Wednesday, November 11, 2009, 11:20 PM
If one were to attempt to continue the conversation about the Church in late modernity started by Matthew Lee Anderson here, there are a few avenues one might pursue. In the comments, there are suggestions of following threads from CS Lewis Abolition of Man. One might also suggest Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, or Huxley’s Brave New World. In the following, the endeavor is made to both step off that beaten track and to ask a question.
As an outsider looking in at the modern protestant (non-liturgical) evangelical church, one thing which strikes me which is synch with the secular enlightenment culture which Mr Anderson highlights is a personalization of the notion of the sacred and a loss of an exterior idea of Holiness. One of the aspects of the enlightenment which is entwined with the Protestant separation is the de-emphasis of the liturgical expression in favor of or over and above the interior spiritual experience.
From Biblical narratives there is no small emphasis of Holiness. “Take off your sandals for the ground on which you stand is Holy” is repeated in Exodus and Joshua. Other examples abound of how being in a Holy place or the presence of God … one changes one’s mode of presentation and practice. A place is Holy not because of Moses (or Joshua’s) interior spiritual experience, but because of a thing outside of either, that is the presence of God was being there, at that place and time.
At Emmaus the disciples knew Jesus when he broke the bread, and the Church through the ages took that to mean that in the Eucharist God is present in the sharing of bread and wine. One of the common features of liturgical churches like the Catholic, the Anglican, and the Orthodox is that their worship experience expresses and reflects a sense of a sense of Holiness which is not primarily to attain an interior spiritual effect akin but more in line with the taking off of one’s sandals for one is in the presence of the Holy. The Eucharist is a singular Holy event taking place in each Sunday liturgy, and their various liturgical celebrations express this in different ways.
So, as an outsider to the community noted above, (the non-liturgical protestant ones), I have a question. Where is Holiness to be found in your parish? How is it treated? How is it expressed? What does the term Holy mean for your church?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 10:50 PM
Today a friend of mine on Facebook (not just a Facebook contact, an actual friend) posted a link to a survey by White Horse Inn distributed at a Franklin Graham evangelism and Christian music event in August. According to the survey, a total of 92 people participated (45% male, 55% female). 57% were teens between 13 and 19, 29% were adults between 20 and 40, and 14% were adults over 40. I wish more people had participated in the survey, but given the nature of the event where it was distributed, these results are quite interesting in and of themselves.
Asked whether God is like a helpful coach who is there to help us when we need him; he wants us to be happy, 96% responded in the affirmative. I’m a bit mystified by this “coaching” language that has permeated Christian circles. Is it mentoring and/or discipleship? I’d love to hear what you think about sr. pastors who use the title “Coach” instead of “Pastor.” Anyway, I digress.
Other questions in the survey included the obvious inquiries into the church’s relevance, whether it should be entertaining, enjoyable, and fun. 79% of the respondents believe that it is important to grasp difficult doctrines like the Trinity, the atonement, and propitiation. But 26% believe the doctrine of justification refers to our need to do good works to justify ourselves before God in order to go to heaven. Ok, so this doesn’t represent a majority of the respondents, but 26% is a significant portion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the number were larger if the survey were taken by more people. Here is where it gets truly scary, as if all that wasn’t enough. When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, There is no one righteous, there is no one who does good, there is no one who seeks God, 67% choose to disagree with the Apostle Paul.
The results of this survey are not a tremendous surprise, but I think that’s the saddest part of all.
Saturday, November 7, 2009, 11:03 AM
The circus that is Haggard (Ted, not Merle) launched a new act this week — he’s starting a new church at his home in Colorado. Just three years since the former megachurch pastor scandalized himself with a male prostitute, he is now ready to “to do something in [their] house to connect with friends.” Beginning next week, the Haggards will host “prayer meetings,” which in Haggard’s mind could also be called “a church.”
The trajectory of Haggard’s life is disturbing on many levels (even before the scandal), but perhaps this statement he made to the Colorado Springs Gazette is most telling:
“For this prayer meeting, I have no goals,” Haggard said. “I have no secret hope that more people will come. I am not driven as I was. Before I focused on the Great Commission. Now I focus on helping other people.”
Setting aside the claim that he “has no goals,” or the seemingly self-deprecating hopelessness of his group’s prospects, it’s Haggard’s supposed antithesis of the Great Commission and “helping people” that’s most troubling. How could an evangelical (former National Association of Evangelicals president, no less) see proclamation of the Gospel as being antithetical to “helping people?”
An evangelical who has lost the fact that the Gospel is our ultimate help should at the very least question his evangelical credentials. Better yet — perhaps he should seek to listen more than lead, and let the Gospel question him.
Saturday, November 7, 2009, 3:38 AM
What is so great about being an evangelical?
A particularly strong argument for the traditional evangelical cause is that it would be impossible to attend an evangelical church or parachurch event and not be confronted with the Gospel. (more…)
Friday, November 6, 2009, 4:03 AM
Socrates leaned forward and said, “You enquire for yourself.” My mentor looked at me and said nothing, but the message was clear and I have never forgotten it.*
It is my duty as a man to inquire for myself.
That is a lesson I still think is true, but I am sometimes asked how this is compatible with my orthodox Christianity. The Greek for inquiry at least sounds like the English word skepticism and it is hard to square a skeptical attitude with the religion of love.
Love isn’t very skeptical.
Socrates was not asking his student to be skeptical, at least not in our modern American sense of the word. He was encouraging his friend to wonder.
Wonder is what lovers do. Nobody is sure when they are in love. We long to know the beloved and we are never quite sure that we know them fully. After all, any human being worthy of love is always changing and growing. A lover can never come to the end of the mystery of the beloved.
Lovers always wonder and that is most literally wonderful. The skeptic looks at the beloved and doubts, but the lover looks at the beloved and hopes.
The same thing is true about the universe. The Christian looks at God’s cosmos and wonders about the things he does not understand, but assumes that they will be wonderful when he does. The consistent secularist looks at the cosmos with jaundiced eyes.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 10:44 PM
Well, that faith/works discussion seemed to steer away from rancor and defenestration and held nothing but honest discussion. So … why not touch on other Catholic/Protestant cans o’ worms? After all this is an evanglical blog hosted on a Catholic site. If this is not a place to discuss the commonalities and differences between Rome and the Protestant … then there is no place for that anywhere. Again, as last time, I’ll point out I’ve been a Christian as an adult for just over five years, and correspondingly I’m not up to speed necessarily on all the modern debate and discussions which accompany the questions I raise. So as much as anything, I’m begging your indulgence and instruction on these matters.
Mark Horne offers some arguments why “he can never be a Roman Catholic.” I might not that while not a Roman Catholic … it seems like a number of his objections are not valid criticisms. I’m going to concentrate on one (and mention one more). Mr Horne offers:
Necromancy is almost as huge a sin and praying to the departed saints is necromancy. See #1 above. People raised thinking bigamy is Christian may be true Christians, but people who know better are living in sin and without hope of eternal life unless they repent of such behavior.
Praying to Saints by Catholics is not because Catholics believe that “some other intercessory agency between themselves and God” is required. Examine their liturgy and the prayers they pray. They pray to directly to Father, Son, and Spirit not just a few times. So they are not asking Saints (or Mary) to pray for them because they think it is required. Something else is going on here. I’d suggest they do it because they think it is efficacious. My understanding of the way prayer to Saints is seen not as a required intermediary but as being equivalent to your asking a friend, acquaintance, or even some Christian you don’t really know, to pray for you. That is it. Just in the same way that Protestants (and every Christian) thinks that the prayers of others on our behalf is beneficial, likewise Catholics, the East and I think many of the original Reformers for that matter felt that the dead can pray for us … after all they are not dead but are with God. You are asking that this Saint, asleep in the Lord whom you believe is “now” outside of time participating in God’s presence (no longer seeing through a glass darkly), to pray for you. How is that akin to bigamy and living a life of sin?
There are two pieces to this that I think give the American evangelical cause to pause. The first is that the notion that a saint from a country far away and centuries removed will be aware of my request that he (or she) pray for me and that furthermore that he (or she) might do so. On this point, church tradition is fixed in one direction but Scripture can be read either way. The second is that in our American notions of egalitarianism and equality that we Americans find the notion that we are not equal in the eyes of the Lord, a difficult one to master. This, I think this one is not supportable. For a simple offering, when the disciples were having a debate about who would be seated at Jesus right hand when he came into his glory, Jesus rebuke was not that “nobody would be sitting there” as we are equal in the afterlife, but that they were not the ones to be seated there. By implication it seems to follow that the notion that we are not going be equals in the afterwards follows.
Yet that isn’t really the question.
The real question is why is asking for the intercession by a deceased hero of the Church not adiaphora? And this has a counter question for the East and the Roman Catholic, why is not asking that the Saints intercede for us also not adiaphora?
A final remark Mr Horne objects:
Nowhere are Christians required to do a genealogical study to see if they are members of the true Church.
I for one, have no clue what is he talking about here. Any guesses?
Monday, November 2, 2009, 8:02 PM
Now I will admit, having been a Christian for a somewhat short time as an adult, I’ve some unfamiliarity with the ins and outs of Christian controversy. Jared points tangentially to one which has puzzled me quite a bit. So I thought I’d put the question to the chorus here.
Protestants and Catholics (apparently) frequently point to the other as being in the wrong about the whole faith vs works question. But it seems to me both sides are in complete agreement.
Protestants accuse Catholics of emphasising works, for you are saved by faith alone.
Catholics will reply, yes that’s right. You are saved by faith, and faith without works is dead … so there had better be some works in your life and witness or when you face the Lord at the Judgement seat it will be hard for you.
Protestants, I think, will also agree with that counter.
Which leaves the disagreement where exactly? For it seems to this neophyte that on this issue there is no division.
Parenthetically, it seems to me one of the things with a blog like Evangel might accomplish is to separate the doctrine from the adiaphora in the divide between denominations.
Sunday, November 1, 2009, 9:51 AM
Think about this with me: imagine Zig Ziglar (whom I like and respect, btw) was taken to court and was told, “Zig, your books and tapes have helped some people, but they have actually hurt a lot of people by giving them false hope. Those people have filed a class-action suit against you, and we can’t calculate the damages because they run so high — so the court is handing down this decision: either shut down your fraudulent scam company and take all your books off the market, or receive the death penalty as punishment for more than $100 trillion in damages.”
You think Zig would take the death penalty? Personally, I don’t think Zig would take the death penalty. I think he’d make a fine speech and then shut his company down because frankly his company is not worth dying for. There’s not that much at stake. (more…)
Friday, October 30, 2009, 4:43 PM
Yesterday, at a Heritage Foundation-sponsored event here in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to hear researcher Christian Smith present findings from his latest batch of research involving his National Study of Youth and Religion project. Whereas the first round of research focused on the religious lives of American teens, Smith’s second round follows the same subjects several years later as they move into what he describes as “emerging adulthood,” the phenomenon in which a variety of factors prolong adolescence and delay the full responsibilities of adulthood — not to be confused with the “emerging church”.
The results of the research are both frightening and fascinating. Among some of the findings on their views of religion and religious communities are that Emerging Adults (EAs):
- are generally indifferent to religion
- think that the shared central principles of religion are good, while religious particularities are peripheral
- think that religion is for making good people
- think that religious beliefs are cognitive assents rather than life drivers
One item which stood out was that EAs felt that religious congregations were “elementary schools of morals.” Smith aptly noted that people tended to graduate from schools, and then move on (obviously Smith excludes the “perpetual grad student” from the purview of his study…). These EAs tend to see religion in the same manner: something from which they can “move on.” The research also notes that EAs do not see themselves as “belonging” to their religious congregations
Given that his sample was from broad religious spectrum — and the fact that it’s obvious in the aggregate that persons who harbor the above sentiments are likely unregenerate — it’s still a sobering notion that many evangelical churches are full of EAs who think like this. We should be ready for ministry to them.
Thursday, October 29, 2009, 5:02 PM
Given our discussion(s) about this blog (among other things!), Collin Hansen’s article at Christianity Today, posted this morning, caught my attention: “Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” Hansen documents some of the conflicts between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, and how it has developed over the past 10 years or so.
UPDATE: If you click through to Hansen’s article, you will find that he discusses a recent controversy at George Washington University regarding the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its cooperation with Roman Catholics, so you will also want to check out this response from InterVarsity president Alec Hill (HT: Justin Taylor).
Thursday, October 29, 2009, 11:08 AM
In the spirit of “me too! me too!” and “oh, can I play?” I’d like to throw in my own two cents and tag along with Jared and Joe on this whole Halloween thing. Here’s a re-post of something I had on my Jollyblogger blog way back in October of 2005, with a few little re-workings.
Tim Challies captures my own mixed feelings on Halloween very well when he says:
I acknowledge this as a difficult issue. My conviction is that it is a very poor witness to have the house of believers blacked out on Halloween. Halloween presents a great opportunity to interact with neighbors, to meet their children and to prove that we are part of the community – not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends. At the same time I despise how evil Halloween is.
In a letter to John Fischer, Bonnie at Intellectuelle raises what I think is the most common objection to Halloween – it’s pagan roots:
What, exactly, does modern-day Halloween celebrate? I’m not so sure that the answer is “mere neighborliness and fun.” In my view, Halloween cannot be disassociated from its pagan origins and trappings, and to attempt to do so may be irresponsible. Also irresponsible is the rationalization that it’s OK to participate because “it’s fun and everyone else does.” Halloween customs unfortunately come with a lot of baggage.
I do think Bonnie is correct to a point in that modern day Halloween has come to be associated with paganism. On the other hand, I am not so sure that Halloween’s origins are pagan. Or, at least, it is not a slam dunk for-sure thing that it is. I think that any modern association of Halloween and paganism is more a link with modern practices than ancient origins.
It is conventional wisdom in the church to assume that Halloween is pagan in its origin but I came across some material a few years ago to cause me to re-think this. (more…)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 12:08 PM
With a sense of urgency, the body of Christ needs to be equipped to give an answer to obstacles and objections to faith as a matter of discipleship within the church as well as for the gospel ministry each member of the body has outside of the church. And how we live from the point of conversion onward will reflect to the world a certain degree of faithfulness to the truths we claim. Transgressions by well-known “family values” politicians who might otherwise be regarded as moral reformers in the years that follow their civil service are often regarded as a failure of the Christian worldview, leaving the church ashamed and silent. The old adage “talking the talk without walking the walk” is taking on a greater sense of relevance in this new century. And due to advancements in technology, sometimes the specific decisions that we face in life need a bit more ethical reflection than a congregation is generally equipped to face. The 21st century believer is confronted by a plethora of ideas and decisions, and the church must stand firm and prepare her people to think theologically in such a way to impact all areas of life. We must prepare a place for deliberate theology, apologetics, and ethics education in the church, especially in the sphere of women’s ministry. Why particularly women’s ministry?
The experience of womanhood provides opportunity to address certain issues women in particular can relate to, and to disciple in a way that addresses deeply engrained ideas rooted in false belief, replacing them with truth. The choices that many women make about how to live—choices made prior to conversion and perhaps even early in their Christian walk—have consequences that come with them to the pew—when they eventually find the pew. Some of these consequences can never be eliminated, preventing them from finding functional reconciliation with biblical womanhood and related teachings. For instance, a single mother who has no choice but to work in order to care for her family can never fulfill the vision of womanhood that has her at home supporting a husband as head. Of course, this may be taught as the biblical ideal, but never being able to achieve it may have a significant effect on her relationship with God and those in her church. This is not to recommend the abandonment of biblical teachings on the family, church leadership, or parenting because they might seem irrelevant to the particular circumstances of many women. The issue I am raising is much larger.
Monday, October 26, 2009, 1:25 PM
Sometimes when I tell people that I think the Bible has no errors when read with literary sensitivity, they reply:
“That is so nineteenth century of you.” This is quite offensive to me since it is my politics and taste in fiction and architecture that are Victorian, not my theology. (more…)
Sunday, October 25, 2009, 6:59 PM
The title of this post begs the question, who are the doctrine-obsessed and is that an accurate assessment of them? In the Washington Post’s Evangelicals Feel a Need for Renewal, this is one of many perspectives on what’s wrong with evangelicalism as discussed at a recent conference at Gordon-Conwell:
Richard Alberta, senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brighton, Mich., said preoccupations with doctrinal purity help explain why he struggles to round up other evangelicals to join him at anti-abortion events.
“When you get evangelicals among themselves, instead of addressing the social and moral issues, they get backwatered into some debate about dispensationalism or Calvin or Charismatic Renewal,” Alberta said. “There’s lots of suspicion, and those worries seem to act as filters that keep evangelicals from getting together.”
Similar frustrations were expressed by Travis Hutchinson, pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in Lafayette, Ga. He said he routinely gets a cool response from other evangelicals when he asks them to join his efforts to minister among undocumented immigrants.
The problem, he said, is that the doctrine-obsessed have lost touch with the heart of Jesus. “The missing ingredient is not the primacy of the mind and doctrine,” Hutchinson said. “It’s the willingness to suffer.”
Is it the lack of cohesive doctrine that inspires the focus on doctrine? Scripture calls us not only to unity in mission, but also in unity in message.
Friday, October 23, 2009, 8:10 AM
Teaching ethics in a local junior college is a great opportunity to impact minds in my community. A somewhat ancillary discussion we have had in class is the usage of moral and ethical–terms with no meaningful distinction, though sometimes associated with different quadrants of society (e.g. business & ethics, religion & morality). Within evangelicalism, we similarly have our own usage for these terms, adding to the list Christian living and growing in Christ, among others. Again, no meaningful distinction, except that for many Christians, ethics/morality is often associated with the hotly debated issues in our culture such as abortion and gay marriage whereas Christian living and growing in Christ generally relate to personal spiritual maturity. But couple this softer ethical language with statements such as “Christianity isn’t a list of rules, it’s a relationship” and suddenly right and wrong are undermined with “I’ll pray about it” which in many cases means “I’m not going to let a reasoned argument influence a very emotional and private decision.”
Yes, ethics is my academic hobby horse, but I am also motivated by ministry, concerned for families and the crucial life decisions that are made without full consideration of the implications and never learning to think Christianly about them. For many families, its just a medical decision or an economic decision–they are surprised later to learn that there were moral implications to be considered, or they knew that there were and they chose to “pray about it” instead of actually saying “this is right” or “this is wrong.” As a matter of sanctification, we need to discover how to bring a more deliberate role for ethics in the church, so that encouraging ethical reflection is not like walking on eggshells.
I’m so honored to be a part of this blog and look forward to the many conversations that will take place here. As I have been reading and reflecting on the meaning of “evangelical” I kept going back to what evangelicals think and do. I’m not sure we can do anything to change the way we talk about ethics in the church, but I believe any attempt to move away from trite or insincere language has the potential to make real impact on the church at large.
Thursday, October 22, 2009, 11:45 PM
As usual I’m late to the party. Joe and I have been friends for several years now and in honor of our friendship I changed e-mail addresses and didn’t let him know. So, we’ve finally caught up and today I join this august body of bloggers, feeling way in over my head, and hoping I can offer something worthwhile.
Since I’m late to the party and haven’t gotten caught up on all of the prior posts I thought I’d mention something that has occupied my mind of late. Here’s my topic/question for discussion?
Are some of the hottest issues in evangelicalism today rooted in long standing anxieties over our loss of privilege and status as described by Ann Douglas in her book “The Feminization of American Culture (Google Books/Amazon).”
I wanted to discuss this because 1) I’m reading the book right now and am finding it terribly interesting and stimulating, and 2) I assume, or at least hope, that some of the other contributors to this blog are more familiar with Douglas than I and thus can correct/enhance our understanding of the issues she raises. If any of you are familiar with scholarly responses to Douglas, how well accepted is her thesis? She wrote back in the 70′s so I hope I’m not basing too much on either an out of date or discredited thesis. Assuming for now this is not the case I’ll proceed.
To introduce this, here are some of her words on the loss of the intellectual rigor of the Calvinistic tradition in favor of an obsession with popularity in society. (more…)
Thursday, October 22, 2009, 10:12 PM
Last weekend our parish celebrated an ecclesiastical birthday of sorts* and I’d like to share some thoughts in the wake of that event. How did we commemorate this event, that is besides the obligatory brunch? (more…)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 5:48 PM
Conversations about evangelicalism –its definition, its essence, its variety, its center and circumference, its history, its self-contradictions and periodic self-reinventions– are things I generally try to avoid. The noise to signal ratio is too high, and the likelihood of talking past each other is enormous. For example, I’m happy in a local church, and (perhaps in my rich fantasy life) I think of evangelicalism as a coalition of other folks who are likewise happy in theirs, and we come out into the evangelical hallway and have common goals. But sometimes you get a long way into what you think is a clear discussion of evangelicalism, and suddenly realize that the person doing the talking is getting increasingly shrill about how the hallway needs to have more room for seats in it, and wants to know where we’re going to put the worship band or the choir, and where the weddings take place. That’s when I realize I have nothing to say and little to learn from somebody who thinks of evangelicalism as a church you can join, a megadenomination that comes in different flavors. And why, when I hear the word ecclesiology (as in, “We have no ecclesiology, we are so lame!”) in that context, I may not reach for my revolver but I do head for the door. Why would a movement have an ecclesiology? It ought to have a movementology, if it has anything. But as for me, “get me to the church on time,” as they say.
The discussion about evangelicalism here at this blog for the last few days has been interesting, though I admit to skim-reading many of the posts as I succumbed to that Eyes Glazing Over feeling that I get whenever the essence of evangelicalism is discussed.
Because when I do decide to listen or take part in a discussion about what evangelicalism is, I’ve got a goal in mind: I want to keep from drifting. As David Gibson said in a classic essay, Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections en route to Denying the Gospel, movements begin by proclaiming the gospel, pass through a phase of assuming it but not making it central, and end by rejecting and denying it. All Gibson is really saying is that draft happens, especially generational drift. But he’s such a great worrier that he says it very well:
Assumed evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day.
There are lots of important, local-church-centered ways of resisting the onset of assumed evangelicalism. But for those of us who also have significant investments in interdenominational ventures and institutions, one way to keep from assuming evangelicalism is to keep talking about it. Not too much, and not all the time. But some.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 11:23 AM
For those on the outside, the “culture war” is not understood in the same way, or even as being the same thing, by all evangelicals. The creation mandate and cultural mandate certainly separate dispensational ideas from those of the covenant community. For we dispensationalists the purpose of the church is the proclamation of the gospel in this church age while the eternal kingdom of immediate rule by Christ over the whole world is a eschatological question.
But the covenant community makes today the eschatological question. Aaron Orendorf clarifies it this way:
Far to the contrary, the amillennial position on the nature of God’s kingdom is that it is both a present and future reality – i.e., that it is both already-and-not-yet, inaugurated but not consummated – and that both these present and future elements of the kingdom include spiritual as well as earthly dimensions. This fulfillment, however, will not take place during a future millennial period but rather at the end of the age when Christ returns and heaven and earth are renewed. To say that because amillennialists do not affirm Christ’s earthly reign “from a throne in Jerusalem” then they cannot affirm an earthly future for God’s kingdom is to confuse a particular (premillennial) understanding of what Christ’s reign will look like with the broader category of God’s kingdom. Such an assertion would be similar to an amillennialist saying that because premillennialists do not affirm that Satan is currently bound so they cannot affirm the current, spiritual presence of God’s kingdom.
This creates a different function for the church. How it works out today is clarified by the postmillennial eschatology that predominates the covenant world:
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 10:44 PM
Here I was thinking that I’d be able to get through a couple days with the kids home and not much time to blog and then enter into the conversation a few posts in by tonight. Little did I know that over 50 posts would appear on this blog in the meantime!
I wrote back in November about the boundaries of evangelicalism on a post about where Barack Obama seems to fall on the religious spectrum. That post had originally been a response to what I had wrongly taken to be a claim that Obama is an evangelical, and the person I was responding to hadn’t meant to imply that at all, so the post is somewhat geared toward him and particularly an interview he gave when he was running for the U.S. Senate. I thought it might be worth taking some of what I said there and generalizing it outside that context. Those who want to read the original can follow the link. In it, I was trying to get a handle on some of the boundaries of evangelicalism as I’ve usually heard and used the term. (I fully acknowledge that people in different contexts might have learned and used the term differently.) The result was almost a brainstorming session on some of the people I’m aware of or know personally who hold views that I think are out of the evangelical mainstream but hold them in ways that I think allows them to remain within evangelicalism (and there are those who take the same views further in ways that I think will place them outside evangelicalism). So most of what follows, except the concluding paragraph, is a reworking of sections of the above-linked.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 1:08 PM
What is an evangelical? In a word: imputation. If there is one animating idea that separates evangelicals most precisely from Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Christians, and from the rest of the world’s religions, needless to say, it’s that Christ’s righteousness is imputed, not imparted, to the believer, so that the Christian, while still a sinner, nevertheless stands justified in God’s sight for Christ’s sake. We cannot become more or less justified, anymore than Christ can become more or less the final, perfect sacrifice for sin who has paid in full the debt owed to God for the cost of sin.
If we are in Christ, by faith, then all that is Christ’s is ours, and all that is ours, namely the charges against us, are His.
Herein is true freedom, victory, and royal dignity. As Luther, the original evangelical, stated so elegantly:
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 9:20 AM
There are two significant matters for which I respect Rome (and Constantinople and the others): They have a theology that intentionally transcends politics and they have an ecclesiology. The former subject is the stuff of much church-state discussion, especially in the formation of this nation as a non-church state. The implications of that have been many and the conversations will continue long into the future. Just ask the ACLU, ACLJ, and all the litigants.
The “old” church actually has an ecclesiology. They have structure, leadership, and a coherent mission. But observing the changes in (well, American anyway) one wonders if the protestant movement is not in need of a quality written ecclesiology — and perhaps a revisiting of seminary and college courses — a new theology of the church. Evangelicalism seems to be stuck without a consistent definition of church, both theologically and practically. We leave as almost undefined, and definitely obscure, our fellowship, our evangelism, and our prayer lives.
Many, it seems, have forgotten the redemptive mission and have become missional, replacing spiritual redemption with social redemption. Some, like Campus Crusade (now I’m in trouble) see what remains of the church and use it as a source for people and money. And in response they do not funnel people back into church life. (I do wonder what they teach in their staff ecclesiology classes?)
Individualistic approaches to church frequently revolve around the “where two or three are gathered” principle. Why get involved, or worse yet, be committed, with organized religion. “We’re doing just fne.” After all, it is all about money. Sadly, people do not often exegete the passage and realize (1) this passage is a discussion of church discipline decision, not the campus Bible study, and (2) the two or three are a part of a church, not the definition of a whole church. Over the last couple of centuries or so individualism has given us congregational government, personal calling to ministry without local church affirmation and sending, and churches without body life. And, of course, church-hopping.
There is, of course, more to our problem of individualism than the modernism and liberalism in which we all live. Affluence also separates us. When I was a young believer in high school, the Conservative Baptist pastors would discuss how affluence was destroying the church. I really didn’t understand that — not one bit. Even at age 16 (a believer for 2 years, with maturity to match) I was becoming part of the problem. When a missionary to Jordan, Dave Wilson, spoke at the church missions conference and challenged us to invest in things that will not lose value. Afterwards I asked him if he meant real estate.
I wonder about our sense of spiritual mission. Church planting efforts amount to gathering a core group of believers and then building around more people coming in — all while doing little, or even no, evangelism. We do not teach our young people to lead others to Christ. Small groups are, and this is good, built around improving our fellowship. But the spiritual mission is too-often forgotten. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a sermon that challenged the church to consider the mission field or some other venue of full-time service.
Prayer is another matter. But, like all those other areas of our lives, we would likely rather not ask ourselves questions about how our churches conduct prayer. Do we gather together and bring our concerns to God? Do we pray for the lost, or are we only concerned about Johnny’s cold and maybe a couple of unemployed people? Is our church prayer time reduced to quick, even glib, prayer as a response to the prayer list email, or do we get too many emails to pay any real attention?
The practical ecclesiology — where people share life and mission together — is probably gone for Western culture. That is, at least as long as we remain both affluent and liberal. I wonder what the Holy Spirit will use to drive the church to where it ought to be?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 8:19 AM
Most internet users, surprisingly enough, don’t look to esoteric bloggers for answers. They turn to the Almighty Search Engine, which more often than not is Google (hey, we all can’t hang on to AltaVista, Lycos, Excite, and Webcrawler). Therefore, I thought our discussion of what is an evangelical wouldn’t be complete without letting Google chime in:
As you can see, all the pixels we’ve spent here determining the nature of evangelicalism could have been easily solved by Google’s “Suggest” feature. Scary.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 5:45 AM
As I apologized to Joe yesterday for being the hard-hearted one in his band of “evangelical” bloggers here at First Things, let me also apologize to you the readers of this blog, and to our hosts at First Things, for the trouble which, of course, follows me around the Blogosphere — particularly the hard feelings of some who find me to be a “rabid anti-catholic”, and who will undoubtedly try to position what I say and do around that.
I’ll hold that out as an open point of discussion.
I’m back this morning to sort of jump off from where I stopped yesterday, citing a 20-year-old pop song to underscore the excessive complexity of the label “evangelical” when it comes to the point of who we really think we are — we “evangelicals” (or more traditionally, just “Χριστιανούς”, as they were first called in Antioch — just “Christians”) tend to make it a lot more complicated than it has to be.
Monday, October 19, 2009, 6:54 PM
« Newer Posts
If John Mark is right that an evangelical is “a fundamentalist who watches The Office,” then I’m written out of the definition since I’ve never seen the show. But, still, I think he’s on to something. Here’s an alternative try.
An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.
A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”
A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for “Reformation Day.”
An emerging evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.
A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons for the church’s “Judgment House” community evangelism outreach.
A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.
— Older Posts »