To paraphrase a wise evangelical teacher, it's not that this is really what we believe, it's just that so many of us are stupid.
If we weren’t, we would be known more for three characteristics that have traditionally defined evangelical Christians:
1. A live encounter with the living Christ, so that one knows through personal experience that Christ is
alive and engaged in human lives today.
2. Adherence to Christian orthodoxy, as expressed in The Apostles' Creed.
3. A surrender of one's will to the authority of God, so that, "Not my will, but yours" is the credo of
every aspect of a person's life, not least in reading the Bible.
The upside of the particular kind of stupidity that blinds us to these characteristics is that it's a unifying stupidity. It's something that many Protestant evangelicals have in common with their Catholic brothers and sisters. It is the stupidity of sentimentality.
In his book Homespun Gospel, The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism, Todd Brenneman observes, "too often scholars have paid attention to the mind of evangelicalism, not recognizing that most evangelicals have abandoned the life of the mind in favor of a religious life of emotion." He goes on to say that evangelicals, "live in an aesthetic world where emotion is the currency to interact not only with other human beings but also with God." Indeed!
When something has only sentimental value, it is valuable only because of the way it makes a person feel. It's a purely emotional value. And there are a great many people (I shudder to think how many) who value Christ, church, and Bible, only because of the way these make them feel.
Sentimentality is sometimes described as "syrupy." The imagery makes for an apt analogy. If feelings are allowed to eclipse the real substance of the Christian life, the condition of a person's soul will be much like the condition of the body after skipping meals and eating only dessert for a few months. A purely sentimental Christianity amounts to a spiritual diet of only desserts.
This explains why so many evangelicals can walk out of church after several rapturous, teary-eyed Chris Tomlin choruses and proceed to berate their spouse or make crude sex jokes. It explains why so many Catholics can experience such a sense of reverence during mass and then enjoy a casino or an R-rated comedy the following weekend. It explains the high divorce rate among "Christians" of all stripes. Ultimately it shows that people don't have to mean it to feel it.
As Isaiah reported a few thousand years ago, "I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly." Some things don't change.
Being a Christian, like being married, or like loving another person in any context, is not, is not, is not, primarily a matter of feelings. Being a Christian is an act of (surrendering) the will. Read Matthew 7 and the parable of the two sons, and of the tenants in Matthew 21. Christians are those who do the will of God, not those who get fluttery or reverent feelings when listening to it.