“…contemporary evangelicalism is in serious trouble. Actually, its crisis is the same one that afflicts all Christianity in America. At the risk of hubris, and the risk of merely adding one more item to the seemingly endless list of crises, I believe that the crisis lies at the heart of what ails large swaths of the American church. Alexander Solzhenitsyn named it in his speech upon receiving the Templeton Prize in Religion in 1968. He was talking about Western culture when he used it. I apply it to the American church, evangelical and not:
We have forgotten God.”
Yesterday I was in prayer for the American Church. I had read in Mark 11 about Jesus cursing the fig tree and cleansing the Temple, and I was grieved for the Church once again. Continue reading “Confronting the issues of the American Conservative Church”
In Luke 11:29 people ask for yet another sign from Jesus. Too often we are asking for a sign and don’t know what we’re asking in that request. Continue reading “The sign of Jonah”
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.
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.
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
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.