I’ve been trying to write this for a while but have struggled to find the words; Rachel Held Evans’ recent article about millennials leaving the church has provided me with a bit of much-needed impetus. Like her, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to speak as a millennial, (although I have been amusingly mistaken for one.) but speaking for myself: there is very little about Evangelical culture that I like. There, I’ve said it. Read more about A matter of taste
I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions, but one thing I have decided this year is to take up the old invocation to “know thyself.” After Christmas and New Year back in the UK with our family, I started reading Skinner and Cleese’s Families and How To Survive Them. Read more about Post-Evangelicalism and Phil Mitchell
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged” - Jesus
“Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil?” - Jesus
I was thinking about someone recently who is quite renowned as a Bible teacher. He is from the conservative Evangelical wing of the church, and what is looked for in that particular version of Christianity is clear, objective, black-and-white Bible teaching. A sermon is a good sermon for conservative Evangelicals if it lays out neatly and objectively the uncompromising truth of Scripture. And the person I was thinking about is extremely good at “rightly dividing the word of truth.” That is definitely his gift, for those who like that sort of thing. Read more about In praise of team ministry
When I was growing up, the Church was very simple—there was the Evangelicals, who had the truth of the Gospel, and then there was everyone else: Anglicans (who were all nominal), Catholics, and liberals. There was another very simple equation: Evangelicals spread the Gospel and try to win converts, liberals didn’t really talk about Jesus but just did social and political stuff. You can still see remnants of these equations, in the way we talk about churches today. Read more about Learning to love the liberals
I walked past a cult church today. Well, OK, “cult” is a subjective labelling. I walked past a sect today. I was out with Caitlin wandering through an area of town that was new to me, and came across a sign on a building proclaiming “Jesus Christ!” Once again, I wondered what I was doing here as a church planter - Japan already has a local church and there are a reasonable number in my area - until I realised that the church was one that I had been warned against by a local pastor here.
How do you tell when a church becomes a sect? The obvious answer is in its teachings, and yeah, this one in particular is pretty off the wall, but in general it’s not so easy to say; there’s a huge diversity within Christian teaching and the boundaries are fuzzy. It’s easy enough to use proof texts from the Bible to pull down other Christians and call them nasty names, but I can’t help thinking that isn’t what the Bible is for.
But there is an easier way to tell. A sect is sectarian; it’s a church that has decided that it already has as much of the truth as it needs, and that it need not learn from any other Christians. We’ve got the Bible, we’ve got the Holy Spirit - we don’t need anything else. It’s a misunderstanding of that same Bible which always talks about greeting one another, teaching one another, learning from one another, having mutual concern for one another, encouraging one another and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, but there you go. That’s what a sect does: it rejects the gift of one another that God has given us. So because it thinks it doesn’t need to learn from other Christians, it closes itself off, to the point at which it simply doesn’t have the opportunity to learn from any other Christians, and so will never know when it’s becoming idiosyncratic or heretical. In that sense, ecumenism is a mark of the Church. Churches that don’t work with other churches are sects.
I suppose the logical conclusion of this is that an awful lot of Evangelical denominations are sects. Hmm. Read more about We ghettoize ourselves
This got too long for Twitter. And yeah, it’s another pointless post about Rob Bell, but I think I’m touching on something here I haven’t heard from anyone else.
Rob Hay points out the Evangelical Alliance official response to Love Wins. This raises lots of interesting thoughts for me. First, I didn’t realise that the EA were in the book review business, or otherwise I would have sent them a few. Second, they’ve clearly learnt a little bit from their treatment of Steve Chalke but not very much. Third, I didn’t realise that this book was so significant that it needed an official response. Heck, I didn’t realise that a similar, but theologically more rigorous, treatment of the same themes would not need an official response - which makes me wonder if they’re just going for the low-hanging fruit.
Or perhaps this is just another example of what is going on with the Rob Bell stuff: people completely talking past each other. Read more about Rob Bell and talking at cross purposes
Personally I don’t feel the need to have a clear and present image of unbelievers being subject to eternal torment, to motivate me to share the gospel. If others do I don’t object (although I may want to question how it shapes their approach). Piper’s seeming insistence that eternal punishment was the only legitimate motivation for mission was not only offensive to many present who hold different views but also a blatant attempt to rewrite Lausanne history. Stott himself refused to accept this position.This reminds me of two things.
What is fundamentalism?
Martin Marty, in his book “Fundamentalisms Observed”, defined fundamentalism as a selective recovery of a religious tradition in order to fight against a modernist worldview; Karen Brown called it an “extreme response to the failed promise of Enlightenment rationalism”; Castells called it a way of creating identity on the basis of communal resistance. Bosch, prescient as ever, said that
it would be strange if the present period of uncertainty did not also throw up candidates which propagate either a convulsive clinging to the past or an even more extreme “conservative” backlash (such as some current manifestations of fundamentalism)
In other words, fundamentalism is a last-ditch attempt, by restating your argument harder and louder than anyone else, to rebel against an overwhelming change in society. We saw it (in Marty’s and Brown’s terms) as an attempt to safeguard pre-modern faith against the rising tide of modernism; now, as Bosch points out, we see it as an attempt to safeguard modern faith against the rising tide of postmodernism.
Events of the past week have made me realise that, according to these definitions, it is no exaggeration to describe the mainstream of current Evangelicalism as fundamentalist. Read more about Is Evangelicalism fundamentalist?