Andrew Sullivan’s first experience with megachurch Praise & Worship worship came during the memorial service for David Kuo, an aid to president George W. Bush, who recently succumbed to cancer (thanks to John Fea). Sullivan was surprised by what he saw:
I have never been to a mega-church service – which is something to be ashamed of, since I have written so often about evangelicalism’s political wing. And it was revealing. The theater was called a sanctuary – but it felt like a conference stage. There were no pews, no altar (of course), just movie-theater seats, a big complicated stage with a set, and four huge screens. It looked like a toned-down version of American Idol. I was most impressed by the lighting, its subtlety and professionalism (I’ve often wondered why the Catholic church cannot add lighting effects to choreograph the Mass). The lyrics of the religious pop songs – “hymns” doesn’t capture their Disney channel infectiousness – were displayed on the screens as well, allowing you to sing without looking down at a hymnal. Great idea. And the choir was a Christian pop band, young, hip-looking, bearded, unpretentious and excellent. Before long, I was singing and swaying and smiling with the best of them. The only thing I couldn’t do was raise my hands up in the air.
This was not, in other words, a Catholic experience. But it was clearly, unambiguously, a Christian one.
That right there is enough to put any serious Christian off evangelicalism. How you go from Wesley and Watts to Shane and Shane is, of course, the wonder, genius, and idiocy of evangelicalism in North America.
But Sullivan goes on to wonder about evangelicalism without its political baggage.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that so many of us have come to view evangelical Christianity as threatening, and in its political incarnation, it is at times. But freed from politics, evangelical Christianity has a passion and joy and Scriptural mastery we could all learn from. The pastors were clearly of a higher caliber than most of the priests I have known – in terms of intellect and command. The work they do for the poor, the starving, and the marginalized in their own communities and across the world remains a testimony to the enduring power of Christ’s resurrection.
To be sure, finding a form of evangelical Protestantism after 1820 that is not tied to a political cause is difficult since immanentizing the eschaton was not a temptation that evangelicals resisted — until the Scofield Reference Bible. But Sullivan’s reflections do make you think that the means of grace, even in the diluted form that evangelicals use, is a better testimony to the truths of the gospel than all of that politicking.