American Evangelicalism: A Decadent Culture?

decadentWhen you hear the phrase “decadent culture,” what characteristics come to mind? Eroding morals? Licentiousness and fornication? Gluttony and drunkenness? Collapse of family values? All of the above?

The literal meaning of decadent is “a state of decline or decay.” It seems to me that, if we strip away all the mental baggage of hedonism and go back to that simple definition, then it’s accurate to say that American evangelicalism is a decadent culture.

DeepThingsofGodOne of the books we have been reading lately is The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders. Sanders claims that American evangelicalism is in a state of malaise because it has largely forgotten its Trinitarian roots. After a few generations of distilling the glorious and incomprehensible gospel of cosmic redemption to a revivalist sales pitch about what individuals must do to be saved, evangelical church leaders and members can no longer see how the pieces of the Christian-faith puzzle fit together.

Sanders writes:

All cultures and subcultures move through stages, and evangelicalism is, among other things, a distinct subculture of Christianity. In cultural terms, a classical period is a time when all the parts of a community’s life seem to hang together, mutually reinforce each other, and make intuitive sense. By contrast, a decadent period is marked by dissolution of all the most important unities, a sense that whatever initial force gave impetus and meaningful form to the culture has pretty much spent its power. Decadence is a falling off, a falling apart from a previous unity.


Inhabitants of a decadent culture feel themselves to be living among the scraps and fragments of something that must have made sense to a previous generation but which now seem more like a pile of unrelated items. Decadent cultures feel unable to articulate the reasons for connecting things to each other. They spend a lot of time staring at isolated fragments, unable to combine them into meaningful wholes. They start all their important speeches by quoting Yeats’s overused line, “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Decadents either fetishize their tribal and party distinctions or mix absolutely everything together in one sloppy combination. Not everybody in a decadent culture even feels a need to work toward articulating unities, but those who do make the attempt face a baffling challenge. At best, the experience is somewhat like working a jigsaw puzzle without the guidance of the finished image from the box top; at worst, it is like undertaking that task while fighting back the slow horror of realization that what you have in front of you are pieces that come from several different puzzles, none of them complete or related. Evangelicalism in our lifetime seems to be in a decadent period. In some sectors of the evangelical subculture, there is not even a living cultural memory of a classical period or golden age; what we experience is decadence all the way back.

Sanders continues with a vivid description of how the members of a decadent culture typically act.
Under conditions of decadence, two types of reaction typically occur. Conservative temperaments tend to grab up all the fragments and insist on keeping them as they were found. They may be totally inert lumps that nobody knows how to make use of, but the conservative will faithfully preserve them as museum pieces. Liberal temperaments, on the other hand, tend to toss the fragments aside as rapidly as they stop proving useful. Imagine a conservative and a liberal in some future dark age, pondering an antique internal combustion engine that either can operate but neither could build. Bolted to the side of the engine is an inscrutable gadget that is not clearly adding anything to the function of the vehicle. The liberal would reason that since it cannot be shown to do anything for the motor’s function, it should be removed and discarded. The conservative would reason that since it cannot be shown to do anything, it must remain precisely where it is forever. Perhaps if we knew what it did, it could be removed, but as long as we do not understand it, it stays. Whatever the merits of their temperaments (and neither can be right in this case), under the condition of decadence liberals become streamliners and conservatives become pack rats. Evangelicals have long tended toward the pack rat temperament, even though there are some signs that we may currently be exchanging that temperament for its relatively less happy alternative. What it leaves us with is an impressive stock of soteriological bric-a-brac that we don’t know what to do with or how it originally went together.The inability to grasp the wholeness of salvation is actually one of the primary manifestations of our decadent theological culture.


Is Christian salvation forgiveness, a personal relationship with Jesus, power for moral transformation, or going to heaven? It is all of those and more, but a true account of the thing itself will have to start with the living whole if we ever hope to make sense of the parts. Just think how tricky it is to combine free forgiveness and moral transformation in an organic way if what you are starting with is the individual parts. A dreary back-and-forth between cheap grace and works-righteousness is one of the bedeviling distractions of evangelical experience under the conditions of decadence.

In my days of youthful arrogance, I used to imagine, “Yeah, those American churches are in a state of decline. But UBF has really got it together.” Does anyone out there still believe that? Seriously?



  1. Thanks, Joe. I didn’t realize the term, but I guess I have been living in a “decadent church culture.”

    I have simply stated what is plainly obvious to many, which is that our numbers, our offering and our morale is clearly on the decline, even if some people think that saying it is a sin against God, because it discourages people.

    • Joe Schafer

      Declining membership and financial resources could be a sign of decadence. But I can also imagine a decadent culture that grows in numbers simply by fertility and childbearing. Or one that grows in popularity (for example, because of a charismatic leader who can get people to follow him) even though the community doesn’t have a coherent understanding of why it exists. But sooner or later, the decadent culture will have to decline in numbers.

  2. “When you hear the phrase “decadent culture,” what characteristics come to mind?”

    What comes to my mind is self-righteous, legalistic Pharisee type people who claim to be Christian and yet can only hide themselves in their self-made castles of theological systems and claim the culture around them is “decadent.”

    Decadent means “characterized by or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline.”

    The world is actually becoming a safer, more humane place in several places (not everyplace but more places). What is declining is the number of people who are willing to live in whitewashed houses of thinking.

    We are in a time of epic transition and flux, between the past 500 year age and a new age, between modernity and whatever comes after post-modernism. Might we be moving from modernity through poser-modernism and into “post-post-modernism” or the new “theism” or the “ancient futurism” age?

    • oops, typo “post-modernism” :))

    • Brian, I believe what comes after post-modernism is termed “hyper-modernity”. rapid acquisition and exploitation of advanced technology + modernism = hyper-modernism, or something like that.

    • Thanks David! That link led me to the term I was looking for: metamodernism, one of the reactions to post-modernism.

    • And so one of my thoughts is that we who are Christ-followers need to figure out how to share and live the gospel in a metamodern world, steeped in this kind of thinking:

      “We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage. Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons.”

      I for one love the possibilities of what Christ may be doing and how the magnificence of the gospel shines brightly in this line of thought!

  3. Is it fair to say (in broad stokes) that:

    * conservative churches (which incline toward legalism and work-righteousness) simply enjoy bashing the liberals of “cheap grace”?

    * On the other hand, liberal churches (which champion love, freedom and inclusivity) enjoy bashing the condescending self-righteousness of conservative legalistic churches?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I don’t think that the ping-pong match where one side accuses the other of “cheap grace” and the other yells back “works righteousness” is necessarily some evidence of a conservative/liberal split. This kind of thing is found all the time, for example, in lowbrow debates between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

    • Joe Schafer

      When Sanders talks about the evangelical culture, I believe he is loosely referring to people and churches who frame the gospel in terms of “what one must do to in order to be saved.” Most of those people are, in my estimation, fairly conservative theologically.

      When he uses “conservative” and “liberal” in that quote above, I think he is referring to personality types who say “don’t change anything” or “we need wholesale change.” Not conservative or liberal theology.

      For example, I would use Francis Chan as an example of someone whose personality says “we need wholesale change” even though he is theologically conservative.

  4. Joe, I saw this cartoon today that reminded me of your article here. It seems this cartoon is a good picture of what American Evangelicalism has done to the gospel.

    The house of rope

    When you walk in the front door and fall into a pit, of course you’ll see the need to buy some rope.

    The same is true of ubf. When you walk in the door of ubf you fall into a pit, thinking you are a sheep. So of course you then feel the need for a personal, lifelong human shepherd. Most of us then stay yoked for life.

    So I’m glad we have discussed the shepherding issue in much detail here.

    • Joe Schafer

      Great cartoon. It also makes me think more generally about certain kinds of evangelism and discipleship where the discipler feels the need to point out the sins of the target person, in order to “convict” that person of sin under the law, so that the person can then turn to Christ for salvation. The discipler believes it is his job to dig the pit. What he (the discipler) fails to understand is that the pit he dug is a social construction and, at best, only a poor approximation to the person’s true predicament. And the discipler fails to see that he too is in a pit.

    • I remember spending so much time trying to figure out how to convict someone of their sin, how to convince them of their lack of righteousness so they would see their need for for the Savior I was offering them and how to warn them of the impending Judgment.

      I see now that my “discipling” methods were usurping the role of the Holy Spirit. I was attempting to play God’s role. And I see John 16:8-11 so very clearly now. It is God’s role to convict.

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes. It is the Holy Spirit’s role to convict. And the evangelist who carries the good news to someone must be just as open to painful conviction as he expects the other person to be. Otherwise what he is sharing is something other than the gospel.

    • So I’ve been pondering over roles this week. God’s role is to convict. God’s role is to save. God’s role is to be the final judge.

      What is the role of an evangelist? In light of the recent embezzlement charges against David Yonggi Cho, who founded the world’s largest church, I think we should all consider our roles more seriously.

      Is the role of a church leader/pastor/evangelist/etc. to gain recruits who are loyal to the cause? How do we avoid creating an exclusive religious club? When will we realize that all leaders are already fallen before they fall publicly?

    • BK and Joe, I’ve had some recent questions come to mind about the nexus between our activity and God’s. BK, your example of the Holy Spirit’s conviction is an excellent case in point. From the passage you quoted, it does seem as though the Holy Spirit is the sole source of conviction of sin. But Paul’s scope seems to also include human activity, namely through the Spirit-endowed gift of prophecy. This is what he says in 1 Cor 14:22-25:

      22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

      I don’t want to use this to justify the specific activity of UBF which you spoke of. But Paul does seem to strongly indicate that there is a definite role for humans to play in the process of conviction of sin. Perhaps if UBF sought to understand Paul’s words here, we would have less aberrant behavior in the 1:1 setting.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, I totally agree with you. As disciples, we become aware of our sin through contact with others in the church community. Assuming, of course, that we have close, authentic relationships with other believers that go beyond role-playing. That is a big reason why, in my opinion, the discipleship models that focus on training individuals often fail to produce mature disciples.

      One of the main ways that we encounter God is through the work of the Holy Spirit in other believers. The Holy Spirit is a gift to the whole church, not merely to individuals in the church. When the Spirit is genuinely speaking through the prophetic witness of someone in the church, people will listen. But when church members manufacture a message that they think will make people repent, it tends to fall flat.

  5. This excerpt from David Kim’s message at UBF’s 50th anniversary seminar is a good example of one trying to manufacture conviction of sin (though he may be fully convinced that he is preaching gospel truth):

    “I believe that this is also what God says to us. We are living in the world which changes rapidly. The circumstances where we live are totally different from those in 1960’s when UBF was founded and in 1970’s , 80’s when the campus ministry flourished. We encounter difficulties and limits in serving the new generation who follow the popular trend of life infected with sins and go down the main stream of sins. For this reason we began to doubt if we should look for alternatives and changes different from what we had in the past. If there are better ways and alternatives to serve this generation, we should try to find them. From 1990’s we have made every efforts to find better ways and alternatives to serve the rapidly changing generation. New programs were sought out. Some chapters tried to implement the spiritual movement giving up raising disciples through one-to-one bible study because it was so difficult. Other chapters tried to live a religious life without the burdens of sharing daily bread and writing a testimony. There were also some chapters that tried to attract attention of the young through singspiration rather than to focus on profound bible studying or testimony training. However, they failed without bearing good fruits. We have not found other ways or alternatives better than one-to-one bible study, daily bread, writing testimony, a life giving spirit with five loaves and two fishes, pioneering spirit, community spirit, self-supporting spirit that we have had from the beginning of UBF history.

    We learned and became convinced of the fact that the spirit and ministry that worked among us for the past 50 years was not a typical UBF spirit or ideas, but it was from the eternal truth of God’s words. Therefore we should continue in the truth that we learned and stand firmly on it. We should repent of becoming weak in the spirit and ministry. And we should stand firm on the truth all the more.” (source:

    • Joe Schafer

      “However, they failed without bearing good fruits. We have not found other ways or alternatives better than one-to-one bible study, daily bread, writing testimony…”

      David Kim is consistent. If you define the ideal disciple of Jesus as someone who does 1:1 Bible study, daily bread, testimony writing, etc. ad nauseum — then there is no better way to train disciples than to make them do those very things over and over and over.

      And I’m sure that he’s vying to be the next GD.

    • DavidW,

      Good point about humans having some sort of role in “convicting of sin”. I would say we need to discuss that more.

      I would say David K’s lecture is an example of how not to play that role.

      And what’s worse, that link is not the actual lecture David Kim published in the 50th Anniversary blue book. The actual lecture is much much worse in terms of replacing the role of the Holy Spirit with human effort.

    • Sorry but I just have to point this out again about this terrible lecture… there are glaring differences between the private book version and the online public version. Namely…

      In the private version (first part of the long paragraph on page 10) we read this:

      “If the spirit that worked in the UBF ministry for the past 50 years came from human efforts or ideas, we don’t need to continue in them. Those that come from human thoughts and ideas are limited and will change or disappear someday in the future. However, the spirit that worked in the UBF ministry for the past 50 years didn’t come from the ideas of Dr. Samuel Lee or Mother Barry. It was not a typical UBF spirit, but the eternal truth of God’s words.”

      This is a new teaching. When I came to UBF in 1987, everyone was clear: UBF spirit came from Sarah Barry and Samuel Lee. This I can understand and accept: UBF was built on ideas from Lee and Barry, from the Bible.

      But now we find that UBF spirit came from God? UBF is the “best ways” and the “truth of God’s words”? UBF is God’s truth? UBF is not a human idea, but God’s idea? This was always an unspoken rule that I thought ubf people didn’t really believe.

    • David Kim says, “We learned and became convinced of the fact that the spirit and ministry that worked among us for the past 50 years was not a typical UBF spirit or ideas, but it was from the eternal truth of God’s words.” So if we believe that UBF methods are Spirit-inspired then what if we fail to teach these methods to those under our care? Would we be in effect “quenching the Spirit”? Furthermore, should we be subjected to church discipline? I ask this because someone said that the leadership holds no unanimous position on the meaning or application of the UBF heritage points. But David Kim, an extremely influential figure in UBF, tells us specifically what parts of the heritage we must hold onto and apply and if we are not doing so then we should repent. I don’t agree with his direction because I do not believe that the Spirit is working in each and every member to do the specific things that he mentioned. Though he is a director in Korea and does not presumably call the shots in my locale (actually I don’t want to presume that his words have little to no bearing on UBF North America’s practices), he has a position of authority which I should respect. As a lay member who is not “in the know”, in regard to the detailed inner workings of UBF, I am confused as to what to make of my present inner conflict.

  6. “…leadership holds no unanimous position on the meaning or application of the UBF heritage points.”

    Correct. ubf leaders a. hold no official doctrine position and b. take no responsibility for their teachings and c. refuse to put in place any kind of accountability checks-and-balances.

    And that my friends is how cult leaders operate. Christ-followers do the opposite. Real leaders, even pagan leaders if you’ll suffer that term, do the opposite. Real leaders go out of the way to make sure you know their teaching, take responsibility for their teaching and allow critical feedback/checks-and-balances.

  7. DavidW,

    “As a lay member who is not “in the know”, in regard to the detailed inner workings of UBF, I am confused as to what to make of my present inner conflict.”

    That’s something you should ask your organizational leaders about. If you ask me, I’ll give you my thoughts as to what to make of this, but for now I’ll refrain from giving you my “poisonous Satanic advice” :)

  8. Joe Schafer

    Brian is exactly right: everyone in UBF has consistently refused to take responsibility for what is going on in their organization. That has been the most frustrating aspect of my dealings with them over the last several years. Again and again, I have brought up my concerns to people at all levels of leadership. Every single individual and group — the GD, the North American coordinator, the senior staff, the elders, the ethics committee, the regional director, the local chapter directors, the fellowship leaders, the American shepherds, the second gens, and so on — everyone has consistently told me that they are unable to make tough decisions or take costly actions or hold anyone to account because someone else is blocking them from doing so. Every single person and group has passed the buck to someone else. Everyone has, in one way or another, privately disavowed and disowned the organization by saying that the problems are real but they are caused by someone else and nothing can be done about it.

  9. I have asked this question to one of the pastors in UBF and am awaiting a reply. And lol, Brian I don’t mind hearing your advice; it’s probably a lot more instructive than the silence and beating around the bush that I’ve experienced so far.

    I remember after one meeting when ATK, the current GD of UBF, was giving PTA (sheesh with the acronyms), he proceeded to give a long-winded speech about the importance of each member writing their bible testimony. A lot of people felt as though it was too long, came off as very forceful, and long, and unempathetic toward some who had not matured to espouse this activity. And did I mention that it was really long? I spoke with an assistant pastor afterward and he lamented that ATK had communicated testimony writing in that way. I wish that I would have asked the pastor this question: “Well he is the director of UBF so shouldn’t we take his words seriously? If these are the eternal truths of God then we should have accepted his rebuke and be all on our knees in repentance.” It’s just so confusing because on the one hand, you have certain leaders who feel strongly about emphasizing particular practices but on the other there are those who don’t feel as though these things should be forced, but yet they will not come out and publicly voice their disagreement. Are we to obey these “God-given” practices or not? In my own understanding I’ve concluded that UBF is probably misguided in saying that these practices are from God’s eternal truth. But it just baffles me that the leadership as a whole will allow certain influential members to make these grandiose claims about UBF activities, even though some may internally disagree with such a stance.

    • Joe Schafer

      There are significant disagreements at all levels about this and all sorts of issues. But people do not feel free to voice their disagreements because they are afraid of what will happen. To support differences of opinion, you need a basic foundation of relational trust. You need the sense that, if you were to say something that other people do not like, you wouldn’t get thrown under the bus. But for the last 5 decades, they have seen so many people thrown under the bus that they are instinctively afraid to speak up. People simply do not trust one another enough to disagree.

    • I’ve had some good conversations with other leaders in my locale about the inner conflicts that we experience in UBF but almost unanimously, they seem to be content with not speaking up as well as working within the boundaries that are imposed on them by the elders. Part of it probably stems from fear of being thrown under the bus, as you said. But another aspect of it seems to be this convoluted justification that Christian life is supposed to be this way (perhaps cognitive dissonance?). After talking with a higher up in Chicago, they gave me the impression that their hands were essentially tied in many ways but they feel content to serve in the capacity that God has placed them; they feel a responsibility to take care of the people in their midst. This sounds commendable. But on the other hand, I’ve experienced that I’m actually doing a disservice to those under me if I allow them to remain in a system that is fraught with problems which will most likely not be resolved in the next twenty years or so.

    • Joe Schafer

      You may also be doing a disservice to those who are “over” you.

      In my case, leaders have made it clear that they are willing to tolerate my participation in the organization insofar as I serve their agenda, on their terms. They want to grant me the “privilege” of serving by providing input only on the narrow range of items that they deem fit. In other words, they want me to participate as Shepherd Joe, and they want the Real Joe to disappear from sight. Basically, they don’t want to treat me as a person, but as an object, a means to accomplish their predetermined ends.

      So the question I must ask is: Is it loving for me to continue to enable them to act as they do? At what point does my participation do harm to their souls? When do asymmetrical, dysfunctional, objectifying and emotionally abusive relationships become less holy than no relationship at all? That’s an honest question.

    • Joe, that’s precisely the question I’ve been asking myself as of late. A few years ago I began trying to have candid dialogues with my leaders because I realized that it was hypocritical and unloving of me to withhold my real concerns about certain ministry practices. Since then, I’ve experienced some good and bad results. It currently seems as though the bad is outweighing the good because UBF leaders are clear that they will not address or remedy these concerns any time soon. So I’ve been really grappling with how to handle this. Do I stay and enable them or do I make a clear statement by leaving? My current solution is to distance myself from UBF and its various functions. I have not left or resigned from UBF, but I’m pretty close to doing so. I’m not sure where this is leading me but I know that I can’t continue to remain in UBF as it is. As a functioning UBF chapter director what are some of the things that you have done to work this out?

    • Joe Schafer

      David, this is what we’ve been doing. (1) Forming a close partnership with another local congregation. (2) Work on building trusting relationships among our families so that meddlers cannot divide us; some have tried to do so in the past. (3) Draw close to God. (4) Read as many books as we can, have as many deep discussions as we can, about the fundamentals of our faith. (5) Don’t look to UBF for any spiritual support because at this point they have very little to offer. (6) Pray and patiently wait on God to heal us and lead us in his own time.

    • Thanks, Joe, this was very helpful. I think that, since you are the director, you have the benefit of being able to set the tone in this way. In my locale, we are heavily influenced by Korean elders. I love these people but it is extremely difficult to navigate dealing with some of the decisions that they want to impose on the congregation. I’m not sure if I have the mental and emotional fortitude to stick it out, to continually lovingly challenge them and also glean from the wisdom that they have. It would be a full time job for me to focus in this way. At this juncture in my life it seems as though maybe I should be using this energy to focus on my family and career as well as build relationships with other Christians in ministries which are healthier than UBF.

    • @David, “I’m not sure if I have the mental and emotional fortitude to stick it out, to continually lovingly challenge them and also glean from the wisdom that they have. It would be a full time job for me to focus in this way.” – See more at:

      David, when I read this I had to respond. This is exactly what I experienced. I had great hope for change and being an instrument of change. But the truth is that it was just too much mental energy and I was being emptied way too much. Was this what God was expecting from me? My wife and I prayed and finally, we experienced an amazing peace and agreement, it was time to leave. I am thankful that God did use my time in UBF to come to know Christ as my Savior and to participate in many ministry activities but I am also very thankful for the opportunity to now pursue God and enjoy my walk with Him within a different church setting.

    • Thank you Mark, for sharing your perspective. Like you, I am thankful for the positives that I’ve experienced in UBF. But I feel as though it is time to move on. If you and all of the ubfriends out there could pray for me to make a loving and wise decision concerning this matter, I’d truly appreciate it.

    • David, it would be sad to see you leave UBF as you were one of the very few in UBF who engaged in reasonable discussions on this forum, so I had the hope you could carry some of our concerns and discussions into UBF and encourage other UBFers to join the discussion.

      On the other hand, you need to preserve your own sanity, integrity, spiritual health and family. If you think you can stay without compromizing in these regards, then fine. Ben trys to do that, but Ben is obviously a very special person and he’s running his own UBF chapter. And the question is still whether it’s worth all the struggle if UBF will not change anyway and you just waste precious time of your life and all your nerves for nothing.

      Anyway, you need to make your own decision based on your own conscience. Learning to make such tough decisions is a good thing in itself and an important step in becoming a mature person after living in a state of “self-incurred immaturity” for so long in a group like UBF.

    • David, I echo Chris’ sentiment.

      I hope you know that you are not alone. It is your decision. And perhaps the best thing you can do is to talk with fellow ubf people around you (not the leaders above you).

      I guarantee that you will find a vast majority of ubf people who share you exact concerns. And they have their own concerns which have gone unaddressed for decades.

      Please talk to them. When we did this in Toledo ubf, suddenly the disunity disappeared. Suddenly many of us realized we were indeed united! We were just not united under the ubf heritage slogans.

      There are numerous ubf people who have privately told us (me, Ben, Joe) they are so glad for what we’ve done here on ubfriends. Most don’t like my tone or approach but are glad that someone is facilitating dialogue.

      I am certain that if you start connecting openly and honestly with those around you, you will find God’s purpose for you, whatever decision you make about ubf. This by the way is how I continued my healing and recovery– I have stayed in the conversation with ubf. Most won’t admit to it publicly, but many ubf people are reading these things, and are just waiting for someone to talk to them.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, I am praying for you.

      Despite what many people have said, I have not left the ubf organization in any formal way. But I am no longer going to participate in ubf activities merely for the sake of showing that I support the organization, or merely to prop up the leaders so that they can continue on a destructive trajectory. I need to redefine the relationship so that it’s not all about them, about their goals, their agenda, their plans. I’m not going to allow them to use me anymore. I don’t know if they can engage in such an honest, two-way relationship. Honestly, I don’t think they know how. I’ve seen little evidence for it.

      And despite what many people have said, I have not counseled or encouraged anyone to leave ubf. I do not have the wisdom to know if it is better for any given person to stay or to go. People need to make their own choices on the basis of where they believe God is leading them. God is drawing us to himself. For some people in some circumstances, the trajectory toward God will lead them toward ubf; in other cases, it will lead them away.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words and prayers, everyone. This ubfriends community is the closest thing to an honest and authentic community I’ve experienced in quite some time. I’m very thankful for the dialogues I’ve had with all of you; they have been truly enlightening and transformative. I apologize if I’ve left any discussions abruptly or for prolonged periods. My intention was never to halt or run away from any discussion, it’s just that I’m going through quite a lot in my life right now. I can honestly say that each conversation has significantly enriched my understanding of my now decade-long journey through UBF. It’s helped me to engage UBF leaders with a more crystallized view of the issues and concerns that I have with the ministry in my locale as well as at large. And some of the results have been truly positive.

      Consistent with how God often deals with me in order to lovingly mold my character, I’ve been placed in a situation where leaving is not a clear cut option. So now, I’m in the process of speaking with others in the Chicago UBF area who are intimately familiar with the things that we’ve been voicing here. I’m trying to map out a strategy where if I remain in UBF, I will conduct myself in a manner which helps me to seek God to the fullest, lovingly care for my family, love those in the UBF body, reach out to and embrace Christians outside of UBF and seek the lost. Thanks again, guys.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, thanks for your kind words. Every single conversation that I’ve had with you online has had a significant impact on my faith as well. I have every confidence that you will make the right decision at the right time. God bless you and your family.

    • David, I too will pray for you. What you’re describing is exactly how I felt two years ago. It finally precipitated my family leaving UBF in Canada. May the Lord grant you wisdom and guidance. And boldness.

  10. DavidW,

    The best question that helped me navigate the disconnects you are experiencing is this: What is the gospel?

    I started asking that question to various ubf people around 2003, just before being sent out as the director of Detroit ubf. Most people did not want to discuss that question. Most just said, “That’s easy. Jesus died for your sins.” Some explained further more correctly about the resurrection.

    I also started asking other questions. To this day, my questions remain unanswered.

    Even though I didn’t get any sensible answers and mostly got silence, the process of asking all kinds of questions to various people led me to see the reality that was going on around me. I could easily come to the conclusion that the top 30 or so leaders who rank highest in ubf care nothing about the gospel or preaching the gospel or understanding the gospel. All their words were double-speak for one thing: loyalty.

    Even last year I visited Chicago ubf and had dinner with ATK and others. I heard one high-ranking ubf leader say clearly that loyalty is more important than the bible. And again I witnessed firsthand that even in 2013, even among American leaders, ubf people don’t want to talk about such things. The 50th anniversary mission statement that doesn’t mention Jesus at all and the other 50th stuff confirms all this as well.

    ubf leaders preach a “gospel” of self-glory and loyalty. They seek to form a community based on uniformity centered on the Shepherd X identity. And they will keep trying to repeat their Shepherding experiement over and over and over again until they find someone who will conform and submit.

    • Brian, I agree in part that UBF is very concerned with how loyal its members are to the organization. But I am not fully convinced that every one of them is interested in a gospel of self-glory. Through my personal interactions with some leaders, I believe that they truly want to focus on Christ because they believe that he is mankind’s Savior. But of course many cannot break away from allowing UBF activities to take precedence over Jesus and his gospel. My take is that because loyalty is such a defining aspect of Confucian thought, the missionaries who met Jesus through UBF methods would feel as though they would be abandoning Jesus if they parted ways with those methods. Keep in mind that many had powerful conversion experiences around the time of the inception of UBF in SK. So to be loyal to UBF is to be loyal to Jesus. Hence, everyone whom they feel as though God has led to UBF must encounter him in this manner as well. When you read David Kim’s message you get the impression that he doesn’t realize that the Holy Spirit works in different generations in different ways than he did in prior ones.

    • Fair enough, David. Indeed my generalizations never mean 100% of ubf people. My generalization was aimed at the top 20 or 30 leaders in the hierarchy of authority. Most ubf people actually reject the self-glory teachings because most ubf people are actually Christians. It baffles me why they continue to accept and propagate some very unChrist-like teachings. But I guess I should understand because I did that very thing– silently disagreed with almost every ubf teaching and yet keeping face and falling in line with ubf heritage slogans at all the meetings.

      “Keep in mind that many had powerful conversion experiences around the time of the inception of UBF in SK. So to be loyal to UBF is to be loyal to Jesus. Hence, everyone whom they feel as though God has led to UBF.”

      Exactly the problem. Yes whenever we experience something wonderful, as almost all of us did in ubf, we really really want others to experience that! So we expect them to do the same things we did and act like we did, creating a specific formula expecting the exact same joy and outcome as we experienced.

      But the gospel is not a formula. The gospel is not a process. The gospel is an announcement, a declaration the doesn’t change over time (but will certainly become deeper and more grand from our viewpoint). But the impact and expression of gospel is as varied as there are human beings!

      God loves the authentic self! God says throw away the masks. Be you. Discover you. And your journey of life will be so much richer and then and only then will God be oh so real. The joy of realizing that the same gospel will effervesce into a billion lives in a billion different ways is just far more breathtakingly joyful than anything I ever experienced.

  11. David, you words here remind me of something I read:

    “So to be loyal to UBF is to be loyal to Jesus.”

    This reminds me of this article, which mentions University Bible Fellowship, from the Kansas City area:

    “Commitment to God = Commitment to Group. In abusive groups a subtle switch is made that causes commitment to the activities and beliefs of the group to equal commitment to God. This may be extremely difficult to spot at first because most of us express our commitment to God through faithfulness and ministry in our local church. The difference is one of degree. Imagine a student in college. Abusive groups may ask the student to lead small-group studies on multiple nights of the week. Other nights may be consumed with gatherings of the entire group and leadership training. On weekends the group has evangelistic outreach activities and of course there are regular special emphasis weeks. The student may find that their class work or family life is suffering under the burden. However, if he questions the amount the group is requiring he will be told he needs to stop loving the world and go wholeheartedly after God. Never is the thought allowed that God may actually want him to study or spend time with his family.

    Marks of Abusive Religious Groups

    • Yep, this is exactly how I was taught in my early tenure in UBF. Interestingly, Several people outside of UBF, who were usually older and wiser, told me to make sure I focused on my undergraduate work and relax with family from time to time despite my ministry commitments. I was so sold on what UBF espoused that I simply brushed off what they said. If my memory serves me correctly, I can’t recall any UBF leader being concerned with my life outside of my ministry activities.

      This has changed as more are realizing that they need to take care of students in a more holistic manner, but in my opinion, we’ve only begun to acknowledge the tip of the iceberg. I think that it stems from a deficient view of the gospel, which is good news for every single aspect of our lives, not just for the part which encompasses church or evangelistic activity. You can see this clearly in David Kim’s lecture and much of UBF’s preaching. While this kind of deficient view can and often does open the door for abusive practices, I don’t believe that it was my shepherds’ or pastor’s explicit intention to carry out such abuse. That does not excuse them, but this reasoning helps me to look at them with more empathy and confront them less emotionally and more honestly. I’ve still got a ways to go in this regard though.