's House, a 30,000-member megachurch that serves as the base for his thriving work in books, Gospel music, social-justice causes and a host of other ministries. While the church is nondenominational, the preacher has long been associated with an unorthodox stream of faith known as "Oneness" Pentecostalism.

The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is one God, yet this God has been revealed in history as three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a core doctrine that unites Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians worldwide -- including most who embrace Pentecostal and "charismatic" Christianity, the world's fastest growing Christian movement.

The split between Trinitarian and the "Oneness" Pentecostals occurred in stages early in the 20th Century, soon after the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. That famous spiritual earthquake ignited the interracial Pentecostal movement, with its emphasis on spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing and "speaking in tongues."

"Oneness" leaders denied the reality of the Trinity, saying there is one God -- period. Thus, they continue to baptize in the name of Jesus, alone, rather than using references to "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Critics call this approach "modalism."

In the Elephant Room interview, Jakes noted that his father was Methodist and his mother was Baptist. However, he stressed that he made his own decision to become a Christian in a "Oneness" Pentecostal church. Thus, he said, "I ended up Metha-Bapti-Costal, in a way."

Several scripture passages influenced his change of mind on this issue, he said, especially the account of the baptism of Jesus.

"Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, for example, coming up out of the water [and] the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, the Father speaks from heaven and we see all three of them on one occasion," said Jakes. This and other references "began to make me rethink some of my ideas and some of the things that I was taught.

"I got kind of quiet about it for a while. Because when you are a leader and you are in a position of authority, sometimes you have to back up and ponder for a minute, and really think things through."

"Oneness" churches represent a relatively small piece of the global Pentecostal movement -- about 5 percent of an estimated 640 million believers. Nevertheless, Jakes has clearly been trying to find a way to keep expanding his work into the evangelical, "charismatic" mainstream without cutting his ties to his past, said historian Vinson Synan of Regent University, author of numerous books on Pentecostalism.

"The reality is that he had to address this issue sooner or later because he has all kinds of followers, including lots of Trinitarians," said Synan. "This man sells millions of books, makes movies and is an award-winning Gospel singer. He's a major force in Christian culture in this land. ...

"Well, he might not be able to keep doing all of that if millions of evangelicals think he is some kind of heretic. So he makes this one statement and he's cleared with most evangelicals and charismatics, most of the time. He's on his way to being more acceptable to just about everybody. That's big, in the post-denominational world in which we live."

Evangelicals vs. 'secularists' (2011)

When evangelical leaders look at the United States of America, they do not see a country defined by the familiar Gallup Poll statistic stating that 92 percent of its citizens profess some kind of belief in God. Nor do they see a land that is only 1.6 percent atheist and 2.4 percent agnostic, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. They do not see a land in which another 12.1 percent of the people do not embrace any one religion "in particular," but insist that "spirituality" plays some role in their lives.

In other words, they do not see a remarkably, if somewhat vaguely, religious nation -- especially in comparison with other modern industrialized lands.

No, when elite evangelicals see America today the word that comes to mind is "secular."

In fact, 92 percent of evangelical leaders from the United States who took part in a new Pew Forum survey said they are convinced that secularism is a "major threat" to the health of evangelical Christianity in their land, a threat even greater than materialism, consumerism and the rising tide of sex and violence in popular culture.

In a related question, a majority of U.S. evangelical leaders -- 82 percent -- said they are convinced that their churches are currently losing clout in American life.

In this study, researchers surveyed nearly 2,200 evangelical leaders from around the world who were invited to participate in last year's Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa.

"This rising fear of secularism" among top American evangelicals "really surprised us, especially when you compared their feelings to the more optimistic attitudes among evangelicals in other parts the world," noted John C. Green of the University of Akron, a senior Pew Forum research advisor.

So what is happening? For generations, he explained, evangelicals have "primarily been defined in terms of their conflicts with other religious groups, with other faiths. ... But now, it seems that they are increasingly starting to see themselves in terms of conflicts with those who are either indifferent to religion or who are openly hostile to traditional forms of religion."

Thus, it seemed that when these evangelical leaders used the term "secularism" they were not always referring to people and groups with no religious convictions at all. Instead, they were expressing their concerns about the rising numbers of people in America and around the world that simply do not practice any one form of faith, as traditionally defined.

"They don't seem to know what to call the unorthodox expressions of faith that you see among the so-called 'spiritual, but not religious' people," said Green. Thus, the frustrated evangelical leaders may be "lumping them all together under the term 'secularism.' "

In contrast to this surge of pessimism in North America, evangelicals from other parts of the world were more optimistic about the future. This was especially true among those from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the rest of the so-called "Global South." Other survey results included:

* While only 41 percent of northern leaders believed the state of evangelicalism would improve in the next five years, 71 percent of those in the Global South were convinced things would be "better than now" for their churches. In the Global North, 33 percent of those surveyed thought things would soon get worse.

* While in overwhelming agreement (96 percent) that "Christianity is the one, true faith," these evangelical leaders were somewhat divided on a key authority issue, with 50 percent saying the "Bible should be read literally, word for word" and 48 percent saying "not everything in the Bible should be taken literally."

* Not surprisingly, 90 percent of evangelicals from Muslim-majority nations said Islam poses a major threat to their future work, compared with 41 percent from those living elsewhere. However, survey participants from Muslim lands held more favorable views of Muslims and their faith than did evangelical leaders from other countries.

* The Lausanne Congress participants were convinced that evangelicals in the Global South currently have "too little influence" in the leadership of world Christianity. Researchers found it particularly interesting that leaders in the United States and other parts of the Global North were even more likely to hold this point of view -- 78 percent compared to 62 percent -- than their counterparts in the Global South.

Orthodox bridge to evangelical world

As point man for Russian Orthodox relations with other faith groups, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is used to talking shop with Catholics, Anglicans, leaders in older brands of Protestantism and other world religions. These duties have long been part of his job description. Meeting with leaders from the world's booming evangelical and Pentecostal flocks?

Not so much.

However, recent ecumenical contacts by this high-profile representative of the Moscow Patriarchate is evidence that times are changing. Time after time, during meetings with evangelical leaders and others here in America, Hilarion has stressed that it is time for Orthodox leaders to cooperate with traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants and others who are trying to defend ancient moral truths in the public square.

"I am here in order to find friends and in order to find allies in our common combat to defend Christian values," said the 44-year-old archbishop, who became a monk after serving in the Soviet army. He also speaks six languages, holds an Oxford University doctorate in philosophy and is an internationally known composer of classical music.

For too long, Orthodox leaders have remained silent. The goal now, he said, is to find ways to cooperate with other religious groups that want to "keep the traditional lines of Christian moral teaching, who care about the family, who care about such notions as marital fidelity, as giving birth to and bringing up children and in the value of human life from conception until natural death."

On this occasion earlier in the year, Hilarion was preaching from the pulpit of the 5,000-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, a conservative congregation that remains part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently approved the ordination of noncelibate gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

While in Dallas, Metropolitan Hilarion's public schedule included meetings at Dallas Theological Seminary, a prominent institution among many of America's most conservative evangelical leaders. He has also, during the first half of the year, met with nationally known evangelical leaders in New York, Washington, D.C., and at Princeton University.

In a recent interview with Christianity Today, one of evangelicalism's flagship publications, the archbishop said it is crucial for all churches -- including Eastern Orthodox churches -- to expand their work into public life, even if this creates controversy in some quarters.

"Very often nowadays our church will publicly express positions on what's happening in the country," he said. "Some people ask, 'Why does the church interfere? It's not their business.' We believe that the church can express its opinion on all aspects of human life. We do not impose our opinions on the people, but we should be free to express them. And people will have to choose whether to follow or not to follow, whether to listen to what we say or to ignore it."

The archbishop's statements were especially significant and timely because of a related conflict now raging in the Orthodox Church in America, which has Russian roots.

A major cause of the controversy was the decision by the church's leader, Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, to privately endorse The Manhattan Declaration, a document produced by a coalition of conservative Christians that focuses on abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality and religious liberty issues. Numerous Catholic bishops and several other Orthodox leaders have also signed as private citizens, not in their roles as church officials.

At the very least, this bitter dispute has demonstrated that some OCA leaders are opposed to public stands on hot-button political issues, especially any that proclaim the church's teachings on sexuality. Some prefer isolation and silence.

However, Metropolitan Hilarion, in his taped sermon in Dallas, said it is shocking to see churches divided by "what hitherto seemed unthinkable -- namely marked differences among Christians in their understanding of moral law. ... There has surfaced a desire to revise, or to be more precise, to adjust, the unambiguous commandments of God to any manifestation of human fancy, a trend that has spread out with the speed of a cancer. ...

"Maybe this is one of the reasons why so many families break, why so many marriages end up with divorce, why so many children are raised without a father or a mother and why the birthrates in many countries have become so low. ... Family is no longer a primary value to many young people. This is a tragedy of our times and this is a challenge that we can face together."

Xmas is fake, so deal with it

As the Christmas pageant dress rehearsal rolled to its bold finale, reporter Hank Stuever found his mind drifting away to an unlikely artistic destination -- a masterpiece from the Cubist movement.

The cast of "It's a Wonderful Life 2" reassembled on stage at Celebration Covenant Church, a suburban megachurch north of Dallas. There were characters from a Victorian tableau, along with Frosty the Snowman, young ballerinas and children dressed as penguins. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were there, too.

Then, entering from stage right, came "an adult Christ stripped down to his loincloth and smeared with Dracula blood, dragging a cross to center stage while being whipped by two centurion guards," writes Stuever, in "Tinsel," his open-a-vein study of Christmas in the American marketplace.

"Here is where the Nativity, Dickens and Burl Ives collide head-on with Good Friday, as Jesus is crucified while everyone sings 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing,' ending on a long, noisy note: 'newborn kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.'

"Then they freeze.

"Hold it for applause."

The scene was achingly sincere and painfully bizarre, with holy images jammed into a pop framework next to crass materialism. For millions of Americans, this is the real Christmas.

"I wrote it in my notes, right there in that church," said Stuever. "I wrote, 'It's Picasso.' ... I just couldn't believe it."

There is nothing new about a journalist "embedding" himself to experience life on the front lines. Rather than heading to Iraq, Stuever moved to the Bible Belt. He lived in Frisco, Texas, for six months in 2006, then made 12 short follow-up trips during the next two years.

The veteran Washington Post reporter convinced three families to let him see Christmas through their eyes, from the Back Friday craziness to the somber trashing of mountains of ripped wrapping paper. The book's credo is voiced by Tammie Parnell, a 40-something business dynamo who decorates McMansions for women who are too busy to prepare for a Texas-sized Christmas.

"Fake is okay here," she tells Stuever. "Diamond earrings. Christmas trees. If you want me to prove that fake is okay here, let's you and I go to the Stonebriar Country Club pool one day and check everyone out."

The bottom line? Most Americans say they want Bethlehem and the North Pole, but the truth is that they invest more time, energy and money at the North Pole. That's fine with Stuever, who is openly gay and calls himself a "Christmas loser" -- while wrestling with the lessons of his Jesuit education and the loss of his Catholic faith.

"A dip into even the most reverent inquiries by Bible scholars," he argues, "easily leads to the conclusion that there was no actual manger scene in Bethlehem, no shepherds dropping by to see the baby, no star in the east, no Magi, no frankincense, no myrrh. ... Many scholars have concluded, some more gently than others, that the Christmas story is intentionally fictive, written by the earliest, first-century evangelists to beef up Jesus' street cred as a believable Jewish Messiah. Like any superhero, Christ needed an origin story rife with the drama, metaphors and the meaningful symbols of the era."

Thus, "Tinsel" seeks the meaning of Christmas in the material world itself, in the blitz of shopping, in houses draped in high-voltage lights, in the complex joys and tensions of family life. Stuever argues that the binges of shopping and feasting are as ancient -- and more significant today -- than the rites of praying and believing.

For Stuever, Christmas is fake, but that's fine because fake is all there is. He argues that millions of Americans struggle to find the "total moments" of nostalgia and joy that they seek at Christmas because they are not being honest about why they do what they do during the all-consuming dash to Dec. 25.

"It's so easy to see all of the craziness on TV and say, 'Oh, those poor, stupid people,' " he said. "But when you get down there in the middle of it with them and listen to what people are saying and try to feel what they are feeling, you realize that all of that wildness is not just about buying the new Wii at Best Buy. ...

"It's a religious experience for them, even though it couldn't be more secular. They're out there searching for transcendence, trying to find what they think is the magic of Christmas."

Nailing the evangelical fads

The upperclassman sat across the cafeteria table from freshman Joe Carter and, in a matter of minutes, asked The Big Question -- a question about eternal life and death. As any evangelical worth his or her salt knows, that question sounds like this: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" Super aggressive believers prefer: "Are you saved? If you died tonight, would go to heaven or hell?"

Carter remembers replying: "I'm, yeah, actually I have."

What happened next was strange. The young man was "visibly disappointed" and "wore a look of minor defeat" because he wouldn't get to save a soul during this lunch period. He ate quickly and departed and, this is the crucial detail for Carter, they never spoke again.

The evangelist wasn't looking for a friend or dialogue with a believer. He wanted to carve another notch on his Bible, using techniques learned during a soul-saving workshop. If his blunt approach offended strangers, or even strengthened their "Fundie-alert systems," that was their problem, not his.

Every decade or so there are new, improved techniques for making these spiritual sales pitches, each backed with snappy catch phrases and, these days, with hot websites, books and videos. Then everything changes again a generation later, noted Carter. What you get are stacks of leftover "Left Behind" video games, "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, "emerging church" study guides and copies of "The Prayer of Jabez."

It helps to know that Carter is himself an evangelical who is concerned about evangelism issues. As a journalist, the 39-year-old former U.S. Marine has worked for a number of conservative causes, including World Magazine, the Family Research Center and the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee. He recently finished helping build Culture11.com, a right-of-center forum for evangelicals, Catholics and mainline Protestants interested in discussing how religion, culture and politics mix in daily life.

That website's future is uncertain, but before his recent departure Carter nailed a manifesto to that cyber-door -- dissecting 10 fads that he believes are hurting evangelical organizations and churches. While most conservatives have been arguing about their political future, in the Barack Obama era, Carter decided to focus on faith issues.

It's a list that will be puzzling to outsiders not fluent in evangelical lingo. The "Sinner's Prayer, which reduces the quest for salvation to a short "magical incantation," made the list, as did the emphasis on "premillennial dispensationalism" and other apocalyptic teachings in some churches.

Carter is also tired of long, improvised public prayers in which every other phrase contains the word "just," as in, "We just want to thank you Lord." He would like to hear more sermons focusing on the life of Jesus, as opposed to preachers and evangelists focusing on their own dramatic life "testimonies." And while he is in favor of growing churches, Carter is worried that the "church growth movement" has evolved from a fad into a permanent fixture on the American scene.

"What most people call the church-growth movement is something that grew out of business principles, instead of growing -- organically -- out of the life of the church," he said. "People started trying to figure out how they could change the church so they could get more people to come inside, rather than doing what the early church did, which was going outside the church and reaching people by actually getting to know them. ...

"It's like people started saying, 'What kind of music do we need to play so that more people will join? What do we need to do to the preaching? What kind media can we add to the services?' "

But the thread that runs through this online manifesto is that Carter is convinced that evangelicals need to spend less time striving to make quick conversions and more time training disciples who stay the course.

In the end, he said, techniques will not carry over from one generation to another.

"Part of the problem is that evangelicals really don't have traditions," said Carter. "Instead, we have these fads that are built on the strengths and talents of individual leaders. ... But a real tradition can be handed on to anyone, from generation to generation. It's hard to hand these evangelical fads down like that, so it seems like we're always starting over. It's hard to build something that really lasts."