A repost from Roger’s Blog January 9, 2013: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/01/what-would-jesus-make-of-passion-conferences-guest-blog-by-austin-fischer
What Would Jesus Make of Passion? by Austin Fischer (Teaching Pastor, The Vista Community Church, Belton/Temple, Texas)
At the moment I’m writing this, there are 60,000 college students gathered inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. They are singing worship songs, listening to sermons, and gathering what will no doubt be a massive offering that will go towards combating human trafficking. It’s pretty unbelievable stuff, but the Passion conferences specialize in the unbelievable.
Cutting edge media, excellent musicians, famous speakers. If we’re going to be candid, it’s refreshing to see something “Christian” also be something of such exceptional quality. You could invite an agnostic friend to it and not blush at the prospects of asking him to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend something that feels like a home-school prom. I like excellence, you like excellence, we all like excellence, and I think Jesus does too. Hooray excellence!
That said, as I was reading the tweets of a number of my students who are at Passion, a question kept bouncing around inside my head. Maybe I was asking it of God or maybe God was asking it of me—I often can’t tell the difference. But either way, the question was, “What would Jesus make of Passion?”
Now I know, I know. The question is both loaded and brutally anachronistic, but it just kept asking itself to me. Spoiler alert: I have no idea what Jesus would make of Passion. But here’s some stuff I threw up against the wall. Maybe some of it sticks.
Thought #1…Temple = Georgia Dome
I remember the first time I went to a Passion conference. I was a senior in high school and together with my youth pastor and a few friends, we made the trek to Sherman, Texas. And from the beginning, the trip had a certain vibe to it, a vibe I’ve since learned is the anticipation of pilgrimage.
Religious pilgrimages—as far as I can tell—stretch back to the beginning of human history. There’s something primeval and elemental about the act of going on a journey to a place where we believe we will encounter something transcendent. In the Hebrew Bible, we see God commanding the Jews to make yearly pilgrimages to “appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 34:18-23). Once the Temple was built, these pilgrimages would culminate there, the place where heaven and earth came together. Indeed for a Jew, the Temple was the holiest place in the whole universe. They traveled there because God was uniquely there.
And by way of crude parallelism, it would appear that what the Temple was for an ancient Jew, the Georgia Dome is now for many young-adult, American evangelicals. They take a yearly pilgrimage to the Dome because they feel it is a place where God is uniquely present.
“Cleansing” the Temple?
So what do we make of this? The first thing that came to my mind was Matthew 21 and Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple. I put cleansing in quotations because contra popular belief, NT scholars point out that Jesus is not cleansing the Temple so much as he is shutting it down. Flipping over the tables of the money-changers and seats of the dove-sellers (21:12)—these are not acts of purification but condemnation. The exchanging of pagan coins for Jewish coins and the selling of animals for sacrifice were both essential for Temple worship. The Temple didn’t need rehabilitation. It needed to die.
But not because God hates buildings; rather, the Temple needed to die because Jesus was replacing it. Jesus was a one-man, walking Temple; the place where heaven and earth came together and God was uniquely present to his people. As N.T. Wright says, “What the gospels offer us is a God who is in the midst [of us] in and as Jesus the Messiah…Jesus himself is the new Temple at the heart of the new creation…And so this Temple, like the wilderness tabernacle, is a temple on the move, as Jesus’ people go out, in the energy of the Spirit, to be the dwelling of God…”
Now from one angle it’s tempting to connect these dots. Jesus shut down the Temple because he was replacing it. The Georgia Dome has become a new Temple. Jesus would walk into the Georgia Dome and flip over the merch tables and slam Chris Tomlin’s guitar, Garth Brooks style. And while that sort of simplistic reasoning certainly won’t do, I do think it raises some interesting questions regarding the pilgrimage/Temple mentality that so clearly permeates the Passion ethos. So here go a few thoughts…
Jesus didn’t shut down the Temple because it was evil. He shut it down because it was obsolete and no longer needed. God was doing a new thing, was making himself present to his world and his people in a new way, and the Temple didn’t have a place in this new creation. God was now present to his people through the Spirit and was present to the whole world through his Spirit-filled community = the church. And I put church in lower case on purpose. Local churches made up of normal people doing normal things…this is the God-appointed medium of God’s presence and grace to the world. Not a Temple. Not a yearly pilgrimage. And dare I say, not a trip to the Georgia Dome.
To be sure, many Passion attendees love their local church and their pilgrimage to the Dome is a noble period of spiritual refreshment. But I don’t mind going out on a limb and suggesting that for a great many attendees—perhaps the majority—Passion is the most spiritual moment of the year. It is the standard by which all other spiritual moments will be judged. They’ll have to wait a year to feel this close to God again because it’ll be a year before they’re back here, singing the resounding chorus to an awesome song, having just listened to a sermon from their favorite celebrity pastor, all while their eyes are dazzled by the glitz and glamour of it all. It will be a chore to wade through the ordinariness of actual church life for another year.
As I once told a college student, if Passion is the most spiritual moment of your year, a.) I feel bad for you…b.) you’re not going to be able to love and serve your actual church.
And that’s because your actual church actually has to be the church. It has to deal with crying babies, botched song transitions, average sermons by not-famous people, and a budget for the year that is half that for 4 days of Passion. It’ll never measure up and so you’ll probably bail and look for a church that will feed your Passion addiction (if only Passion could be a church…or wait…it is or you’ll stay and complain and never put down any real roots.
I inhabit and am thus aware of a rather small sliver of reality that I know as my life, and speaking from here, this is not hypothetical. I work with college students, I watch it happen, and I deal with the aforementioned phenomena. For the longest time, I didn’t quite know what to call it and I still don’t. But I know it involves a skewed understanding of the spiritual life in which a streamlined, hyper-spiritualized gathering has replaced the gritty reality of incarnation, of learning to be a human, among other humans, through whom God is reconciling the world to himself. It invigorates the spiritual life to be sure, but it does so by immersing them in something that just doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the real world.
And so as ironic as it may sound, maybe what Passion is doing is not progressive or ground-breaking so much as it is, well, antiquated. That’s hyperbolic to be sure but maybe, just maybe, Passion needs to make sure it doesn’t build something that Jesus already tore down. And I really hope it doesn’t build it on top of the church.
Thought #2…Going Vegan in a Steakhouse
Maybe you don’t buy the “Passion or church” thought above. Maybe you think you can have your cake and eat it too. I’m not so convinced most people can, but moving on, thought #2 is something I hope we can all agree on, even though it is uncomfortable.
So I’m told that at the beginning of this year’s Passion conference, Louie Giglio got up, surveyed the energy and buzz of 60,000 students packed into the Dome and said, “Is this not incredible?” He went on to talk about how Passion has become a global movement, impacting millions of lives and followed that up by telling the story of a student who had been addicted to drugs, but as a result of last year’s conference is a year clean. Louie then said, “The testimony of these days in the Dome will be, ‘I know that He is the Lord,’ and ‘I know He can do immeasurably more because He did it in my life,’ and ‘I don’t need an event, I don’t need a Dome, I need Jesus’.”
“I don’t need an event. I don’t need a Dome. I need Jesus.” Amen! See, Louie and company know it’s about Jesus and not an event. But let’s allow ourselves to sit with the irony for a moment. Louie stands before a crowd of 60,000 people, in the Georgia Dome, talking about how this is a global movement, telling a story about how this event helped a guy be sober for a year…and he says, “I don’t need an event, I don’t need a Dome…” But Louie, you’re in the Dome, at an event, hyping the event. We hear you saying something about not needing a Dome, but it’s hard for us to take you seriously when your face is being projected on that 5-story tall LED screen suspended in the middle of the Dome.
Perhaps it’s something like taking a group of people to the best steakhouse in town, providing them with a buffet of the finest cuts available, all the while telling them that eating meat is wrong and we should all go vegan. You can talk to people about the virtues of going vegan all day long, but as long as you’re feeding them steak, I doubt they’re really listening to you. And perhaps even more importantly, I question whether you really want them to listen to you.
Means = Message
There is a more technical way to say all of this: your means is your message. When delivering a message, our words are not the only things that communicate. Everything communicates, and in particular, the “way you do things” communicates, perhaps the loudest. I’ll borrow an example from an excellent book.
Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken were the pastors at one of those suburban, fast-growing, soon to be mega-churches. Fearing they were bordering on becoming a “seeker-sensitive” church, they started really emphasizing discipleship from the pulpit. But they noticed it wasn’t changing the culture of their church. It was still trending towards consumerism and impotent discipleship. What was the problem? In their own words, “We couldn’t merely change the words we used to communicate the gospel because there were too many other messages ingrained in the Oak Hills culture that would contradict our words.”
In other words, you want to make sure you’re creating disciples and not voyeuristic consumers? Then you’re going to need more than words spoken in a context that contradicts everything you’re saying. It’s naïve to think we can hook people with a massive, consumer experience, and then not expect them to act like consumers. As Carlson and Lueken say, “Our attractional methods are not neutral. We are training people as we attract them.”
So what would Jesus make of Passion? I don’t know. I think he’d enjoy hearing 60,000 people singing to him. I think he’d love a massive offering taken up to combat human trafficking. I think he’d rejoice in the refreshment and repentance taking place. And as mentioned earlier, I think he’d enjoy the excellence of it all. These are—in and of themselves—indisputably good things. But I’m not sure what he would think about the new Temple we’ve constructed, the celeb-pastor cults, or the Passion fever. But deconstruction is easy, so how about a little reconstruction.
I suggest this: Do some massive downsizing for Passion next year. Minimal media, no celeb-pastors or musicians. Get people who are good, just not famous…they’ll cost less. Maybe just leave the regular lights on. Maybe you could charge $50 instead of $200. By my calculations, that’s somewhere around $10 million dollars you’ll save the attendees. Then, challenge everyone who attends to put that $150 they saved at Passion towards their local church’s budget. Or if they really hate their local church and don’t believe in it enough to give $150, then give it to Compassion, International Justice Mission, etc. And then maybe Louie could stand up in the Dome in front of 60,000 people and say, “I don’t need a dome, I don’t need an event, I just need Jesus”, and we’d actually be able to hear him.
And one more thing. We Christians do have an unfortunate tendency to be cynical towards things that are doing well—especially when it’s not “our” thing. Whatever the psychology behind it, it’s all too easy to be swept away by some latent notion that if it’s Christian and successful/excellent than there must be something wrong with it. The success and excellence of Passion should be something we rejoice in. But success and excellence—from a truly kingdom perspective—are things only achieved through ruthless self-evaluation and continual repentance. Like most things, I don’t think the Passion conferences are all black or all white. Like most of us, they do some good things and bad things. So here’s to exposing the hype and nourishing the good.
Shel /Shelby Boese – for those who do not understand the nuances between fundamentalists/neo-reformers, conservative and moderate evangelicals this is a good start. OR read “Renewing the Center” by Stanley Grenz – it includes a great history lesson.
What I said about Clark Pinnock at a symposium celebrating his life and career
August 17, 2012 By rogereolson http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/08/what-i-said-about-clark-pinnock-at-a-symposium-celebrating-his-life-and-career/
Clark Pinnock and the Postconservative Turn in Evangelical Theology
Roger E. Olson
Evangelical theology has gone through several paradigm shifts and has fragmented into different paradigms. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell what they all share in common beyond calling themselves “evangelical.” However, I will work with the Noll-Bebbington proposal that evangelicalism is marked by biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism and activism without going into detail about these common features or family resemblances. I have proposed adding “respect for the Great Tradition of Protestant Christian orthodoxy” as a fifth hallmark. Evangelical theology is theology done by an evangelical. What else could it be? Evangelicalism has no magisterium and evangelical theology has no definitive, authoritative text beyond Scripture. My thesis is that Clark Pinnock initiated and carried out a paradigm change within evangelical theology that remained definitely evangelical while at the same time departing from conservatism just as postfundamentalist evangelical theology departed from fundamentalism.
Today there exists within evangelicalism and its theological academy a phenomenon I call “postconservative evangelical theology.” I compare that with the phenomenon of “postfundamentalist evangelical theology” or “neo-evangelical theology” brought about by luminaries of post-World War 2 evangelical thought such as Carl Henry, E. J. Carnell and Bernard Ramm. Postfundamentalist evangelical theology sought to go beyond the limitations of fundamentalism while remaining faithful to classic, historic Reformation belief. Mark Noll and other historians of the evangelical movement have rightly, I judge, noted that postfundamentalist evangelical theologians did not merely repeat Reformation theology but reconceptualized it in terms of Scottish Common Sense Realism so that it brought about something called “the evangelical enlightenment.” Unlike fundamentalism, neo-evangelical theology sought to take seriously what Ramm called the “material facts” of science, attempted to develop a distinctly evangelical intellectual tradition in conversation with culture and called for a stronger social witness than fundamentalism with its narrow, anti-communist social agenda.
The story of the emergence of this postfundamentalist evangelicalism, symbolized especially by Billy Graham and his ministries and their offshoots, has been told and retold by authors such as Joel Carpenter, Mark Noll and Randall Balmer.
My thesis is that this post-World War 2, postfundamentalist evangelical theological consensus has dissolved and is being replaced by a fractured and fragmented evangelical intellectual milieu in which various trajectories are evident and intellectuals committed to them rarely even speak to each other. Beginning in the 1980s and increasing throughout the 1990s has been what I regard as a neo-fundamentalist type of evangelical theology that seeks to undo much of the progress made by the post-World War 2, postfundamentalist evangelical thinkers. These neo-fundamentalist evangelicals claim to wear the mantle of Carl Henry, but conveniently forget that for all his conservatism Henry was generous with his definition of evangelical including many who did not adhere to biblical inerrancy.
Alongside this neo-fundamentalist group emerged others such as the paleo-orthodox and the neo-Puritan types of evangelical thought. Of course, there is some overlap among these camps. One can be both neo-Puritan and neo-fundamentalist. The differences lie in emphasis and ethos more than in specific method or conclusions.
Clark Pinnock pioneered a new way of being an evangelical in theology. I call that new way “postconservative”—a label Clark himself used in Tracking the Maze (Harper & Row, 1990) for certain post-Vatican 2 Roman Catholic thinkers and for what he called “another group of theological moderates from the Protestant end of the spectrum.” (66) What is clear to me is that Clark laid out the charter for this postconservative type of evangelical theology in his programmatic 1979 Christianity Today article entitled “An Evangelical Theology: Conservative and Contemporary” the subtitle of which was “Scripture is normative, but it always needs to be read afresh and applied in new ways.” (CT, January 5, 1979: 23-29) To be sure, Clark used the label “conservative” positively there, but he also called for an approach to evangelical theology that transcends mere repetition of past doctrinal formulations and even mere restatement of traditional doctrinal formulation for cultural relevance.
Clark’s call in the CT article for a new approach to evangelical theology would wrongly be interpreted as simply repeating Millard Erickson’s “translation” model expounded in Christian Theology:1. There Erickson, a mainstream, postfundamentalist, conservative evangelical thinker, argued for restatement of the essence of traditional doctrines in new forms for the sake of cultural understanding. Erickson presented only two possibilities for a contemporary theology—either “translation” or “transformation.” The difference lies in their preservation or rejection of the permanent essence of doctrines.
Clark seemed to be working with a similar model for a truly contemporary evangelical theology in his CT article, but I find there something more dynamic and exciting. And he spent the rest of his theological career working it out in terms of restatements that amounted to faithful revisionings of traditional doctrinal loci from the doctrine of Scripture to the doctrine of God to the doctrine of salvation. In his CT article Clark criticized both the “classical approach” to theology for “neglect of the contemporary situation” (24) and the “liberal experiment” for “losing continuity with Scripture and tradition.” (26) Overall he sides more with the classical approach which he described as “characterized by a concentration upon fidelity and continuity with the historic Christian belief system set forth in Scripture and reproduced in creed and confession.” (24) However, he expressed dissatisfaction with that approach represented especially by B. B. Warfield and Francis Schaeffer. He wrote “Much of the modern contempt of classical Christianity is due, not to its stand on Scripture, but to its nonessential narrow-mindedness in regard to the gifts of common grace that God has freely given us.” (25)
Clark’s own proposal in the CT article is the forging of a new evangelical theology that is genuinely conservative, in the best sense of faithful to given revelation, and at the same time contemporary in the best sense of responsible to culture and authentic in relation to truth. (27) One finds in the last few paragraphs of the article the difference from Erickson’s translating model of a contemporary evangelical theology. Pinnock calls for “creativity” in evangelical theology without accommodation to secular (especially naturalistic) thought forms. He declared “I am not advocating static conservatism. Fidelity does not consist in simply repeating old formulas drafted in an earlier time.” (28-29) If he were following Erickson, one would expect him then to say something about restating the old formulas for cultural relevance, but he goes beyond that. Next he says “It includes the creative thinking required to make the old message fresh and new” and “I see a kind of theological synthesis possible in which the Bible remains normative, but in which it is read afresh under the illumination of the Spirit who makes it live for us.” (29)
Clark’s program for a truly postconservative evangelical theology is only tentatively set forth in the CT article, but a close reading of it reveals something new in evangelical theology. Clark was calling for theological creativity without capitulation to non-Christian norms. He spelled it out in more detail in Tracking the Maze where he labeled it “postconservative” and compared it with post-Vatican 2 Catholic thought that affirms the essentials of the faith, basic Christian orthodoxy, but is willing to make some changes in theology that go beyond altering the ways in which they are expressed. Among these changes he mentions “more openness to the humanity of the Bible,” willingness to “talk about diversity in the biblical teaching,” “open discussion about the nature of the deity and the possible need to place more emphasis on the openness of God to temporal process,” and “a growing tendency to allow for the possibility of the salvation of the unevangelized.” (67-68)
Of course, these are changes Clark himself explored in later monographs on particular doctrines. All throughout his exploration of this postconservative paradigm of evangelical theology and his attempts at working it out in particular areas of theology Clark remained firmly planted in the evangelical tradition of biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism, activism and respect for the Great Tradition of Protestant orthodoxy—even as he found it necessary to alter and adjust some aspects of these in light of fresh and faithful reflection on the Word of God in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing, dynamic presence among us.
That Clark’s theological pilgrimage since 1979 has been condemned by neo-fundamentalist evangelicals is not surprising; the postfundamentalists like Henry, Carnell and Ramm were condemned by the old fundamentalists. Courage in creativity is always going to be criticized and even condemned by the gatekeepers of tradition. What concerns me is not that neo-fundamentalists have condemned Clark and his pilgrimage in theology but that many mainstream evangelical leaders and spokesmen have in a cowardly manner neglected or refused to speak up in his defense.
Shel Boese / Shelby Boese – Ed hits it head on. Great little summary.
I’ve always wanted to learn Karate so I could break boards in a ninja-like way (and I realize Ninjas don’t use Karate, but humor the dream of an eight year old wimpy kid). There is a helpful Karate principle that appropriately applies to life and ministry. It pertains to the ancient art of breaking boards (very important coming of age moment for young ninjas).
If one is attempting to break through a board and is aiming for a central spot on the board, he will almost always fail. In trying to process the goal, the brain understands the barrier– and the potential pain involved– and the physical reaction is that the ninja stops short of his goal.
In order to successfully break a board, the ninja must aim about 2-3 inches below the board. In so doing, the brain is able to see past the board towards the ultimate goal, and the board naturally breaks in the process.
In recent years, churches in the West have gone through various transformations in their focus and goals. Much has been said both positively and negatively about the Church Growth Movement, and I will publish some further thoughts on that in the coming weeks. While I do not totally jump on either bandwagon (love or hate), I think two important aspects to keep in mind are the goals of gospel fidelity and propagation.
More importantly: Growth cannot be the final goal.
While in many cases growth can be the byproduct of health and right focus, it is not always the best litmus test. I can think of very prominent, self-identified churches with tens of thousands of people coming each week who preach a loose gospel message of happiness, meeting personal needs, and positive-thinking. Some of those are growing quickly, yet I don’t think their growth is exclusively a sign of the favor of God. (Side note: most megachurches are more conservative biblically and have a higher level of involvement than smaller churches, but my point is that big is not necessarily more faithful.)
As I stated earlier, gospel fidelity and propagation are the goal and, as just every good ninja knows, when the goal is big enough, breakthrough can happen in the process. Aiming at the gospel results in men and women being redeemed– receiving new life in Christ– and can bring about Acts 2 movement where the Lord adds daily to the number of those being saved. It can also bring about alienation, persecution, and even death depending on where the gospel is being preached. The key is aiming at the proper goal and allowing God to determine the numeric outcome of the lives changed.
There seem to be two extremes with proponents and opponents of church growth, however. One extreme is overly captivated with growth. The other is overly cautious of growth. I don’t think either is the right course of action.
First, some are overly captivated with growth. One of the problems many have with the Church Growth Movement is that it has made growth the goal. Though fewer churches would identify themselves with the actual movement, they still are enamored with the same thing– growth is their central goal.
Several in the next generation are now seeing some of the problems of that aim and are reacting accordingly. They’re concerned, as am I, with some of the watered-down theology that can be present in the modern-day evangelical machine that can produce growth, but not necessarily the right kind of growth.
Second, some are overly cautious of growth. One of my main concerns with the second group is their reaction to the first group will be, well, an immature overreaction to their excesses. There can be a tendency to simply say, “If this is what organized, church growth is all about, then I don’t want anything to do with it.” That’s a wrong attitude.
To this overly cautious group, I would implore them to have the wisdom and maturity to chew the meat and spit out the bone. Let’s learn from leaders and thinkers who care about growth, but learn from them discerningly with biblical fidelity and evangelistic passion.
We can learn from others through research, glean what God is doing through their church to see what it can teach us, and seek to understand practical best practices. We can consider them through a biblical filter and a local context that leads to wise application.
Furthermore, as we focus on a goal of gospel fidelity and propagation, growth is often a byproduct– and a good one. Growth is something we should want, plan for, and often see flow from our church’s focus on the right things. Yes, we can and should make plans in such a way that can facilitate that growth– all while focused on gospel fidelity and propagation as the bigger goal and focus.
Balance is the key for a mature and healthy response to church growth…and for ninjas as well.
Shel Boese – Anabaptists have been trying to call the church away from civil-religion jesus towards the Jesus of the Kingdom of God for 500 years. I am SO glad to hear more and more younger Evangelicals and Renewalists (Pentecostals, pentecostals, charismatics/post-charismatics) rediscover the scandal of Jesus – and push back against the Civil Religion (Mormonization and Islamization of Christianity). Pentecostals and others have often been torn between the two visions – but at their best “get” the Kingdom because of signs and wonders/mystical and aesthetic openness through prayer and worship.
I try to not define myself as much by what Im against it’s a battle. In this case I would say much of the conservative-fundamentalist evangelical world is moving toward the Mormonization or Islamization of the church – buying the civil religion theology of these religions and imposing them on the New Testament through twisting the OT/misuse – forgetting the NT modifies significantly how you read the OT.
“But in recent years, evangelicals have moved towards civil religion at a breathtaking pace. We have accepted the categories given us by the world, that we are broken down into two categories: conservatives and liberals. We are given a narrative in which these labels supersede any particulars of Christian faith as to how we understand who the people of God are in the world.
If I sound wound up about this, I’m actually not. And I certainly don’t want people who have signed up for conservative civil religion to sign up for a more liberal civil religion, because neither will bring you to the kingdom of God and thus neither will change the world. I am quite thankful for this new development, because the more we degenerate into civil religion, the more authentic Christianity can stand apart from all of the parodies. I actually think it’s a gift.
This is not an angry editorial written with clenched teeth. No, this is much friendlier. I was just in the neighborhood and wanted to roll down the window and tenderly say, ‘You do realize you people are making up a new religion, right?’ ” – Jonathan Martin
I certainly don’t agree with Frank on some of his views of the church as institution – but this is spot on!
Beyond Evangelical: Part V by Frank Viola
“The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.”
~ John Stott
We continue our series on “beyond evangelicalism.” If you’re new to the blog, click here to read the previous parts.
Some Christians today are using the phrase, “the new evangelicals.”
Last year, Gabe Lyons (author of The Next Christians) called me on the phone to ask me what I thought about his new book (which he kindly mailed to me). What I’m writing in this post and in the next installment (Part VI) of our series is what I said to him in that conversation.
I dare suggest that there are two main types of new evangelicals today. One is not new at all. The other is, well, new in a sense.
Let me first address the evangelicals that are not new. This group of Christians used to be called “neo-evangelicals” during the 1950s through the 1980s.
F.F. Bruce, G.E. Ladd, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga, and Carl F. Henry were just some of the movers and shakers of the neo-evangelical movement.
The neo-evangelicals criticized fundamentalism as being separatist and confrontational with the culture.
In 1947, Carl F. Henry wrote his famous book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry’s book ignited the spark, and in the 1950s through the 1980s, neo-evangelicalism thrived. The neo-evangelicals lamented the way in which fundamentalism isolated evangelical Christians from the culture. Neo-evangelicals wanted evangelicals to penetrate the culture, redeeming it for Christ, rather than eschewing it.
The neo-evangelicals were fiercely committed to the Scriptures, but they criticized the fundamentalist view that the Bible had some sort of journalist accuracy that would yield an answer to every question posed to it. This made fundamentalists break out in hives.
The neo-evangelicals passionately believed in the reliability, truthfulness, and divine inspiration of the Scriptures, but they balked at certain affirmations of biblical authority (like “plenary” and “inerrancy”).
F.F. Bruce (the modern-era equivalent to N.T. Wright) once remarked that he was content to just say that the Bible was “true.” (This statement made some fundies break out in boils. Hives, now boils. Sigh.)
The neo-evangelicals also stressed that the gospel contains a strong social component. Social activism, therefore, is part of the gospel message (they said). The gospel should be exhibited in both word and deed.
In the 1980s, “the religious right” emerged on the Christian landscape, bringing into being a new form of fundamentalism. The resurgent fundamentalism of the religious right beat back the neo-evangelical movement into obscurity. The net was that Christians forgot that neo-evangelicalism even existed. It virtually disappeared from the radar.
What is more, the resurgent fundamentalism captured the attention of the media. And so in the eyes of today’s media, evangelicalism = the religious right.
In reaction to the religious right, neo-evangelicalism is reemerging again being incarnated in the evangelical left and the moderate wing of the emerging church movement. Yet many of its proponents aren’t aware of the history of neo-evangelicalism. They think that it’s something brand new.
But the “new evangelicals” aren’t new at all. The main difference between the neo-evangelicals of the past and today’s “new evangelicals” (or “next Christians”) is that the latter is sprinkled with a good measure of post-modern terminology.
But strip it back to its core, and it’s essentially the same thing.
Don’t miss my point.
I’m not critiquing neo-evangelicalism. F.F. Bruce, one of my favorite scholars of all time, was a neo-evangelical. I’m simply saying that it’s not “new.”
So who are the evangelicals that would be more accurately described as “new”? They are those who have gonebeyond evangelical. I’ve already spelled out the four notes that represent their burden, passion, and belief.
But to put it in a sentence, beyond evangelicals are aligned neither with the left nor the right. They believe the gospel goes beyond the old categories of personal salvation and social justice.
Don’t misunderstand. Beyond evangelicals have existed for a long time. But as a phenomenon (or “tribe”), they are quite new.
This blog is dedicated to providing a voice for those who have gone beyond evangelical and a means for them to connect with one another.
All of this sets up the tee for Part VI of our series . . . which I’m hugely excited about. You’ll see why when it’s published next week.
Some thoughts about my conversation with Michael Horton Posted on February 4, 2012 by rogereolson
Some Thoughts about My Conversation with Michael Horton
I spoke about why I am “Against Calvinism” for about 15 minutes focusing on the goodness of God and how classical, “high Calvinism” is inconsistent with any meaning of “good” and “love” known to us. Then Mike spoke for about 15 minutes focusing on humanity’s depravity and God’s mercy in electing some to salvation. In other words, he also said that God is good even if not in terms of our “fairness” (because he doesn’t save everyone).
Then we asked each other questions. I had tried to think of a question he may not have heard before. We’ve both had so many conversations with proponents of the “other side” that we have heard all the relevant questions. I started off our conversation by asking him why we can’t just agree to disagree about the secondary issues. We (evangelical Arminians and evangelical Calvinists) agree that salvation is a free gift and that there is nothing we can do to merit any part of it. Salvation is one hundred percent God’s doing and none of ours. And we agree that God is good and loving. Beyond that we get mired in disagreements about the details. Sure, they’re important details. So important that in our own churches we want agreement about them. But why can’t we just agree to disagree about them in the larger spaces of evangelical cooperation?
To a very large degree that has been the case in the past and is still somewhat the case in the present. When the National Association of Evangelicals was put together in the early 1940s it included both Arminians and Calvinists on equal footing. To make a long story short, over the decades since then, some Calvinists have become dissatisfied with what they see as the dominance of Arminianism in evangelical folk religion and have moved out of their Reformed circles to publicly lobby for Calvinism as “the” evangelical theology. One example of that, among many, was David Wells’ article “The Stout and Persistent ‘Theology’ of Charles Hodge” in Christianity Today (August 30, 1974). Wells decried the lack of good theology among evangelicals since Hodge and clearly held Hodge and his theology up as the norm for good evangelical theology. Gradually, over the last two to three decades many Reformed evangelicals have spoken and acted to promote the idea that Calvinism is the norm of sound evangelical theology. In many cases they have openly denounced Arminianism as sub-evangelical if not sub-Christian theology, not only in their own Calvinist churches but in the wider trans-denominational evangelical community. In most cases, however, the tendency to promote Calvinism as the norm for evangelical theology has been more subtle. I personally think one evidence of that was Christianity Today’s celebration of John Calvin throughout 2009 with one article about him in eveyr issue. There was no mention of that year being the 400th anniversary of the death of Arminius (except in my letter to the editor signed by a couple other Arminians). I could go on enumerating and describing evidences of that trend, but I’ll mention just one more. My uncle was on the executive board of the NAE for many years. One year he heard a leading Calvinist evangelical author and conference speaker say that anyone who takes one iota away from God’s sovereignty is not an evangelical. That same Calvinist has been very active publicly portraying Calvinism as the only truly evangelical theology.
So, my first question to Mike was really to all those Calvinists who are actively trying to promote Calvinism as the normative evangelical theology. Why can’t we get back to the original idea of the neo-evangelical movement of the 1940s that the gospel is so important that we evangelicals need to focus on that in our public gatherings and cooperative endeavors and among ourselves outside our confessional circles and not on our secondary distinctives? Why do Calvinists (and some Lutherans) feel the need to marginalize Arminianism outside their own confessional circles? The original idea of the NAE and neo-evangelical movement in general was to counter the drift away from the gospel in “mainline” Protestantism by coming together as believers in the gospel, setting aside our doctrinal differences of interpretation (except, of course, in our own denominations and churches). One reason for it was that two of the major national radio networks were limiting time for “religious programming” to people affiliated with the Federal Council of Churches (which later changed its name to the National Council of Churches). Evangelicals needed to band together to present a united front to the culture.
That led into a lengthy discussion of those “details” of disagreement about the gospel. Mike asked me if Arminians really believe what I say we believe—that salvation is all God’s doing and we contribute nothing meritorious to it. Of course, his point was that in Arminian theology, from his perspective, the free decision to accept grace is meritorious (This is why his movement to bring about a new Reformation among American evangelicals does not include Arminians). But that just gave me opportunity to assert again that we do not believe it is.
Now this is a perfect illustration of the whole problem. To what extent should we attribute what we see as the “good and necessary consequences” of a person’s belief to them when they honestly deny that they believe those? We both have this tendency. Arminians look at Calvinists and think “They must really, secretly, in their heart of hearts think that God is a moral monster.” Calvinists adamantly deny it. Calvinists look at Arminians and think “They must really, secretly, in their heart of hearts think that humans earn their salvation.” Arminians adamantly deny it.
The ensuing conversation followed the usual pattern: areas of wonderful agreement followed by disagreement about the same subjects we were just agreeing about. Humans are totally depraved. We agree. They are capable by the grace of God of making a free choice to resist God’s offer of saving grace or accept it. We disagree. God is a wonderfully good, merciful God who loves people. We agree. God willfully passes over some people he could save, damning them to an eternity of hell. We disagree. And on it goes.
Apparently it isn’t going to be possible to avoid talking about our areas of disagreement in public. By “talking about” I mean actively seeking to marginalize the other view as defective evangelical theology. (To be honest, however, from where I sit, it is only Calvinists and a few Lutherans who do that! I’ve never known Arminian evangelicals publicly to try to demean or marginalize Calvinism as defective evangelical theology.) Once it becomes clear we can’t just agree to disagree about what I am calling the secondary issues and promote them in our own denominations and churches–I try to get down to our bedrock disagreement AFTER making clear our areas of agreement. Why and how is it that Mike and other Calvinists can think as they do about those secondary issues? I can’t even wrap my mind around those secondary beliefs. I can’t imagine why anyone would believe those things about God. BUT, I do not consider those who believe them sub-Christian or sub-evangelical. I tend to think of them as just confused.
Mike’s testimony of his change to Calvinism is that he read the Bible with fresh eyes and there it was; he couldn’t deny it. “It” being TULIP (not the scheme but the doctrines).
My response is that I can understand how certain passages of Scripture can be interpreted that way taken out of the context of the whole of Scripture which simply cannot be interpreted that way. Romans 9 can be interpreted the Calvinist way. But the whole of Scripture cannot be interpreted that way. What I think is going on is that Calvinists interpret the whole of Scripture in light of Romans 9! I know they don’t think that’s what they’re doing but I can’t explain to myself how they come up with their “doctrines of grace” any other way.
One thing that bothered me and still does bother me about our conversation (and many I’ve had with Calvinists) is Mike’s insistence that Adam and Eve fell by their own free will. He insisted that God did not cause them to fall. Why say that unless it’s to get God off the hook, so to speak? In other words, from where I sit the only reason for a Calvinist to speak so adamantly about the freedom of the fall is to make two points: 1) God is not responsible for it, and 2) Humans are (because in some mysterious way we were all either “there” in Adam or represented by him depending on which Calvinists you listen to). If those are not the points, why insist so strongly that Adam and Eve sinned freely?
However, when pressed on the point, Mike admitted that God planned, foreordained and rendered certain the fall and that when he says Adam and Eve sinned freely he means they did what they wanted to do (compatibilism), not that they could have done otherwise. When pressed on whether they could have done otherwise he referred to the classical Calvinist distinction between natural ability and moral ability. They naturally could have done otherwise, but they couldn’t have done otherwise morally. But the only way that distinction works with Adam and Eve (who were not yet fallen) is to say that God withheld the grace they would have needed to exercise their natural ability so that morally they were unable not to fall. (The distinction between natural ability and moral ability is usually only brought up to explain why already fallen human persons both can and cannot refrain from sinning. We are responsible for our sinning even though we can’t not sin because we have the natural ability not to sin but not the moral ability not to sin. This distinction doesn’t work with unfallen Adam and Eve UNLESS it refers to God withholding or withdrawing their moral ability.) In the end, after all is said and done, a Calvinist does not really believe Adam and Eve fell “freely” except in that highly attenuated sense that most people would never guess at.
Mike made a big point of how God did not “coerce” Adam and Eve to sin. Right. But exactly what difference is there between “coercing” and “rendering certain?” Okay, there is a difference, but it’s a very technical difference that doesn’t relate to the issue of Adam’s and Eve’s falling by their own free will. It’s possible to manipulate a person to do something “freely” without coercing them to do it if “free” means only doing what you want to do (compatibilism). But that meaning of “free” is not what is meant in any court of law. Nor is it what most people mean by “free.” Most people think “free” means “capable of doing otherwise.” It seems disingenous to me for a Calvinist to claim that Adam and Eve fell freely WITHOUT explaining what they mean by “free.”
In the end, the claim that Adam and Eve fell “freely,” with the accompanying admission that God foreordained and rendered it certain, does nothing to get God off the hook or explain how Adam and Eve (to say nothing of their posterity) were solely responsible.
But then, it would be disingenous of me not to mention that Mike turned the tables on me (at least twice!) and claimed that Arminians have the “same problem.” Allegedly, we also believe that God foreordained and rendered the fall certain—by foreknowing it and creating anyway. But, of course, he doesn’t understand the Arminian understanding of foreknowledge. God doesn’t “foreknow” as in “foresee what will happen IF he creates.” He foreknows BECAUSE what he foreknows will happen. Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow.
There’s another one of those areas where Calvinists and Arminians use the same word but mean something very different by it. When a Calvinist hears “foreknows” he hears “foreordains.” When an Arminian says “foreknow” she means “see what WILL happen.” When an open theist says “foreknow” (future free decisons and actions) he means “see what MIGHT happen.”
Mike just gave me a funny look when I said that Arminians believe our deciding and acting causes God to foreknow. I don’t think he had heard that before.
Back to my main point here. It seems to me that for Calvinists to say Adam fell by his own free will is very misleading and unhelpful. The only reasons to say that are to get God off the hook (for being responsible for Adam’s sin) and lay all the responsibility for the fall on Adam. But how does it accomplish those once “free will” is defined compatibilistically (as only doing what you want to do even if you couldn’t do otherwise)? If God actually wanted the fall to happen and planned it and rendered it certain, how is that functionally different from causing it to happen? How does that get God off the hook?
Well, the next step for the Calvinist is to say that even though God rendered the fall certain he did it with good intent while Adam sinned with evil intent. But how does that get God off the hook? God is still the ultimate cause of Adam’s evil intent. And what was God’s good intent? The answer is: to overcome sin and evil to show his goodness and glorious power. Okay, but what about hell? Even that, Mike said, has a good purpose in God’s plan. What is it? He said “God’s glory.” So there. We finally get down to why Arminians say Calvinism’s God looks like a moral monster. In what setting in any human experience would rendering another person’s unending torture for one’s own glory be considered good? Oh, but they say, God’s goodness is different from ours. Then, the Arminian says, it (the word “good”) become meaningless. How does it differ from “gobbeldygook?” If it has no analogy to any meaning of “good” in our experience, how is it meaningful? Even Calvinist philosopher/theologian Paul Helm makes that point and insists that Calvinists should NOT say that God’s goodness is wholly different from ours.
As a result of that conversation and many, many others I’ve had with Calvinists, I come away feeling two things. First, it was beneficial for us to hear each other and understand what we say we believe. Second, it was frustrating because once we went below the primary beliefs about which we agree to their deeper meanings we seemed to be like ships passing in the night or like people speaking different languages to each other.
To view the comments, go to:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/02/some-thoughts-about-my-…
“Alright, here’s the situation. A major movie studio has approached you about a high-paying, starring role in a new blockbuster motion picture. The only catch? You have to cuss. A lot. Would you do it?”
When you’re 14, summer vacation conversations are full of meaningless, what-if fantasies.
“Not me. I wouldn’t. No way.”
In that moment, I became a giant of the faith (right next to Moses, Paul, and Carman). The speculation of turning down fame and fortune to take a stand against the evils of swear words undoubtedly elevated me to mega-Christian status. And to find the courage to publicly proclaim it in front of a couple of my non-christian buddies nearly got me a direct ticket to heaven in an Elijah-style chariot of fire.
No doubt, God loved me extra that day.
By my freshman year in high school, I had this Jesus thing figured out:
- Avoid speaking (or writing) certain 4 letter combinations.
- Stay far away from cigarettes (although when we heard Rich Mullins smoked cigars we were very confused).
- Courageously wear variations of your famous “witness-wear” t-shirts to public school at least twice a week.
- Never let a drop of alcohol cross your lips (we made carefully monitored exceptions for NyQuil during cold season).
- Tearfully burn any rock-n-roll cassette tapes you deviously collected at least once per calendar year.
- Never attend a rated R movie (Except Braveheart. Braveheart’s cool).
This is what it means to be a Christian.
(Honestly, that list isn’t as tongue-and-cheek as I made it sound).
I’m certainly not celebrating raunchy films, nicotine, or alcohol abuse. You have to wrestle your own conscience on these issues. But I will suggest that following Jesus, embracing Christ, allowing His life to come alive inside of you, will cause you to care about bigger things than foul language. And the things He’ll ask you to lay down will probably cost a lot more than your secular music collection.
(Like your obsession with your self).
Jesus opens you to God’s heart, his passion for people, the poor, reconciliation, repentance, truth, relationships, forgiveness, grace, love. Jesus doesn’t build a fortress of meaningless “don’ts” to separate us from the world. He asks us to courageously take His life out into it.
When you stand before God, I’m pretty certain He’s not going to present you with a list of the swear words you uttered. But He will ask how well you loved. How well you served. How well you sacrificed. How much you allowed His life to supersede your own.
I want to show Him I cared about things that really mattered.
Not too long ago, I watched a television documentary about the increasing number of practicing Muslims in small-town America. At one point in the film, a mainline Protestant pastor visited the local imam in his home. At the outset of their conversation, the pastor made his intentions clear:
“My purpose in meeting you is not any sort of conversion. I respect you and your beliefs. You’re not going to change, and I’m not going to change.”
There is so much to unpack in those three sentences that I hardly know where to begin. Interestingly, the imam restated the last of those three sentences, offering his total agreement to framing the discussion this way.
“I respect you and your beliefs.”
Let’s begin with the second sentence first: “I respect you and your beliefs.”
The pastor is right to respect the imam, if for nothing else than the fact that the imam is a fellow human being created in the image of God. It’s the image of God in humanity that separates us from the animal world and gives us intrinsic value and a unique vocation.
When speaking about “respecting beliefs,” we should tread little more carefully. Most of the time, when pastors and church leaders speak of “respecting someone else’s beliefs,” they mean “respecting the sincerity with which a person holds to a belief.” In that sense, it’s fine to speak of “respecting another’s beliefs.” But in the more literal sense, “respecting someone else’s beliefs” can be foolish.
If my seven-year-old son were to watch Peter Pan and then decide to jump off the house and fly through the neighborhood, it would be ridiculous of me to say, “I respect your belief.” I might respect the tenacity of his childlike faith, but I’d be the first to say, “That’s silly.” I can respect my son as a human made in the image of God; in fact, I can love him as a father should love a son, and yet still point out the fallacy of his belief.
In the same way, Christians need to distinguish between (rightly) showing respect to people and (wrongly) advocating respect for any and every idea that someone else believes. I can respect a Muslim friend without at all respecting the Muslim view of the afterlife, or the Muslim explanation of the cross of Christ, or the Muslim idea of works-righteousness. Such beliefs are not worthy of respect because they are wrong, even if the people who hold these beliefs are valuable, precious individuals made in the image of God.
“My purpose in meeting is not any sort of conversion”
More troublesome than conflating respect for people with respect for one’s beliefs is the first statement made by the pastor: “My purpose in meeting is not any sort of conversion.”
As a Christian committed to the teachings of Jesus, I cannot understand how this statement is anything but an abdication of the responsibility Jesus gave His disciples after His resurrection: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Notice the absence of any qualifiers. Jesus didn’t say: “Go and make disciples among the nominally religious in your area.” Or “Go and make disciples of those who don’t believe in any God at all.” Or “Stay within your church walls and make disciples there.” No… Jesus’ command is crystal clear. He is the King who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. When we place the Great Commission together with the stark claims of Christ’s exclusivity, we see just how wrongheaded it is to say that we have no purpose to convert an unbeliever.
Of course, this pastor will be lauded by many in society today. He seems so open-minded and tolerant. “My purpose is not to convert you,” he says, eliciting a Whew! from the filmmakers as the tension in the room immediately subsides.
But when the pastor’s statement is placed within the entire context of the Scriptures and what Jesus Himself says about salvation, it’s tantamount to saying, “I don’t want you to be with me in the new heavens and new earth.” It’s a tacit condemnation to eternal perdition. There are all sorts of implications to saying such a thing:
- My purpose is not to introduce you to Jesus. (You’re getting along just fine without Him after all.)
- My purpose is not to show you how to escape eternal judgment. (I’m not taking Jesus seriously when He talks about hellfire and all that stuff.)
- My purpose is not to worship side by side with you, singing the praises of the Lamb whose blood was shed for you. (You stay in your mosque, and we’ll stay in our church, thank you very much.)
Then there’s the most troublesome statement of all. The imam and the pastor both state very quickly, “You’re not going to change, and I’m not going to change.”
Now, there’s no surprise that the imam would say such a thing. But for a minister of the gospel – the most explosive, transformational news ever unleashed in our world – to say “You’re not going to change” is an explicit denial of the gospel’s power to change the human heart. There’s no faith here that God can work miracles. No faith that God can so work in a heart that its affections and beliefs shift dramatically.
What if the pastor applied this logic to the alcoholic who comes to him for counseling. “Well Joe, you’re not going to change.” Or to the man who is on the brink of destroying his marriage with pornography, “Sorry, Sam. You’re not going to change.”
The Truly Inclusive Gospel Message
The gospel is for everyone. It is a radically inclusive message. Though the world balks at the exclusive claims of Christ, we rush forward with the inclusive news that He is Savior of all the world. If I fail to proclaim this message, I am not really following Jesus. Instead, I’m just cloaking 21st century ideas in traditional Christian garb.
What would have been the better way for this pastor to handle his conversation with the imam? It would have been better to say something like this:
I respect you as a person made in the image of God. I respect your right to hold to any faith that you choose. I would never coerce you or force my religious beliefs upon you, as such a practice would detract from the truth that you, like me, are made in the image of God. And yet, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am commanded to share the gospel. When the time comes for me to seek to persuade you to follow Jesus, it is not out of a heart of oppression or desire for control, but out of love and concern. Since I truly believe the gospel offers hope for all humanity, I cannot keep it to myself. The gospel is too precious and you are too valuable for me to keep silent.
Shel Boese / Shelby Boese – Ed reposts some great info. I had read this in the newest Christianity Today magazine (which I highly recommend you subscribe to!!!). Enjoy:
Pew describes their approach to the study this way:
The Pew Forum conducted the survey in nine languages, including English, from August to December 2010. A total of about 4,500 people registered to attend the Third Lausanne Congress, and nearly half completed the survey, using Web and paper questionnaires.
The survey’s 2,196 respondents turned out to closely mirror the full set of leaders attending the congress in terms of region, gender, age and organization type. The organizers of the gathering sought to create a body that was representative of the geographic distribution of evangelicals around the world. Thus, they divided the world into 12 regions and invited delegates in rough proportion to their estimates of the number of evangelicals in each region and country. About six-in-ten of the evangelical leaders surveyed (57%) are from the Global South while about four-in-ten (43%) are from the Global North, including 16% from the United States. They are ethnically and racially diverse: 36% identify as Caucasian, 23% as black, 17% as Asian, 5% as Hispanic and 1% as Arab, with the remainder either not identifying as any of these (10%) or indicating they are of mixed race (7%). But they are less diverse in other ways: Nearly three-quarters of the evangelical leaders surveyed (74%) are employed by churches or other religious organizations, and they are predominantly college-educated, male and middle-aged, with very few under age 30.
Though all affirmed many tenants of orthodox Christianity, there was – according to Pew’s research – some disagreement regarding other moral and theological issues. Some of the major disagreements include:
- Homosexuality – Societal acceptance of Homosexuality
- Politics – Religious leaders speaking out in policial issues
- Gender Issues – Whether women should stay at home
- Eschatology - Belief in the Rapture
- the acceptance of homosexuality among evangelical leaders from South America
- the overwhelming belief that Jesus will will return in our lifetime
Two additional things are worth mentioning.
First, the fact that evangelical angst is much less common in the Global South than in the North (for more informaiton about my “evangelical angst” thoughts, I’ve commented on this in Christianity Today).