Two headlines at Christian Post reveal evangelicals’ usual strategy for dealing with decline—demands for evangelicals to Jesus harder. If they’ll just do that, these two columnists assure their readers, then all those silly little declines will vanish into the mists of memory. But it ain’t so.
Today, we’ll talk about what it means to Jesus and to Jesus harder, why evangelicals love this suggestion so much, and why it hasn’t ever worked.
(From introduction: Lauren Green’s post about Jesusing harder.)
(This post first went live on Patreon on 6/15/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available by the time you see this! <3)
What it means to Jesus harder
A long time ago, I heard one of the guys on God Awful Movies refer to “Jesusing.” (It was probably Noah who said it; in my mind, I hear the word in his voice.) They weren’t the first to use it as a verb, though. Apparently, people have been sporadically using Jesus as a verb since the early 1970s. Though I’ve personally heard it only from heathens, Christians themselves have ventured into those waters from time to time by loftily proclaiming that Jesus should totally be a verb.
Regardless, I loved the term and immediately adopted it. To me, “Jesusing” summarizes all the things Christians do to work themselves up into belief and faith:
- Having any conversations with other Christians, but particularly religious ones
- Forcing so-called gospel conversations and other recruitment efforts on heathens
- Prayer, going to church, attending small-group meetings, studying the Bible
- Reading books that relate to the Bible somehow
- Thinking about their beliefs and faith, contemplating, etc
- Feeling excited about Christian or Christian-adjacent things
- Using tribal belief markers to set themselves apart from ickie heathens, which includes dressing in particular ways, grooming in particular ways, and behaving according to tribe-mandated social rules, all to draw attention to their beliefs
- Raising children according to the tribe’s rules, particularly as those rules relate to indoctrinating them
- Representing one’s faith and tribe to others, especially on social media
So when I talk about them having to Jesus harder, I simply mean that they must do more of all of that and with extra zeal and dedication.
(You’ve likely already noticed some big problems Christians have with both Jesusing and Jesusing harder. We’re getting there, don’t worry!)
Evangelical #1 wants the rank-and-file to Jesus harder to fix declines
Our first evangelical guest star is Oscar Amaechina. He’s the president of an evangelical missionary group in Nigeria. In addition, he published a book in 2020 called The Mystery of the Cross Revealed: The Biblical Truth Which Pastors Are Afraid To Tell Their Followers. The book follows his awakening from “all the rosy promises” of wealth and happiness that his recruiters told him were his as “the dividend of salvation” to the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ path of suffering and endless, thankless recruitment work. He thinks that evangelical pastors are “afraid” to teach their followers this path.
In his editorial for Christian Post, he yearns for Christians to become “fanatics for Christ.” He starts here:
Fanaticism is a word that most Christians bristle at. Let’s pause a bit and reflect on this. Is there really anything wrong with Christians being filled with zeal for Christ? Shouldn’t we have unquestioning enthusiasm for the same God who came down in the likeness of a man and died to save our souls?
Then, he makes a hard right turn into wingnuttery by differentiating TRUE CHRISTIAN™ fanaticism from ickie heathen fanaticism:
It is important to note that the value of fanaticism is determined by the cause. Some are fanatics for evil agendas and their extreme zeal causes them to commit atrocities. This is not the case with Christ’s disciples. These are men and women who love Christ dearly and who desire to follow His footsteps. They do not tolerate evil; they do not compromise their faith and they zealously pursue the lost to see them come to know Christ as well.
See? Ickie evil heathens are the wrong kind of fanatics. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would never. Except when they do. Then the tribe will just call them fake Christians anyway, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.
All he has to offer in terms of evidence to support this differentiation are Bible verses. Using the Bible to prove something he thinks is in the Bible is pure circular reasoning.
Segue: He’s also very upset that evil ickie heathen sportsball and media fans aren’t called fanatics
Then, he complains that the evil ickie heathen world is fine with sports and media fans’ “excess enthusiasm,” but they don’t even call it that:
It is absurd that the world accepts excessive enthusiasm in sports, music and media, but no one brands the key players as fanatics.
And yes, that’s true. In actual point of actual fact, heathens don’t generally brand those “key players” as fanatics in the same sense as we consider religious fanaticism. That would be because they don’t act at all like religious fanatics. The “key players” in sports and media enthusiasm don’t break laws, destroy other people’s lives or property, seek to indoctrinate outsiders’ children without their parents’ consent, prey upon the vulnerable to recruit them, or seek to trample civil liberties or human rights in their endless quest for domination over everything they can possibly shit all over.
Religious fanatics constantly do all of that and more. They have a host of hand-waving rationalizations to excuse themselves for doing it, of course. But they do it all the same. When NFL fans paint themselves up dark red and blue, then visit old folks’ homes to try to recruit them to the Good News of the New England Patriots and sneak worship of Tom Brady into elementary schools through fantasy football games, then I’ll consider calling them fanatics.
Even the worst K-pop and SuperWhoLock fans don’t come anywhere close to the offenses Americans regularly endure from Christian fanatics. That’s why we smile indulgently at Beyoncé fans who call themselves “fanatics,” but we avoid Christian fanatics like the plague they almost always are. All too often, Christian fanatics get ideas about other people’s lives and rights. We don’t want to be caught in their focus when that happens.
Jesus harder to destroy the evil ickie devil causing everyone’s troubles!
Having made these assertions and complaints, Amaechina now tells us that Christians’ lack of “fanaticism” is causing a lot of problems in the real world:
Evil thrives in our societies and nations because Christians are embracing the world for fear of being labeled “fanatics.” However, the devil only fears so-called fanatics and finds it difficult to promote his agenda wherever they live.
This is a simple if->then statement:
IF Christians become fanatical, THEN evil will not “thrive in societies.”
However, remember that this guy wrote a whole book about how his god absolutely assures his followers that they will suffer mightily for him. The harder they Jesus, the more they’ll suffer. If they fail to Jesus hard enough, then they will suffer much less.
So what is the evil thriving in society, exactly? It sounds like it brings way less suffering than Jesusing does. To me, it sounds like Christian fanatics are the ones causing suffering here. If a Christian manages to Jesus harder to the point of fanaticism, then begins to suffer a lot, it’s not demons causing it. It’s them reaping the consequences of being disruptive and boorish.
Fanaticism: How Jesus Jesused harder at the temple
Amaechina specifically points to the Gospel myth of Jesus driving out the moneychangers at the temple in Jerusalem. I call this a myth, of course, because nobody in Jerusalem at the time mentioned a word about it happening. The story appears only in the Bible. But that said, it’s important enough to appear in all four gospels.
In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus shows up at the temple, looks around, decides it’s a bit late to cause the kind of stunt he’s got in mind, and goes to an inn to get a meal and some rest. The next day, he causes that ruckus by overturning the tables of moneychangers and merchants selling much-needed sacrificial animals. Of course, the Jewish leaders of the city were infuriated. Mark tells us that this is when they decided that Jesus had to go.
Amaechina decides that The Big Problem Here was Jesus’ fanaticism, not the fact that he was seriously disrupting perfectly valid services that out-of-town Jewish visitors desperately needed in order to perform their religious rites.
Just imagine being a first-century Jewish woman who’d just had a son and needed to give the temple priests two turtledoves they could sacrifice to purify you before Yahweh. Luke tells us that even Jesus’ mother had performed this purification rite after his birth. Chances are good that Mary or Joseph had bought those birds at the temple rather than hauling them from their hometown. It was okay then, but not okay the day Jesus needed to cause a ruckus to get attention.
See, this is exactly why people don’t like religious fanatics. Swifties would never.
Evangelical #2 demands the flocks Jesus harder to bring about “revival and reformation”
Our second guest star, Wallace Henley, begins his editorial by complaining about how sad he is that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminary he attended years ago is struggling with enrollment declines:
Almost sixty years later the big dome that inspired me is still there, along with some newer buildings. But something is missing. I park my car with ease because there are many empty spaces. There was a time when one had to circle the campus to find a place to leave his or her automobile.
He goes on to note that in the 2020-2021 school year, that seminary (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) had a 70% drop in enrollment. I particularly liked this detail:
The glimmering new auditorium seats 3,500 though the student body is down to little more than 900.
Now, what on earth could be causing this steep decline? A worldwide pandemic that’s had a lot of families re-evaluating their kids’ career aspirations? Constant stories of this particular seminary’s financial skullduggery and mismanagement? A general and growing discontent with the SBC in particular and evangelicalism in general leading to massive waves of disaffiliation?
Oh, no. Nothing like that. To Henley, the Big Problem Here is a lack of sufficient Jesusing:
The situation prompts a stark question: Are we living through the age of apostasy that Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 would befall the world prior to His Second Coming, or is the crisis a result of sheer apathy?
Apostasy—falling away from the faith—may well be part of the answer, since other once-great denominations and their institutions are also declining in membership, attendance, and support.
But apathy may be a major part of the problem.
Likewise, the flocks need to Jesus harder to fix that dreadful, terrible problem.
A formula to explain why the SBC is in decline
Henley sets up a sort of formula of his own, too.
Apathy is a sign of exhaustion and hopelessness. It prompts a still harder question: What’s the point? How is it possible for major leaders who warn about the consequences of sin to squelch their own consciences regarding what they do in the dark and hidden places?
So here’s how that formula goes: Hearing constantly about scandals leads to exhaustion and hopelessness –> exhaustion and hopelessness lead to apathy –> apathy leads to apostasy –> apostasy leads to declines.
It’s not that I think he’s wrong. Toward the end of my marriage to my Evil Ex, I found myself so exhausted with his antics that I lost all hope that anything would ever change. Even when he apologized for doing something terrible, I’d just shrug. I knew he’d be doing it again soon anyway. In a very real way, as we barreled toward our final breakup I stopped caring what he did or didn’t do. I’m sure that same thing is happening on the grand scale with SBC-lings.
But one would think Henley would focus more on squelching news of scandals. That’s a lot easier than getting evangelicals to Jesus harder. The SBC did it for years with great success during their glory days of rapid growth and expansion. It’s not like church and denominational leaders weren’t doing exactly the same things back then that they are today. They definitely were. They just weren’t under the same scrutiny. With the huge amount of cultural power those leaders held, they could easily silence victims and witnesses.
Clearly, Henley knows that the SBC’s leaders will never be going back to those heady days of operating with utter impunity. Dude even offers up Ezekiel 8:9 as PROOF YES PROOF that Jesus is totes behind the exposure of SBC leaders’ misdeeds.
Don’t worry, though! Henley knows how to totally fix everything.
How Jesusing harder totally fixed Wales
This was such a glorious fustercluck of assertions. Every one of them assumes facts not in evidence. But each assertion just feels so completely Jesusy to him that he’s gladly followed them all wherever they lead him.
We seem to be living in a situation like that of Ezekiel when the Lord showed him what was really going on behind Temple walls: “great abominations.” (Ezekiel 8:9.) If we are in such a season of shocking disclosure, then there is hope. Saint Peter, in another era like that in which we live, expressed the urgency: “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17)
If that happens the outcome will be the greatest antidote to apathy and apostasy: Authentic revival. The Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 is a graphic example.
When that occurs, people will trust the church, listen to its message, and understand its relevance. Congregations will thrive with passionate, committed men and women ablaze with God and His Gospel of salvation and hope, which this present world needs so urgently.
A while ago, I studied the Welsh Revival that began in New Quay (apparently pronounced NYOO-key), Wales. People there mostly make their money from the sea. It doesn’t sound like it’s changed much in the past 200ish years since that grand revival.
Evangelicals love this revival. But it really just sounds like social contagion to me. A relatively poor community that kept losing its menfolk to the unpredictable sea got swept up in a super-charismatic and frustrated preacher’s zeal. In particular, a young woman named Florrie Evans got caught up in that wave. She is generally thought to be one of the big sparks of the revival.
From everything I’ve read about this revival, the community beforehand was nothing like the SBC of today. People were restless, yes. They wanted something real, something substantial, something tangible, yes. But we don’t see anything like the modern evangelical situation in the New Quay, Wales of the early 1900s. Nobody was getting rocked with constant scandals in their leadership that exhausted the pew-warmers to the point of apathy.
Also, at one point I found some interesting accounts of Florrie Evans being quite a weirdo who dabbled in strange spiritualistic practices and loved being the Queen Bee of her group of hangers-on and admirers. Can’t find it anymore, but oh, it was interesting.
Nowadays, it seems like things are back to normal at New Quay. In 2021, one site estimated that just over half the population of New Quay identified as Christian, while 46% were unaffiliated with any religion. By 2022, over 50% were unaffiliated. That qualifies New Quay as one of the ten least religious parts of Wales. (OMG! That link also reveals that there is a real Penzance! I thought that was a made-up location from the old play!)
That revival doesn’t seem to have had a lasting impact on much of anything.
He can use as many formulae as he likes; they won’t work
Just as Henley gave us a formula for decline, he has also provided us with a formula for reversing that decline:
Shocking disclosure leads to judgment –> Judgment leads to self-examination (I think?) –> Honest self-examination leads to authentic revival somehow –> Everyone trusts and listens to church leaders again –> Everyone understands the relevance of their leaders’ messages –> Congregations grow and thrive again –> Everyone in the pews becomes a blazing beacon of Jesus-osity and nonstop evangelism –> The whole world goes whoaaa, dude and converts to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
He even offers a similar formula toward the end of his post:
When their leaders and people look realistically at the issues and seek God’s face in prayer, supplication, and repentance, revival, and reformation come, and people and their societies are blessed.
Henley claims that “churches have been at this point before in history.” That’s supposed to inspire evangelicals toward hope that things will improve if they do as he says. But I’d like to ask when that previous point was. I certainly cannot think of any time like this except for the religion’s very earliest century or two. Before Christian leaders gained real temporal power around the 3-4th centuries, people could criticize those leaders and expose their hypocrisy without worrying about losing everything.
Even now, evangelicals in particular don’t realize that their biggest leaders aren’t interested in confessing their sins and moving forward with their followers into glorious revival. They only seek to protect their own incomes and power, and to make as much money as they can from their endeavors until the money-making machine conks out.
Why evangelicals can’t and won’t Jesus harder
Up until now, we’ve considered mostly the earlier ends of these two evangelicals’ reasoning. Both of these guys think that insufficient Jesusing has led to the current declines evangelicals are experiencing. Therefore, sufficient Jesusing should put everything right again.
Now let’s do what these two haven’t, and reckon with their hosts.
Evangelicals have long demonstrated that they are not interested in Jesusing harder. They didn’t join evangelicalism in the first place to do a lot of unpleasant work. Evangelicalism is the substitute they’re using to get out of unpleasant work.
Some evangelicals are just naturally very suggestible. They work themselves up easily and their emotions are like lightning bolts running right under their skin, so they take to the demands of evangelicalism like ducks to water. Others are extremely narcissistic or control-hungry. They become very zealous because that’s their ticket to the power and attention they seek. Both groups are quite small within the overall number of evangelicals, however. They sometimes inspire the rest to a temporary state of zeal, but that’s about it.
Of the rest, of the majority, they want the emotional rewards granted by joining evangelicalism, whatever that means to them: Feeling correct, or safe, or morally justified, or among friends in community, or whatever else. To get that result, they gravitate to a form and intensity of Jesusing that works for them. And their Dear Leaders can try all they like to get the flocks to Jesus harder than that. They might as well be crying for rain on the Moon.
The worst part: It’s just wasted effort for Christians to Jesus harder
On those few occasions when evangelicals can be shamed or goosed into Jesusing harder than they usually do, it never takes long for them to realize they’re not getting more out of that increased effort. As I said, they already figured out how much Jesusing and what kind of Jesusing they need to get whatever they wanted out of their religion.
In its way, Jesusing resembles another usually-private activity, one that doesn’t usually require a ton of frills and props and which almost everyone indulges in regularly. People figure out how best to go about that activity, and then that’s largely how they do it forever. They can add whatever frills and props they want to it, and sometimes they do. But they learn that that extra stuff usually just turns out to be added work to achieve the exact same result.
Of course, that particular private activity is tangible. Its results are, likewise, tangible. Jesusing isn’t at all tangible. Its results are similarly purely imaginary. For those imaginary outcomes to matter to the person Jesusing, they need to believe that they’ll matter, then be able to imagine them mattering that intensely. Nothing about them or their surroundings will look or act any different no matter how hard they Jesus—unless they annoy other people enough to start reaping the consequences of generally boorish behavior, as our first evangelical editorial writer discovered!
Instead of constantly demanding more intense Jesusing, I wish that evangelicals pushed each other to care for the poor and comfort the weary and all that other boring-ass stuff Jesus specifically told them to do. More than that, I wish they’d do it without even trying to recruit those people. I wish that’s what Jesusing meant to them, rather than psyching themselves up in their imaginations through Christian-themed self-hypnosis.
But then, Jesusing itself is the substitute for that stuff. The harder evangelicals Jesus, the less they have to worry about doing what he actually ordered.
How you can support Roll to Disbelieve
Thanks for reading, and thanks for being part of our community!
And now, here are some ways you can support my work:
- Patreon, of course, for as little as $2 a month! I now write Patreon posts twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with patrons getting early access 3 days ahead of time.
- Paypal, for direct one-time gifts. To do this, go to paypal.com, then go to the personal tab and say you want to send money, then enter firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore between the words) as the recipient. It won’t show me your personal information, only whatever email you input.
- My Amazon affiliate link, for folks who shop at Amazon. Just follow the link, then do your shopping as normal within that same browser window. This link adds nothing to your Amazon bill, but it does send me a little commission for whatever you spend there.
- And as always, sharing the links to my work and talking about it!
Thank you so much for being a part of Roll to Disbelieve!