October 19, 2017

Good News is Just the Beginning

Over the past decade, a cottage industry has grown and and is now flourishing among American Christian leaders and teachers that has focused on defining the Gospel. Many factors account for this.

We live in a decidedly non-doctrinaire age, and the “Gospel” discussion has formed in response to that. Through the influence of the church growth movement in particular, American Christianity has embraced pragmatic approaches that emphasize “heart” religion over “head” religion. The breakdown of Protestant mainline denominations has blurred dogmatic distinctions held by the historic traditions. Reform movements and an influx of evangelicals into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have broken down walls and opened increasing dialogue among those who previously lived in entirely different worlds. Non-denominational churches with simple vanilla statements of faith have proliferated. Culture wars have transformed the minds of evangelicals, leading them to view issues of social morality and justice as of more immediate relevance than doctrine. Within the world of the Protestant theological academy, new ways of thinking about the Bible and the message its story tells — perhaps epitomized best by the “New Perspective” and its advocates such as Bishop N.T. Wright — have challenged traditional Reformation formulations and provoked much argument and debate.

Into this debate, Scot McKnight has stepped, offering a well-reasoned, well-written presentation and defense of what he calls, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. His main thesis is that contemporary Christianity (particularly the U.S. version) has reduced the Gospel to a message of personal salvation. As a result, the Christians we are discipling and the churches we are building are not being established in a “Gospel” culture, but rather a “salvation” culture. Many of us are not truly “evangelicals” (Gospel people) but “soterians” (salvation people). Scot sees this inadequate message as the source of many problems in the church today.

I agree with him. But what I want to say in this response is that clarifying the message is only a beginning. The right message, by itself, is not enough. If we do not institute other reforms, a better message will not change much.

Scot McKnight says that one specific result of proclaiming a “salvation” message rather than a full-orbed “Gospel” message is that by doing so we create consumers rather than disciples. That is because the soterian message focuses on “making decisions” rather than “making disciples,” and it has been proven (Scot cites much evidence here) that one’s initial decision is not the vital element that leads to a life of deep spiritual formation.

He sets up the book by giving three examples of confusion about the Gospel. In the first, an emailer wrote asking, “What is good news about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah?” He takes his second example from John Piper and the world of Calvinist preaching, where the Gospel is solely defined with the formula, “justification by faith.” The third example arose from a conversation with a pastor who agreed with the traditional justification formulation and then went on to assert that Jesus himself did not proclaim the Gospel. In fact, he said no one could have done so before the events of the Cross and Resurrection.

Scot McKnight asserts that the “this so-called gospel is deconstructing the church.”

If so, what belongs in its place? He suggests that there are four concepts we must keep in mind to think about this clearly:

  1. The story of the Bible/the story of Israel
  2. The story of Jesus
  3. The plan of salvation
  4. The method of persuasion

The larger story of the Bible as it develops through the story of Israel develops the vision of God’s Kingdom that emerges out of creation and finds its culmination in the story of Jesus.

The plan of salvation for individuals flows out of Jesus’ story. It speaks to one aspect (and one only) of the Gospel and its full Kingdom vision — how people are reconciled to God and reckoned to be in right standing before him. This “plan of salvation” (which we often reduce in form to a few key points for communication) is not to be equated with the Gospel.

Finally, the fourth element is our method of persuading people to accept God’s plan of salvation. In a salvation culture, this is so linked with the plan of salvation that the two together may totally outshadow the story of the Bible/Israel/Jesus and thus divorce our perception of “the Gospel” from the context that gives it its full meaning and significance.

How, for example, did an apostle like Paul understand the Gospel? Fortunately, we have an early record of Paul passing on the oral tradition of the Gospel that the apostles received and taught — in 1Corinthians 15. As Scot surveys this passage, he concludes that it contains the whole story of Jesus, including his life, death, resurrection, appearances, ascension, second coming, and full consummation of the Kingdom in the end. It is not simply about the Cross and the personal forgiveness of sins. It is about a Person — Jesus — who is Savior, Messiah, Judge, and Lord of all. It leads to an ending that will reveal that God is God and that God’s people have been restored to fulfill the purposes for which he created them.

The Gospel, then, is not simply the plan of salvation for individual sinners. It is not a system of how people get saved. It is the triumphant announcement that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord. This results in people getting saved — and much more.

…the gospel for the apostle Paul is the salvation-unleashing Story of Jesus, Messiah-Lord-Son, that brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. To “gospel” is to declare this story, and it is a story that saves people from their sins. …The story begins at creation and finally only completes itself in the consummation when God is all in all.

…When the plan gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation.

Furthermore, McKnight notes how separating the Plan of Salvation from the Story transforms our understanding of “Gospel” into a message that is about me and my personal salvation, shifting from Christ and community to individualism, privatizing the message rather than making it about Christ being Lord of all leading to God being all in all.

In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight bolsters his case about the nature of the Gospel by showing how Jesus preached the Gospel, how the Gospels themselves represent the full Gospel message, and how Peter and the other apostles preached a robust Gospel message in the Book of Acts.

He concludes the book with two helpful chapters: “Gospeling Today,” and “Creating a Gospel Culture.” In these pages, Scot first makes suggestions about how to adjust the ways we present the message of the King Jesus Gospel in contrast to the ways we have been doing it in our “soterian” church culture. Then he offers counsel about how we can become people of the Story of Jesus and the Church and counter the stories that compete against God’s good news. Above all, he encourages us to embrace this Gospel.

Comments and Concerns

1. I think Scot McKnight is right on target with regard to clarifying the Gospel message.

2. His method of clarifying the Gospel by looking closely at what Jesus and the apostles actually proclaimed provides a solid case for his position, and a damning indictment of what passes for “gospel” in much evangelical teaching. It shows how little many of us really know our Bibles, and how we so often pick and choose from Scripture and put together our theological formulas with little respect for the actual text we claim to be representing.

3. He is right in his diagnosis of the “soterian” culture that much conservative Christianity has embraced.

4. He is right that this dramatically affects our ability to move people from “making decisions” to “becoming disciples.” If being “in” is the only ultimate value, then in reality discipleship, church membership, worship, and mission are all optional add-ons that we can take or leave as we choose. Getting people to accept the plan of salvation is all that really matters in the end.

4. I am concerned about how evangelicals will receive this book. I have found, in my years of experience in evangelicalism, that those with their particular commitments commonly make a fundamental mistake, a mistake that can easily be repeated again with a book like this. Here’s the mistake: We think if we make the message better, we will solve the problems we’ve identified. Scot has identified the problem as a lack of true spiritual formation among Christian church members. The root problem, he says, is an inadequate message. The implication is, if we improve the message and teach it correctly, people will experience spiritual formation as genuine disciples of Christ.

Now, I don’t want to downplay the importance of the message, but in my view the message is only one of three important factors in making disciples.

The second factor is a robust ecclesiology — church polity and congregational practices that are built around the Gospel and that enable and encourage congregations to walk together in the Gospel Story.

The third factor is a robust pastoral ministry that involves the kind of apostolic Gospel ministry (not just message) that Paul wrote about in such passages as 1Thessalonians 2 and in the final verses of Colossians 1. This ministry is not just about preaching, providing “visionary leadership,” serving as a CEO of a successful organization, or being a talented program director. It is about exemplifying the Gospel ethos of Jesus in face-to-face relationships with people as we personally walk with them in the Gospel Story.

A robust Gospel message without a robust Gospel ecclesiology and Gospel ministry cannot be sustained.

In my experience, evangelicalism is extremely weak in both of these areas. Without them, there is no infrastructure in which to practice a more robust message. The message itself will not automatically “create” a robust ecclesiology and ministry — we must be intentional about reforming them in light of a more robust Gospel.

In this regard, I think Scot misses the boat when he writes about churches in the historic and sacramental traditions and those growing out of the Reformation (particularly Lutheranism). Although he commends practices like observing the Church Year and putting new emphasis on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, what he fails to acknowledge is that the historic, Reformation, and mainline churches already have a gospel culture infrastructure built around these very practices. They already have the ecclesial, catechetical, and liturgical infrastructure in place that is based on the Story and which allows people to live in it week in and week out.

What I am afraid of is that some evangelicals will read his book and then say, “Oh, God is telling me to practice the Church Year for my spiritual formation.” And so on. No. No. No. Practicing the Church Year is not simply about ordering one’s personal life around the Story of the Bible and Jesus. It is about participating in a community where the sanctuary is draped in different colors each season and on special days, where we participate each Sunday with the church of all ages and in all places by saying the Creeds together, praying the Lord’s Prayer, reading the Scriptures for the day and season from the lectionary, hearing the liturgical readings and responses that the church has heard down through the ages, and coming to the Table from which God feeds his people. It’s about Advent candles, Lenten soup suppers, Holy Week services, rose petals falling from the ceiling on Pentecost. It’s about an entire ecclesial infrastructure that supports and proclaims the Gospel.

Robert Webber discovered this forty years ago, and his body of work is eloquent, consistent testimony to the fact that the historic practices of ecclesiology, liturgy, and spiritual formation are centered around Jesus and the Gospel. Many evangelicals, including myself, have found this to be true. There is more “Gospel” in any single liturgical service I attend in my mainline Lutheran church than I experienced in a year of soterian evangelical church services. And where do we think Tom Wright’s incredible insights about the Gospel come from? Of course, he is a wonderfully gifted historian and student of the Bible, but he is also deeply invested in the life of a historic, liturgical, sacramental church tradition. I sincerely doubt that his groundbreaking insights about a storied and communitarian Gospel could have emerged from the kind of non-denominational, free church tradition that I have known throughout much of my Christian life.

Scot’s book resonates with me now that I have seen a Gospel culture at work in the life of my Lutheran church, with its liturgical and formational practices. I’m just not sure that many evangelicals will know what to do with it.

In the chapter of The King Jesus Gospel in which Scot expresses his view that the soterian Gospel is rooted in the Reformation, he fails to mention the wide-ranging ecclesial and pastoral reforms introduced by leaders like Luther. Evangelicals tend to view the Reformation solely through the prism of the message of justification by grace through faith. But for Luther, it was as much about creating a Gospel culture in the family and church as it was about refining the message.

Luther translated the Bible into German so that people could read and embrace the Story for themselves, restored hymnody to the church so that they might praise God as King, created catechisms for fathers and pastors to use in helping their households and congregations understand the Gospel, emphasized pastoral care and spiritual formation, restored a Gospel understanding and practice of the sacraments, and encouraged Christians to be Gospel people, viewing all their vocations as opportunities to serve as God’s priests and show Christ’s love in the world. Luther was seeking to reform the Church, not merely her message.

So while I appreciate The King Jesus Gospel for what it is — and I emphasize that it is an excellent argument for a robust Gospel message — I fear that it ignores whole traditions of Christianity that are not soterian and which do practice Gospel culture, and that its insights will be counteracted in practice by evangelicals because of the common error of thinking that better teaching automatically leads to better Christians and a better church.

Comments

  1. Mike,

    Very interesting. As you know, for many Evangelicals, the nosedive that many mainline Protestant churches have taken morally and theologically exclude them from Evangelical consideration.

    I would comment on your words about Luther (the intention of which I agree with–he wasn’t out to start a new Church but reform the existing one):

    “Luther translated the Bible into German so that people could read and embrace the Story for themselves…”

    Until he realized that German people couldn’t interpret the Bible correctly, and then he reserved the right to read the Scriptures for only his most advanced students.

    “restored hymnody to the church so that they might praise God as King…”

    Agreed. He made up some sweet hymns. We sing some in the Catholic Church ironically.

    “created catechisms for fathers and pastors to use in helping their households and congregations understand the Gospel…”

    And also to teach people to interpret the Bible in the same way he did (which he thought was _the_ correct way).

    “restored a Gospel understanding and practice of the sacraments….”

    That hardly any Protestant denominations accept today. (Steve Martin might, but even many Lutheran branches don’t accept Luther’s views on the sacraments.)

    “Luther was seeking to reform the Church, not merely her message.”

    But in doing so he caused a schism from the Church. He decided his opinion was right, over that of the Church’s, not just on disciplinary matters, but on all matters, moral and theological. The other Reformers followed suit, and unsurprisingly, ecclesial and doctrinal chaos resulted, with each leader believing he was correctly interpreting the Scriptures.

    • “As you know, for many Evangelicals, the nosedive that many mainline Protestant churches have taken morally and theologically exclude them from Evangelical consideration.”

      Meanwhile, mainline Protestants (when not busy with their heresy and orgies) have developed an analogous impression of Evangelicals, informed by the goings-on of TV evangelists and their ilk.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “As you know, for many Evangelicals, the nosedive that many mainline Protestant churches have taken morally and theologically exclude them from Evangelical consideration.”

      I am often bemused by internal critiques of Evangelical Protestantism which seem to strive to recreate mainline Protestantism but which don’t even consider the obvious option of joining a mainline Protestant church.

      I’m not sure what you mean by a moral and theological nosedive. One possibility is you are thinking of the gay/female clergy issue. (The two ultimately go hand in hand.) If so, we will have to agree to disagree as to the characterization. But the obstacle is clearly out there. I got the sense that this was what kept Michael Spencer from seriously considering the option.

      This still is somewhat mysterious. It is trivially easy to find Lutheran who will have nothing to do with gay and/or female clergy. (The code phrase is “Confessional Lutheran.) Many mainline denominations have analogous bodies. So far as I can tell, this is argument by stereotype. That the stereotype may have a factual basis is beside the point.

      • Richard,

        Yes, most Evangelicals will not consider joining a denomination that officially endorses same-sex “marriage,” practicing same-sex clergy, and to a lesser degree, female pastors. So, PCUSA with its 4 million members and the Episcopal Church are out, as is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), which I think Chaplain Mike belongs to. These formally accept these novel doctrines. So I’m not speaking of being able to find someone in these denominations who doesn’t accept those things, but the actual teachings of the denominations themselves.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Sure, but the Evangelical who wants gay-free Lutheranism with no women in the pulpit can turn to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Or if Presbyterianism attracts him, there is the Presbyterian Church in America. These are both old, established church bodies. There is a veritable paroxysm of conservative groups splintered or splintering off from the Episcopalian Church.

          What mystifies me is the phenomenon of Evangelical critics rejecting conservative mainline church bodies because there are liberal church bodies with somewhat similar names. This is just weird.

  2. No doubt Luther’s legacy is complex, and you have stated a common Catholic perspective on it. However this post is not really about that. I use him here only as an example to counteract a limited evangelical view that the Reformation was all about the message.

    • Mike,

      Yeah, didn’t mean to divert the main topic. I would mention that most of the statements I made about Luther come, not from a Catholic, but from Anglican scholar Alister McGrath.

      Not to be downer, but the congregationalist ecclesiology and individualist mindset of Evangelicalism, along side a generally anti-historical attitude, seem like insurmountable obstacles to Evangelicals answering the challenge you present here. Do you agree?

      • Yes, and I have told Scot so personally. I think he will be happy if he can create some movement toward an acceptance of a more robust gospel message and culture. As for me, I hit the road for Wittenberg a few years ago.

        • Whatever one makes of Luther, we should keep in mind that (a) the Catholic church eventually agreed with many of not most of his theological points, and (b) the Reformation was not so much planned by him, as the result of social and political forces beyond his control.

      • Devon,

        Luther was parroting St. Paul.

        He did not discover the radical freedom which is the gospel, he rediscovered it.

        Most were shelving Paul in the 1st century. he was deemed “to hard to understand”.

        But Luther (and other Catholics before Luther) understood him (Paul).

        Once Luther experienced that freedom, that Christ has done it all and there is NOTHING left for us to do, he wanted to share that freedom with those who were still under the bondage of trying to ascend to the Divine by what they did, or did not do.

        As for ther majority of the Evangelical church, well, they don’t understand Paul, or Luther and have much more in common with the Roman Catholic Church theologically.
        They believe (if they won’t admit it or say it outright) in the co-operative salvation/sanctification project. Starting, of course, with THEIR DECISION for Jesus. And then it continues along the same path where they are at the center, rather than the completed work of Christ.

        Thanks, my friend.

        • should read ‘too hard to understand’

          • Steve, you should check out my book. I point many places where Luther and the Catholic Church agreed. Where I use Luther to speak for the Catholic position–for example, on his views of baptismal regeneration.

            Catholic teaching has never been that we go from unrighteous to righteous (justification) by works. Never.

            You seems to dismiss all works of any kind. So what do you make of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

            What does Paul mean here about works God prepared in advance for us?

            And Galatians 5:4-6: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

            What does Paul mean by “faith working through love”?

            I don’t think you can maintain the position you do that works are not important _after_ a Christian has received the free gift of justification by grace through faith (with no works involved).

          • Devon,

            I never said that works are not important.

            They are. But NOT for our salvation, justification or sanctification.

            They are important for our neighbors who need them. Not for God who doesn’t need them.

          • Steve,

            I hear you re-asserting your belief–that works are not involved in justification, sanctification, or salvation–contra Reformed Protestantism among others. But I don’t hear how you reconcile this view with the verses I mentioned above. Can you explain?

            More verses I would like to hear your harmonization of:

            Romans 2:12: ” For wit is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

            John 5:28-29: ““Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

            These verses are concerned with justification (either initial or ongoing) and salvation, so an explanation is needed.

          • Devin,

            What about the verses that speak about “being saved by grace through faith, and not of works least anyone should boast”?

            Or the one that speaks of “those who work getting what they are owed, and the ones who do not work but rusts in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”? Romans 4:4

            Or the parables that speak of God giving in full measure to those who did work through the whole day but showed up right at the end of the work day?

            No, for us grace means grace. No word games. Grace is unmerited favor and the Bible does confirm that.

            And we LOVE IT! It’s the GOOD NEWS!!

            How good is the news if we have to pony up? And then we are never sure if we’ve done enough, or done it for the right reasons.

          • Steve,

            You didn’t give your explanation of any of the verses I mentioned, just challenged me to explain some different verses. The Catholic Faith can harmonize all these verses with its soteriology. But your position is contra Catholicism, contra Orthodoxy, contra Reformed Protestantism, and (based on your statements) contra Evangelical Protestantism. So the onus is on you, who (I understand) are of some particular branch of Lutheran, to harmonize these verses.

            Are we saved by grace or by works, as Ephesians 2 that you quoted relates to? Catholics affirm, by grace and not by works. You are hitting at strawmen, mischaracterizations of what Catholicism teaches, and you don’t open to receiving correction. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs, but only to accurately portray those whom you engage in dialogue.

            Grace is unmerited favor but also something that makes us partakers in the divine nature. The Bible confirms that. So, do you have explanations for the verses I mentioned?

          • Devin,

            The Bible is loaded with law language (what we should, ought, or must be doing) but there is NO life in the Law. It kills. It condemns. St. Paul even calls the 10 Commandments “the ministry of death”

            Life comes from the gospel. The forgiveness of sins for the ungodly. For those who don’t measure up.

            So, we Lutherans read the Scriptures through the prism of grace, and faith, and what Christ has done for us…and not by what we should, ought, or must be doing.

            Thanks, Devin.

            • Hey, Steve and Devin, can we take this Lutheran/Catholic debate outside? I’ll give you a chance to do it here another time, but it’s not really keeping us on the point of this post.

          • Sure, Chaplain Mike.

            I was just trying to spread the Good News.

          • That’s cool, Chaplain Mike. Apologies for diverting from the point of this post.

        • oops…sorry Devin! It’s late and my fingers and mind are a bit tired.

          Gonna hit the hay, my friend…

      • A lot of what we’re talking about when we talk about individualism is a product of the Reformation, but a lot of it is a product of the Enlightenment as well. The two movements are very entangled, and at the root of a lot of both their thinking is giving the people the right to question long-standing authority systems and power structures. Personally, I am skeptical that American Christian will ever move in large numbers to an ecclesiastical tradition that Chaplain Mike describes. Sure, there are pockets here and there, but I just don’t see it becoming a huge, shaping force for the American church. I’m not saying I agree with this, but perhaps I’m just skeptical.

        • cermak_rd says:

          I would argue that both Protestantism and America are heirs to the enlightenment. And no, I don’t see American Protestants as a whole giving up the individualistic impulses that are otherwise considered laudatory in modern-day America.

  3. Jack Heron says:

    I’d like to offer a bit of my perspective on the gospel and the message we get out to people.

    You read often in Christian, and especially evangelical, literature about ‘telling people the gospel’. Now, most Christians aren’t so naive as to think that merely hearing an account of the life and death of Jesus is enough to convert someone, but I do note a trend to approach evangelism and discussion of one’s faith as a kind of info-dump. Tell someone everything Jesus said and did and they’ll become a Christian. If they don’t become a Christian, it’s because you were presenting the Gospel wrongly, because you didn’t focus on the parts they’d find accessible, because they haven’t actually heard it properly. But it doesn’t work that way (usually).

    Some years ago, I was an atheist. I wasn’t an angry New Atheist, I rather liked a lot of religion. In fact, I found it fascinating. I read my Bible, dabbled around in theology, had a postcard of Christ Pantocrator up on my noticeboard. I could quote chapter and verse, participate in denominational squabbling, discourse a little pompously on doctrinal matters. I had heard the Gospel, heard more variants and approaches to it than most actual Christians I had met. And I didn’t believe it one little bit. The story on its own just wasn’t that convincing, no matter how wonderful I thought this Jesus guy was.

    What did bring me round? All sorts of little things. There was a film about the life of St Francis (Mickey Rourke as Francis, no joke!). There was G.K. Chesterton. There was a discussion in which I realised exactly what God I didn’t believe in. There was a song. All in all, there was a world of Christians living the beautiful complexity and depth of all aspects of the Christian life. And only when people stopped trying to reach me was I reached.

    Somewhere back in the archives is a comment thread about what book (other than the Bible) would be the best introduction to Christianity. Someone (Martha?) suggested an illustrated book of saints, not to teach people doctrine but drown them in beauty. I’d say that’s more effective.

    Because you’re absolutely right, Mike, the Gospel is just the beginning. One of the things I like about iMonk is that it in many ways recreates the experience of conversion as both Chesterton and I experienced it: the sense of passing through a door into what had seemed a small space but instead turned out to be the whole world. The experiences of people abandoning the more shallow reaches of Evangelicalism mirror my own abandoning atheism: there’s a huge, deep world out there.

    • I suspect that we’ll find door after door after door for all eternity, emerging over and over again from an understanding of God that at first seemed as broad as the whole world, but suddenly seems small compared to the greater space we find ourselves in. My own life certainly feels that way. Right now liturgical worship is one way I’ve found a door open to a wider world, but it’s not the final door – there are other discoveries still to come. I try to tell myself that every time I find myself relating to others who seem, to me, to be stuck in a narrow space – the truth is none of us grasp the tiniest fraction of the infinite God we are seeking.

      (Admittedly, though, liturgical worship does a much better job of communicating a sense of an awesome and infinite, ever-hidden and ever-to-be-discovered God than any other mode of church I’ve participated in.)

    • Well said, Jack.

    • This explains the void in disciplship in evangelical chruches today. Salvation is an instant experience, with some people stating the date, time etc.. of when they were “saved” (Eagle cringes….) However that I would argue is such a cheap approach to the gospel and Christianity as a whole. Because you are going to be shaped by so many other factors…marriage, job, children, friends, church experiences and events…

      I knew a couple of evangelicals who were so frustrated with this process. Mega church culture that teaches instant salvation and has no discipleship. So one individual that I knew (former involvement in Islam) was in knots over having no where to go, nothing to do, etc.. I have no idea where he went to or what happened. As a friend he just disappeared. But the lack of discipleship and a culture that was so focused on instant salvation drove him nuts.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Reciting the Year/Month/Day/Hour/Minute/Second I Was SAVED can all too easily slip into one-upmanship and Can You Top This.

        And more sinister, they can become so fixated on When I Was SAVED that they end up living in the past. All Moment of Salvation and nothing afterwards, like a Bridezilla who puts so much time and energy into My Wedding Day there’s none left for the marriage afterwards.

  4. I think the emphasis on worship content is not much different than the emphasis on message content… it’s not enough to fix the problem. If worship design (liturgical format) would be effective at creating a “gospel culture” then why was it abandoned whole sale last century? And when people were fleeing why were they complaining about “dead” traditions? When we had stronger eccleisology and traditions, the Protestant Church still failed in its basic mission (to an extent). Evangelicalism is the reaction to that failure. While Evangelicalism has raised zealousness it also has failed to create disciples at the rates once promised. I’m not sure “going back” will create different results especially since “back then” didn’t do that great of a job. I think the modern Roman Catholic Church is the example of this. They have the framework, belief system, and unity we desire and yet they don’t do that much better at creating disciples.

    • All in all from Old Catholic to Uber Relevant, none of us are that great at making Disciples. We all fail in the exact same area though for differing reasons.

    • ….maybe because the road of faith is hard and the road of secularism fits in much better with what we expect out of life. Love my neighbor? – hey he just cut me off…. care about my neighbor – heck I have enough problems caring about myself…. ok, cynical, but true christianity doesn’t fit well in the Americanized world of individualism we live in… so it’s good for a short lived fad thing or on Sunday’s if I have time….

      There”s a level of maturity we should all reach at some point…unfortunately there are many who just don’t want to reach it…

      • As is often the case, I find myself nodding in agreement with you, Brother Rad!

        Let’s face it…until one “gets” the power and glory and LOVE of the great God of the Universe, as seen in the Triune God…”religion” is a time consuming bore.

        Let’s look at what our faith LOOKS like to those not brought up in any church, the indifferent folks out there who feel like they don’t even have a dog in this fight. What are we offering, at first glance?? Lots of things that are fun that you are not supposed to do anymore, a new language to learn, spending boring time in a church when the real world is out there waiting for you, the whole “are ya SURE this isn’t a fairy tale?” questions that go unanswered, hypocrites so thick you can hardly see around the lot of them, silly rules, the newly found fear of BURNING IN HELL, the bible full of old English crap that is hard to read or relate to (and totally bogus sounding..six days to make the world? Floods and rainbows?) , and stuff that happened a couple of millenia or more ago. Ho-hum…what, exactly, is the non-atheist, non-Christian, Joe Six-Pack supposed to think about all of this??? And why think about it at ALL!?!

        Until we can show the Love and Power of the Living God, and how much He cares….we got nothin’ to offer.

        • “Until we can show the Love and Power of the Living God, and how much He cares….we got nothin’ to offer.”

          Well said, Pattie.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Radagast said

        “There”s a level of maturity we should all reach at some point…unfortunately there are many who just don’t want to reach it…”

        But why? What’s the payoff from pursuing religious endeavors? In other words, what does religion have to offer folks, and particularly the kind of self-denying religion being promoted by Chaplain Mike in this post?

        What I’ve found in my faith is a heritage. But my partner, who is an Atheist (or at least an Agnostic), is not in need of that. He finds community in other ways, and, as I’ve mentioned before, even does service to the community on occasion. With no real need for a religion.

    • “If worship design (liturgical format) would be effective at creating a “gospel culture” then why was it abandoned whole sale last century?”

      It seemed that way in some circles, but I think the actual numbers might show the opposite. In fact, liturgical worship is surging in popularity right now. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as non-liturgical worship (even Andy Stanley has one, youtube “Sunday’s Coming”), there was this thing called the “Liturgical Movement.” Look at denominations like the United Methodist church: Historically revivalist, they are now on average closer to a catholic church than to Erwin McManus. Look at the hundreds of Baptist churches in the Acts29 network recovering the practice of weekly communion. Even the Anabaptists are recovering liturgical prayer. Shane Clairborne, anyone? High church Presbyterianism is on the rise in both liberal and evangelical circles: PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship follows the historic order of the mass, and the CREC has recovered the worship of the high church puritans. And remember, the mainline chuches, who have always embrace these structures of worship, have not been abandoned wholesale: They still number in the millions each, while most evangelical groups (except the SBC) count members by thousands. Old traditions were not abandoned: They were replaced with inferior models by people who thought they knew better than the historic church. The younger generations are longing for that connection with a historic faith, and they are rejecting the iconoclasm. Consider also the hymn re-write movement as another expression of this trend.

      Traditions don’t die. People longing for extraordinary experience get bored with the ordinary means through which God loves to work. Tradition itself is, at its core, the method through which the faith is handed down to the next generation. Consider then the implications of all these churches who are self-described “non-traditional.”
      I think vanilla-non-denominational churches with no roots and Christ-less liturgies are about to be abandoned, as Spencer predicted with the CEC.

      But yes, poor discipleship is a pretty evenly spread problem. I don’t think any one tradition can be a silver bullet, but everything little that brings us back to a focus on Christ is a brick in the wall.

      • I would be able to follow your post a bit better if I had a clue who your were talking about, and what many of the acronyms stood for. Please note that many of us are NOT scholars of American fundamentalism….some of us are even Catholic! Maybe ‘splainin’ a bit more would help us follow along…

      • It might be argued that the movement out of a liturgical model came from the revivalist’s sawdust trail. This coming from a time when success was getting people down to the “altar” and confirmed when they took a dry oath. When these people would return for weeks and months to a place where long term “camp meetings” were being held. Many of these eventually became churches in their own right.

        My childhood church was one such – built on the foot print of the tabernacle where Bob Jones, Sr spent six months preaching. The first hymnals were the ones he left there and the new preacher was one of his first converts. His folksy ways and lack of seminary training put distance between himself and local ministers. He furthered the divide by equating the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Anglicans with Catholic heathens to his congregation in his preaching. The “Fundamentalist Papers” continued to further the divide and create an ethos of “godliness vs. those robe wearing liberal types.”

        Bob Jones created a college to train his young bucks. And train he did. Lots and lots and lots of them. He did not train pastors. He trained preachers, revivalists, lecturers. He never pastored a congregation. He preached revivals. This model has permeated the evangelical world. It has forever changed how America views what a church is supposed to look like and do.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          This coming from a time when success was getting people down to the “altar” and confirmed when they took a dry oath

          A “Dry Oath” pledge was part of the Altar Call? That dovetails with Chap Mike’s recent posting on Culture War & Prohibition.

      • In spite of your acronym-ous reply, traditionalism isn’t rising faster than “vanilla-church-nondemonationalism”. As a vanilla pastor in contact with many like-associated non-denom pastors, I’m pretty much a lone wolf of returning to the liturgy.

        BUT MY MAIN POINT STILL STANDS

        All that we seem to be heading towards, for those of us returning to liturgy, is already in existence in other churches…and yet despite their traditions and “gospel-centered” worship/liturgy they are not doing any better at actually making disciples, which I thought was the point!

        So, why are we (and I mean we since I’m doing it too) touting the benefits of returning to the old liturgy and ecclesiology?

    • I would hazard a guess that in many cases liturgy had become Traditionalism and just sort of ossified. The one thing that evangelicals have brought to the church is a belief that the promises of God are for today. B.T.W. there have been evangelical Anglicans since before the 20th century.

      Once the 1950s hit, with the advent of TV everything it life had to be more entertaining, so the same trend happened in religion. Evangelicals embraced pop culture and became the preferred place of worship for many. The problem is that we are good and getting people in the door, and have a hard time keeping people.
      And one of the reasons may be that we don’t really have a good way of teaching people how to live the spiritual life over the long term. Alister McGrath noticed this and wrote on it in 1993.

      People are now revisiting some of the liturgical churches and discovering there is some depth there. Those churches have for years had good practices for living a spiritual life, they just did not know how to share the good news with the rest of the world.

      To me, the encouraging thing is that many people are starting to get it. Michael Z’s comments on making Christ tangible are being repeated and reaffirmed by many.

    • Pastor Brendan, I’m not saying the historic churches have always been successful in making disciples. I’m saying they have a better, more gospel-oriented infrastructure in place for doing so. On the level of actually doing it, I think gospel-shaped pastoral ministry is a key element, and something all traditions are short on.

      • Why then focus on ecclesiology and tradition? It feels like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

        • Glenn A Bolas says:

          Presumably because having things in place which are conducive to a gospel-shaped church life and to growing believers in the faith and discipling them is better than not having such things. Even if they’re not being used well, they’re there, and that’s half the problem solved. All you then have to do is reinflate the tyre, as it were. Much easier than reinventing the wheel (especially when the new versions tend to be square or hexagonal….and I think I’ll stop there lest I stretch this metaphor to breaking point!).

    • Many evangelicals still claim liturgy to be dead, ritualistc and works based. I heard that complaint about Catholicism when I was in Crusade…(I mean Cru…)

  5. When people ask me what draws me to liturgical church (having grown up evangelical), the best answer I’ve found to give is that it makes Christ _tangible_. Somehow when you’re receiving the Gospel not just piped into your brain through your ears, but through your whole body – images, sounds, smells, lifted hands, bent knees, gestures, rhythms for the day and for the seasons, and above all through bread and wine – it becomes so much more real. As I’ve become immersed in that tradition, Jesus has become real to me in a way I couldn’t even have imagined at the peak of my evangelical days: real not just because I can prove something, and real not just when my emotions are running high, but matter-of-fact, day-to-day real. The incarnation and life and death and resurrection of Jesus feel like a part of my story. And “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” is as real to me as Christmas vacation coming up, and affects the way I plan my life right now.

    I was at an evangelical worship event recently with perhaps 8000 folks from Boston, and despite lots of energy and loud music the whole time my heart was aching – it spoke less to me of the gospel by far than I find in a quiet Easter vigil, for example. There was no structure, no story, no progression from one thing to the next – I honestly couldn’t figure out why they picked the songs they chose or the order they did them in. There were images but they didn’t connect, didn’t tie together. There was no confession or absolution, no sacraments, and very little Scripture – either read or in the song lyrics.

    My heart aches for evangelical Christianity, but meanwhile I’ve moved on – founding an intentional community that does morning and evening prayer and sometimes Compline, marking out the seasons of the church year, worshiping in a liturgical setting while still keeping ties to the evangelical church and trying to share with them some of the riches of the liturgical tradition. I don’t know what more to do than to than to try in my own life to embody Christ in the same way that the church embodies Christ to me.

    • Do you think part of this is due to people aging? Uncertain times in a changing world economy is leading some people to want liturgy NOT becuase they see truth in it, but because in a world that has so much change today it’s one of the only parts of the worldthat has little change. So some people take comfort in that fact when there is so much upheaval in the stock market, work palce, governments, etc..

      Do you understand what I am saying?

      • This is a thought I have had recently as well, regarding liturgical movements and the reasons why people may join them, Not because they are always “better” (liturgical and non-liturgical chiurches each have their strengths and weaknesses), but because in this increasingly complex and overwhelming world, liturgical worship offers a stability that rarely seems to change.

    • This! Although I tend to be very cerebral, my feelings are similar. Evangelicalism tends to identify faith with intellectual belief. And of course, we evangelicals have a habit of reading the Bible as though it is a source of doctrine or a series of “lessons” with “applications.” (Bible as “life manual!”) When that hermeneutic is dominant, we can loose site of the fact that the Biblical message is essentially a drama and that we are part of the narrative, and also that that narrative binds us to other people, past and present.

      I’ll never argue with the notion that doctrine is important. But I love how liturgy captures the divine story and enacts it … it has the potential to become the Story in which all other stories, my own included are caught up. And even if one does engage things largely with the mind, what a relief to be able to relate with the whole self.

  6. So why is it called the “King Jesus Gospel”? (At first glance I assumed it to be a Bible translation!)

    • Because the Gospel is the saving announcement that Jesus is the King promised to Israel, who has inaugurated God’s Kingdom on earth.

      • My buddy who loves N.T. Wright mentioned to me that in Wright’s translation of the New Testament, he uses the translation “King Jesus” often (in place of Christ or Messiah or something like that).

      • cermak_rd says:

        Does that make any sense at all in a post-Enlightenment world that has tossed monarchy overboard as a bad deal? Maybe in the UK, where they still have a (neutered) monarch, or some of the Scandinavian and Arab countries.

        I’m just not sure this concept translates well. It’s kind of like that old feast, Christ the King, that tried to make the case the nations (not just people) had the need to be governed by Christ. Which I had not observed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Cermak,
          Wright isn’t so much about how we would understand the term “King” today, but rather how, the best we can know from the indications in the texts of the time, Christos/Mashiach would have been understood by Paul’s first-century hearers – what it would mean to them.

          Dana

  7. David Llewellyn says:

    Thanks Chaplain Mike for this discussion.

    After 12 years in evanglical circles I could not define what the gospel was.

    Was it John 3:16 and nothing else?
    Was it the born again message – so preach on John 3:3 every week.
    Was it Calvin’s 5 points of grace
    Was it the 4 points of Free will/ Armenianism?
    Was it the Romans road of all have sinned, the wages of sin is death…etc.
    Was the whole Genesis to Revelation the gospel of the Kingdom?
    Was it the message of the cross only (which meant stories like the rich young ruler giving up his wealth were irrelevant as they were pre cross)
    Was it a “new” message Paul preached separate from what the 12 disciples taught in Matt – John?

    Now that I converted to Greek Orthodox I am happy that the gospel is simply the whole of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and that is all covered over the cycle of the calendar.

  8. Greetings from the wasteland of non-denominational churches. “The King Jesus Gospel” sounds interesting , and I wil make an endeavor to read it. As you can probably guess, I am not very familiar with liturgical worship, so I cannot comment on what I have not experienced.

    I resonate with several things in your post: decision making vs. disciple making would be at the top of the list, followed closeley by a disdain for a simple, formulatic presentation of the gospel. I have noticed in the comments preceding mine that people from all kinds of faith traditions seem to be having trouble “making disciples”. Perhaps Radagast had the best explanation, “There”s a level of maturity we should all reach at some point…unfortunately there are many who just don’t want to reach it…”

    I find myself doubting that a return to liturgical worship will produce the hoped for results, although at this stage of the game I can see why we might be willing to try almost anything! In our small non-denominational church, I am seeing some hopeful things. Our pastor preaches Christ every service. The story of Israel and the story of Jesus are presented in the context of the “big picture” of the Father’s gracious work in humanity since creation. As you might expect, salvation is stressed, but the gospel has been portrayed in the context of God’s Kingdom, the formation of a people for Himself, and a final day when the Lord will make create a new heaven and earth for His people. The Good news includes everything that God has done, is doing, and will accomplish for mankind. We don’t have a yearly calendar, or candles, or incense, or rose petals falling from the ceiling, but we do read Scripture, devote time to prayer, make much of the Lord’s Table, and emphasize Christ. We do not have invitations, pass an offering plate, offer entertainment, and we do not sell Jesus as a cheap trinktet.

    I have never heard Christ presented in such a way in all my life. My pastor loves me and my family, and actually gives us permission to fail! I have never had a “spiritual” leader do such a thing, and I have great hope, even though our church is quite small. I like this website, because for all our differences, Christ seems to be first here. Wherever we find ourselves, may His story be in our hearts and on our lips.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    As a result, the Christians we are discipling and the churches we are building are not being established in a “Gospel” culture, but rather a “salvation” culture. Many of us are not truly “evangelicals” (Gospel people) but “soterians” (salvation people).

    And Salvation culture distills down to “Walk the Aisle, Say the Magic Words, and get your Fire Insurance Policy and Rapture Boarding Pass.” With a strong pull towards guilt manipulation to get them Walking that Aisle.

    And once you have your Fire Insurance Policy and Rapture Boarding Pass, you don’t want to do anything that might cause you to lose them; just sit and wait to cash in the Boarding Pass on demand. Hence enclaving in the Christianese Ghetto and sitting and waiting for The End. (“Immanentizing the Eschaton”, i.e. attempting to Force Armageddon and The End, in the real extreme cases. “Ah’ll Be Gone, Ah’ll Be Gone…”)

    And getting/manipulating others to Walk the Aisle and Say the Magic Words, with strong similarity to an MLM pyramid.

  10. One factor that I think this conversation has missed is the American propensity towards individualism. Much of the problem (lack of discipleship) does not spring from the Catholics vs. the Reformation tradition, but from how things evolved here in the US given our cultural backdrop.

    I am a very pragmatic individualist no matter how hard I try to fight it, and i score very low when it comes to trusting institutions of any kind, especially the/a church. If I am honest, I like being an individualist and was never a ‘joiner.’ I am finally learning after years of being a Christian what it is to be a member of a community.( Admittedly, finding a good congregation in a denomination that you can substantially agree with helps.)

    This whole idea permeates our culture, and our best and brightest theologians and pastors try to come up with some kind of sure fire recipe to to consistently produce disciples. So we tinker with the message, or the style of worship, or our form of ecclesiastical governance in hopes of coming up with an answer.

    The fact of the matter is that there are many true disciples found in any number of traditions and denominations. We are just really uncomfortable because they seem to be the minority, when compared with the vast trampling herds that attend church on a weekly basis. I don’t know what the entire answer is, but I think this is a piece of it.

  11. It seems to me that much of the discussion about what happens on Suday mornings is still just arguing over style.

    The highest liturgy and the lowest (ie “we don’t have one) all can be horrible or wonderful depending on the particular church and even the particular service. Yes, theological differences shine through the various practices, but, in general, it is all an exercise in being alone together. Singing hymns, listening to lectures, and reciting creeds together doesn’t make for the new community that Jesus was forming when knowing one another and sharing one anothers’ gifts has so little of a place.

    The vast majority of Christians come for the show. Some involve more participation than others, but they are all rather spectator friendly and passconsumer friendly enviorments.

    I’m all for doing Sunday better, but maybe that involves droping the control everything through lack of genuine participation from the congregation so we can make sure a good product……I mean message gets delivered attitude and having some real interaction. What that will probably do though, is show that we have failed to make and be disciples more so than what is covered up by the way we do things now.

  12. Following up on the general tone of the comments above, I wonder if IM would consider doing a series on spiritual formation? Part of the problem with “making disciples” is no doubt that many people actually do not want the burden of doing this! But perhaps sometimes the problem is not knowing how to go about it?
    There are a lot of potential answers offered in various churches:

    -Participation in small groups or use of ‘accountability partners’ (the last time I was active in an evangelical church this seemed to be the model)
    -Participation in organized Bible study
    -Individual devotions (Scripture reading or reading ‘inspirational literature’)
    -Volunteering in church or showing up to multiple services (Sunday, Sunday night, Wednesday night, AWANA, youth group, et. al)
    -Community activism (volunteering for things not specifically Bible-centric)
    -Meeting with a spiritual director
    -Confession
    (and so on, and so forth, etc.)

    Like a few people here, I’m kind-of stuck between Catholic, Protestant mainline, and evangelical traditions and so do not feel as though I have a clear idea or model of how one actually pursues ‘spiritual growth’. And even for those of us who have someone providing answers: how do we trump the danger of doing something from fear or obligation, rather than from desire? And perhaps most important for evangelicals: how do we drum up the genuine desire and act on it without falling into the trap of believing this means we need to sign onto every New Scheme that Pastor X gets from a new Zondervan book explaining a New Method of Making Disciples? As a former evangelical/fundamentalist, I think I could kill someone with the number of little study books I have filled out with titles like Experiencing God; and yet how many of us did all this but never became the ‘prayer warrior of fundamentalist legend—the little lady who spent hours in prayer, lifting up everyone, without anybody ever knowing about it?

  13. Danielle,

    St. Paul tells us that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”

    I wouldn’t worry so much about ‘spiritual growth’ since it is not we who are in charge of this to begin with.

    Worship, read your Bible, do what you can for your neighbor(s), and let God handle your growth.

    As a Lutheran I have learned to be content in being who I am. A human being with my feet on the ground. A real sinner, but a forgiven sinner.

    It’s actually quite liberating when one is freed from the ‘spirituality project’.

    • Even if God’s grace initiates and accomplishes all things necessary to holiness, this divine action would still be actualized in my life in some manner. And if so, one is back immediately to the question of how one goes about drawing closer to God and becoming more like Christ.

      I agree totally that the last thing we need is a program or a checklist, at least not if we get trapped into viewing them as such. But it seems to me that it may still be worth speaking of actions and discipline and patterns that have proved useful in the past and might prove useful in the future. Ultimately, the process is individual but it is also true that few of us are as unique as we image we are.

      Also, I am not sure how to prevent people from falling into the impression that they ought to “get busy” doing all sorts of things out of a spirit of anxiety (this CAN be me, I admit freely). But isn’t there also a danger of apathy in believing, “don’t worry, growth inevitably works itself out”? Somewhere between the extremes of a carefree life and fearful life lies the possibility of a motivated one…

      • Actually, Danielle, I believe that trusting that God has done everything IS moving closer to God.

        Gerhard Forde, the great Lutheran theologian said that sanctification is getting used to your justification.”

        He also said that “Christian sanctification is forgetting about yourself.”

        Since I have become a Lutheran I have never felt more secure and more at ease in my own skin regarding my relationship with God. Sure, I do things, but I do what I want to do, since I am free to do so.

        Try listening to this class by my pastor. I think you will benefit from it.

        http://lcmarchives.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/loosing-the-shackles/

        God bless you, Danielle.

  14. “the historic, Reformation, and mainline churches already have a gospel culture infrastructure built around these very practices.”

    this is really weird to me.

    problems:
    historic – requires us do deal with all the burned heretics, schisms, & wars fought for the “gospel”
    Reformation – can become reductionism or bias history (I believe the Reformation was sad, needed, & unavoidable)
    Mainline is a culture to itself – I’m not against them but they are mostly well to do WASP’s

    “gospel culture infrastructure” – is a scary term for me – sounds like institution instead of community

  15. It does often seem like many of the blogs written tend to use the worst cases of “Evangelicals” as examples/strawmen and yet choose to look at the best parts of the older, more liturgical churches.

    Might it not be more helpful and gracious to choose to talk about specific exmples, both good and bad, without asigning them to any particular group. It might cause a bit more actual dialog rather than people missing the point because they feel there group is being attacke or even worse missing how the point applies to them and their group because they feel like someone else is being attacked.

    While there may be larger trends in different groups most of them involve people screwing things up in the pretty much the same ways.

  16. Richard Hershberger says:

    “…rose petals falling from the ceiling on Pentecost…”

    Seriously? I have led a more sheltered life than I realized.

  17. Dana Ames says:

    I hope Scot’s book gets a wide reading, even if it doesn’t go as far as you would (rightly) like to see, CM. To really grapple with what he has written could generate some serious repercussions in the Evangelical world.

    In the mid-’90s the question “What is “the Gospel?” became paramount for me. This quickly led to the question, “What did *Jesus* say was ‘the Gospel’? In reading the Gospels, it was evident that for Jesus “the Gospel” was all about “the kingdom of God” – whatever that was. I had some exposure to generally healthy (for Charismatics) “kingdom” ideas from John Wimber, but it seemed to me that those ideas somehow fell short in ways I couldn’t articulate.

    Thank God D. Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy” was published about that time. He gave so much understanding about what Jesus meant when he said “Kingdom of God/Heaven”. Willard finally convinced me deep down in my bones that God the Father is good. I believed it, but I wasn’t convinced. DC sealed it.

    It was a short step from there to N.T. Wright, especially as at the time I was pondering the meaning of the Incarnation, which had really gotten short shrift in my experience as an Evangelical. The loud proclamation of the Jesus Movement folks that “Jesus is God” (which was truly needed at the time) completely overshadowed the fact that he is also Human. Wright gave me a human Jesus who was worthy of worship (not to the exclusion of his divinity). Hope that is intelligible. Wright’s “big books”, esp. “Jesus and the Victory of God” were watershed for me.

    It was Wright’s historical, Jewish-thought-infused understanding that laid the groundwork for my move to E. Orthodoxy, with the robust ecclesiology and, in my personal experience, a robust pastoral ministry. The latter is what EO has to “work on” the most, but everything is there in its theology and inner life to enable this.

    Dana

  18. The gospel is something to grow into, not out of. The gospel is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

  19. Several commenters have touched on this, but I want to describe it from a European perspective, specifically from an Austrian/German perspective because that is what I know best.

    I don’t think Scot needs to qualify his description of the Soterianism that passes for Evangelicalism by limiting it to North America; it applies wherever evangelical missionary work has had an impact.

    However, when Chaplain Mike points us back to the “historic” churches, and I look around myself here in German-speaking Europe, I see both a Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant church with a predominantly “nominal” membership (i.e. you’re sprinkled as an infant, and unless you care enough to go through the motions of leaving, you are a member for life), which while shrinking has not really changed much over my lifetime of 50-odd years. There are committed activists in those churches, mostly for social justice causes, including gay rights and reproductive choice, but only a small number of “renewal movements” with any idea of a personal relationship with God or personal salvation.

    It is VERY difficult to convince our Evangelicals that anything looking even remotely like THAT could be an alternative approach to the Gospel. The example of these churches discredits the church year and liturgy as just so much empty ritual observance condemned throughout the Scriptures.

    • Wolf Paul, I respect your perspective, and I cannot speak from any experience of European Christianity. But I doubt that the decline of the historic churches in Europe is due to the fact that they maintained tradition or practiced liturgy, which is what I think is the opinion of most American evangelicals. They think, “Oh those European churches became dead because of ritual and tradition. Dead orthodoxy killed them.” I think that’s poppycock. I wonder what the American churches would look like if we had fought two world wars on our continent, had our cities and cultural treasures devastated by bombing, endured brutal fascist and communist dictatorships, and watched tens of millions of people slaughtered in death camps, purges, and pogroms.