Not the Thing that Comes from Your Dryer
Born in the Bible Belt and raised in an evangelical church, I didn’t know what Lent was until after I graduated from college. That was nearly ten years ago, and since that time I’ve seen an explosion of evangelical observation of Lent.
I’ve seen that surge in the church where I pastor, without any promotion from me. I’ve seen the same on social media, going hardly more than two minutes without bumping into a post by a friend describing what they are doing, reading, or giving up for Lent.
Of course, my congregation and my circle of friends is a limited sample. But I don’t think we need a national survey to see that among evangelicals Lent is more widely observed than ever before. As the great theologian Bob Dylan once said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
But you might need a weatherman to know if this sudden gust of wind is a genuine move of the Spirit, or if it’s just the latest breeze blowing in from Zeitgeist Bay. So, what gives? Why the sudden trend among evangelicals? And what should evangelicals think about Lent anyway?
Trendspotting (or “How Lent Became Cool”)
Figuring out why anything becomes popular always involves some speculation, but the following factors seem to play the largest role in Lent’s growing trendiness among evangelicals:
The Internet rapidly exposes us to new ideas and social media gives us a virtual window into the lives of others, putting names and faces on practices, like Lent, that once may have seemed strange to us. For better or for worse, this has had the effect of softening of the ‘harder edges’ of people’s beliefs.
2.An Unsettled Life
The average family will move almost twelve times in their life. Advancements in technology nearly double every year. And sociologists say that the cultural turnover rate may occur as quickly as every seven years! Because everything is so new and constantly changing, people have a subconscious desire to connect with something certain and unchanging—the long-standing tradition of Lent is an obvious fit.
3.Lovers of Experience
Our society has a double-love of experience. Economically, most people can afford the goods and services they need, so experience is ‘the last frontier.’ That’s why we pay top dollar for unique experiences—like floating diners in the sky, movie theaters that serve gourmet meals, Brazilian steakhouses that carve a king’s feast at your table. Philosophically, most people today believe that experience trumps reason. What we feel about something is more important than what someone else says about it. In our experience-loving culture, is it really a surprise that Lent has become so popular?
Cause for Concern or Celebration?
None of this tells us what we should think of Lent. It its rising popularity cause for celebration or concern? Should evangelicals embrace the liturgical traditions?
One popular evangelical blogger says, “No.”
In a post titled “Young, Restless, and Reformed Homeboys on Lenten Fasting,” Keith Miller of MereOrthodoxy.com registers his concerns with the growing trendiness of Lent among evangelicals. In particular, he is concerned that evangelicals are so quickly embracing a practice that our theological forerunners staunchly opposed. Drawing from the likes of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he offers an impressive array of quotes that speak strongly against Lent as a harmful ‘tradition of men’.