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]]>Last Call: Where Have All the Evangelicals Gone?https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/01/last-call-where-have-all-the-evangelicals-gone
Mon, 04 Jan 2010 12:56:16 -0500”... I met so many Christians who felt guilty of doubting, as if doubt was the opposite of faith, and that’s not true. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Doubt is a halfway stage, it’s being of two minds, you half believe and you half don’t believe. Like a spinning coin, it’s going come down one way or the other. Doubt is either going to be resolved and go back to faith or be left unresolved and move on to unbelief.” -Os Guinness
”...always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”- 2nd Timothy 3:7
“so that we may no longer be children,tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather,speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
It’s supposed to mean something when the clock strikes twelve on the last turn of the calendar.
Place your birthday, alongside Val Kilmer, on December 31st and it’s easy to learn from a young age the incredible melodramatic flatness that accompanies the human means of celebrating change. Sitting here this bitingly cold Monday morning, I’m trying to remember a year where the addition of one more candle on the cake, or the chiming of a fresh calendar cycle, actually ignited some significant chord within my reflections.
A birthday for me, a birthday for humanity. You’re a year older. The world still exists. Can you feel the enthusiasm?
We want one day to mean something. We want a defining moment where everything gets turned around and, in a Damascus-bright moment, the moment of truth hits us and we are converted to a new and higher way. Some people get that in a particularly dramatic conversion story, or a tender nuptial yes, there was a wedding in my weekend but the majority of days proceed just like the one before, and we are left feeling despondent that we don’t feel like we should in this specific moment.
We want articles that we read and the speakers we hear, to do the same thing as the start of a new year, but true change rarely comes with the perfect rhetorical pronouncement or carefully typed paragraph. This final part of the conversation with Guinness isn’t meant to be some sort of capstone to a revolutionary new vision of purpose and action, but rather a moment to stop, evaluate beliefs and ask, “Where do we go from here?”
Hopefully, in the vein of the two verses at the beginning, it’ll be to a place of greater Christ-centered reflection, directed towards the purpose of growth and action
the future of the church
after the jump
Moving back a little, what were the circumstances surrounding your own conversion?
Like I said earlier, my family has a strong Christian tradition for generations, but in my case, while my parents were missionaries, they were arrested as Communists and held under house arrest what was then the capitol of China, and I was back in a boarding school in England. So, I didn’t have the direct influence of my parents through all my teenage years, but my coming faith at the end of my school years was partly through the influence of a Christian friend and partly through a debate in my own mind between the great atheists like Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus, and Camus was one of my heroes as a teenager and on the other side, people like Dostoevsky and G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and I eventually came to believe the Christian faith was true and that side of the argument was the better argument.
After coming to faith, I’m sure you had moments of doubt, what were some of the ideas that helped sustain you?
Well, I wrote a book on doubt. There are actually very few books on doubt in Christian history and I wrote one of the few. That said, the doubts in the book aren’t my own doubts. I actually haven’t had many doubts, I’ve had a very clear sense of the Lord ever since I came to faith 50 years ago and I had a strong sense of why I believed what I believed. So, those doubts are not my doubts.
On the other hand, I met so many Christians who felt guilty of doubting, as if doubt was the opposite of faith, and that’s not true. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Doubt is a halfway stage, it’s being of two minds, you half believe and you half don’t believe. Like a spinning coin, it’s going come down one way or the other. Doubt is either going to be resolved and go back to faith or be left unresolved and move on to unbelief.
How do Christians foster a sense of community where there is space to ask those doubting questions within the church?
One of Schaeffer and L’abri’s assumptions was to give honest answers to honest questions, and he was very good at that. When we don’t know the answer we should say. There are various ways of institutionalizing that. For instance, I know that Hong Kong churches that, as soon as the sermon is over, they have a time of question and answers. So the preacher doesn’t get away with anything. Whereas in many of our churches there are many challengeable notions said. We should be so sure of what we believe, deep personal relationship with the Lord, that we are open to all sorts of questions all along, and we model that and mirror that in the way we live. We should not be afraid of questions.
What do you envision the role of the church in the future, five or ten years down the road?
Well, first the public square, it was originally for Greeks a literal place, a physical place, but then it became a metaphor, not only Parliament, French Assembly, but wherever public issues were debated, the op-ed pages of the newspaper. The key thing is today is that it is now virtual and includes the blogs and all sorts of things, so it’s more amorphous but it’s vocal. The church has its place, principally through Christians who are citizens, and as citizens in a democracy, we the people, the consent of the people, we have our place to play in the public. So, the church should mainly be there through the vital voices of Christians involved in public life.
So should churches be training Christians to go out and participate in the public life?
When De Tocqueville comes to America in 1831, he says, “religion is the first of the political institutions,” an amazing phrase but he’s saying because it’s indirect not direct and bottom/up, not top/down. There was no “church” dictating as say, the Catholic Church in France. He also says, that the pastor never addresses politics. In other words, the pastor preaches the word, the church members live and spoke the word, and they addressed politics. Now, in other words, the sign when Christian pastors are told to address and speak to politics, that’s a sign of weakness, not strength.
Are there some political issues that should be addressed directly?
They should address everything that is addressed in Scripture. There is spoken things about truth and lying, and so our pastor preached and incredible sermon in the time of Clinton’s lies and evasions and equivocations and so on. Now equally, something like abortion has a direct Scriptural understanding and can be preached, but a lot of things, say voter registration, are not biblical at all.
What happens when the culture merely sees the church for its campaigns against, like the Catholic bishops involvement in the health care debate?
So, you would see him as a model of what a leader should be in the church?
Challenging a Catholic member to live and speak as a Catholic. That’s what I meant about a crisis of authority.
That’s what you meant about the public square being a place that was not prejudiced towards religion, but you can’t keep it free from religion either
Exactly, in other words, in the civil public square, members of every faith are free to engage in public life, on the basis of their faith, that’s religious freedom. But, in a framework of what is just and free for others too.
Now, here in the District, the issue over gay marriage is supremely in the forefront. That’s something that Christians have become obsessed about over the last few years, is that an issue that should be a big issue for the church, and how should we be dialoguing over this issue?
You can see that one of the temptations of young Evangelicals is to say, “Well, because abortion and same sex marriage were the “hang-up” of the older generation,” they’re not going to bother. And that is foolish. Always the question is “what is the Biblical position for Evangelicals, and is that consequential?” And I think that same sex marriage is. It’s one of those fundamental building blocks of a strong society, so, the biblical position is paramount but you can make strong sociological arguments, say go to Brad Wilcox’s website and see all the sociological evidence for the chaos of dysfunctions that come, especially for children, for same sex relationships in the long run. Or you could go to Dennis Praeger, the rabbi in Los Angeles who points out the civilization-based arguments of cultures that elevate homosexuality, usually degrade women. Do women really want that?
But I think that the fundamental arguments of the secular world and the anthropological world, there are two fundamental divisions in human experience, between the sexes and between the generations. Parents and children and man and women, and the deepest way of bonding those and creating a society that goes on and continues, is through one man, one woman and marriage and they are having children and its as simple as that. Lord Keynes, who was a homosexual, said, “in the long run, we’re all dead.” In other words, gay societies will not perpetuate themselves.
So, the long term consequences will be absolutely disastrous.
But with the advances of technology, in-vitro fertilization and so on
Well, you still can’t have gay partners; you just have massive adoptions and so on. The evidence is overwhelming for a harvest of dysfunctions on the way.
We just haven’t seen the fruit of what’s coming?
It’s still in the early stages. For the framers, religious liberty and civil liberty were twin brothers, Washington said that the revolution was fought for both. What the gays have done is to degrade religious liberty and use civil liberty to trump it. Now, that’s disastrous and creates huge problems for religious believers down the line and you can see also, that other groups are going to play the same card.
The polygamous and the polyamorous are down the line, and then way down the line things like animal sex, all declaring themselves a civil right, because you can’t stand against it. The very tactic that they use is disastrous.
Should abortion be a make or break issue as Christians engage in discussion or decide on voting for specific candidates?
We shouldn’t be single issue candidates, you know, one congressman said to me about ten years ago, “If there’s a flood a small boy can put his finger in the dyke, and try to stop it, but if there’s a mudslide, what can we try and do?”
That’s the world that we’re living in. So, the idea that if we can get abortion right, everything else will be right is folly. And you can see, say the Republican Party, has played that card to manipulate Christians to vote for them, regardless of what else they do. So there are many, many issues. Single issue politics is naïve and counter-productive.
And, closing up, one of the great things about the Evangelical Manifesto is its emphasis upon humility and apology for past misdeeds— for you, what are those certain things for you, either intellectual or personal that you might regret?
You should really ask my wife. There have been a good many. I have a notion of Christian thought style, and two of the marks are humility and corrigibility: we always all go wrong and we all need correction. That’s one of the strong marks of Proverbs, it’s fools who don’t like to be corrected, so the question is to all of us, there’s a lot of talk about accountability these days, but could we really have biblical challenges and say, “look, you’re out to lunch on this one,” I have half-a dozen friends who can say that to me without any bad consequences. I’ve seen a lot of Christian leaders go wrong, simply because they didn’t have corrigibility in their lives, they became above contradiction and that’s very dangerous.
What’s the most exciting thing that you see about the Evangelical movement in the U.S.?
When I talk about all the things that are wrong, they are usually in areas of generalizations. The exceptions are incredibly encouraging; you take something like the
International Justice Mission
and the rise of a passionate fight against trafficking. This is much closer to William Wilberforce than any other things more recently.
Or you take a movement among the Christian legal society, or dental organizations as people seek to integrate their faith with their work. Or you take Christian business men, say Don Flow of
in Charlotte Southeast, who has done an incredible job of consistently applying his faith in every area of his life. This sort of thing is incredibly encouraging. So, for every generalization, there are things which are incredibly encouraging. I am not a pessimist. It is always about getting us back to be truly Evangelical and living as consistently like Jesus that we can be.
And that means more than just an adherence to a nice moral code; it means an adherence to the Scripture
Because Jesus adhered to these things “just as it is written” His attitude to Scripture should be our attitude to Scripture, everything He was, we are called to be.
]]>2: Where Have All the Evangelicals Gone? https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/12/2-where-have-all-the-evangelicals-gone
Wed, 30 Dec 2009 08:00:07 -0500”...a steadily rising equivalent of the European repudiation of religion climaxing in the new atheist. We have created the monster we dislike, and it’s our fault.”
Don’t worry, a striving towards some form of higher morality wasn’t at the heart of this command. Card games weren’t the devil’s playthings or anything in my family, my dad just didn’t want to see me lose consistently. It’s a hard thing to bluff and hold your cards until its time to triumphantly reveal them patience isn’t always one of my virtues and when you’ve got a face that fluctuates faster than the colors on a thirteen year old girl’s mood ring, poker may not be the wisest game of choice.
Clumsy intro, I know, but as the comments have started piling up on the first part of this conversation with Guinnesss, it’s been hard for me to not just flip the rest of the text of the interview and put everything out on the table for you to read. Consider this a poorly handled slow play.
Before moving to the new part of the interview, one note
on the definition of Evangelicalism
that has sparked much of the debate. When you’re trying to understand what Guinness believes about Evangelicalism, I’d encourage you to follow the advice of
and “go re-read the Evangelical Manifesto.”
the emergent church
the greatest theological problem facing the church
in this section. Read, think and keep up the lively discussion.
How do Christians respond to the rise of this virulent new atheism, Dawkins/Hitchens and company?
I think that, as I said earlier, we have to confess that we have partially caused it. And where their criticisms are right, we should so. And where the church has been ghastly in history, we have been anti-Christian and haven’t followed our Lord. And so, every criticism which is right, should lead us closer to Jesus, to being Evangelical. But, we should cheerfully take them on where they are. I am very interested in the civil public square and they are some of the most intolerant and uncivil voices around and I would openly criticize them if I met them. Now, I think we should be very careful that we are always out to win people. There are too many debates today that are like the Great White Hope in boxing, swinging at all comers. We should be out to win people. Christopher Hitchens is making a fortune in Christian debating, and a lot of debates are rather foolish, they’re just helping him.
On the other hand, you know the
new bus posters
in Washington; they started in London a few years ago. They are wasting their money and they are raising issues that have tremendous apologetic openings for us.
At least people are talking about these things, in a materialistic culture; you wouldn’t normally talk about these things
Absolutely, we have nothing to fear from atheism, it will never, ever be a popular majority belief, except where the church has been really corrupt.
Now what about agnosticism?
I think that’s a cop out, a half-way house for many people. They’re not as belligerent and clear as atheists; they don’t want to engage in things.
Many of these agnostics/atheists turn to Genesis when they are trying to undermine the foundations of Christianity, should we meet them in Genesis or should we be focusing on the character of Christ and moving out?
We have to do both.
There’s no question that the relationship between faith and science is one of the great weaknesses in the American church. You’ve got three positions, the
young earth creationists
, most of whom most are frank embarrassments to actual scientists, and yet that the majority position among most Christians. Then, you’ve got the
, and there are very many serious believers and scientists in that. My quarrel with them is that they are politicizing this issue and you’ve got lawsuits and things. That is a scientist issue and it should be fought humbly and graciously between scientists. Then there are
like Francis Collins and most serious thinkers in Europe, and I think that the real argument is between Theistic evolution and Intelligent Design. But that is not an argument that should be politicized, like in the Dover case and so on. So, overall, the American church, mainly Evangelicals have made a huge issue over this and we have to put it right.
I grew up with Ken Ham and his virulent, “if you don’t believe this, then your entire faith is undermined and you, to some degree, cannot be a Christian if you’re not a believer in the theory of a Young Earth.” How do we move past that and say, “Look, in the Christian church, there’s room for you to be a Theistic Evolutionist or for Intelligent Design,” and wrestle with those things within the church?
You know, Augustine, in his commentary in Genesis, warns that it’s always a mistake to hitch the church, and theology, to any passing view of science, for the simple reason that science changes. And there have certainly been a few key developments in theology over the last centuries, but nothing Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientists of his time, but who believes Newtonian science? He was a Christian, and one of the greatest scientists of his time, and a lot of Christians married their theology to Newtonian science and we moved on, in the age of Einstein. Well, Augustine warned that this is always a mistake.
Now, the same is true of politics, or economics. In other words, the sin, which used to be known as the sin of particularism, the idea that there is one particular politics, one particular economics, one particular retirement policy, one particular science. We can say there are ways, but we can’t say that there is only one, because they all change.
Going back a bit, as someone who worked alongside Francis Schaeffer, what happened to the Christian community where intellectualism and Christianity seemed to part ways, at least in the popular perception?
Well, not with Schaeffer, Schaeffer stood strongly in his thinking. But I think what happened, the decisive decade was the 60s, and Evangelicalism and fundamentalist slept through the 60s. I came here first in 68, and I only found one Evangelical leader over here, Carl Henry, who really understood the 60s, most people were shocked but didn’t understand what was happening.
The wakeup year was 73. You had Watergate, Roe v. Wade, OPEC (the Oil crisis for those who don’t remember that) and Evangelicals woke up and in the mid-70s you had the beginnings of the emergence of the Religious Right which came into the public sphere in 1979 with the Moral Majority and the election of Ronald Reagan. Since then, we’ve had the politicization of Evangelicals.
What happened to the men who would inspire Christian thought, like Schaeffer, why were they unable to continue to capture the intellectual imagination of young Christians, was there just a lack of people willing to pick up the mantle?
I think if you use one word; fear. Fear is the dominant emotion in the entire global world, but in America, among Christians, it arose because of cultural insecurity. The culture was slipping away. As they said in 75, “the sleeping giant has woken up and is going to take back the culture,” and of course they couldn’t, and you can see that fear and alarmism has been a key note of the Religious Right ever since. So that’s not going to be an impulse that leads to thinking, at least not assured thinking.
So rather than dialoguing with someone like Bergman, there would be a rejection of what you couldn’t understand.
Yes, shock, alarmism, demonizing, stereotyping. You know the Religious Right has done the Lord’s work in the world’s way, in a very ugly, non-Christian way.
Now looking back at the Jesus movement, you were optimistic about it ?
Actually I didn’t, I criticized the Jesus movement. I was a strong critic of the counter-culture and all those movements in the 60s, but I was the strongest critic of the Jesus Movement because it was very shallow and trendy and transient, and that’s what it proved to be. I’m critical of a lot of these trendy and transient things, including the extremes of the emergent church which are equally trendy and transient.
What are some of the biggest problems of the emergent church?
I have two main criticisms of those extremes. One, they were much stronger on the negative than the positive. Now, the reformers, for example, were very strong on the negative, the selling of grace by indulgences, they attacked it up hill and down dale, it was vile. At the same time, they were even stronger on the positive, Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
Whereas a mark of the emergent church, its extremes and the work of some people, whom I won’t mention, they are still getting over the hang-ups of the churches that they grew up in, and they aren’t as strong on the positives of the gospel, and that’s tragic. My other problem is that they are very critical of modernism, quite rightly, but they are uncritical of post-modernism, wrongly. The fact is, that both modernism and post-modernism, partly right but crucially wrong, but there’s a simple reason why post-modernism is more dangerous than modernism, it’s because it’s today’s danger. So, you always attack today’s danger rather than flogging a dead horse.
And that was one thing criticized by the Evangelical Manifesto, the attacking of the past rather than the present, but we do live in a post-modern culture, the way we think.
Post-modern is a philosophy that is on its way out.
What will replace it?
Who knows? There’s a confusion of post-modernism, which as a set of ideas, is on its way out, as is modernism. What’s coming in its place, the Lord only knows, I’m not a prophet. But we’re not post-modernity. Modernity is the word used by the social sciences as a one word summary of everything since the industrial revolution, right down to cell phones and Blackberry’s
(as his phone rings).
And that is not on the way out. But I think that the terms, for instance in England, there was a vogue for the term, “post-Evangelical.” That’s absolutely ludicrous. If someone is an ex-Evangelical, in other words, they once were an Evangelical, but no longer are, then terrific. At least they’re honest enough to say so, I mean that’s sad, but they’re honest. To be post-Evangelical says nothing. What are they, positively? Are they liberal Christians, catholic Christians, orthodox Christians, neo-Orthodox, what are they? Post-Evangelical just says what they were, it says nothing about they are. All the post-y terms are useless.
It’s just a rejection of something without actually saying anything. That’s a term that’s very in vogue with many of my contemporaries, but you’re saying
The way I defined it, it’d be foolish to be past it, you should be back to it. There was a time when Billy Graham came back from the Soviet Union, and the liberal churchmen from the council of churches said that Billy Graham had, “set the clock back 50 years for the church,” and Billy answered well, he said, “I wish I had set the church back 2,000 years.” In other words, Evangelicals should always be going back as a close a system as we can, to Jesus.
So when it comes to churches and people who want to reach out to a generation who thinks out of that post-modern mind, how do you craft the message?
I speak on campuses almost every, well certainly every month. I have no trouble recognizing that most modern people have a high degree of relativism, is that what you mean by post-modern?
Fine, you win. Always you craft the message of the gospel to where the hearers are, Jesus never spoke to two people the same way. So, the idea that you can use a recipe or a formula, “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” or whatever, is unbiblical and we should be as flexible and personable in sharing our faith as Jesus was.
Without sacrificing those truths at the heart of Evangelicalism
Of course, relating those truths in different ways to different people.
One thing that struck me was the emphasis on the centrality of Scripture in the Evangelical Manifesto
But ask yourself why, why do we take Scripture seriously? Because Jesus did. For instance, what’s his answer to the evil one? Every temptation, “it is written.” Clearly for Him, Scripture was the final absolute authority for His life, and so for His followers it must be the same, and that’s why we’re Evangelicals.
And for those people who want to just take what Jesus said, and not the whole Scriptures
Well, they’re not following Jesus; they’re being more like Protestant liberals. What Protestant liberals did in the 19
Century was to say, “We believe in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” and they selectively took out of the gospels what they liked, what fitted into their times. There’s an awful lot more to Jesus than Protestant Liberals believed, and the same is true for the emergents. You can’t pick and choose. Everything Jesus called his followers to do and be, we must do and be and believe.
What are some of the things that you’ve seen, as watching the culture, that you’ve felt validated in seeing coming, and are there things which you missed coming or misjudged?
Well, I have never pretended to be a prophet, in a sense of prediction. When I wrote “Dust of Death,” which is a critique of the 60s, people thought I was crazy. They thought the counter-culture would succeed. Now, I have to say humbly, I think I was right on that.
Equally, you wouldn’t believe the attacks I got when I wrote “Dining with the Devil,” which is a critique of the mega-churches, the very first written critique of the mega-churches. Now, nearly 20 years later, the points I made would be accepted very widely, even by the mega-church pastors, and so I have yet, can I say this humbly? I’ve yet to be wrong on any major point; I never predict the future.
Someone might point out something, and just because I don’t think I’ve been seriously wrong, it doesn’t mean I’m infallible, Lord knows I’m not.
The biggest problem is not specific theological issues, like grace or Jesus or whatever, it is theology itself. In other words, modernity shifts theology from authority to preference. Karl Barth used to put it like this, “Theology once had binding address,” it addressed you and then bound you, so there was a link between belief and behavior. Now, that link between belief and behavior has eroded. So now, what people believe and how they behave, who cares?
Take Evangelicals, Evangelicals have never had a higher, sharper, clearer view of Scripture, things like statements of inherency. But Evangelical behavior on the ground is permissive chaos. The fact is, it’s just a matter of preference. And everyone describes their freedom, including the emergent church. As soon as you can say the views you don’t like, the uptight, stuffy traditional views, legalistic or whatever and you throw out what you don’t like, it’s just a matter of preference. And you get what social scientist call a cafeteria spirituality, or a salad bar spirituality. In other words, you can go down the bar, and decide you like cabbage not lettuce? Fine. You like radishes not carrots? Fine. You like love, not hell? Fine. Check out hell, take out love, that’s fine.
There’s a profound crisis of all authority as well. This is more important for America, because America is a nation by intention, and by ideas, so the American experiment is being called into question and no one really believes it right now, and even the notion of what is America is unraveling. So there’s a crisis of authority that is actually deeper than the crisis of any one doctrine.
So how should the Christian church respond to that?
By getting down on our knees and asking that, when we get off our knees and speak, the simplest, most straightforward Biblical words we use, would have the power of the Spirit in them that would have undeniable authority in them. In other words, it won’t be by “high faluting” theological arguments alone, we’ve got to have theology preached in power.
How do you respond to a generation that has been uniquely trained in apologetic arguments
but has struggled to make those arguments fit in the real world, and those who have found themselves put out by culture war Christianity?
That’s terrible. Apologetics, a generation ago, was too modernist. I, somewhat lovingly, mock it as “1001 reasons why Jesus rose from the dead” and so on. It was highly modernistic, answers for everything. There are dangers today that apologetics are reviving, in new conferences and so on, all in the effort of the culture wars, and that is dreadful. It is not, “we/they” as it is we are supposed to win people. We are not out to win arguments, we are to win people. I’m a passionate believer in apologetics, but in the way that it is Biblically understood, that is to win people.
How should Christians engage in culture, if they are not fighting in it?
Well, you take the notion that in the New Testament, when the word “fight” or metaphors on fighting are used, and they are used, it’s always supernatural. “Bring down strongholds,” and so on. When you are talking about people, the metaphors are legal; we talk about “witnessing” and “standing for the truth” and “convicting” and so on. They are a different type of metaphor. So, if we are Evangelical, we have to make sure that our apologetics are as Biblical, back to Jesus, as we can get it. And certainly, apologetics are a biblical discipline, and plenty of American apologetics have departed from the waves.
There have been a number of studies which have come out, showing the number of young Christians who have left the church at an alarming rate, is that something indicative of the present church or how would you respond to that?
The church is exploding and the gospel is advancing incredibly in the so-called “global south,” Africa, and parts of Latin America, Asia, not doing so well in the west. The central reason, I wrote a book 25 years ago, it’s coming out again next year, called
The Last Christian on Earth
, it was originally called, “The Gravedigger File,” and the argument is simple. The Christian faith is the single strongest reason for the rise of the modern world, and yet by becoming captive to the modern world, we’re being undermined by the very world to we gave rise.
Now, if you look at the American church in contrast to the European church, it’s much better off, but you can see two things:
. The settlement, that the First Amendment gave us in 1791, is breaking down, partly due to the culture wars. That’s very faithful and Christians are not on the side of the angels in this.
We’re seeing that we’re reaching a very critical stage in the captivity of the modern church through modern culture. Evangelicals who used to be resistant to modern culture, it was Protestant liberals who reflected culture. We have become the new liberals. I’m afraid that the emergent church is a key part of this, mega-churches are a key part of this.
They just reflect the culture. You take, in the emergent church, this idea of “generationalism.” When Jesus talks about “this generation,” there is a solidarity, there is a mutual responsibility of everyone alive on earth at the same time. “This generation,” Jesus says, in other words, from young to old, they are in it together. The idea of “generationalism” came from marketing and modern demography and now we have smaller and smaller generations, the “Y’ers” and the “Xers.” This is crazy, we need to go back to a biblical understanding. And it gives rise to crazy ideas. You know, back in the 60s, there was this line, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and you have the same mentality in some of those in the emergent church.
Now, Tom Oden, the great theologian, responded to this very well, “The real biblical answer is don’t trust anyone under 300.” Now he was tongue in cheek, but you see what he was saying, there is wisdom to history. The emergent church, through its generationalism, has a conceit and a folly that is suicidal. They’ve got to get over that, its worldliness. The emergent church, when it is in its generationalism, is thoroughly worldly, conceited, and need to repent of it.
Are they asking any real original questions?
Of course, they think they are. Every generation thinks it has something to say. All our best insights are standing on the shoulders of giants, and so on. And we have to be humble enough to admit that. To think that any generation sees anything really radically new, no. They are bound to see something, but equally, everyone will see something new. But also, people who have been around a lot of life will see something that people who think it’s new won’t realize.
Is there anything coming from that camp that’s struck you as being particularly unique or insightful?
I haven’t been terribly impressed, to be honest. I love the energy; I love the love and passion for the church. I’m not terribly impressed by a lot of it though.
]]>Where Have All the Evangelicals Gone?https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/12/where-have-all-the-evangelicals-gone
Mon, 28 Dec 2009 15:18:46 -0500”..for instance in England, there was a vogue for the term, “post-Evangelical.” That’s absolutely ludicrous. If someone is an ex-Evangelical, in other words, they once were an Evangelical, but no longer are, then terrific. At least they’re honest enough to say so, I mean that’s sad, but they’re honest. To be post-Evangelical says nothing. What are they, positively? Are they liberal Christians, catholic Christians, orthodox Christians, neo-Orthodox, what are they? Post-Evangelical just says what they were, it says nothing about they are. All the post-y terms are useless...
“The way I defined (Evangelicalism), it’d be foolish to be past it, you should be back to it. There was a time when Billy Graham came back from the Soviet Union, and the liberal churchmen from the council of churches said that Billy Graham had, “set the clock back 50 years for the church,” and Billy answered, “I wish I had set the church back 2,000 years.” In other words, Evangelicals should always be going back as a close a system as we can, to Jesus.”
When Os Guinness speaks, you don’t want to miss a single word.
Some people clamor for your ear, trying to insert themselves into the forefront of cultural and political discussions but with Guinness, there is none of that hurried move to the “hook.” There is a sense of urgency and importance to each gently-accented thought coming from the 68-year old social critic that demands your careful attention. With a thoughtfully nuanced perspective, rooted deeply in the truths of Christianity and a life well-lived, Guinness has helped to provide a center to the solar system of Christian intellectual and cultural discussion.
This foundational member of the
was gracious enough to talk about what it truly means to be an Evangelical, the future of the church, and why styling oneself a “
” is “absolutely ludicrous.”
I tape my interviews on audio, and not video, for a reason. When I talked to Guinness after Thanksgiving, there was sweat on my hands and more than a little oscillation to the vocal pitch of my questions. It’s not that Guinness is unkind, the soft-spoken thinker is one of the most gracious and patient individuals you’ll ever talk to, but the meeting of childhood idols, particularly incredibly intelligent and articulate ones, can be a little terrifying.
Life: the Movie
, Guinness’s critique of the 1960s counter-culture,
The Dust of Death
was one of the most influential books I read during high school. Many of the issues handled in the text were outside of the comfortable context of my own experience, but the clarity of Guinness was easily seen. Along with other work from men like Schaeffer, I was inspired by the example of these men for whom Christianity didn’t necessitate a destruction of their intellect. The freedom offered by the idea that all truth is God’s truth and, because of that, there is no subject that Christians should be afraid of discussing has guided the rest of my life. But with Guinness, I still remember copying out Chapter 9, “The Ultimate Trip,” and hauling it around in the back of my tired Bible as an articulate reminder that in society,
“A Third Way is to be found in a re-examination and rediscovery of the truth of historic Christianity— in a Reformation of its truth and in a Revival of its life, neither being valid or possible without the other, but both together opening the path to significant new premises that will reshape culture.”
The type of settled clarity and balanced perspective that Guinness possesses, is a trait many of my classmates and colleagues need, and in my own muddled way, maybe this interview will help with that deficiency.
Guinness talked for over an hour on that Thursday morning, so over the next week or so, I’ll let out sections of his words. Hopefully, it’ll encourage you and spark some intelligent discussion.
When was the first time you heard the term “Evangelical”?
It is deeply written into the tradition of our family. My great great grandfather, who founded the Guinness Brewing Company, was an Evangelical and a friend of John Wesley, George Whitfield and was a strong supporter of William Wilberforce. So, the Evangelicalism that I know is not American Evangelicalism. People often think of Evangelicalism as the post-fundamentalism of the 1950s emergence under Billy Graham and Carl Henry.
For me, that’s absolutely ridiculous and extremely short-sighted. My family has been part of a much stronger, wider and deeper Evangelicalism for centuries.
Talk to me a little bit about this history of Evangelicalism, it comes out some in the Evangelical Manifesto, but it’s different than most people understand it, especially here in the U.S.
I started the Evangelical Manifesto because of a fortnighta two week period three years ago now, where I met twelve people all giving up Evangelicalism. In every single one of the cases I asked them what they were giving up, and it was political. It was the religious right, or it was cultural, like the televangelist, but for me, that’s ridiculous.
Evangelicalism is primarily theological and spiritual; people who define themselves and their lives and their faith by the good news of the announcement of the kingdom by Jesus of Nazareth. That is the historical and theological definition, if it was only this miserable cultural business, I wouldn’t be an Evangelical.
If you go back in history, when Francis of Assisi tried to live as Jesus lived, he was called, by the pope, an Evangelical. Well, you take the Reformation, the Protestant Reformation which is one of the two greatest movements in Western History and gave birth to all sorts of things like democracy and capitalism it was originally the Protestant Evangelical Reformation. Now, the Protestant is the negative part, they were protesting against, but Evangelical was the positive part, they were going back to Jesus and His good news. That’s Evangelical.
Part of the effort to reclaim Evangelicalism to its proper roots is this manifesto, but, for a term that has been so co-opted by different movements, what are some other ways Christians can reclaim the term in a proper sense?
Well let’s not cavort too fast, because defined the way I’ve defined it, there is nothing deeper.
So certainly, in public life I’d call myself a Christian, or a Follower of Jesus and I’d be strongly in support of C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” and be happy to recognize every sister or brother in the Catholic or Orthodox, with a capital O, tradition who recognizes Jesus as Lord, very happy too.
But, I feel like the Evangelical impulse is deeper than theirs. So, the Catholic impulse is obviously Catholicity, or universality of the church worldwide, across the centuries and continents. That’s terrific, but it doesn’t tell you what the original thing isthe good news of the announcement of the kingdom. Equally, Orthodoxy has a very important principle, but it isn’t nearly as deep as Evangelicalism.
So explain to me a bit of the difference between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism..
Jesus never called people to be Orthodox, did He? He called people to follow His new way which was at the heart of the announcement of the kingdom. That’s why I think that Orthodoxy is terribly important. Peter and Paul fight for Orthodoxy in the New Testament itself when there’s a terrific problem early on, but that’s not what Jesus called us to.
Evangelicalism is more of the foundation and Orthodoxy is built on top of that.
Exactly, and that is why whenever there is corruption, deadness, formality, heresy, whatever in the church, there will always be the impulse to go back to Jesus which is the Evangelical impulse. That’s why I would insist that, understood historically, theologically, spiritually; it is deeper than the other impulses. So Evangelicals are embarrassed by the culture of Evangelicalism or the politics of Evangelicalism, but that’s just a call to reformation.
Talk to me a bit about the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” back in 1994, you signed on to that then, do you find more of a unity now than you did?
As I said earlier, any sister or brother who says Jesus Christ is Lord, I would treat as my sister or brother, and the difference between us, of baptism or whatever or more important things, would be matters for domestic discussion. The whole point of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” was that, while we have important differences that need to be wrestled over, prayed over and so on, we were facing something together.
Europeans talk about a double jeopardy, with Islam on one side and secularism on another. We cannot afford to fight all domestic values and ignore the outside one. Here in Washington, I have close friends like Michael Novak who is a Catholic brother and I’m an Evangelical brother, but when we’re fighting certain issues like religious liberty, those issues are minimal, and when you get down over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee you can discuss those. That was the point of Evangelicals and Catholics together, although for two solid years, I got daily hate mail and emails from readers who disagreed with me.
For you, signing something like that is not a watering down of doctrinal differences
Absolutely not. For example, the
was the setting out of the vision of a civil public square which is a political framework of rights, responsibilities and respect for people of all faiths. And I have gotten death threats, literally death threats. Why? For giving the rights of freedom of conscience to atheists, Muslims or whatever. That is not compromise. I am a strong critic of ecumenical, inter-faith dialogue as the solution to the world’s problemsit will lead nowhere. The differences are deep and irreducible, but we can create a political framework where we can be faithful to our faiths and know how to differ with other faiths respectfully.
It’s an interesting historical look at where we’ve come from; can you talk about some places where you might differ on more traditionally reformed teaching and the inclusion of believers in the Roman Catholic Church?
I come from a strongly reformed background. So issues like grace, justification, and the sovereignty of God are incredibly important to me and I won’t give them up for a moment. But those, I argue, are internal domestic debates to the church. So, for instance, if our family my wife and my son were having a furious debate in the kitchen and a neighbor comes to the door, we would drop the argument and welcome in the neighbor. Equally, that’s true in a lot of areas, there’s a time to discuss internal things and there’s a time to discuss external things. My wife and I will have a candor in the bedroom that’s different, than front of our son and definitely different than our neighbors and strangers. So, the issues like justification and grace, those are the debates we should be having with our Catholic brothers and sisters and I would take the reformed position very strongly. But that does not mean that I would deny that they are Christians, if they accept that Jesus Christ is Lord and so on.
With these types of declarations, (Manifesto/Manhattan etc.), people my age hear these pronouncements and wonder, “well, that’s nice, but what practically happens?”
I sign very few declarations. The reason is, because America is a country where we have an inflation of ideas, words, words, words. Everyone is talking and no one is listening. But there are significant declarations. The little Evangelical Manifesto got a bad reception from the Religious Right because of the words, “useful idiots,” mentioned there. It got a somewhat bad reception from the strong, strong reformed people because they don’t accept, for example, Roman Catholics as fellow Christians, which for me is tragic.
Where it got a very good reception was actually from Evangelicals around the rest of the world who said, “If American Evangelicals were known for that, instead of the religious right, we wouldn’t catch it in the neck, say in Jordan or Australia.” I got very interesting emails from people thanking me for that, because the world press sees only the political or the cultural.
In the past year, since the Evangelicalism Manifesto’s publication, do you think that there’s been a change in perception? It’s such a difficult thing, to change perception simply by saying, “well, that’s not what we mean.”
I think that the past year has seen a deepening disillusionment with the political. In other words, the Religious Right is either in severe decline or has gotten lost. But what has followed it is, in some ways, even worse. And the culture has gone crazy.
What has followed?
Well, I would date a severe milestone in the crisis of the Religious Right to the last election. It failed, but what followed it is kind of like a fire being scattered with the embers going all over the place. A sullen, angry populism that is really anti-Christian. And the emails circulating, say about Obama is the anti-Christ or placards saying that it is time to refresh the tree of liberty, or now this horrendous thing that say Psalm, whatever it is, “Pray for Obama” and you look it up and it’s an imprecatory Psalm calling for his death. Those are absolutely, reprehensibly vile.
Especially for those people coming out of what would be considered the Christian community.
Absolutely, it is sub-Christian at best and anti-Christian at worst.
So the collapse of the Religious Right has not led to the rise of a more responsible position, except for the minority, but to something which is horrendous. The trouble is, if this goes on, it will tarnish the church for a generation and that’s the tragedy.
I put it even deeper. If you look at Europe, Europe is the most secular continent in the world because of reactions to corrupt state/church powers in the past. America never had that problem because of the genius of the First Amendment until the rise of the Religious Right and the culture wars, and you can see that in the educated classes, a steadily rising equivalent of the European repudiation of religion climaxing in the new atheist. We have created the monster we dislike, and it’s our fault.
]]>You Shouldn’t Have Been Born, Caleb Joneshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/12/you-shouldnt-have-been-born-caleb-jones
Tue, 15 Dec 2009 12:37:51 -0500What happens when you’re told that you were a mistake, that you shouldn’t have been born, and that your parents were selfish to allow you into this world?
One of my dear friends, Caleb Jones, has been forced to face that question head on in the last few days and weeks. His thoughts on struggling with Cystic Fibrosis made me stop. I’ve known Caleb for the last few years, we’ve roomed together, played soccer together, and (in the tradition of southern-born men) shot guns together. Despite facing some unique challenges, Caleb lives life with an intense fervor and zeal that is inspiring.
And he never complains.
Please lend Caleb your eyes for a few minutes, I promise it’ll be worth it.
How should a person respond when they find the pros and cons of their very existence being debated? I found myself in this position as I read
article. A mother asking for donations for her child with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary genetic disease, is met with disgust from her neighbor and told, “There’s no need for you to keep having these children there’s a test for that, you know.” Apparently this viewpoint is widespread: the belief that children with cystic fibrosis are dead weights on society and that civilization would be better if this problem was avoided from the start with prenatal testing and pregnancy termination. In essence, many believe it would be better if these children never lived. It would have been better if this problem was avoided from the start.
I am one of the 30,000 Americans who live with cystic fibrosis, and it is difficult to adequately describe how I feel after reading this. On one hand, I have never heard this sentiment verbalized in my presence. I was never told that I should not have been born. Understanding and support is the sentiment I feel from others. In that sense, this specter of insult and degradation is far from me. But the whispers of strangers, and the words meant behind the words spoken reveal much. Virtually no one will say that a group should be killed because of their handicap or condition, but many will say that prenatal testing can provide women useful information as they exercise the right over their own body. No one openly advocates the elimination of certain populations, yet it happens nonetheless. It is already happening to those with
With the article above, I find that it is probably happening to those with cystic fibrosis, too.
This article resonates with me for a different reason than my diagnosis. The high school American History class I teach is currently studying World War II and the rise of fascism in Germany: another instance where the value of entire populations was determined, the problem to society was identified, and the solution enacted. Such a comparison may seem far-fetched in a time free of Nazis, brown shirts, and
. But as
Ellie Weisel warned,
tanks and guns and anger and hatred are secondary evils. Brown shirts and blitzkriegs and concentration camps are all visible and prompt fierce resistance. True evil resides and festers and matures to terrifying power under the shadow of indifference. And indifference is the sickness that infects our culture today and breeds the sentiment of that callous neighbor.
With prenatal testing, nearly ninety percent fewer souls are brought into the world with Down’s syndrome today, but none of them were cured. They were purged from society, and society remained silent and indifferent. Indifference is bred because the evil is unseen. There are no coffins or mass graves for those who are deemed not worthy of the monetary or emotional expense. There are only trashcans and medical waste facilities. They are forgotten and disposed. Any sensitivity to their humanity is brushed away by the simple line, a woman’s right to choose, someone else’s decision, an agent of indifference. Under this guise, evil grows.
Evil like this does not start spontaneously. It starts with an idea that sprouts and develops in the minds of men. In Weimar Germany, an idea of Jews as an annoyance came first. That was anti-Semitism. Then, Jews became a problem to be fixed. That was discrimination and oppression. Then, they were an enemy of the state to be eliminated. That was the holocaust. Presently, unwanted pregnancies of all stripes are considered annoyances. Taking root is the belief that these annoyances are
to be fixed. With the health of the country becoming more and more a responsibility and an expenditure of government, how many intermediate steps are necessary for expensive populations (e.g. those with cystic fibrosis or Down’s syndrome) to become enemies of the state? I for one will not place my bets on stopping a slippery slope.
So, how should a person respond when they find the pros and cons of their very existence being debated? By fighting like your life depends on it. While the debate itself is demeaning, at least it remains a debate. In this debate, this fight, ideas in the mind of humanity form the battlefield. I will fight the evil idea of human beings holding relative worth based on their contribution to society, and stand on the inherent and unalienable worth and dignity of being human. Ideas matter, have serious consequences, and warrant a fight for their defense and advance. I will fight to bring this evil to the light, kill the indifference that silence brings, and treat evil ideas as seriously as they warrant. I have chosen my side in this battle. I suggest you choose yours.
]]>Sensitive Christians and Christmashttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/12/sensitive-christians-and-christmas
Mon, 14 Dec 2009 08:39:32 -0500It’s the lovely time of year where people of all faiths, denominations and economic status levels do their absolute best to reduce the Yuletide season down to the most innocuous, commercially viable standard of celebration. These actions are, in turn, responded to by loud proclamations over the destruction of the “real meaning of Christmas,” mailing list protests, and why your VISA should be put to use in a way that will glorify Jesus better.
No, I promise I’m not going to trot out that tired “paint by numbers” critique on commercialism and Christmas kitsch.
The New Yorker
offers a slightly humorous take on how Christians can be a bit more sensitive this holiday season, although apparently a “Happy Interfaith Holiday Season” means only trying to pander to your Menorah-lighting friends
The video starts off with a few chuckles before the jokes start feeling tired, but muting the point about Christ and his role as a Savior made me think again about how many implicit parts of the Christmas story are so divisive and confrontational if people, and Christians, would think about what was actually being said.
Oh, and for the record, the cover is a delightful bit of non-partisan humor
My church held its Christmas service last night, and the devotional was centered around how the idea and understanding of sin is so foundational to the entire story of that little baby meek and mild. The idea of our collective failure and complete inability to save ourselves doesn’t really fly too well on a Hallmark card. The idea of a tiny Savior often gets confused in our society, it’s seen as a point of comfort and assurance, to the point of being sickeningly profane (“
Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger
” ), when in reality that the point of that sweet little baby should be absolutely terrifying.
That baby screams of the depths of our depravity, that nothing else could rectify the glaring impact of our separation from a righteous and holy God. Underneath the steeples, there is a tragic forgetfulness that allows the man from the pulpit to speak in terms of salvation and of ransoming the people from their sins, all while forgetting how shocking and far-reaching that ransom truly was. We speak of treating the purchased grace as “cheap,” but it is far too easy to overlook the true cost of that grace. It is the necessity and scandal of Justification and cannot be passed over lightly.
When you see the baby, immediately flip over in your mind to the horrors of Golgotha and try to hold those two images next to each other. Place the manger by the nails, the crown of thorns by the shepherds, and the flowing blood by the milk of His mother.
Then think about if you really have the stomach to be a “Sensitive Christian” this Christmas.
]]>The Death of Friendshiphttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/12/the-death-of-friendship
Wed, 09 Dec 2009 05:35:07 -0500I swear, this isn’t one of those one and done type outings.
After my introduction to the kind and vocal members of Evangel, I had all the best intentions of becoming an active and regular voice on this site. I went home to Mississippi for Thanksgiving, did a little reading, a small amount of thinking, and came back to the District with a legal pad full of scratched out thoughts. But then cold weather and long conversations one with Os Guinness that should eventually appear on this site managed to eat away at all my good intentions.
Oh, and then I’m just slightly intimidated by the words and minds of my fellow writers.
Apologies aside, William Deresiewicz
The Chronicle of Higher Education
, has thoroughly dissected
the history and progression of friendship
in a way that will leave you beyond sober, once you finish digesting it. Thanks to Steven for pointing me in its direction.
One would have to be completely devoid of reflective thought, if the creeping infection of our information saturated age hadn’t given you pause in the last few years. The post-Live Journal/Myspace/Xanga/Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter age has left universal communication vastly easier and cheaper than at any point in history. Most of us can see a few of the dangers inherent to this new world, but Deresiewicz moves past mere late night, cigar-stained complainings about the lack of privacy and the destruction of intimacy (not saying there’s anything wrong with those conversations), managing to root out the roots of what true friendship is meant to be, and how that concept has been perverted.
And here’s the thing, I’m not going to try and summarize this 12 page opus. First, Tuesday ran incredibly long, limited brain cells are dying, and my Wednesday started at 4:45. More importantly, it feels disrespectful to the careful articulation of Deresiewicz. You need to take the time to slowly work your way through his words, think about what’s said, and then how that applies to your life. I’m in need of detox just like anyone else. I spend far too much time idly clicking through Facebook,
, and have an unsatisfied love for live music on Youtube (yesterday’s obsessions was Gillian Welch’s cover of
]]>Not Dead Yethttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/11/not-dead-yet
Wed, 25 Nov 2009 13:36:09 -0500This is the introduction I didn’t want to write.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched
grow. I’ve written on and off for the siteserved as the head editor for a short stintand I’ve been amazed and excited to see its growth. I’ve always wanted nothing but the best for Patrol. The site possesses the potential to foster important and meaningful dialogue, and I’ve loved being part of it.
Certain editorial decisions over the last few months at Patrol have left me a little worried over the focus of the site. I’ve always answered critics with the argument that Patrol does not have a specific agenda; it’s merely a forum for a wide range of opinions and discussions. Up until Tuesday, I believed that.
There was an editorial published last week, “
Get Over It
,” pushing for the acceptance of the notion that modern evangelicalism had failed as a movement and should be discarded. With broad and flamboyant strokes, this column brought scathing accusations against evangelical churches, charges that, if taken to their logical conclusions, have tremendous implications on the presentation of the gospel and the definition of Christianity.
This was more than an attack on a failing business model (like the case of CCM Magazine); this was an attack on traditional evangelical faith. Patrol Magazine describes itself as “post-evangelical”that’s not me.
I’m a joyful evangelical who attends a church that holds to the validity of Scripture, the reality of sin, humanity’s need for salvation and the centrality of the cross in saving people.
I wanted to respond to Patrol’s editorial, but, through a complicated series of events, I learned that there would be no place on the site for a public expression of internal disagreement.
And so, I won’t be writing for Patrol. With growth, things change, and sometimes you can’t support that change. It hurts.
With change for Patrol comes change for me, and I’ll be joining the writers of Evangel.
So take this as a greeting, and here are my thoughts on why evangelicalism is, “Not Dead Yet.”