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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Evangelicalism

Merton for the Soul

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Too often too many of us turn a blind eye to social or moral injustice, poverty, or the mere craziness which makes our world turn these days. For so many people, the market insanities of the last year have "forced" us to react - only it may be too little to late. Why didn't we react to this over-consumerism before we got to this place of collective dysfunction?

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The Future of Evangelicalism 11: An Evangelical Manifesto

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I've talked in previous posts about what it means, has meant, and might mean in the future to be an evangelical.  There are lots of definitions, but there is some remarkable similarity among them.  I want to mention a new document here entitled "An Evangelical Manifesto" which seeks to give some definition to Evangelical identity and public commitment.  The document seeks from within evangelicalism to give self-definition in a sort of apologetic against or in contra-distinction to the labels that can come from culture, media, and those who might speak against evangelicals.  I don't think, though, that it's primarily defensive.  There's certainly a view towards the future of evangelicalism in the midst of a shifting church, culture, and theological debate.  There is certainly a focus here on the place of evangelicals in public life and some "redefining" based upon evangelicalism's wedding itself too much in the past to religious right.  The document on first glance looks to be pretty good.  People like Timothy George, Os Guiness, Richard Mouw, and Dallas Willard were a part of the steering committee, which is good.  I'm still reading it, so I'm not ready to comment, yet.  There are a few things about the tone, the wideness, and the heart of evangelicalism that I like.  Not sure if I'll sign it, yet. It's been noted by CNN (actually AP) and USA Today among others (and you can find an article at CT here).


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The Place of Christians in the World 2

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Henry, thanks for your response.  I agree that I think we do have something substantive to say.  The question is who "we" are.  The counter-cultural nature of the gospel and the world-tranforming power of the resurrection, the power of the right-side-up thinking of the sermon on the mount, the unbelievable value Jesus placed upon people and not on power, and on and on.  There is something distinctive, substantive, and powerful to say.  My frustration here is that as a collective, "the church" speaks in a totally different kind of way or not at all in a way that proclaims the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.  In this way, the church has become so much a part of the contemporary culture that on a descriptive level, it has nothing counter-cultural or world-transforming to say.  The church has lost her voice because she does not know her own identity. Yes, I think we can learn some things from the Catholics here.  I was pleased to see some of John Paul's personal humility and love for the poor and downtrodden has rubbed off on Pope Benedict.  That is good for the Catholic church.  The humility and concern for the least of these is so powerful in a movement as potentially powerful as Catholicism.  Here is where, particularly, some evangelicals have gotten it right, but the "public face" of so many evangelicals have gotten it wrong.  Our history is littered with people who have been involved in justice, freedom, poverty, etc.  However, the rise of the desire for political power - particularly wedded to the Religious Right - has, in my own estimation, drawn the evangelical soul into a dangerous place.  It reminds me of the request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee in Matthew 20 - "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."  Jesus cuts back with a question about whether they can drink from the cup that he will drink - meaning his own death.  It is precisely the Kingdom that runs counter to the ways of the world that gives us our voice, and yet the world does not hear this voice of Jesus.  They hear the voice of the sons of Zebedee among us.

I love what Roger Olson says in a recent book called "How to be evangelical without being conservative":

...what should evangelical Christians do to transform their culture now?  First, they should be the church.  Before trying to change society, evangelicals must reform themselves and their congregations and institutions away from individualism, consumerism, and therapeutic Christianity... to radical Christian communities that serve as beacons of faith, hope, and love to the dying world around them.  Unfortunately, too many evangelical churches and organizations have taken on the values and behaviors of the secular world while casting aspersions on it. [p. 126, emphasis mine]

That's part of the issue, maybe the heart of it.  The church has in so many ways lost its voice, its credibility, its heart, its soul because we too often speak against a world to which we ourselves have given allegiance.  We are not truly vassals of another Kingdom.  If we were, then our voice would be much more distinctive, much closer to the visions and words of Jesus, and much more instigative.  More successful?  I'm not sure.  That depends.  Possibly less successful.  It depends on how the world responds to the true call of Jesus to live for Him, his Kingdom, and his values.  But churches have to first respond to that call before calling others to respond.  Then, we might hear our voice again.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 8

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Henry Blackaby says this in his book Spiritual Leadership [p. 115-116]:

It has been the thinkers who have exerted the longest-lasting influence on world history.  In fact, the timeline of history can be divided according to the emergence of leaders who envisioned reality differently than people had previously understood it.

Personally, for a long time I've been very encouraged by some changes that have been afoot in the church.  I've been touching on some of these, but there's way too much to write about, so I'll just smatter as best I can as we go.  I'm encouraged, though, by things like new leaders taking postmodernity seriously (both philosophical and cultural), thinking of new ways of being church in the world (including new forms, and expressions), the rediscovery of artistic expression not just for utilitarian or consumeristic reasons but for the sake of beauty, personal, and communal expression, the move away from individual faith and into a more holistic community oriented faith, from propositional truth to a relational understanding embedded in Trinitarian theology, and much, much more.

I'm trying to begin to get some things out in this blog that are just so full and wonderful and exciting within my own head and heart as I make connections across denominations, across cultures, across history, and across political divides.  The verse that was so important in my own conversion and helped me to make sense of the center in a dececentralized reality was Colossians 1:17 - He is before all things and in him all things hold together."  All things.  All things.  Everything.  So the connections for me in leadership, art, culture, the emerging church, history, philosophy, the gospel, missiology, and culture are overwhelming. 

And here is what is exciting to me in terms of the Blackaby quote above: There are many thinkers - from theologians to church planters to middle school kids to new 3rd world Christians right now who are envisioning a bold new reality.  These are people who are taking seriously the Scriptures and the Kingdom of God and are emboldened to embark upon lives that go after that new reality with powerful abandon.  That gets me excited.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 7

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So, here's the first picture.  I'm sure I'll create another one.  The idea here is that the middle represents a centered set of core evangelical beliefs, cradled in the larger bosom of Christianity as a whole - represented by the pentagon (oh, should've made that 7-sided!)  There are 5 representative streams of evangelicalism here that represent a different "bounded" set of denomination/ community/ historical beliefs.  These might be, for instance, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Anglican or something like that (there are many streams, of course).  What this picture misses is a couple of things:

  1. I don't like how the picture intimates that, for instance, the orange group of evangelicals, by being closer to the center, are somehow more orthodox.  I don't mean to imply that, but didn't know how else to draw it.  I would interpret this to mean that all 5 streams are equally valid as evangelical communities of faith, but who interpret Scripture somewhat differently and have some differing doctrinal, practical, or theological beliefs - but that these are secondary. 
  2. The pastor friend I mentioned drew a picture with people who were either approaching the center or moving away from it.  He pondered whether orthodoxy could be defined based upon which way they were pointed, not how close they were to the center.  This reminds me of the biblical meaning of "repent" as "turning" Godward and changing direction.  I like that idea, that the "lines"  of "in" and "out" don't matter as much as which direction you're heading, or your bearing. (I think some of this idea for him came from Brian McLaren if I remember correctly, from a book i never read.)
  3. It also missing a kind of blurry edge.  If you would take all of these 5 potentially faithful evangelical streams, the things all 5 agree on are numerous, even if 2 or three agree on some different things and disagree with others.

evangelical-centered-set.jpg


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The Future of Evangelicalism 6

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So, I've been writing a lot about being an evangelical, the core of evangelicalism, and in previous posts, what it really means to be a Christian living in the Kingdom of the resurrected King Jesus.  I'm focusing on evangelicals, because that's what I consider myself.  I'm have also occassionally wrtitten about and am going to write more at some point about the emerging and Emergent Church (which is widening quite a bit beyond evangelicalism these days).  The question is, what do I think about Christianity in general?  Are only evangelicals Christians?  By no means.  There are a lot of Christians, and we all have some pretty serious agreements and differences.  I prefer to talk about the differences within evangelicalism right now for a lot of reasons, but I want to affirm that we have brothers and sisters who love Jeus Christ, but who come from different streams and have a lot of different beliefs.  Sure, I think they're often wrong on a lot of things, we disagree on biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and we often have differing ideas about where authority is based.  However, do I think many if not most of them are Christians and will be with us in eternity?  Yup.  Do I think that praying to Mary means someone will go hell?  No way.  Do I think that being saved by grace through faith is key?  Yup.  Still believe that.  In fact, awhile back I was listening to a podcast interview of NT Wright when he shared interesting similar sentiments with which I have a lot of affinity.  His comments here reminded me of my study of the changes that happened with Vatican II as well as a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" and an evangelical assessment by Timothy George that have been important in my growth over the years and helpful in my relationships with Catholic friends to find common ground.  Here's what NT Wright said (you can find the transcript of the interview here):

Trevin Wax: You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching? N.T. Wright: Well, it’s a nice question as to what official Roman Catholic teaching really means these days. I remember once, after there’d been an official agreement on the doctrine of salvation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, I went to do a public debate with Ted Yarnold who’s one of the great Catholic theologians at Oxford, sadly dead now. We went off to a big ecumenical gathering in Reading, between Oxford and London, and we chatted in the car about who would speak first. I said, “Well, you’re the senior here. You better go first and lead off.” So he did. He began by saying, “Let’s just remind ourselves what the doctrine of justification is. It is that there’s nothing whatever we can do to earn God’s favor. It must come entirely from God’s grace. And the only thing that we can possibly do is nothing of ourselves, merely believe in the astonishing goodness and grace of God.” And I stood up and said, “We might as well go home because obviously we’re on the same page here. If your chaps had been saying this 400 years ago, we mightn’t have got into all this problem.”

There's a lot too that.  Back in 1999 I wrote an article called Broadening the Scope that I never sent to anyone to be published (a bad habit of mine, many articles never sent out) as I was beginning to really get to know some Catholics (yes, true, I didn't know many before that.)  Since that time, I've made a lot of friends with Catholics - some of my most favorite were connected to the Word of God community from Ann Arbor, some of whom are evangelicals and to whom much of this would apply in some ways (although there is a tension still in the issue of authority of the church in relationship to the biblicism as a core belief).  Anyway, I reread this article of mine recently and thought I'd post it for some perspective on where I've been.  You can link to it here if you're interested.

So, back to the future of evangelicalism.  I'm talking, then, about "evangelicals" not everyone who is a Christian.  In a sense, I'm still trying to figure out who "we" are by looking to the past and not really looking to the future at all.  However, having a starting point might actually help move us forward, so in that sense, it does have to do with the future of evangelicalism.

Anyway, as I've struggled to figure out whether I'm "in" or "out" (because some people say people like me are "out" of evangelicalism), I've learned something that's been quite helpful to me.  Some evangelicals prefer what is referred to as a “bounded set” of beliefs by which to draw boundaries in order to determine “who’s in” and “who’s out.”  This approach takes a set of beliefs or statements or propositions or doctrine, and draws a circle around them, creating a bounded set of accepted beliefs.   If you're in the circle, you're orthodox, if you're out, you're unorthodox.  Others talke about what is called a “centered set” which refers instead to the important core center and focuses on whether our theology and practice are moving towards (orthodox) or away (unorthodox) from the center.  This style seeks not to see who’s in and who’s out, but to be committed to moving towards the center and core beliefs without worrying as much about the theological edges. 

Guess which one I prefer?  In my estimation, the second type promotes a ministry and style that seeks to be “winsome” rather than “boundaried” and in which someone can “belong” before they “become,” whereas a bounded set of beliefs tends to only allow those who are “in” to truly belong.  A more generous evangelical practice seems to be our history as a faith community.

I recently spoke with another pastor friend of mine, and we did some drawing on a white board.  His drawing was helpful to me, and since then I've expanded upon it.  I'm going to try to put it in visual form and put it up soon.


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"Lining Up" at Westminster

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I've been writing a bit lately about the issues of "who's in" and "who's out" and drawing firm boundary lines within evangelicalism. There are some these days who are tightening up the theological borders, while others are in favor of open borders and new cultural expressons of our faith so long as we maintain our core identity (see posts on The Future of Evangelicalism). In the midst of this has come the controversy surrounding Westminster Theological Seminary and Peter Enn's. Apparently, Enn's published a book (which I have not read) called Inspiration and Incarnation, using an incarnational analogy to describe inspiration and Scripture. He was recently suspended by the board from his position for this book because it apparently went against the Westminster Confession of Faith.  What I'm gathering Enns means by incarnational analogy (again, without having read the book), is that there is a co-mingling (as in Jesus' incarnation... the human and the divine) of humanity and divinity in the project and development of the Scriptures. My hunch is that the rub here is around inerrancy and defining what "God-breathed" means. If there is too much "humanity" and culture in the Scriptures, then that might soften our understanding of it's authority, it's special nature, and inevitably create a slippery slope away from inerrancy. Again... I haven't read it, but if that's what it's about, I can see the issues here. The interesting thing to me just on first blush is that even though Jesus was human, even though Jesus was "enculturated" as a Jewish man in first century Palestine, born into the home of a carpenter - we don't tend to worry that Jesus is somehow tainted or less than perfect, or diminished in his God-hood. So, why would we worry about an incarnational theology of inspiration? Maybe there's a lot more too it.

In any case, what bothered me were a couple of things (you can find this info at Christianity Today in an article entitled "Westminster Theological Suspension." There's also a good deal of discussion on Scot McKnight's blog). 

First, it was interesting how split both the faculty (12 for 8 against) and the board (9 for 18 against) were on their decisions to support Enns or not.  Clearly, this is not a cut and dried issue, and one that took 2 years to get through.  Apparently there were not "personal" issues involved.  I guess this was theological.  And yet it came down to such a split vote in both places within Westminster?  Just ask yourself this question... "What does this tell us about the state of evangelicalism?"  I won't answer that for you.

Second, even though this was supposedly a theological issue, CT said this, "...the board failed to give Enns an opportunity to be heard" and that that boards staement said, "while theological ocncerns were mentioned, there was little board discussion of theological specifics."  Hmmm.   That's a head scratcher.

Well, obviously I don't know enough about the story, but it's disturbing none-the-less.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 5

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Here are a couple of famous ways of trying to put define the center of evangelicalism with both clarity, and generosity.  What I mean by that is there is enough clarity as to actually have some definition and now just include everyone, and also some generosity so that it allows for many to call themselves evangelicals if they can at least affirm these central items.  This also doesn't mean that other issues don't matter.  Certainly - there are lost of theological, biblical, cultural, moral, spiritual, and pragmatic (if not more) issues to wrestle through.  But these are attempts to create a kind of definition around our diverse family.  First, David Bebbington (British historian) provides the following hallmarks of evangelicalism which are oft-quoted as a reference point for basic evangelicalism [David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: a history from the 1730’s to the 1980’s, 1989, pp. 1-19].  To my remembrance, Mark Noll affirms these as well in one of his books (but I couldn't find it recently... so if someone can help there, that'd be great):  

  1. Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed
  2. Activism, the expression of the gospel in effort
  3. Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible
  4. Crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross

I tend to agree with Allen Yeh when he says, “I think the Lausanne Covenant articulates more fully what David Bebbington was getting at. It holds to Bibliocentrism but defines it. Anyone can say they subscribe to the Bible, and then twist Scripture to suit their agenda. However, the Lausanne Covenant starts with the Bible and shows how social justice, evangelism, and doxology all spring from its pages. It is a holistic theology, it is right theology (orthodoxy) and I think that it is as good a definition of “evangelical” as we have today.”  [The Other Journal, “Toward a Fuller Definition of Evangelical,” November 3, 2006.]

John Stackhouse, Jr. offers these 5 characteristics [John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “Evangelical Theology Should be Evangelical” in Evangelical Futures, 2000, pp. 40-43]:

  1. Evangelicals believe and champion the gospel of God’s work of salvation and particularly as it is focused in the person of Jesus Christ. 
  2. Evangelicals believe and champion the Bible as the uniquely authoritative rendition of God’s word in words to us. 
  3. Evangelicals believe and champion conversion as the correct way to describe God’s work of salvation in each Christian and as a reality to be experienced, not merely affirmed. 
  4. Evangelicals believe and champion mission as the chief goal of Christian life on earth.
  5. Evangelicals believe and champion these four elements of the generic Christian tradition as primary, central, and nonnegotiable, leaving other convictions as secondary and non-essential. 

I would give the following names to Stackhouse's sentences:  Christological, Bible-based, Conversional, Missiological (I prefer missional), and Generously Orthodox.

Kenneth Collins gives the following as what he calls the Four Enduring Emphases of Evangelicalism:

  1. Normative value of Scripture in the Christian Life
  2. Necessity of conversion
  3. Cruciality of the atoning work of Christ as the sole mediator between God and humanity
  4. Imperative of Evangelism

Ok.  Note the similarities?  Especially note how these fit into the documents I noted earlier.  I think these help to approach a center for evangelicalism.


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