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September 29, 2006

What a long, strange trip it’s been

Over at Christianity Today, Mark Noll takes us on a loooong trip down history lane, looking back on 50 years of CT and how the evangelical movement was shaped, in "Where We Are and How We Got Here." I haven't finished reading it, but his conclusion (I know -- how morbid of me to skip to the last paragraph) makes a salient point about balance:

During the first half of the 20th century, the stress had shifted toward preserving traditions. At the middle of the 20th century, evangelicals began to move back toward a balance.

But have evangelicals today moved too far? Has an overemphasis on preserving tradition been replaced by an overemphasis on connecting to the culture? For such supremely important questions, it is, of course, too early for a historical assessment. When the balance shifts too strongly to one without the other, it is merely sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. But an evangelical resurgence that balances traditional faith and cultural relevance sounds a trumpet of salvation to the world.

Read more and discuss. I'd like to hear thoughts from those who actually remember the time periods upon which Noll reflects (unlike me, for whom the '50s are the stuff of my high-school history books and Nick at Nite reruns -- in the late '80s, NaN showed Donna Reed and Mr. Ed, whereas now it broadcasts shows that were new when I was a kid! And the former local oldies station now airs "the greatest rock of all time" like Aerosmith! I'm too young for this stuff to begin ... But I'm digressing...) Tell me what you think about the state of the evangelical movement, and the Church in general, and the influence on culture today.

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Noll, as an outsider to evangelicalism, who has made some pretty scandelous judgements in the past against some basic evangelical beliefs, may not be the one to tell us where to go.

David Wells and Os Guinness have written extensively on the problem, as did the late Francis Schaeffer in his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster.

Obviously the heresy of modernism/liberalism is not exclusive to evangelicalism, but is a problem for our Catholic brethren as well.


Now, the basic state of evangelicalism is that most evangelical churches have moved into existentialism and even the old liberalism (albeit Nashville Rite)

The reason is a combination of the old desire to appear respectable to "Christianity's cultured despisers" which contributed to the old liberalism, and the intense pressure on pastors to increase the number of people in the congregation for career reasons, which David Wells has covered quite extensively.

Another factor is of course post-modernism and the rejection of the very concept of truth, leading to the "emergent church" and its legion of heresies.

If there is to be an evangelicalism in the future, there will have to be a return to the Chicago Declarations on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics,and the three ecumenical creeds, and not confusing people by calling those who reject them, evangelicals.

I was born in 1956, so I may be too young to weigh in here. I am interested to know, when the author speaks of a shift in balance, how he determines the balance point. I also noticed that this is not necessarily about Christians worldwide, but confined to American Christians. The message of the Kingdom (which I believe is the primary point of evangelism) is not a balanced or centered message. It is about a new Kingdom introduced in the midst of the present one. It is a message that historically leads to execution. That brings me to my response to your question. The problem of God's people (some now referred to as "Evangelicals") straying from the center of the message of the Kingdom is nothing new. When American Christians speak is if the United States is some kind of new Jerusalem (like the continual quoting of 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people..." as if God were referring to America) we are off message. Native Americans and Blacks will certainly have more difficulty wanting to go back to the glory days of American Christian values. It is perfectly human to bemoan the direction of culture, and there is plenty emerging in our culture that is worthy of serious grieving, but there will be no salvation in America "cleaning up her act". We will just be more comfortable should it happen. America's system is about the opportunity to bring about our preference of government. To the extent that we confuse this preference to the bringing about the Kingdom is the measure of how far off the mark we are. In your opinion, how are we doing?


Evangelicalism in our country has been highjacked by several 'entities': 1.)Too close an affiliation with specific political parties 2.)Materialism 3.)Slothfulness toward the Great Commandment 4.) False Teahing(s) within its ranks (ie: The Gospel of Wealth and/or 'Faith Movement'). It is true we are losing our gospel impact on society -we have become but a micrcosm of the culture. We are turning the true message of The Kingdom of God into a message of individual satisfaction with religion. Despite some evangelical good that is impacting the culture in little to moderate measure, much of what we say to society will remain irrelevant unless our message is clearly backed up by genuine love. The recent sloppy comments by a major evangelical leader regarding former First Lady Hillary Clinton continue to place a black-eye on the character of the Church and evangelicalism in general. But take heart my good Christian followers...God will not be mocked, and we can turn the tide back toward goodness, redemption through grace, and eventual restoration if we return to the foundational platform of our faith-Christ and Christ crucified. The gospel changes hearts, minds, and destinies. Christs Kingdom will prevail whether evangelicalism 'shapes-up' or not.

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