14 August 2008

Evangelicalism in Ruins

by Phil Johnson
Shall we sell our birthright for a mess of faddage?
As I started to say last week...

(First posted 26 July 2005)

evangelicalism in ruinsVirtually all the people on Time magazine's list of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals" share at least one glaringly significant trait:

For the most part, these are the fadmakers. They are the cheerleaders for whatever is fashionable. They are the designers of the programs that are peddled by the out-of-control Christian publishing industry and purchased and implemented with little critical thought or concern by hundreds of thousands of people in the movement that calls itself "evangelical."

  • Rick Warren, who heads the list, is the chief architect of the currently-dominant fad, "Forty Days of Purpose" and all the other Purpose-Driven® spinoffs.
  • Tim Lahaye is the "theological" mind behind the best-selling fad of all time—the "Left Behind" series.
  • J. I. Packer and Richard John Neuhaus have been the prime movers in the ecumenical fad—probably the last bandwagon we would have expected evangelicals to jump aboard 20 years ago.
  • Bill Hybels masterminded the "seeker-sensitive" fad.
  • Brian McLaren basically took Hybels' strategy ("contextualizing" the message for the extant culture) to the next level. McLaren is the leading figure in the "emergent church" fad.
  • James Dobson is the most powerful figure in the "culture war" fad.

Too bad for Bruce Wilkinson that Time didn't do this piece two years ago when the "Jabez" fad was still hot, or he would have almost certainly been near the top of this list. The fact that he didn't even get mentioned is a testimony to how fleeting the fads can be.

Fifteen minutes of fame

Someone will almost certainly challenge whether it's right to label all those trends and programs "fads." But that is exactly what they are. They are popular for the moment, but they have nothing to do with historic evangelicalism or the biblical principles that made evangelicalism an important idea.

Not one of those movements or programs even existed 35 years ago. Most of them would not have been dreamed of by evangelicals merely a generation ago. And, frankly, most of them will not last another generation. Some will last a few short months (like the Jabez phenomenon did); others may seem to dominate for several years but then die lingering deaths (like Bill Gothard's movement is doing). But they will all eventually fade and fall from significance. And some poor wholesale distributor will be left with warehouses full of Jabez junk, Weigh-Down Workshop paraphernalia, "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, Purpose-Driven® merchandise, and stacks and stacks of "emerging church" resources.

Yes, if the lessons of church history mean anything, even the "emerging church" phenomenon is a passing phase. In a short time (probably short enough to be measured in months rather than decades) the hype will be focused on something else entirely. Most of the stuff you are currently being told you must read and implement will soon seem as hopelessly out of date as it currently seems well-suited to the fashions of the day.

As a matter of fact, the "emerging church" is a classic example of a fad that has to pass from the scene. It is, after all, self-consciously a product of contemporary culture. Those who love it have a clear preference for that which is timely over that which is timeless. Like everything that is dated, it will soon be outdated. (And even if emergent leaders try their best to remain fluid and keep pace with cultural changes, they will fade into irrelevance. No "contemporary" movement in history has ever managed to remain contemporary for much more than a generation.)

Christians, of all people—and evangelicals most of all—ought to understand these things and build their movements around timeless truth rather than passing fashions. See Colossians 3:2.

How post-evangelicalism gave birth to the Fad-Driven® Church

So why has the recent culture of American evangelicalism—a movement supposedly based on a commitment to timeless truths—been so susceptible to fads? Why are evangelical churches so keen to jump on every bandwagon? Why do our people so eagerly rush to buy the latest book, CD, or cheap bit of knockoff merchandise concocted by the marketing geniuses who have taken over the Christian publishing industry?

To borrow and paraphrase something the enigmatic Dissidens recently blogged (see "Remonstrans"), evangelicals and fundamentalists alike "have a genuine affection for the ugly and the superficial, whether in their art, their preaching, or their devotion." A few years ago, marketing experts learned how to tap into evangelicals' infatuation with the cheap and tawdry and turn it into cash.

Some of the beginner-level fads have seemed harmless enough—evangelical kitsch like Kinkade paintings, Precious Moments® collectibles, singing songbooks, moralizing vegetables, bumper stickers, Naugahyde® Bible covers, and whatnot. Such fads themselves, taken individually, may not seem worth complaining about at all. But collectively, they have created an appetite for "the ugly and the superficial." They have spawned more and more fads. Somewhere along the line, evangelicals got the notion that all the fads were good, because the relentless parade of bandwagons gave the illusion that evangelicals were gaining significant influence and visibility. No bandwagon was too weird to get in the parade. And the bigger, the better.

As a result, several of the more recent fads have been downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine, because most of them (Promise Keepers, Willow Creek, and the various political and ecumenical movements) have taken a deliberately minimalistic approach to doctrine, discarding key evangelical distinctives or labeling them nonessential. All of them adhered to a deliberate strategy that was designed to broaden the movement and make each successive bandwagon bigger and easier to climb onto.

"Bandwagons"? Somewhere along the line, the bandwagons morphed into Trojan horses.

Some of the very latest fads (represented by groups like Emergent, Oasis, and the "open theists") are utterly hostile to virtually every evangelical doctrinal distinctive. They have already launched major frontal attacks on essential doctrines like substitutionary atonement, original sin, and justification by faith.

How tabloid-journalist moguls took control of what you are offered to read

I have been involved in publishing for most of my adult life, and I love the historic influence Christian literature has made on the church. But the Christian publishing industry has changed dramatically in recent years. Companies once run by godly Christians have been bought out by powerful secular media czars and made part of massive business empires. Marketing, not ministry, is the driving force behind most of the industry these days.

Christian publishers have eagerly and deliberately fomented evangelicalism's bizarre craving for more and more fads and programs. Trust me: no one loves the Fad-Driven® Church more than the Profit-Driven® publishing industry.

There are some blessed exceptions, of course. There are still a few good and godly men who still have influence in Christian publishing. But they are relatively rare. They are drowning entities in an industry that is out of control. If you don't believe me, visit the annual convention of the Christian Booksellers' Association, spend an afternoon on the display floor, and take inventory of the dross that dominates the evangelical marketplace. It seems almost everything currently in style—and everything that hopes to become the next great evangelical fad—is tacky, trashy, and trivial. And the unscrupulous cheapjacks who manufacture and peddle this stuff hype their rubbish with marketing machines that rival anything in the secular world.

When it comes to books, have you noticed how few truly timeless and significant volumes are being published? That's because nowadays, decisions about what to publish are driven by marketeers who have little concern for the spiritual or editorial content of a book. I have sat in meetings with publishers while their marketing experts vetted concepts for new books. "That one's too biblical." (Those are the exact words one of these Christian kitsch-peddlers actually once said in my presence to a roomful of nodding experts from the Christian publishing industry. He was talking about a book proposal from a well-known Christian author. The book was later published anyway and went on to become a best-seller despite the professional marketers' almost unanimously tepid feelings about it.) Christian publishers have even been known to remove biblical content from books by Christian authors (especially books on leadership, parenting, and similar topics perceived to have "broad secular appeal"). The marketing specialists think de-Christianized books will appeal to a bigger audience.

That is precisely how all these fads are crafted. Content is deliberately dumbed down—purposely made soft, generic, and non-threatening. The message mustn't threaten anyone's comfort zone. It also doesn't rebuke anyone's sin; it won't embarrass anyone's worldliness; it and it isn't going to challenge anyone's shallowness. That's the way both the publishers and the people want it.

That is the culture the evangelical movement deliberately created when it accepted the notion that religion is something to be peddled and sold to consumers like a commodity. That was a major philosophical shift that created an environment where unspiritual and unscrupulous men could easily make merchandise of the gospel. It created a whole generation of pseudo-evangelicals, who are like "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men" (Ephesians 4:14).

That's a perfect biblical description of the faddism that has overtaken the evangelical movement in recent years.

Phil's signature

48 comments:

Johnny Dialectic said...

Doesn't is seem that the EC fad is already deflating? It was hot when you wrote this post, Phil, but as you and many of us predicted, it has not coalesced around anything substantial (least of all the historic gospel). If there is anything left of the "movement" it is simply the dying embers of protest. It is a NOT movement. We don't know what we are, just that we are NOT "old school" because...because that's "so old school."

Hipness is not content, and you can't sustain a revolution without content. You can have anarchy, though, and that seems to be the ruling dynamic.

divinesatisfaction.com said...

The world in general is out looking for the "next big thing." I recall how Christ dealt with the "faddish" tendencies of His audience after the feeding of the 5,000. He preached a message that left Him with only a few.

I wonder how many of today's "top evangelical leaders" would be willing to lose their crowds for the sake of the Truth.

Frank Turk said...

Wow. New sig. That's fresh.

Was the old one not relevant anymore?

The Spokesman said...

Phil: Yes, if the lessons of church history mean anything, even the "emerging church" phenomenon is a passing phase. In a short time (probably short enough to be measured in months rather than decades) the hype will be focused on something else entirely.

This also is sound biblical doctrine! "But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13).

The examples you have given are prime illustrations of this truth. Taking it a few steps backwards allows us to see what's happening in the forward movement of these fads. For instance you can go back from the current fad of the Emergent Church to Rick Warren to Bill Hybels to Robert Schuller to Norman Vincent Peale - to Pelagius and see that these deceivers are proceeding from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. All of these fads are a necessary evil for the way of the truth being maligned and the ushering in of the ecumenical one-world religion which will unify under orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy!

Si Hollett said...

Good to see that you have had a go at Oasis. My experience of them and those linked with them is that they want to cast out the demons of poverty, heal the sickness of illiteracy and so on.

They've fallen into the second generation, and are pushing the third - they assume the gospel and focus on the side effects. They are now forgetting the Gospel and having a social 'gospel'.

In Southampton, where I live, they run two schools, and have named both of them 'Oasis [part of town] Academy'. Why do they have to boast?

The original post would have come about around the time when Steve Chalk, the head-honcho at Oasis caused all the hoo-haa about the atonement.

Dave .... said...

I'm not sure about the "movement" and its momentum and trajectory. It may very well be slumping under the weight of unfulfulled expectations (to wit., the "Reavel" last fall). But what is happening is that the propaganda-quality popular perception has already seeped deep into the church.

Decades of mass media on "x-driven" and "y-friendly" have literally brainwashed the sheep (and the goats!). And any church that has leaned that way has just made it harder to recover lost ground. The enemies of the cross (Phil. 3) are in the church, not outside.

It was never meant to be anything but plowing uphill and as Dan so aptly blogged, success is not the goal. Faithfulness is.

The Enforcer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steve said...

There are still a few good and godly men who still have influence in Christian publishing. But they are relatively rare. They are drowning entities in an industry that is out of control.

Well said.

I've gone out of my way to thank those few good and godly men when I'm able to.

Those of you who write to thank an author for a solidly biblical book may want to follow up with a second thank-you to the publisher for making that book available.

Chris Roberts said...

Johnny,

Unfortunately, I don't see the EC burning out yet. It says something that Phil predicted its decline could be a matter of months - and yet the post was written in 2008 and as far as I can see the EC is still gaining some strength. As Phil points out it won't last, but unfortunately it isn't headed to its death throes yet.

Phil,

I am curious what you would have against Promise Keepers? I have heard various critics of the movement but my visits to their meetings have been quite positive and beneficial. But let not my pragmitism determine its goodness - beyond just what seemed helpful to me the movement itself seems biblical and doing more true ministry than any other faddishness out there. Yes, PK became quite the fad for a while a few years back but being a fad doesn't automatically disqualify somethings worth.

Stefan said...

What have you done, Phil!?

One of your links was to a long article by a certain Anglican bishop, at the core of which is largely an exposition of Old Testament Chrstology, which seems to be bang on (from my Jewish Christian posttribulational perspective anyhow).

I don't know which way is up now....

Solameanie said...

I think we've been invaded by the shade of Monty Python.

I am waiting for the Spanish Inquisition to come bolting around the corner any moment.

eastendjim said...

"That one's too biblical."

Isn't that what Peter said in John 6:68-69 in response to Jesus' statement about being the bread of life? (sarcasm off)

Stefan said...
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Strong Tower said...

Okay-

The fads didn't come and go in a matter of months (article vintage '05) but then, they are morphing as jello is wont to do when placed in the ever changing mold of social milieu-

Question is: what can be done about it? And don't get me wrong, speaking out and to those enflamed by the passion for consumerist religion is necessary. As has been well noted here this is not a new movement and defenders of orthodoxy have being opposing such since forever. So, what is the expectation of Pyro? I am not asking so as to undermine any effort in opposition to such, I in fact support it entirely.

As several detractors have gushed, it is a bore or part of the fad istself, with which I disagree. Is there for you an end game, or is what you are calling for and that ethic which drives this anti-ec/fadist conversation a call to diligence and perserverance rather than victory here and now? Surely no one here expects resolution, do they?

"Hipness is not content, and you can't sustain a revolution without content. You can have anarchy, though, and that seems to be the ruling dynamic."

(J)ohnny- The reason that this is not a new movement but the continuation of the old leaven is that when contentlessness becomes the content; the nihilist bows to nothing (anarchy). And though some will abandon the movement when the realization comes to them that they are chasing spectres, others (many) will all the more find affirmation and comfort in that realization for that is the very goal for which they strive; contentment with contentlessness is what they pursue. Yes, anarchy is the ruling dynamic, it gives these movements their power, but emptying and vacuity is the ethos, darkness not light, formlessness and void that equalizes all authority.

It is no wonder then that they will not come into the light so that their sins might be exposed. There eyes are wide shut, purposely. As long as they are in darkness there is no god except the self.

Fadism and its expressions either ec or the more banal post-evangelicals is simply that, self pursuit, which is why I asked in the beginning here what is the purpose (non-Warrenesque)? For fads the answer is always, eureka, we have the solution, we can fix it, but the reality is that what they do it is not done according to sound teaching. It is nouvelle cuisine, rather than Malachi's table which requires the hot fires of judgement before the restoration of the sons of God. I am not a defeatist, victory is assured. What separates us from the jfadist is where our victory resides.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

My favorite gold nugget from PJ: "several of the more recent fads have been downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine, because most of them ... have taken a deliberately minimalistic approach to doctrine, discarding key evangelical distinctives or labeling them nonessential. All of them adhered to a deliberate strategy that was designed to broaden the movement and make each successive bandwagon bigger and easier to climb onto.

"Bandwagons"? Somewhere along the line, the bandwagons morphed into Trojan horses.

Some of the very latest fads ... are utterly hostile to virtually every evangelical doctrinal distinctive. They have already launched major frontal attacks on essential doctrines like substitutionary atonement, original sin, and justification by faith."

Bingo was his Name-oh!

Hey, I like the idea of Christendom being united in ecumenical harmony as much as the next guy, but NOT at the expense of saint-persecuting, martyr-dying Biblical truth and doctrine.

If the Message of the Gospel and the Cross is "offensive" to sinners, who are we to dilute it?

Great Post Phil. Thanks for recycling it. I would never have read it otherwise.

The Spokesman said...

the enforcer: BLOGS ARE A FAD!
IF YOU PEOPLE WEREN'T SO INTENT ON BEING "RELEVANT" YOU WOULD STILL BE USING PAPYRUS SCROLLS, LIKE I DO.

NOW GO READ YOUR BIBLE AND STOP READING THE WORDS OF MEN.


How did you get that papyrus scroll here on this blog? Is your blog a fad and are you attempting to be relevant by having one? Maybe you're really emergent!

Mesa Mike said...
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Dorian said...

How do you think the "New-Calvinist" movement fits in here? Does it have any markings of a fad? I certainly hope it is one "movement" which sticks around for a while. Sometimes it seems that there are times when sound biblical, truth driven Christianity is recovered, but even those movements fizzle and fade after a few generations (Carl Trueman's essay about the recent controversies at WTS has some good thoughts on this). Is it just the nature of our fallen world for fads and true revivals alike to come and go in waves?

It is interesting to note as well, that Dr. Packer most certainly has played a vital role in the Reformed recovery, and stands out among all the Fadders mentioned on that list as a great teacher of the historic protestant gospel. Hasn't his ecumenism, though, been around since the 60's when he and John Stott disagreed with Lloyd-Jones about the trajectory of evangelicals at the time?

Polycarp said...

With all the names and all the titles of all the people and all the movements coming and going from one age to another and one year to another....I know it might sound too reductionistic to say that one classifying element has, and does still, remain constant throughout the history of Christendom (from my lay knowledge that is--please correct me if I'm wrong) which is that of liberal and conservative right? Of course, I'm not talking in terms of American partisan politics; rather, what I mean is that distinct quality we all know quite well when we see it that is characterized by such elements as reverence, Godly fear of the Lord, mature understanding in matters of grace/liberty, esteeming of God's word, deflating of self (genuine humility), keen awareness of our own sinfulness, trust/faith in God's word and promises, demonstrated love for others, healthy separation from the world's ways, declaring the gospel....these are, of course, all part of a definition I would describe as conservative--simply speaking.

And...if all of the above describes conservative Christianity, and I believe they do, then what constitutes liberal? By and large, all of the problems collectively associated with the list of individuals/ministries in the post. It is also safe to say that the flipside antithesis of every item in the list above is representative of liberal Christianiy. In this context, it matters little whether or not emergents keep their name, they will still be them, as liberals within the church have always been them, despite the changing of their names. Their local flag may change, but their citizenship--theologically and ideologically speaking--remains the same as they bow their allegiance to the larger flag of liberalism that represents 3 regions: pride, unbelief, and rebellion.

Polycarp said...

This begs the larger question: can there be such a thing as "liberal Christianity" in the first place? Is this not an oxymoron?

BJ Irvin said...

Chris ...I am curious what you would have against Promise Keepers?...

In no way trying to speak for Phil... but the problem w/ PK is they are decidedly ecumenical and, therefore, compromising in many ways and on many truths that should not be compromised.

donsands said...

When you're a new Christian, and Christ has chnaged your old callous heart into a new tender heart, fads can be soemthing that is just part of your new found life in the marvelous light.
At least for me it was that way.

As I matured, and rubbed shoulders with other seasoned servants of the Lord, I grew up spiritually, and the fads became fads.

I imagine some who come to Christ don't have to deal with fads, and that's a great blessing.

I look back at some of the things I got into, and just shake me head. Boy! was I naive.

But I thank the Lord for posts like these. They can truly help shine a light on the right path for the Christian, no matter how old he may be spiritually.

And it's good for all of use to understand all unhealthy crazy stuff that finds it's way into the Body of Christ.

lawrence said...

JI Packer is the man. Just thought I'd throw that in.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Poly Carpe Diem,

I'm sitting in the same reductionistic room with you. Didn't even know you were in the room until you came out of the closet.

I think following, obeying, and being a genuine disciple of Jesus is biblical Christianity, AND biblical Christianity IS conservative Christianity. And the only reason to stand apart from "liberal Christianity" is because it's not biblical Christianity in one form or another.

The immensely difficult challenge for biblical Christians is for us to disciple (or at least engage) unwilling, rebellious, and usually self-deceived "liberal Christians" who are typically Emergers and LibProts.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

The enforcer:"BLOGS ARE A FAD!"

True

Technology likes to feast on itself, than supplant the old with something NEW! to be consumed by the masses all over again.

Internet blogs based on the written word will certainly fade away one day and get replaced by something more video centric.

Susan said...
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Susan said...

Phil said in his post: "'That one's too biblical.' (Those are the exact words one of these Christian kitsch-peddlers actually once said in my presence to a roomful of nodding experts from the Christian publishing industry. He was talking about a book proposal from a well-known Christian author. The book was later published anyway and went on to become a best-seller despite the professional marketers' almost unanimously tepid feelings about it."

What would they have said about Jonathan Edwards's Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God??


(Incidentally, Phil, I happen to like quite a few Thomas Kinkade paintings, not because they're faddish, but because I especially like his use of color and light. Besides, they are certainly not as faddish as this.)

Stefan said...

Re my last comment:

The link was an indirect one (I had to chase it through a directly linked article), so Phil can't be held directly responsible for my world's being turned upside down. ;)

Charles E. Whisnant said...

One lady said to me,"Pastor, we didn't do this in 1939, why are you wanting to do it now?" This seems to be the statements made by any attempt to use any form of change.

A fad: Something that is embraced very enthusiastically for a short time, especially by many people. I am sixty years old and I have seen for those nearly sixty years little enthusiasm in any movement.

Churches are dying rather fast today for a lack of enthusiasm for the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am rather gratiful for a few ministries that help some of us pastors who need a little help in doing better the work the Lord has called us to do.

Its a little pious to say, all we need is the Bible to find out all the Lord wants us to know. Its a little humbling to know we need a little help from some other elders who are wiser than us.

ReformedMommy said...

Re: Promise Keepers - I have a good friend who would say of them - "I don't need to go to a conference with a bunch of crying guys to remind me to keep my promises...."

Phil Johnson said...

Frank:

Actually, that's the old sig from my original blog. I forgot to change it when I reposted.

Chris Roberts: "Unfortunately, I don't see the EC burning out yet. It says something that Phil predicted its decline could be a matter of months - and yet the post was written in 2008 and as far as I can see the EC is still gaining some strength."

I spoke of a duration that could be measured in months rather than decades. I think the prediction is proving to be amazingly prescient. Find someone without ties to Emergent Village who is unconditionally willing to accept the label "Emerging" nowadays. They aren't easy to come by. Even Andrew Jones is thinking of dropping the term altogether. The movement as it existed in 2005 is fragmented into more pieces than indy-baptist fundamentalism, and it took the fundies about 4 decades to get that fragmented.

Sadly, the bad ideas and false doctrine spawned by Emergers will continue to percolate in and around evangelicalism for decades. That's the bad part of all these fads. Sure, they all eventually go away, but not until they have opened the door to the next, worse thing.

Chris: "I am curious what you would have against Promise Keepers?"

They carefully worded their doctrinal statement to eliminate anything that would be objectionable to Roman Catholics, and thereby treated the gospel as a secondary issue. I don't know what their doctrinal statement is at the moment, but in their heyday in the '90s, their doctrinal statement was deliberately worded so as to fuzz the doctrine of justification for the sake of their Roman Catholic constituency.

To all:

Remember rule 5: Don't feed the trolls.

Charles E. Whisnant: ". . . doing better the work the Lord has called us to do."

A little more careful consideration of what the Lord has actually called and commissioned us to do would go a long way toward eliminating the out-of-control faddism.

I'm not opposed to "enthusiasm" per se. But one would have to be pretty willfully blind to the trajectory of late 20th-century evangelicalism not to see that the vast majority of things evangelicals have been most "enthusiastic" about have been bad for the movement, starting around--oh, say, Explo '72.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Phil Johnson: "The movement as it existed in 2005 is fragmented into more pieces."


That's the purpose of U2 concerts, they're the glue that brings fragmented segments together. With U2's next album out this fall and a world tour to follow in 2009, expect to see ECM version 2.0

Since the theology of ECM is nothing new they need to attach their tired caboose up to the global icon that is 'Bono' to give them some momentum.

Andrew Jones said...

Phil is correct. I am thinking of dropping the term, esp. in its global context where people constantly reference the American scene.

If people really do think the leaders of the EC are Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, and other mega-church pastors [not knocking mega-churches in general] then there will be thousands of us around the world that will say . . . ahhh . . . NO . . thats not what we are doing.

words change. 15 years ago in California we were working out of a very evangelical context to reach out to the alternative culture and start new churches that were biblical echos of the early church and yet not strangely foreign structurally to todays post-western post-christendom culture.

15 years later, we are still doing it and still affirm orthodox evangelical creeds and use the Lausanne covenant as a litmus test for emerging church networks and movements that request funding.

I realize there are many in the EC that do not hold to the same theological distinctives as I do. There are many ministries that have jumped in under that label.

i would rather it wasnt faddish. it certainly wasnt faddish 15 years ago to sell your house, give up a pastors salary and hang out with street kids to incarnate the gospel - it was more weird and counter-cultural than faddish. not worth giving up so much just for a fad, believe me.

anyway, pray for us as we figure out how to move ahead with the Great Commission in the emerging culture and do so without misunderstanding due to terms that are past their sell-date or murkied by uninformed americans.

YES - "emerging church" can be problematic. But considering Islam in todays world, so is "Fundamentalist"

and also, the commenter with the "isnt the new-Calvin movement also a fad" comment has a very good point.

peace.

Chris said...

This is one of the tremendous differences I see when reading Spurgeon over the modern day "seek to be hip" and "cool", "relevant preachers." In Spurgeon there is little reference to the things of his day like. I am talking about cultural trends. Whether it be references to technology or lack thereof. His sermons are saturated with eternal verities that they transcend the time he lived in. I am amazed how many of his sermons speak so clearly to many of the issues we are dealing with today. He is prophetic in this sense.
Now, I am not saying that one can accomplish better preaching by minimizing cultural references because Spurgeon, like the biblical writers, do reference culture. The Bible is not ahistorical, but neither are their messages so saturated with culture that you would think that that is all they do i.e. sit around and soak the culture and then try to make some little biblical connection. It's the other way around. I don't know if I am making sense here. This is why most people aren't reading the poppular books on how to reach people that were written 4 years ago. They're irrelevant now. As if human nature has changed.

Andrew Jones said...

yes, chris, its true that Spurgeon railed on churches for getting hip to the new fad of church organs.

Charlie put the brakes on this emerging praise trend and made a big deal about having no instruments in worship. Like here in his commentary on Psalm 42.

Spurgeon: "What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it”

Stefan said...

Hmmm...one of my distant cousins several-generations-removed, Henry Smart, must have been on Spurgeon's wrong side then, as he was an organist in Anglican churches and arranger of hymns for Presbyterian churches, working across the Thames from the Prince of Preachers.

Polycarp said...

Andrew Jones:

"anyway, pray for us as we figure out how to move ahead with the Great Commission in the emerging culture and do so without misunderstanding due to terms that are past their sell-date or murkied by uninformed americans"
Here's the direction I'll pray your movement goes in:

I'll pray that the spirit of rebellion and irreverence (i.e. the spirit of this age) be removed from everyone associated with your movement of carnality (at best) and heresy (at worst); I'll pray that your "movement" rises above the line of despair, in which the vast majority you are all drowning beneath in fashionable doubt and cynicism. I'll pray that people in your movement will repent, and start being honest in their rhetoric and not mere conversationalists engaged in relativistic, postmodern wordplay. The place for them/you to begin being honest in your rhetoric, and in the many claims of truly following Christ by so many EC leaders, is to abandon the pride-filled ambitions of morphing EC into the same rotten fruit, only with a different name. Here's another novel idea: stop attacking and/or mocking those who disagree with your esoteric and bizzare derfinitions of the Christian faith.

Andrew Jones said...

"esoteric and bizzare derfinitions of the Christian faith."???

Polycarp, thanks for your prayer but i wonder if it is a misfire. John Stott, one of the key people behind the Lausanne Covenant that I mentioned we use to help us define the Christian faith, is considered a leading evangelical thinker and the evangelical movements we associate with represent the MAJORITY of the evangelical movement.And the LS itself has been accepted by a very large slice of the Protestant church, which makes it quite useful for getting on the same page when partnering for mission.

if you want to slam us as a fundamentalist, go ahead, but since the number of dispensational fundamentalists is significantly smaller, and the number of dispensational fundamentalists who have committed their life to doing pioneer mission in an emerging culture setting is very very small indeed, I would not use the term "bizarre" to describe us.

But do pray for us.

Being specific helps. Especially in our prayers. I wonder if you are thinking about a specific ministry in a specific country?

Polycarp said...

AJ:

Odd that you only addressed the very last bit??? What about everything else, sir? I've reposted it for your convenience below. However, as to your comments on the last bit, your focus is still entirely horizontal and/or man-centered (which is of course where all emergents' eyes are fixed)--it's just a different man you mention this time, and because it is Stott you assume we will all be in shock and awe. Are we shaken by Billy Graham's denial of the gospel in recent interviews, who is also a key player in the LC as I'm sure you know? No, we are not. Many, including myself, will continue to pray for him though. If Stott's view's are going wayward by adopting ANY errant elements of the LC (i.e. new age mysticism, pluralism, and/or Catholicism), then I'll certainly be praying for him...just as I pray for Graham. In fact, I'll pray for everyone associated with the entire LC for that matter, including yourself, that none will fall for the notion that numbers somehow supercede truth. Well, for emergents, there's a long list of things that supercede truth, so adding another to it makes little difference.

Perhaps "open mindedness" is one of the greatest dangers true believers in Christ must make every effort to confront as they advance in years? Thank you for this tip on Stott nonetheless, as I now have specifics in which to pray for him.

Here's the larger bit you ignored:

"I'll pray that the spirit of rebellion and irreverence (i.e. the spirit of this age) be removed from everyone associated with your movement of carnality (at best) and heresy (at worst); I'll pray that your "movement" rises above the line of despair, in which the vast majority you are all drowning beneath in fashionable doubt and cynicism. I'll pray that people in your movement will repent, and start being honest in their rhetoric and not mere conversationalists engaged in relativistic, postmodern wordplay. The place for them/you to begin being honest in your rhetoric, and in the many claims of truly following Christ by so many EC leaders, is to abandon the pride-filled ambitions of morphing EC into the same rotten fruit, only with a different name"

Andrew Jones said...

Polycarp

thanks for your comments. i will give a quick response then i am off to the continent for a baptist missions event.

stott - i did not expect you to be in awe because i am aware the direction of evangelicalism taken by Stott and Graham was away from the isolationist stance of fundamentalism and this is where you and i probably split off - me wiht the evangelicals and you with the fundies.

not a slam - just making a point that the division happened a long time ago. alhtough i think its nice we can still chat and treat each others as brothers in Christ.

sorry about pulling numbers on you. not fair. just because there are 420 million of us who subscribe to the WEA doesnt prove anything. you are correct. we might all be wrong. we probably are on some things. but your description of "bizarre" does not really fit here.

"emergents" is such a broad name and term. i would say that in america, that term as defined by tony jones as those related to Emergent Village does NOT fit me because I am not, apart from friendship with a few of their leaders and some history with YL in the 90's.

I am a Southern Baptist, working part time for an anglican mission society. if you have a problem with my baptist theology, and you might, then go ahead and shoot. but please dont assume you know what i believe just because the focus of my ministry is the emerging culture.

rebellion - pray for all of us that we do not rebel against Jesus wishes for unity and Pauls desire that we do not forsake our assembling together, even if we do not always agree with each other.

next week i will be at greenbelt festival, assembling with many denominations and streams, some ofthem i feel very uncomfortable with, but i guess the Wedding Feast of the Lamb will be very multi-cultural also.

Irreverent? towards man's constructs of religion, including our own, we will probably be somewhat irreverent. But our reverence towards our holy God should never be compromised.


gospel - lets not dilute it! absolutely! agreed there.


ok - now what about my original point that no one wants to talk about:

Spurgeon condemned the use of musical instruments as worldly fads, and Calvin said the Papists foolishly borrowed them from the Jews, and yet larger churches, even fundamentalist churches, have organs and some even have guitars.

have we bought into the world's lies? have we compromised?

not knocking or being rebellious here and not being irreverent. just asking a question that should not be out of bounds and should not have you up in arms

btw - i hop on an overnight train tomorrow for belgium and will not be able to keep up with comments.

Andrew Jones said...

oh - that thing i am not comfortable is polygamy. some of the Africans i will be with appear to be a little soft on it compared to Western cultures, although they are very orthodox in their doctrine.

Polycarp said...

AJ:

To assert there are more ways to heaven than ONE, and that ONE WAY is EXCLUSIVELY through Jesus Christ, and that even the mere suggestion (and Graham did more than suggest this with both Robert Schuller and Larry King on his show) that people in this world will get to heaven any other way... is a vile heresy. Is this sentiment I've just expressed what you mean by isolationist??

Those who think the subject of where people will spend eternity is a "mysterious," non-vital topic (therefore relative), subject to interpretation, or open to negotiation, are so sadly deceived and will one day find themselves in a very real and eternal HELL. It will matter eternally at that point. Is too fundie for you? This is BIBLICAL TRUTH, and you either accept it or reject it as God's Word makes it abundantly clear (read Matthew); the option of merely treating this as a relativistic matter of opinion between groups is not offered by God in His holy word.

However, when it comes to emergents, many of whom will not even recognize the existence of heaven or hell as the Bible clearly describes them in the first place (Pagitt), "let bygones be bygones" they say, "and let people decide for themselves how to get to that place, wherever or whatever that overrated place actually is, that those closed-minded fundies have harped over for all these years; we have work to do with our emerging culture in the here and now, and more important things to think about, than abstractions like heaven.... which, conveniently, involves so much carnal fun in our efforts to be relevant to the said culture"

Irreverent? YES! To God's Word and His Holiness...under the guise of merely being irreverent to the Christianity of your fathers.

As for your "religious constructs" comment, save it for someone who is ignorant of the way in which atheists, agnostics, and pagans (whom I work with every day as a prof in higher ed at a secular insitution) describe their rationale for hating the authority of God and the exclusivity of Christ as the only means of reconciling our wretched sinfulness. This comment you made actually sounds, almost word for word, like the comments from an athesit colleague of mine who sadly, yet boastfully, turned apostate; he was once a pastor, and now he enjoys undermining students' faith in a secular college classroom, undermining scripture, and laughing at faith. However, I believe this pitiful fellow has more integrity than emergents, as he believes much of what your set believes, yet has the nerve (albeit like some sort of pathetic Byronic antihero) to declare that he is indeed an atheist who is prepared to go into "oblivion" for his beliefsa if a "God of judgement" is found waiting for him at the "pearly gates". It is so sad to even recall his words. Actually, from all I've heard him say and from what I know of his teaching materials, he is not as much an atheist as he is someone whose pride causes him to despise the authority of God, reject the exclusive and uncomfortable declarations of Christ, and hate the belief scriptural inerrancy.

whaddayaknow.....he is actually an emergent. He really ought to join your club (conversation), as he will really give you some relevance!!

Andrew Jones said...

right . . so now i'm an atheist except i have less integrity than an atheist because i am no longer a fundamentalist?

i didnt think you wanted to answer my question. but thats fine. must go. peace to you.

Polycarp said...

AJ:

No, you seem to have missed it.

As I thought about my poor colleauge, eternally lost and dammed by his boastful admission of one who rejected the truth of God's Word through his own reasoning (who likewise uses the words 'man-made religion' in his rationale/rhetoric), I actually realized two things as I wrote my comment: first, that his identifying himself as an atheist is not accurate; he expresses anger over several things that simply affirm his belief in God--the God of the Bible in whom he is unwilling to yield/humble himself. He frequently expresses his anger at the mere suggestion of God's sovereignty (whether or not he ever uses the word), citing all of the evil in the world as his humanistic rationale for rejecting the authority of the God who allows it to occur. He mocks the idea that absolute truth exists and must be believed if one is to call himself a Christian. So, no he is not an atheist after all.

Secondly, I realized how well this chap would fit-in among your set of emergents. While a subscription to emergent relativisim and carnality is not saving, he might find kindred spirits in which to express like-minded rebellion. Of course, I think it is tragic that my colleauge continues to reject truth, and it will ultimately cast his soul into hell. I would not wish to see him find yet another avenue in which to express his hostility towards God and truth, as he has plenty of dead pagan philosophers in countless texts in which to do that; however, I bet he'd be quite surprised to find out that there are whole churches nowadays who think just as he does. I bet he'd really like yours. I pray for him and love him in every way I can (although a very real chilling effect exists on my campus that forces believers to keep their faith silent, lest they face the very real possibility of political reprisal).

So, the answer is no Andrew; I wasn't calling you an atheist any more than my colleague can call himself an atheist. He, like you, is much too active in painting God with his own relative interpretations.

Andrew Jones said...

sorry - i misheard you.

"I realized how well this chap would fit-in among your set of emergents."

Polycarp - I am not convinced you know who the set of emergents we support are. you certainly havent given any indication that you could name a single network or movement or even a leaders outside the US (we are not supporting any USA groups at the moment.)

why not take some time off shouting at us to listen and hear what we are doing around the world to share the story of Jesus Christ and disciple new believers into his Way? Maybe you could even come on one of our missions - there is room for fundies also - in fact i value their input.

I would say if you friend rejects the truth then he would be very uncomfortable with my set of friends.

Dont try to hit me . . . Hit me! (Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix)

David U. said...

While In the "Christian" section at Border's Books Saturday evening I asked the lady working there where the real CHRISTIAN section was! It was a good laugh and rather disappointing as well.

greglong said...

I find Wells’ vision of more compelling. Why? Well, it’s not that I’m opposed to using illustrations from culture, as Paul did on Mars Hill in Acts 17.

There are two things primarily.

1) I am concerned with the idea that God “speaks through culture.” Tim writes:

Somehow, our theology has taught us that God speaks only at church. He only talks to us through his written word or through individual (aka pastor or priest) who has been trained. That belief is very confusing to us when we feel God tugging at our heart through the culture.

Yes, we’ve been taught about the power of the Holy Spirit and about how he can prompt you 24/7. But in reality, many of us were never given any context for God speaking to us through a secular song, a blockbuster movie, or a graphic novel. (p. 60-61)

[…]

So we can celebrate the art—knowing it came from the skills, intelligence, and creativity of a being fashioned by God himself. We can also celebrate the content of much of the art in the world today—art that reflects a real search and longing for that which is right and true. Like Paul speaking to the Athenians, we can say, “I see you are seeking God. Let me tell you more about this God you seek.” […]

What does make my heart beat fast, however, is to see how God is alive and well in today’s pop culture. You cannot turn on the TV, listen to the radio, watch a movie, or browse the shelves for a bestseller without seeing evidence of God speaking through our culture.

The Bible is clear that all truth is God’s truth, regardless of the source. (p. 86-87)
Tim goes on to cite examples from the band Linkin’ Park and the TV shows Shark, and Desperate Housewives that challenged him personally.

How does God reveal Himself? Clearly He does through the general revelation of Creation (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:18-20) and through the specific or direct revelation of visions and dreams, through audible communication, and through His Son (Jn. 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-3). Of course, the ultimate means of revelation is through His Word. I do not see any evidence in Scripture that God “speaks through” the culture in the same sense that He does through His Word. And even if this were true in a general sense, it must always be interpreted in light of His Word.

(cont.)

greglong said...

This leads me to the second primary problem with the culture-driven approach: 2) It isn’t Scriptural.

Tim gives five ways each church can choose to respond to the culture, “and the choice [each church] makes determines how much of an impact it will have on its community” (p. 67). The five options are: 1) Condemn it; 2) Separate from it; 3) Embrace it; 4) Ignore it; and 5) Leverage it (p. 68-81). Tim’s choice is to leverage the culture. What does this mean?

You have to help meet those needs first. And so you scratch them where they itch. You identify people’s needs and let them know you have some answers they should consider. You are still teaching the Bible. You are just initially choosing to teach the portions of the Bible that address the in-front-of-the-face needs of the people in your community. And you don’t just teach truths or quote Bible verses, but you come along beside them and show them the love of Jesus.

You see, if you don’t offer something people need, they won’t come. If the people don’t come, you can’t teach them the truth. So an effective church is busy identifying people’s needs and letting the community know you have some help they should consider. If you speak their language, there is a better chance they will come to a service. If they do that, the odds increase significantly that they will hear how much they matter to God, and they just might respond. (p. 120-121)


Here’s the problem: If it were so important for churches to “leverage the culture”, why don’t we see any hint of it whatsoever in the majority of the New Testament? The only clear example that might be relevant is that of Paul in Acts 17. But what about all the other sermons in Acts? What about Paul’s letters? And most telling, what about the Pastoral Epistles? These letters were written by Paul to Timothy to specifically address how Timothy was to lead his church(es), and yet there is absolutely no mention of the idea of “leveraging the culture” to reach people for Christ. But over and over and over again Paul tells Timothy to guard, fight for, teach, explain, preach sound doctrine. The focus is doctrinal, not cultural. “Doctrine” is mentioned 15 times and “preach/teach/teaching” 11 times.

This is where I think Wells’ book is so helpful. He (borrowing from Os Guinness) asks if we will be sola Scriptura or sola cultura? Do we start with Scripture and then look to culture, or do we start with culture (or with the customer) and then look to Scripture?

One way this manifests itself is through preaching. Is it expository, based primarily on preaching through books of the Bible (although perhaps not exclusively), allowing God to dictate what should be communicated? Or is it topical, looking to culture to dictate what should be communicated?

And what are the consequences of the seeker-driven/culture-driven approach? Wells writes:

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model, if followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needsGod identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them. (p. 52)

[…]

What is of first importance to the church is not that it learn to mimic the culture but that it learn to think God’s thoughts after him. (p. 98)