August 1, 2014

Saving Evangelicalism, Part Two

evangometerHi. I’m Jeff, and I’m an evangelical.

Hi Jeff.

I realize that it is not a fashionable thing to admit these days. It’s about as acceptable as ordering a hamburger at a PETA convention. But I am an evangelical at the time of the collapse of evangelicalism. We can toss more gasoline on the fire and watch it all burn, or …

If this Christian movement is to be saved or revived—and I believe it can and should be—then we need to make some changes. Last week I shared some ideas that evangelical church leaders could implement. Today I’d like to share some things that I and other individuals who identify with evangelicalism can and must do in order to get this movement pointed in the right direction.

Is there any reason you should listen to my thoughts and ideas? Well, I’ve identified with evangelicalism for nearly 40 years. I have been a part of the Christian entertainment complex in broadcasting and publishing. I’ve worked with pastors of megachurches as well as bestselling authors and musicians. I know the “backroom workings” of evangelicalism. I’ve seen how sausage is made, and I still eat it. Is that good enough for you?

Yes, I know I am painting with a rather wide brush, and no, not all evangelicals are as I describe here. Yes, I know that many, if not all, of the critiques I make about evangelicals can be made about Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists—even Lutherans. But today I am looking at how to save evangelicalism for no reason other than I think I am some ideas worth considering.

There have been times when I considered jumping ship. Catholicism has many qualities that attract me. And I’m very curious about the Orthodox church. But for better or worse I remain on the USS Evangelical. Yet it is weighted down with so much unnecessary freight it is about to sink. So here are my thoughts on how to shore up the boat to keep it from slipping under the icy waters. (How is that for sticking with a metaphor?)

Share the Gospel.  We are people of the Gospel, messengers of the Good News. So why do we talk about everything but? We are to be witnesses to Good News of God’s grace. Good News? This is Great News. When World War II was over, there was unbridled joy and shouting in the streets. Yet with the war between God and man officially over (“It is finished”), we stay silent. Why are we so afraid to share the Gospel of Jesus? Is it because we don’t really believe it? Or are we so focused on cultural issues and defending our turf that we’ve forgotten the essence of who we are?

I suppose the first thing we must do is to recapture what the Gospel truly is. We had a death sentence hanging over our heads because of sin. Jesus, the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has rescued (saved) us by his death. His resurrection opened the doors of heaven for us. We are the prodigal, and the Father has run to us to welcome us home. That is the Gospel. We need to share it.

Remember, it’s Jesus Jesus Jesus. Our faith is based on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, period. Without Jesus all we have is a moralistic religion, and a boring one at that. Yet so many evangelicals have shouldered Jesus aside in favor of “causes” that it is hard to even refer to such as Christianity any longer. Some are good enough to make Jesus the mascot for their cause, although it is typically in a non-speaking role. For whatever reason we would much rather talk about parenting skills or abortion or prayer in schools or sex than Jesus Christ crucified.

It is not hard at all to find churches on any given Sunday who don’t even mention Jesus. And often times when he is mentioned it is a Jesus unrecognizable as the Jesus shown us in Scripture. He has become Jesus our life coach, Jesus our cheerleader, Jesus our butler. Instead of the One by whom and for whom all things were created, he has become poster child of our own religion, the portrait of God as we have made him to be to suit our whims.

And that is if he gets a mention at all. For many evangelicals, Jesus is simply an embarrassment, the crazy uncle who you hoped wouldn’t show up at your wedding. Sound harsh? Consider that in Joel Osteen’s second book he didn’t mention Jesus at all so that he wouldn’t offend anyone.

Stop trying to make the Bible what it is not intended to be. The Bible was given us for one reason: to show us God in the person of Jesus Christ.  When we try to make it something else we are treading on very dangerous ground. The Bible is not a science text. It is not a manual on how to live a good life. It is not a list of moral rules and regulations that, if we would just follow, will insure that we will all just get along. The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by men and women over centuries who, through stories and songs and prayers and snapshots of history, are showing us Jesus. I have zero interest in the Bible aside from Jesus. But as a lens with which to see Jesus it is an amazing book.

The Bible is not God. We don’t have to be afraid of it. We can read it critically. We can question the parts we don’t understand. We can admit there are parts that seem inconsistant. The Bible was written during ages and eras and in cultures that we cannot even begin to understand, and yet we insist on trying to make it fit into our era and culture as if it were just published last year.

Read the Bible. But read it to see Jesus and nothing else.

Learn to think.  Yes, I said this last week regarding church leaders. Now I repeat it for the “person in the pew.” If we don’t learn how to think critically, then we are allowing someone else to do our thinking for us. Are you simply swallowing what is being spoonfed you by preachers or authors? Or are you wrestling with ideas and and concepts to decide what you believe and why? Evangelicals often lean much more on feeling than on thinking. Visions and dreams are very real, and a very real part of the Christian life. Yet that does not mean we are to toss aside our brains. If evangelicalism is to survive, it will need thinkers as well as dreamers.

Love one another.  Jesus gave us a new commandment: Love one another. He said it was this mark that would identify us as his followers. Not our political affiliation. Not our social status. Not the clothes we wear or the church we attend. We will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love for one another.

Love. Always err on the side of love. When you don’t know what to do, love. When you are in doubt, love.

Evangelicalism is always going to have its jerks, its egomaniacs, its wackos. Don’t worry about them. Instead, love. Love your friends, love your neighbors, and especially love your enemies. It is not easy. As a matter of fact, loving others is the most radical, revolutionary thing you can do. It is dangerous. Love has cost many their lives.

Love doesn’t make sense. Love doesn’t add up. Love flies in the face of what is expected of you. Love will make others mad—sometimes very mad. But love anyway. We are commanded to.

 

 

Comments

  1. thanks Jeff,

    why aren’t we passionate about sharing the gospel?
    Looking at my own apathy on this score, it could be self-centeredness – more concerned with my own life than anyone else’s, it could be fear of rejection, it could be that I don’t appreciate what’s at stake concerning the fate (now and in the age to come) of my friends, family and aquaintances. I think it’s probably a combination of these, tied up somehow with the fact that I don’t really ‘get’ the good news, or appreciate who God is. If I thought it was worth sharing – really thought that, I would. In the same way I tell people that Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Book of the New Sun’ is something they must read.
    And alongside all that, I may have a flawed understanding of what God is like

    • Because most people who are passionate about sharing the gospel are assholes looking to add notches to their belt and not because they love their targets.

      This sounds Calvinist, but it’s not: God saves his people regardless of whether you do missions or not. He can work through you or other means, but his will will be done. Here’s the non-Calvinist part: If people are not saved, it’s because they’ve rejected Christ not because God rejected them. Christ will call his people, even if he needs to descend to the grave to call them.

      So, missions are about bringing the peace of knowing Christ to others in this life. If your neighbor is suffering or struggling, Christ brings peace. You can be the messenger of that peace, the source of the sounds that carry the Word, but your doing so brings you no extra credit. You should do so because your neighbor needs to hear it.

      • woops, can I say that here?

      • I missed the memo that it was going to be sweeping generalization day at iMonk today… Sheesh. Someone put on their grumpy pants this morning.

        • Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior? If you died today, would you go to heaven? Are you sure? Would you like to be sure? Pray the sinner’s prayer! REPENT, Goddammit!!

          Never met that guy? :P

          • sarahmorgan says:

            “If you died today, would you go to heaven?”
            I’ve had that question posed to me (at an evangelical service, no less) because the asker wanted to ascertain whether or not I was a “real Christian” (i.e., a person that was safe to associate with) rather than having any sincere concern for the state of my soul. :-p

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The local variant opening is to start with “If you died today, do you Know Where You Will Spend Eternity?” Spoken by those who are Utterly Sure of their own Eternal Destiny or trying to convince themselves of it.

            Though, Sarah, yours is the first time I’ve heard of that line used as a “shibboleth”/tribal recognition signal/sekrit handshake.

  2. I love: “Love. Always err on the side of love. When you don’t know what to do, love. When you are in doubt, love.”

    And I love just always keeping the focus on Jesus. We are CHRISTIANS after all…Jesus is what it is all about.

    • Joanie, there’s a legend about the apostle John in his old age. People would ask him for advice and his answer would always be, “Little children, love one another; little children, love one another.”

      After a while people started to wonder if he was going senile and they asked him, “John, don’t you have any other advice or wisdom besides ‘Little children, love one another’?”

      He said, “When you get that straight I’ll give you something else.”

  3. Cute…I just noticed that your “Evangometer” goes to 110 percent!

  4. Matt Purdum says:

    “Learn to think.”

    That’s not a formula for saving a movement that prides itself on practicality and American ant-intellectualism. If evangelicals actually start thinking, they will no longer be evangelicals but some other kind of Christian.

    • I really hate it when people say:

      I believe X, you believe Y. X is not equal to Y, therefore you must not be: a critical thinker… very smart… but instead are uniformed and miguided etc.

      Evangelicalism has LOTS of critical thinkers. But you present 2 people with the same set of facts, and depending on the assumptions you will likely get 2 different conclusions.

    • Elizabeth says:

      No – I think you are considering the characture of an Evangelical, not a person who has a set of theolocial beliefs. A bit insulting to post to someone who has stated in his work that he is Evangelical saying that only non-thinking people belong to that denominational bend.

    • Well…it is true that certain strains of evangelicalism would die off. It might be more accurately labeled as fundamentalism, but something will die off. The Ken Hamm, YEC-or-you-hate-Jesus types would die off, for example.

    • Let’s not conflate evangelicalism with fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual as a mark of pride. Evangelicalism is not, but it is highly susceptible to fundamentalist tendencies, as is every version of every religion.

      There are a ton of deep thinkers in evangelicalism. The problem is, they’re not the ones selling the most books, by a long shot. If they pastor, their churches also tend to be smaller. Appealing to the lowest common denominator (the opposite of thinking) is a surer route to fiscal success. I propose the root at the problem may lie at the intersection of capitalism and religion.

      …unless, of course, “Mere Churchianity” has sold of ton of copies. :P Any word on those stats, Jeff?

      • Unfortunately, as soon as Michael passed away, the publisher moved on from this title. It is very hard to market a book if the author is not available for interviews, etc. The book did well, but not great.

      • Just a small point: Not all fundamentalists use low educational standards as a mark of piety. Bob Jones one of the original fundamentalists in the modern era, began a college. Now granted, his son, made it into a damn good liberal arts college and some think steered it away from its Godly purpose.

        There are lots to be said about what type of intellect is encouraged (IE: ignore anthropology, archaeology and retool science and geology). But, at least in the brand of fundamentalism in which I was reared, took the ability to “give any man a reason for the hope within” very seriously. That was even extended to being able to argue a point from Shakespeare to economic theory.

  5. As long as there is NO real presence of Christ in the sacraments (for Evangelicalism), then the whole thing is going to turn inward and become a big project.

    In that case, it probably should die.

    • Look forward to Heaven Steve, where we can both discover how wrong we were on so many issues. :)

    • petrushka1611 says:

      And exactly! It was very shortsighted of God not to plan for Christians to have differing beliefs on the sacraments. He’s been unable to work in the lives of millions because he painted himself into that corner.

    • It’s like having a different belief on the gospel itself.

      The sacraments are pure gospel. Totally apart from anything that we do, say, feel, or think.

      The sacraments are a GIFT to us so that we can have assurance and freedom…here and now!

      It’s a shame so many Christians have to turn inward and get on big spiritual projects for such. And it only makes matters worse.

      On this one…you guys really are wrong. But hey, it’s your project.

    • theoldadam:

      FWIW, following a quarter century in non-sacramental Evangelical Protestant non-denominational and Bible churches, I spent 3 years in the Eastern Orthodox Church, 2 years as a faithfully-attending-and-participating (every Sunday and often some weekdays and keeping all Feast Days and Fast Days) inquirer and catechumen and 1+ years as a full faithful chrismated and baptized and praying and confessing and weekly-Eucharist-partaking sacramentalist member. Yet during those entire 3 years of professing and believing in the Real Presence in the sacraments, I did not have a single experience of the Presence of the Holy Spirit or of Christ in the services or when saying my prayers, etc., as I had experienced both before I was a sacramentalist as well as since I have returned to non-sacramental Evangelicalism.

      YMMV

      • What is an “experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit?”

      • ” I did not have a single experience of the Presence of the Holy Spirit or of Christ in the services or when saying my prayers, etc., as I had experienced both before I was a sacramentalist as well as since I have returned to non-sacramental Evangelicalism.”

        There it is. All ‘inward stuff’. See what I mean?

        Since the devil is fully capable of dressing up as an angel of light, and since we cannot trust in our feelings, “we walk by faith and not by sight”.

        We don’t have to “feel” saved, to know that we are saved.

        • NOT “inward stuff.” I’m talking about palpable changes in the room’s atmosphere, I’m talking about changes in the spiritual tone of the meeting, I’m talking about physical manifestations and healings and charismatic operations of prophetic words and visions.

        • And I know there are people here who know exactly what I’m talking about, despite all the excesses in charismatic circles, and I’ve seen a lot of that, too.

          • I know what you’re talking about, too.

            I just don’t buy it. You can’t trust in any of that stuff.

          • Maybe you can’t, but I can, and I do. Some encouraging things happened and were spoken and shared in our prayer meeting tonight, and we’ll just have to see how they work themselves out, as well as continue to pray about them.

          • Whoa… it’s a bit of a head trip hearing you talk like this. You argue so intelligently on so many things, but this honestly does sound a bit like you’re checking your objective analytical faculties in favor of the liver shiver. I know I’m “supposed” to be a cessationist, but I do leave room for God to operate in ways I don’t understand. But my experience with charismatic circles is that often even the mundane is contrived.

            But how can you put your faith in such nebulous things such as “atmosphere” and “spiritual tone?” Perhaps I’m missing something here, but you just seem far too discerning for that.

            Healings are great (though ultimately temporary), but where does God promise to relate to us in this way or meet us through these things? Since when is the presence of the Holy Spirit or Christ something we “experience?” Remember the story about Elijah and the earthquake, fire, wind, and whisper? I understand you didn’t have anything dramatic happen to you in the sacramental church. But it sounds like you never abandoned your charismatic presuppositions and went there expecting the worship to deliver heightened sensations. You really think those three years you did not experience Christ? You think you prayed and heard His Word and communed in his church and He remained completely absent the whole time? Is it at least possible that He was there all along and sometimes we fail to notice Him because we’re looking for Him in the wrong things?

            I propose that you cannot be in Christ’s church and hear His words without “experiencing” Him because He is inseparable from his Word.

          • You might want to talk with Craig Keener.

          • “Whoa… it’s a bit of a head trip hearing you talk like this. You argue so intelligently on so many things, but this honestly does sound a bit like you’re checking your objective analytical faculties in favor of the liver shiver.”

            Hey Miguel, you do realize that you are sounding alot like the other thread on this post, I.E. ” You disagree with me therefore you don’t sound very intelligent.”

            ” Since when is the presence of the Holy Spirit or Christ something we “experience?”” You have to read the Bible pretty selectively to make that statement.

            I would like to remind you of what Paul said about the Spirit: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Peter 2:14

            Yeah, I am probably pulling this out of context, and no, I do not think that you don’t have the Spirit. But I do want to warn you to be careful here.

          • Miguel:

            theoldadam says:
            January 17, 2013 at 9:09 am

            As long as there is NO real presence of Christ in the sacraments (for Evangelicalism), then the whole thing is going to turn inward and become a big project.

            This implication of the necessity of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments for Evangelicalism is what I was responding to.

            We were not seeking “experiences” in the Eastern Orthodox/sacramental Church (in fact, we were fleeing from Charismatic excesses), and I don’t primarily seek them now, either, but I appreciate them. People who know me know that reading and studying the Scriptures, not being prophetic or seeking prophetic stuff, etc., is my almost 100% 24/7 modus operandi, versus wanting “experiences.”

            I’m simply saying that Christ has been and is Present in the non-sacramental meetings and times I’ve been part of in ways that He never was in the Real-Presence-in-the-sacraments settings, despite the claim by such a Church for His Real Presence. Hence I question the assertion of the necessity for Evangelicalism of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments.

            And I would also argue that churches that believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments can be inward and self-focused, too.

          • I mentioned before in a thread similar to this one that in non-sacramental churches, the worship service itself is seen as something of a sacrament. People don’t feel the need to “really” encounter Jesus in the bread and the wine, because they believe they truly encounter Him in worship. They believe that “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Telling them that they can only encounter Christ in the elements of Communion after a priest or pastor has prayed over them to them sounds something like mystical nonsense.

            And I too, have had many experience that I can explain no other way than the Holy Spirit. Too many times I’ve had complete strangers come up to me or someone else and know details about my life that they would never have known otherwise. I’ve seen people healed. I’ve been healed. That’s what prevents me from walking away from evangelicalism. When it comes down to it, being intellectually honest means admitting when I’m wrong, but it also means leaving room for things that are beyond me understanding.

          • Mike Bell,

            ” You disagree with me therefore you don’t sound very intelligent.”

            I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not saying anybody is stupid because I disagree. I’m just saying it sounds outright strange and out of character. Eric normally argues much more objective and with more compelling rhetoric. Here he is asserting his experience as authoritative. It just caught me off guard, that’s all.

            You have to read the Bible pretty selectively to make that statement.

            Questions are not statements. And it is an honest question. I was raised in a charismatic tradition and I know what narratives are made prescriptive in order to bolster their theology. I don’t believe that just because it happened in Acts I should expect more of the same today. I will believe it when I see it, and I won’t tell God what he can’t do, but I am convinced that what happens the vast majority of the time is people read their experiences into the text. But it never lines up like a glove. If experience is so authoritative, why even bother using scripture to justify it? Why not just accept that God is always doing crazy things we can’t possibly understand? I’m down with that!

            And yes, you have beat the context of 1 Peter to death. The things of the Spirit are the truths of God, not the “atmosphere in the room or spiritual tone of the meeting.” Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot fear, love, or trust in God at all. If you’re gonna argue your angle on the verse, then in order to be consistent you have to assume I don’t have the spirit because I’m obviously not getting it. This is precisely why I reject that theology; it creates two kinds of Christians, and pressures those devoid of the burrning in the bosom to fake it. No thanks.

          • As a person who regularly and scholarly reads the Bible and doesn’t let experience be my be-all and end-all or focus, that should be 1 Corinthians 2:14, not 1 Peter, y’all. :D

          • Hi Miguel, thanks for your response.

            I wouldn’t have responded if you had said “it sounds outright strange”, instead you accused Eric of thinking intelligently. It may have not been what you meant, but that was the way it came across.

            You responded that: “Questions are not statements. And it is an honest question.” It sure read like a rhetorical question. ” Since when is the presence of the Holy Spirit or Christ something we “experience?”” The possible options for that answer in Christendom are either Always, Acts 2, or Never. You weren’t arguing for Always or Acts 2, so I think the only way you can understand your question is as a rhetorical question with the answer of never.

            You then state that “the things of the Spirit are the truths of God.” Seems pretty limiting to me. Unlike you I am not a cessationist. I am also not the type of guy who is always looking for the next spiritual high. It seems to me that Eric has struck a pretty good balance here.

            I think this discussion underlies a couple of the reasons why we have movement both ways between Mainline and Evangelical churches. There are some who want to escape the excesses of the Evangelical camp, and as a result end up in Mainline churches. There are others who want to escape the formality (for lack of a better word) of the Mainline churches and end up in the Evangelical camp.

            I would argue, and I think that you would agree with me, that the extremes of both camps are spiritually unhealthy places to be. If we viewed this as a spectrum, I think that both of us would be closer to the middle than either end.

            I apologize to anyone that I might have offended with the 1 Peter 2:14 quote, but I think that once we start placing restrictions on what the spirit can or cannot do we are treading in dangerous territory.

          • “instead you accused Eric of thinking intelligently” should read “instead you accused Eric of NOT thinking intelligently”

          • @Eric,

            Yup, my bad, and my name is getting mispelled again too.

          • I apologize to anyone that I might have offended with the 1 Peter 2:14 quote, but I think that once we start placing restrictions on what the spirit can or cannot do we are treading in dangerous territory.

            1 Corinthians 2:14.

            1 Corinthians 2:14.

            1 Corinthians 2:14.

            If we viewed this as a spectrum, I think that both of us would be closer to the middle than either end.

            Probably make that all three of us. :)

          • Eric,

            This implication of the necessity of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments for Evangelicalism is what I was responding to.

            Ok, that makes much more sense then. I do get your modus operandi, that is why it just seemed so darned strange to me.

            I agree that Christ is spiritually present in non-sacramental meetings. Even sacramental churches have non-sacramental services (matins, vespers, etc…) that are just readings, prayers, singing, etc… and I don’t believe that God doesn’t come ‘till he sees the cookies.

            I question the assertion of the necessity for Evangelicalism of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacraments.

            My question is “necessity for what?” Because obviously Christ isn’t bound by bread and wine. I believe he is bound to them, in that you can’t have them without Him, but you can have Him without them. I suppose I would answer my question with “necessary for certainty.”

            I’ve never found the tradition where their churches are automatically immune to being inward and self focused. Objective Christ outside of you can help with that, but it’s not some kind of silver bullet.

          • My question is “necessity for what?”

            The claimed or implied (as I read it) necessity by theoldadam to prevent Evangelicalism from turning inward and becoming a big project.

          • Phil,
            I agree 100% that the worship service does become a sort of sacrament in low churches. I’m not saying that is wrong, there’s something to be said for the activity of the Spirit in the assembled community proclaiming the Gospel through song. Powerful stuff! I don’t think anybody is teaching Christ is ONLY found in the bread and wine. He is found wherever his word is. Period. But I don’t want to elevate these man-made rites to the same status as the institution of Christ: they are optional, but “do this in remembrance of me” is not, even if it’s only done once a year. Besides, “non-sacramental” churches usually still celebrate the sacraments anyway, even if they view them differently.

            Like I said above, I’m “supposed” to be a cessationist, and I do fit the classic definition, but I don’t believe the Spirit’s hands are tied. I’ve known many who were healed as well and I believe that still happens. But I do not believe it is emotionally healthy to have somebody else’s experience preached at you as normative. God does not work in everybody’s life the same way.

          • Eric, I think I see what your saying. I think what Steve is going at in black and white terms I would say a bit softer: Sacramental spirituality can really help guard against those sorts of things. But believe me, there’s plenty of fundagelical LCMS congregations where that is not the case. For me, it’s Christocentricity uber alles, and this covers a wide range of doxological sins.

            I agree 100% with your modus operandi, and I’m always impressed and challenged by the reasoning you put forth. I feel like I get smarter every time you push back on my pontification. That’s why it such a head trip to see you arguing so strongly from experience. My only objection is when people say that they are hearing God’s word, assembled in His name for praise and prayer, and having no experience of Christ. I don’t believe that is possible. He MUST be there because He says He is.

            Now I understand that his “presence” can be revealed in qualitatively different ways. But the sort of nebulous terms that charismatics tend to describe there experiences in do not satisfy my skeptical mind. I’m not accusing anybody of being dishonest, I just need a bit more reason to believe/expect those sort of things, because if they’re true, they must be wonderful. I can’t help but wonder why God doesn’t let me in on all the fun, but I can trust that to hear His word and receive the bread and wine is enough, because in them He promises me forgiveness, life and salvation. That’s the cake, anything else is frosting, IMO.

            Now, if you’ll excuse my obsessive need for compartmentalization, what tradition of Evangelicalism did you settle with? I just can’t seem to pin you down :P

          • I’m currently in a non-denominational home church setting that is very unstructured both organizationally and doctrinally. Being Egalitarian and non-sacerdotal/non-sacramental kinda limits the churches or church groups I can comfortably or willingly participate in or promote. So I guess I’m in the Evangelical wilderness still.

          • Mike, “it sounds outright strange” vs. “it’s a bit of a head trip”? Really? And I insist the question is not rhetorical. The Spirit is ALWAYS with believers, whether they are “sensing” it in a special way or not. And really, is anybody arguing that the Holy Spirit was not experienced in Acts 2? False dilemma. I may technically be a cessationist, but I do not believe the HS is not with us or active doing things. I just believe his primary modus operandi is through the Word. He is not bound to it exclusively, but he is not separable from it either. But the “things of the Spirit” is a phrase into which charismatic theologians do read a ton of ecstatic subjectivism. I’m not limiting the “things of the Spirit,” I simply object to the use of that particular text to justify an endless spectrum of nonsense. THIS, imo, is ultimately the approach that restricts God more. Especially if it implies that the HS is only present/active when I can sense it. Like I said, if experiences is so authoritative, why do we need scripture to justify it? Why does all the activity of the HS have to fit within our theological categories? Can’t we just leave room for him to work in ways we don’t understand?

            I’d agree that the extremes are bad. What was it that somebody said the other day, most churches are either intelligence on ice or ignorance on fire? I agree we’re both toward the center, but I refuse to trust in my own ability to discern the spirit’s presence and activity. Every Driscoll and Mahaney out there is using “the Spirit led us to…” in order to justify their entrepreneurial visions. It’s not limiting the spirit to cry foul when I hear that. There’s a reason God chose to use Words in relating to us.

  6. I would also add that, since the Evangelical Church will probably not do away with the “Youth Group/Pastor” phenomenon, we will need the plastic banana, good-time rock-n-roll, WWJD. dumbing down of our youth to stop. There is a good amount of damage still being done with the continued juvenilization of our faith.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/june/when-are-we-going-to-grow-up.html

    Could the Evangelical church ever bring itself to a Catechism type education?

    • Seems to me that THAT concept would never fly…..a would be astonished if someone could get ten leaders of large evangelical churches to agree on doctrine and practice!

      As a cradle Catholic, I was taken aback when I realized that the sole criteria to become a Christian and/or a member of a church was to say the “sinner’s prayer” and get on the mailing list.

      I am not sure if there is formal catechism in non-Catholic liturgical denominations…..maybe you can enlighten me?

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Lutheranism on the ELCA side of things has formal classes leading to confirmation, which typically happens in the early teens. They are typically taught by the pastor. They don’t typically use Luther’s catechism (either one) nowadays, though I think that wouldn’t be a bad idea. The process is far from perfect, and has been dumbed down over the years, but the idea exists that religious education is a necessary part of being an adult Christian participating in the church. In practice, some kids are interested and absorb the material, which most slide through: pretty much like Catholic catechism, come to think of it.

        • You have no idea how most of these classes across denominations who use a confirmation process are doing the motions and not demanding actual commitment. It is most often a social moment not a spiritual one.

          You have no idea the number of angry parents we have every year because we require a 9 month process not earlier than the 8th grade year (while our other “competitor” church up the road does it in 3 Sundays and in 7th grade). I would love to work for a pastor who would stand with me and not confirm kids who really are doing the process because their mom makes them. I nearly cried when one teen told me he didn’t want to be confirmed and his parents backed him. He is wasn’t willing to commit to our denomination.

          On the other side they have emasculated the process of making “adult” Christians by not allowing the confirmands the right to vote on church matters.

      • I guess I wasn’t clear….Sunday School and teaching kids is important, but what I was really asking was this……If John Q. Public, age 26 or 34 or 46 feels drawn to a God-type feeling, what does he have to do to be a full member of the denomination or church? How does he learn what it means to believe HERE instead of in another faith expression? I know that our older siblings in the Jewish faith require instruction and some sort of firm committment, as do we Catholics in the Rite of Christian Inititaiton [RCIA].

        I am concerned about the depths of understand and meaning in John Q. when he walks in after an emotional experience and becomes a “member”, since many seem to fall victim to the seeds that fall on rocky, unprepared soil and wither away. Especially when it isn’t fun or exciting anymore.

        So I ask pastors and long-time members of Luthern, Anglican, Methodist, and other main-stream “older” faith expressions to share with me what it would look like if I walked in and said, “I have never been relgious, but think this “God” thing may be important after all. How can you help me and what, if anything, do I need to do?”

        NOT baiting or arguing, I just really want to know what this looks likes in churches who expect more than signing up, like for a gym or class, and how the process works. Two years of comparitve world religion was mandatory at my Catholic college,but we tended to focus on non-Christian faith systems…..who can help me more with painting a picture of what this looks like in YOUR faith expression and/or church?

        Thank ya’ll……..Pattie

        • What I’ve seen is that most churches have membership classes of some sort or another. The trend has been, I think, to shorten them, but they do have some sort of education. Honestly, my experience more recently is that most churches are hesitant to push people too hard to actually become official members of a congregation because they don’t want to give the impression that they simply looking to ensnare people to increase offerings or whatnot. It’s been my experience that most, if not all, evangelical churches still require baptism as a perquisite for membership. They just don’t require it be done in their particular church (I’ve never seen this, anyway).

    • I think historically, many Evangelical denominations did have pretty strong Sunday School programs. They weren’t necessarily as regimented as a catechism, but some of them were pretty structured. For example, I grew up in the AoG, and I was in Sunday School classes well all the way through high school. There were several classes where we went over the doctrinal statements of the church and church history (to a degree).

      I think the stereotype that all Evangelicals are uneducated rubes needs to be put to bed. Sure there are still bonafide fundamentalists who trust everything Jack Van Impe says, and there will always be charlatans. But even in Pentecostal churches, which typically get pegged as having the most ignorant people, members are not dumb. Heck, the last Pentecostal church I was a member of probably had more college professors in the membership than any other church I’ve been at.

      • Matt Purdum says:

        Nobody said evangelicals are “dumb.” The problem is the posers like David Horton and D James Kennedy who pretend to be cerebral but serve up hogwash. And really, I’m not a bit impressed with college professors, having been one.

    • Could the Evangelical church ever bring itself to a Catechism type education?

      The “confessing Evangelical” church has always been there. Churches of the LCMS, PCA, ACNA, and similar have not abandoned their use of the Reformation catechisms with children. In the LCMS, there is a growing trend of adult groups reading through the Confessions together. Traditional Reformed churches (RCA, CRC, etc…) still read the Heidelberg Catechism in their worship services.

      It’s possible, but it’s just so foreign to the current gist of the movement. I tried to teach the catechism of Benjamin Keach in Sunday school when I worked as a youth pastor in the SBC. I took flack from all sides: everybody HATED the idea, without even bothering to look at the content. I even conceded to not authoritatively assert the answers as binding, but to check the proof texts, debate it with the kids, and let them form their own conclusions. Nope. Catechisms are of the DEVIL. It’s old, boring, lifeless, un-spiritual religion.

      As Chaplain Mike said on Facebook, I’m afraid I’m becoming religious and not spiritual.
      What we really need is an adult equivalent of the Roman Catholic RCIA. I don’t think the “Alpha Course” is quite equivalent.

      • If you are looking to imitate Catholic catechesis, you ARE in trouble. Most of what I’ve learned about Catholic theology came from reading the Catechism for myself (reading for myself–what can I say, I was raised Protestant), and doing online reading, like at Called to Communion.

        • I understand that many in the RCC are lax in their process, at least with RCIA they have the tools to use. I have friends who have gone through it and are very sharp on the doctrine of their church as a result. Protestants are just as lax when it comes to adult catechesis, only without such tools for those who do become interested in it.

  7. Matt Purdum says:

    I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone but I still cannot line up “evangelicalism” with “critical thinking.” You’d really have to be talking Lewis or NT Wright — evangelical Anglicans. Everything I read by people like RC Sproul or Michael Horton, it’s hackneyed stuff that’s been around forever, nothing “critical” in the thinking. Really as far as I can tell the only “critical” thinker anywhere in American Christianity is David Bentley Hart.

    Beth Moore? Tim Keller? David Barton? Hal Lindsey? Really, has even ONE critical thinker come out of the Orange County / Vineyard / Calvary / Crystal / Saddleback circus? I think evangelicals flatter themselves when they claim there are critical thinkers among them. D. James Kennedy used plenty of 4- and 5- syllable words too, but he was never a thinker.

    • O come on… I can think of plenty of scholars who would be considered Evangelical still. Let me see, off the top of my head – Gordon Fee, Ben Witherington, F.F. Bruce, Roger Olson, John Stott – I could go on. All these scholars are writing academy-level commentaries and theological works. I don’t know if Saddleback has produced scholars, but it’s still a young movement. But Evangelicalism itself didn’t start in the 70s.

      • Matt Purdum says:

        That’s one of America’s best-kept secrets, but my experience is ALWAYS that fear dominates evangelicalism — fear of real learning, fear of heresy, fear of contamination from the wicked sinful world — so much that many ideas cannot be expressed. Let’s say Peter Rollins was invited to speak to SVS. He’d probably be burned as a heretic before getting out the door.

        • People in general are motivated by fear. It’s not simply an Evangelical thing. It goes beyond that. We generally don’t like to admit we’re wrong, and unfortunately through a number of historic circumstances people have been the told that the stakes are so high when it comes to certain issues, that they think giving ground on those issues will mean they lose other important things. I agree that it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s where it is.

          The thing is, though, I don’t think the way to overcome this sort of ignorance is to simply demean and beat down everyone who has been taught incorrectly. I think we do need to combat bad teaching, but we have to do it in love, too. People are on a journey. I’ve found that many people I thought would give me no time at all when explaining what I think about an issue actually start to become receptive if I establish a relationship with them first. But it takes me valuing them, too. And believe it or not, sometimes I have learned things from ignorant Christians. When my wife was near death and in the hospital and Christians came and spent time with me, prayed with me, ate meals with me, etc, I didn’t particularly care what they thought about evolution or inerrancy at that moment. I just needed them to be Jesus to me.

        • Well, here’s an example of SVS member Jason Coker dialoging about Peter Rollins’ ideas: http://pastoralia.org/economics/did-god-neuter-himself-for-christmas

    • Anytime I see someone start off a comment with a “I don’t mean to dis-respect anyone” I know the comment is meant to be disrespectful and dismissive.

      I was a debate coach in a college and a high school, and my graduate degree was in philosophy and theology. I guess I can recognize what is critical thinking as well as the next guy. The idea that evangelicals are somehow less critical in their thinking is simply a myth, in my experience. When I was debating (and later judging debates) the students from the evangelical schools were actually slightly more critical and nuanced in their reasoning skills than those from secular schools. And the books I read from evangelicals compare well to those I read from more mainline Christians (granted, I mainly read academic books—there is a vast swath of silly popular books by evangelical publishers).

      • It’s like when someone from the South starts a sentence with “Why bless your heart”… “Why bless your hearts, but you really are a bunch of morons.” :-)

      • I tend to agree with the venerable web slinger on this one. We should be careful not to let the fundamentalist fringe drown out the (perhaps less vocal) evangelical scholars. For example, Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus” is a historical work on par with Wright or anyone. The scholarship is superb, the arguments are well reasoned, and the prolegomena is extensive. Nevertheless, Wayne Grudem proposed that Licona’s ETS membership be revoked because he suggested that one part of Matthew’s gospel was apocalyptic in nature. Apparently in Grudem’s mind that counts as denying inerrancy. Grudem was politely laughed at, but for some reason Al Mohler though it advisable to back Grudem up, and wrote one of his more silly blog posts about how wrong Licona was. I suspect Grudem and Mohler have a bigger audience than Licona, and as a result, evangelicalism get tarred with the idea that it is anti-intellectual.

        • Matt Purdum says:

          Yep, that’s evangelicalism. Chasing down those who know how to read beyond a 3rd grade level. And exposing secret homosexual messages in children’s cartoon shows. You get above that level, you aren’t “really” evangelical any more. And yes, I am dismissive of those in the movement, and I entirely disrespect the men like Barton and Ham (Hamm?) who are its “intellectual leaders.”

          • I have never read Barton and (on this very blog) castigated Hamm for his shockingly bad exegesis. So I don’t consider them to be leaders over me in any sense of the word, even though I am a fairly typical evangelical pastor. The men I look up within this movement are people like Carson, Beale, Mounce, Craig, Carl Henry, Stu Hackett, Stephen Evans, McGrath, Vanhoozer, Plantiga, Tozer, Willard, and the like. I suppose as a self-identified evangelical currently in the ministry I might have a better take on who leads the movement than an outsider who seems to have an ax to grind. Putting up Barton, and especially Hamm, as representative of the whole movement, and then dissing the whole movement because of that, seems to be a hasty generalization.

            In any case, dismissing a whole movement hardly seems the epitome of critical thinking (or love, for that matter).

          • Ok, since you are all about critical thinking, let’s analyze your argument. You seem to be saying:

            Premise 1: Some evangelicals follow Ken Hamm and read David Barton
            Premise 2: Ken Hamm and David Barton are dolts
            Premise 3: A couple other evangelical leaders did something else stupid
            Conclusion: Evangelicalism as a movement is devoid of critical thinking

            Is this the kind of critical thinking you wish evangelicals had more of?

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I think you are confusing evangelicalism with fundamentalism. A lot of fundamentals also identify as evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. I have serious problems with evangelicalism but, as Daniel said, you are making some very sweeping generalizations about folks who identify as evangelicals, based on individual phenomena within that population (Daniel, help me out here, is that inductive reasoning?). If you are speaking from your limited perspective and experience, I can respect that, but it may be a good idea to acknowledge that your conclusions about ALL evangelicals have some limits.

    • Are you really lumping Tim Keller in with Hal Lindsay and David Barton? Come on. I’m not even the biggest fan, but he’s definitely better than most of the big American celebrity pastors and he generally writes good and thoughtful work (given his wide target audience – he is of course not an academic).

  8. We do need to have better discernment as evangelicals. Like you said. It’s ONLY about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

    Thanks Jeff

  9. Jeff, I admire that you remain an evangelical even though you have many questions and concerns. Exodus 32 tells an interesting story of Moses and God on the mountain, seeing the people down in the valley worshipping idols. God suggests wiping the people out and starting over with Moses and a new group of people. Moses asks God to forgive the people, but if God won’t forgive, he asks God to”blot me out of the book you have written” (v. 32). Moses takes his place with his people, even if they have gone far afield. The later prophets were individuals who remained within Israel, even as they raised issues about the direction of the nation. There is a difference between a prophet, who raises a voice out of love, and a critic who stands on the outside pointing fingers in derision. As an evangelical who shares many of your concerns about evangelicalism, you have credibility to me, while the posters who are not evangelicals and have never been evangelicals, yet evidently get some self-righteous satisfaction in pointing out the sins of others, do not. We evangelicals can certainly learn something about Christianity from Catholics and Quakers and Mennonites and, possibly even Lutherans. In fact, Roger Olson has an excellent blog piece about evangelicals learning from other Christians. I wholeheartedly agree. ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/) Yet there are many who come only to mock and deride and I have no interest in what they have to say. They are not prophets but only critics.
    Jeff, you are a true prophet. God bless you.

  10. cermak_rd says:

    What is an evangelical? It seems to be a rather amorphously shaped bucket, with Fundamentalism (as in the 5 Fumdamentals) on one edge and modernism on the other. I don’t know that you could actually put Joel Osteen in that bucket, whatever it is. I see him more as a power of positive thinking speaker. He is popular, especially among those who have been hurt by the church, and there are a lot of those.

    I think, before you can save it, defining evangelicalism would be helpful. Certainly there are old world Evangelicals like used to exist in the Dutch and German Reformed churches. And then there’s the SBC with its odd tension between its Calvinist and non-Calvinist wings. And the Pentecostals and other assorted Charismatics. And the non-denominational churches, each a little different from the other. The question is, is Evangelical something that can be defined in positive terms, or is it defined as well we aren’t Mainline Protestant and we’re not Catholic, Orthodox or Fundamentalist, therefore we’re Evangelical.

    • Evangelicals are protestant churches that take a baptist view of the sacraments, use a liturgy shaped around band-sermon-prayer, and emphasize moralism and mission work as signs of conversion.

      • Ouch. But, yeah.

        • Ric Schopke says:

          Actually, there are many United Methodist, Episcopal/Anglican, and other “Mainline” evangelicals who
          have varying views of the sacraments and the liturgy.

          • The vast majority of Episcopalians are not Evangelical. As far as the UMC goes, the more high church and sacramental they are, the more likely they are mainline protestant instead of Evangelical. Exceptions prove the rule.

    • This is precisely the problem in talking about evangelicalism. Most folks define an evangelical by the one who happens to wash up on their shore. But when one begins to explore the variety of evangelical experiences, there is a wide and baffling assortment. Karl Barth, the Swiss neo-orthodox theologican, called his theology, “evangelical theology”. See his book by that title. Mark Noll, the American religion historian from Nortre Dame makes the case that evangelical theology has been the normative protestant theology throughout American history and that it was the mainline churches that innovated in theology through the influence of modernism. David Bebbington, the Scottish Baptist, suggest evangelical life is centered around four cores of belief–biblicism (and by this he means the Bible as the main source of religious authority, not necesarily inerrency); conversionism; crucicentrism (the atoning work of Christ on the cross is central) and activism (faith is to be expressed in life), Notice there is a place for a wide variety of worship styles and church organization). Putnam and Campbell, who are sociologists, not theologians, suggest in American Grace that Missouri Synod Lutherans are evangelicals, while American Baptists are mainliners.
      One of the confusing aspects of evangelical life life now is that fundamentalists, who as late as the 1970′s eschewed the term evangelical as too liberal, have adopted it in the last couple of decades to avoid the negative connotations of the word, fundamentalist. This has resulted in a right-ward shift in evangelical life. Those of us who have long been on the moderate or left side of evangelicalism feel pushed out by recent developments.

    • It’s always charitable to let a movement define themselves. From the NAE website:

      “We are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. Our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.

      Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

      –Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
      –Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
      –Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
      –Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity”

  11. Very interesting. We are all sinners. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

  12. In my experience, love always focuses on the “other”. If I do not focus on the “other,” I do not love. If I focus on myself, I cannot love. I have found it as simple as that.

    • Love the Lord God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31

      I have to be reminded of this often, but I feel it is imperative. Love yourself first because that is what it’s all measured against…..”as yourself.”

  13. Khazidhea says:

    Off topic, but I’ve been reading Beyond Words by Buechner this year, and your intro reminded me of the entry from a couple days ago ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. While it’s all good, this stood out to me:
    “You can’t help thinking that this is what the church is meant to be and maybe once was before it got to be big business. Sinners Anonymous…
    No matter what far place alcoholics end up in, either in this country or virtually anywhere else, they know that there will be an A.A. meeting nearby to go to and that at that meeting they will find strangers who are not strangers to help and to heal, to listen to the truth and to tell it. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.
    Would it ever occur to Christians in a far place to turn to a church nearby in hope of finding the same? Would they find it? If not, you wonder what is so big about the church’s business.”

  14. Basically you are saying if we want to save evangelicalism then it must stop being evangelicalism.

  15. Bravo, Jeff. Your article seems to lay out some good steps toward healthy evangelicalism. All of these sound “Jesus-shaped” to me!

    -Share the Gospel.
    -Remember, it’s Jesus Jesus Jesus.
    -Stop trying to make the Bible what it is not intended to be.
    -Learn to think.
    -Love one another.

    (By the way regarding “Learn to think”: a couple years back I led an adult Sunday school class through the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and I remember stating to the class at one point, “Look, folks…Jesus is practically telling everyone, ‘USE YOUR BRAIN!’”)

  16. Marcus Johnson says:

    Just wondering, is evangelicalism really worth saving? I think I asked this question on different iMonk blog entry, and I never really got much of an answer. Seems to me that if evangelicalism has so many inherent problems, maybe it’s time to knock this building down and rebuild on a better foundation. Thoughts?

    • Hmm…interesting question. Do you build upon something with cracks in it or knock it down and start over? And I guess my answer is, if that “something with cracks in it” has Jesus as the foundation, then it will prove to be a solid cornerstone. So with that as my rationale, I think “evangelicalism” is worth saving, simply because I view it as part of our Christian walk, that Jesus commanded us to share the Good News. That’s why I like Jeff’s five main points; if evangelicalism is about those five points, then Jesus is indeed in it.

      But any evangelicalism that isn’t Jesus-shaped…yes, knock it down.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        But is evangelicalism Jesus-shaped? According to most of the commenters here, it would appear that it is not.

        • Christiane says:

          I was told on SBCVoices that the focus is on something they call ‘the biblical gospel’. I’m still not sure what that entails, but it appears not to be simply the words and actions and teachings of Our Lord when He was among us. The ‘biblical gospel’ described to me seems to depart from Our Lord’s Words in spirit, especially in its narrowness and exclusivity.

        • “Is evangelicalism Jesus-shaped?”

          I think what I get out of Jeff’s article (and I agree with) is: it can be, even if it often is not. I guess I view it a lot like the Jews during Jesus time. Were the Jews “godly”? We certainly read that many of the Pharisees were all about looking godly and religious, but had little inner godliness and no heart-relationship with God. But that’s not to say none of them were righteous.

          As I think about it more, I guess one element of “Jesus-shaped evangelicalism” might be for some of us to challenge non-Jesus-shaped evangelicalism just as Jesus challenged the Pharisees of his day!

    • Cedric Klein says:

      Is Catholicism with its centuries-old history of authoritarianism & recent pedophile coverup worth saving?
      Orthodoxy with its fossilized custums & cultural irrelevance?
      Mainline Protestantism with its doctrinal apostasy & sexual heresy?
      Christianity itself with all the above problems plus those of Evangelicalism & Charismania?

      Are you or I with our sins petty & grand really worth saving?

      • +1000

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        You and I are not religious institutions, so I’m not sure what sort of crazy rhetorical stuff you are doing there. Despite what the Supreme Court says, institutions are not people, neither are they comparable to people. Evangelicalism is a human-run institution, as is Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, so when I ask if evangelicalism is worth saving, I’m expecting a little more thought than a rambling list of questions that tries to compare me to a faith tradition.

      • Orthodoxy is only “irrelevant” to a culture of consumerist narcissism. That accusation doesn’t float so well in other countries. I know plenty of people in our culture who find the peace the find in that church speaks directly to who they are as a person and is immensely helpful to their daily life. “Relevance” is the battle cry of iconoclasts itching to be on the forefront of a movement. Older is not necessarily worse; the more up to date you are, the sooner you go out of date.

        • Amen….just like parachute pants, zoot suits, and lime polyesther leisure suits were all the rage and totally “in” for awhile…..and are now laughable. Meanwhile, a tailored wool jacket goes on and on and on, ageless and timeless.

        • Cedric Klein says:

          Oops! I should have said on each Tradition something like “with the accusations of” whatever bad traits. No intent on attacking Orthodoxy. Sorry!

  17. David Cornwell says:

    ” then we are allowing someone else to do our thinking for us. ”

    And that means freedom from theological review boards of various kinds.

  18. Christiane says:

    I have been blogging on several Southern Baptist blogs for some time to learn about the faith of a beloved grandmother . . . I have encountered what I consider to be true evangelical thought and also rather extreme fundamentalism (so extreme that even the Southern Baptists on those blogs were startled) . . .

    but around the time of the 2012 elections, something changed.

    The focus became increasingly more political and the fundamentalists became even more strident. Their voices seemed to hold sway in a way that I had not noticed prior. What is happening now is even more interesting, as these voices respond to the Democratic victory, to imaginings of severe persecution, and to the current mood of the country to seek reasonable gun restrictions on assault weapons and size of ammunition cartridges.

    I encourage you all to take a look at Southern Baptist blogs and I wonder if any of you see what I am noticing there.
    I am concerned for them, but it does look like the ‘moderate’ evangelicals among them are being shouted down by the fundamentalists . . . and I no longer no which group is in the majority anymore.

  19. -

    Try this one if you get a little time:

    http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/the-root-of-the-old-adams-resistance-to-unconditional-grace.mp3

    He brings up some issues that we have knocked around in our comments on this post.

  20. I have an honest question, and I’ll keep this short … I certainly agree that whatever we name as ‘evangel-ical’ ought to have the gospel at the core and that we need a better understanding of the gospel.

    In this post are these words, “I suppose the first thing we must do is to recapture what the Gospel truly is. We had a death sentence hanging over our heads because of sin. Jesus, the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has rescued (saved) us by his death. His resurrection opened the doors of heaven for us. We are the prodigal, and the Father has run to us to welcome us home. That is the Gospel.”

    It seems to me a very good statement of a ‘soterian gospel’ that is already standard fare in Evangelicalism – and true as far as it goes … but is this really the gospel?

    I ask this b/c this site trades a lot in the likes of N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight, who puts forth a ‘King Jesus’ Story shaped gospel (vs the soterian one) as the way forward for a truly gospel shaped witness (see posts on this site by Chaplain Mike in this regard). I wonder, how does this (rather unequivocal) statement of the (soterian) gospel match up with the other (King Jesus, Story shaped) statements of the gospel on this site.

    If what we are after is a re-imagined evangel-ical witness in post-Christendom that is, well, gospel and kingdom shaped – the soterian gospel (in any form) seems insufficient to me. Just my two cents…

    • I like how Michael Spencer ties the two together.

      The most important question for many of us is how to place the cross of Jesus in the context of the entire offer of the Kingdom while keeping the Kingdom message of Jesus in its prominent place.

      When Paul says he knows nothing but the cross, he is not setting up a tension between cross and Kingdom. He is simply saying there is only one Messiah: the crucified one. As astonishing as it sounded to the ears of Jews, Greeks and Romans, God’s cornerstone of the Kingdom was the stone that was rejected, cursed and nailed to the cross.

      So the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus demonstrate that this crucified Messiah is the victorious, vindicated King. He has brought the Kingdom to us through incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection. He is the “door,” the “way, truth and life.” He is the one who, having taken all our burdens upon himself can now invite us into the Kingdom of Heaven, the new creation, and the new Jerusalem.
      As a preacher, I need to preach Jesus, and not as a means to an end, but as the center of all that God offers to us. Christ is the Gospel. Jesus equals salvation in every sense. At any moment we encounter Christ in the Gospel we are experiencing both Kingdom and Cross, reconciliation and invitation to discipleship, acceptance and Great Commission, God’s mission as our purpose and as good news to each one of us.