The Four Security Strategies of Contemporary Evangelicalism

I’m thinking out loud right now about the kinds of security strategies we employ which actually represent ‘twisted’ ways of participating in the life of Christ in our world today.  I’ve taught about this a bit in my Psychology in Relation to Theology seminary courses and wrote about it a bit in Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. But I’d love your feedback and thoughts.

There were at least four established Jewish movements in Jesus’ day, according to most scholars – The Pharisees, The Essenes, The Sadducees, and the Zealots.  Of course, like most movements today, each was complex.  But generalizations can be made about the particular way in which each represented a security strategy for the Jews of that day.  These are psychological strategies. Often, our theological strategies are masked in psychological ones, and I’m proposing that this was the case then as it is today.  The Jewish people in the two centuries before Christ, after all, restlessly coped with multiple anxieties – the loss of a central place (Temple, land), an anxiety around Messiah’s return (manifesting in an array of apocalyptic and militaristic scenarios), conflict around accommodation to Empire (withdrawal vs. participation), and more.  Perhaps, their theological positions were not merely developed in a vacuum.  Maybe, they were attempting to cope with a very real disappointment with God and anxiety about their future?  Let’s take a look:

The Pharisees – a complex group (with multiple camps within it) who were the Torah-zealots of their day, rigidly guarding the boundaries of Jewish orthodoxy.  Their security strategy was a hyper-vigilant protectionism which provoked the ire of Jesus, who did not come to abolish Torah but to see it come to life.

The Essenes – A group of ancient ascetics who had given up on a Temple-centered Judaism, who lived by a strict code, and who imagined wildly apocalyptic scenarios for the coming of Messiah.  Their security strategy was withdrawal and avoidance, a self-protective strategy to keep them from mingling with the sellouts, their Jewish brothers and sisters who mixed and mingled with Empire.

The Sadducees – In contrast to the Essenes, the Sadducees were accommodators, who rolled with the upper echelon of society.  Though we don’t know a whole lot more than that, it appears that their security strategy was political in nature.  Hanging with the influencers kept them from having to feel the incredible powerlessness many Jews of the day felt.

The Zealots – Anxious for the kingdom to come, Zealots would take up arms to speed its day.  These warriors of God adopted a militaristic security strategy which bred a sense of power and control amidst extraordinary anxiety about the Jewish future.  Even despite the radically cruciform way of Christ, Christians would take up arms for their cause for generations after.

Now, do these four movements correspond, in any way, to our contemporary evangelical security strategies?  Do we see ourselves in them?  Do we define Jesus through them?

Here are some initial thoughts with some initial descriptors.  I welcome push back, as I’m developing some of these thoughts for further use down the road.

Modern-day Pharisees – Policemen for Jesus.  Guardians of tradition.  Hyper-vigilantly aware whenever someone appears to cross the line.  Black and white.  Noble in their passion for truth, but dangerously close to forfeiting intimacy with God in their fervor for rightness about God.  A security that comes from certainty of doctrine rather than confidence in Jesus.

Modern-day Essenes – Monks for Jesus.  Guardians of purity.  Prone to see everything in this world as a distraction from real relationship with God.  So noble in their heavenly-mindedness, yet prone to be of little earthly good.  A security that comes from self-protection rather than bold and cruciform engagement in the life of Jesus.

Modern-day Sadducees – Salesman for Jesus.  Players in the game of faith.  Willing to accommodate in any way to advance the cause.  Passionate in their desire to be “all things” but in danger of selling a hollow faith.  A security that comes from being important, relevant, striving to become a power-player for Team Jesus instead of enjoying the freedom to have influence (…rather than need influence).

Modern-day Zealots – Warrior for Jesus.  Ready to fight alongside General Jesus in the battle for truth and goodness over heresy and sinfulness.  Aggressive in every endeavor.  Passionate for a faith-in-action, but prone to run people (and especially women) over.  A security in a dominant and forceful presence (in preaching/media/web/relationships/etc.) instead of resting in the cruciform, self-sacrificial, powerless way of Jesus.

Send me your thoughts.  And, if you’re being honest, you’ll likely see yourself in one or more of these, as I do.  The bigger question is how we go about doing the hard work of self-evaluation, as well as evaluating our churches, our denominations, our movements, and institutions.

How do I cope in one of these ways?  How do I lead from this kind of posture?  What anxieties/disappointments are really operating behind the scenes?  What values have I adopted (and defended, as if from God) as a result, perhaps, of my own unconscious needs?  What movement have I aligned with because it scratches this psychological itch?

7 comments

  1. This is excellent, Chuck, but I’m disappointed that you didn’t thank me for posing for the zealot photo
    (not that I’m a zealot)

    Scot

  2. I have often thought about why there seems to be such a trend in evangelical circles to jump on those who are perceived to be unorthodox or heterodox. Here’s a couple  factors to consider: 1) many evangelicals may not understand or embrace the distinction between what is heretical and what is heterodox so that any kind of straying from the” straight and narrow” is seen as equally corrosive to the faith and 2) that there is no central authority in evangelicalism to protect the theological core as in Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches. So vigilantes arise who try to provide this function. Of course it is an open question whether they are defending the theological center.

    1. Chuck I appreciate your thoughts. Rooting typology in psychology is helpful and potentially more lasting than associating them with comtemporary religious movements. Ann’s addition that failure to have a primary keeper of the culture hightlits an enduring problem for evgalicals. So combining your two premises I observe that evangelicals rely on celebrity to determine who carries the sacred flame with each psychological typology hearlding their own champion.

  3. I use something like this typology when I’m preparing sermons from the Gospels to help me make good connections.

    I would add that none of these were ‘traditional’ Jewry, despite what they may have claimed. Maybe zealotry had the strongest historical pedigree, but I wouldn’t know. Anyway, these are more than security strategies, they are also agendas or missions. Each of these groups were responding to a new situation with an agenda of what needed to happen to set things right. Withdraw, obey harder, fight harder, or adapt. Come to think of it, there seems to be a active/passive pole at play with the most passive or resigned in the ‘Essenes’ and the most active or confrontational in the ‘Zealots.’

  4. Good stuff, Chuck. Your typology reminds me of HRN’s in”Christ and Culture.” The
    psychological component as well as the suggested profiles of certain kinds of evangelicals
    gives me much to consider. Thanks.

  5. Chuck, I like it.  You pose that each of the four movements have a security strategy in reaction 
    to multiple anxieties.  So, I’m wondering if you can link each movement to a psychological 
    disorder rooted in anxiety.  For example:

    Pharisees = Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
    Essenes = Avoidant personality disorder 
    Sadducees = Narcissistic personality disorder
    Zealots = Anti-social personality

    The Psychopathologies of Contemporary Evangelicalism?

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