Evangelical no more

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has taken away the “evangelical” in the label and replaced it with “gospel.” His preference now is to be labeled a “gospel Christian.”

We’re into labels, but sometimes we don’t get a choice. In our culture, “evangelical” is something that was put into place to separate some conservative theological Christians from “fundamentalists.” Then, it has become a moniker used by media and pollster to try and describe a “voting bloc.”

He pointed to the conflation of “evangelical” with an election-year voting bloc. He noted polls don’t distinguish between churchgoers and those who self-identify as evangelical but who “may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to a Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes.”

Even for “evangelicals” it has become too broad. We’ve become more “cultural” than “Christian” in many ways.

I think I may join him. This election is drawing out such nastiness, even among people I would consider Christian in some way, I’m done aligning myself as a voting bloc. I don’t hate people for one thing. I don’t blame others (especially the marginalized) for issues I may be facing. I don’t have to have someone to target and intentionally put down to be able to put forward ideas that would make our nation run better.

I will also not be “scared silent” anymore, as Moore puts it. There is too much poison in the atmosphere and it has reached a point of grief for me. It doesn’t mean I’m not “politically active.”

What it will probably mean is I won’t be your token statistic anymore.

 

And Yet Again, What of Evangelicals?

We have been decrying the decline of the “liberals.” Alternately, there has been the call for the end of “conservatives.” All in the Church. Not even in politics!

Now, John Ortberg has us wringing our hands about evangelicals again. Not really. I just wanted to be sensational in my headline.

This is a well-thought out column. We need to realize just how divided we are and actually fall to our knees asking the Shepherd of the Church for forgivness. We are so bent on taking each other down, or hoping the “other” goes down, or not caring if the “other” goes down, we’re left with very little as a vibrant witness to a culture that desperately needs salt.

Some of Ortberg’s thoughts:

The social capital of evangelical leadership is getting thinner each year. The desire for a pope might be as misguided as Israel’s desire for a king, but our current strategy of “each did what was right in his own eyes” is not working that hot either. There is an increasing sense of fiefdoms and competing coalitions. There is a certain kind of mindset that almost seems to rejoice in “outing” someone who has questionable evangelical credentials in the eyes of the “outer.” This is not healthy for the evangelical community, and is repellent to those who are truly on the outside.

C.S. Lewis (another well-digger) said that one of his reasons for writing about what he called Mere Christianity (“the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times”) was that when we publicly focus on intra-mural divisions it “has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold.”

We have been blessed with some wonderful voices in our own time—I think of Rich Mouw, Neal Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Scott McKnight, and Dallas Willard. I hope we listen to our best voices, not just the loudest ones.

I hope conviction-filled civility triumphs.

I hope we spend more time digging wells than building fences.

 

The King Jesus Gospel — Messing Up the Message

I am beginning to work my way through The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight. My church staff will be making our way through it the next several weeks as well.

The diagnosis of the “evangelical problem” resonates with me. The struggle over “decisions” and “disciples” has been something I’ve felt for all my years in ministry. McKnight lays out his take on why this isn’t working.

As evangelicals, we come up with ways to explain “the plan of salvation” to people. We want to lead them to a decision. The problem is that it doesn’t capture the gospel.

The Plan of Salvation, to put it crudely, isn’t discipleship or justice or obedience. The Plan of Salvation leads to one thing and to one thing only: salvation. Justification leads to a declaration by God that we are in the right, that we are the people of God; it doesn’t lead inexorably to a life of justice or goodness or lovingkindess. If it did, all Christians would be more just and more filled with goodnes and drenched in love.

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited

Evangelism — Orthodox and “Evangelical”

I have not been a fan of using church services alone to “evangelize.” A worship service is for…well… worship. It’s FOR Christ. Not us. But that’s just me. Obviously. 😉

This interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware (bishop of the Orthodox Church in England) is a good read. I like this exchange on “evangelism”:

To draw in the unchurched, evangelical churches often strip away things that might be mysterious or strange. But when you invite someone into an Orthodox liturgy, you hit them full-on with strange symbolism and unfamiliar words.

Yes, and let them understand what God gives them to understand. Throw them in at the deep end of the swimming pool and see what happens. That is very much our Orthodox approach. I would not want to offer a watered-down version of Orthodoxy.

The basic rules of Christianity, our relation to Christ, are very simple. Because they are simple they are also often difficult to understand.

On the other hand, we should not be content with a bare minimum. We should offer people the fullness of the faith in all its diversity and depth. I would wish people, when they come to the Orthodox liturgy, not to think that they understand everything the first time. I hope, rather, that they have an experience of mystery, a sense of awe and wonder. If we lose that from our worship, we have lost something very precious.

 

Whiplash Politics and Reactive Christianity

Another fine column by David Brooks in The New York Times illustrates our extreme unhappiness with all things government. We just can’t be satisfied. Those who want limited government really aren’t happy. Those who want government involvement aren’t happy, either.

As Brooks points out, what HAS happened in the past ten years is government has become more pervasive, and that happened under BOTH political parties controlling the system. What we are getting as a result is an experiment very few people really want. The backlash may be incredibly severe.

Our current age of 24 hour “on” is going to give our culture serious whiplash issues. For instance, President Obama has been in office just over a year and a half and already there are rumblings of his demise in the mid-term elections and the question of his re-election. Eighteen months and we’re not happy.

Liberals aren’t happy because he hasn’t moved fast enough. Conservatives are unhappy because… well, because he’s a Democrat.

Republicans are licking their chops as they anticipate regaining control in at least one house of Congress.

It all hinges on dissatisfaction. It’s not about answers, really. It’s about dissatisfaction. Obama and the Democrats were elected based on the dissatisfaction with Bush. This mid-term election will hinge on people being dissatisfied with the direction the Democrats are going.

It’s not just that we’re unhappy. We’re unhappy in a hurry.

And this thought brings me to Christianity, American style. We are just a dissatisfied bunch. Evangelicals have a current backlash where a younger generation is fed up with evangelicals being tied to the Republican party. It’s a fair critique. But, the backlash has been wild and crazy.

The reaction has gone from just choosing not to vote Republican to tossing out all semblance of “church” and now we have churches that don’t look like churches doing theology poorly and Jesus is convoluted in our practice. We look for churches like we’re looking for a new style of clothing at the mall.

We’ve created a whiplash Christianity as well. It’s not that we’re just choosing not to be the Republican waterboy. No. We have to throw it all out and act like pagans in the process. It’s become almost an anti-church movement. We’ve lost the Body of Christ. You lose the Body of Christ, don’t pretend you actually know the HEAD. You don’t have the HEAD without the BODY.

Hopefully we’ll settle down and realize it’s just crazy to throw in with ANY political party lock, stock, and barrel. (That has a ways to go, but with the speed in which we do things now, it may not take long. It’s now vogue to make sure you vote DEMOCRAT. Crazy.)

Hopefully we’ll settle down and realize the CHURCH is vital. We find a body of believers and STICK with that body. We worship together. We DO LIFE together. The substance is CHRIST. And his substance is found best in his Body.

Let the political system suffer from whiplash. Let’s not play that game with Christ and his Church any more.

Marketing and the Church

I get into debates with myself over what is “marketing” for the church. What “counts” vs. what “doesn’t count,” etc.

But then I read articles like this one and just get sick. The article begins like this:

In the back room of a theater on Beale Street, John Renken, 42, a pastor, recently led a group of young men in prayer.

“Father, we thank you for tonight,” he said. “We pray that we will be a representation of you.”

An hour later, a member of his flock who had bowed his head was now unleashing a torrent of blows on an opponent, and Mr. Renken was offering guidance that was not exactly prayerful.

“Hard punches!” he shouted from the sidelines of a martial arts event called Cage Assault. “Finish the fight! To the head! To the head!”

The author of the article calls it right a few paragraphs later when he says these are “recruitment efforts.”

When we are reduced to using terms (and gladly using them, I might add) like “recruitment,” I am deeply saddened. Especially in a venue like this. Since we do not know our history very well, it may do me no good to say something silly like, “Sounds like Rome and the gladiators to me.”

Something just seems terribly wrong in the American church, and I don’t think it’s me just being old and crotchety.