Archive for the ‘evangelicalism’ Category

Christian churches have always undergone periods of revival, so there is nothing new about the presence in America of revival as such. What was new after about the mid-eighteenth century was the way in which revival loomed as the dominant theme defining the nature and purposes of the church for Americans. … This revival was important for many reasons, but for long-standing impact on Christian thinking, two matters were most significant. The first was the way the revival promoted a new style of leadership—direct, personal, popular, and dependent much more on a speaker’s ability to draw a crowd than upon the speaker’s place in an established hierarchy. The second was the way the revival undercut the traditional authority of the churches. Ecclesiastical life remained important, but not nearly as significant as the decision of the individual close to Christ.

– Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 60-61


In an article entitled, “The Problem with Pastors as Rock Stars,” Ed Stetzer offers some wise thoughts on the “celebrity culture” plaguing modern Evangelicalism:

If the church life revolves around one person’s speaking gift, it is incredibly difficult to move to community. A community “won” to a single voice is not won to community but to spectatorship. Thus, when pastors say, “It’s all about the weekend,” they tend to create an audience rather than a biblically functioning church community. This is still true if your church is an oft-criticized seeker megachurch or your verse-by-verse preaching point. Either way, if you get thousands sitting in rows but can’t move them to sitting in circles, true community is hard to find.

As a guy who travels around speaking, I understand how quickly it can happen. For the last few weeks, I’ve spoken at a church close to my own house while the pastor is on a short sabbatical. But even in delivering biblical messages, I’m not engaging in biblical community with those people. It takes more than a stage to create a community. The temptation must be fought that a mass of people gathered to hear one person speak is equal to biblical community.

Commenting about the growing prevalence of multi-site churches, Stetzer writes:

Some have pointed to the multi-site movement as an illustration of how the church has sold out to make rock star pastors famous. Personally, I am not anti-multi-site. When partnered with church planting, it has great potential. Nevertheless, while I’m not “anti,” I do urge caution. At times, I’ve joked about “rock star celebrity pastors beaming their graven image all over the country.” If you are a rock star pastor, perhaps you believe the church simply cannot go on without you. You would be wrong.

Pride was inherent in the fall of Adam, and it rears its head whenever one person deems the church’s future to ride on their shoulders or voice. Multi-site, or any program, as a necessity derived from the attention needed by a rock star pastor is idolatry.

Stetzer goes on to list four practical things pastors can do to fight against a “rock star” image.  The entire article is well-worth the read.

Some Evangelicals have a good grasp of the history of evangelical theology.  Unforunately, the majority is sadly deficient in historical knowledge.  Their theology tends to be ahistorical.  They lack a sense of the course of theological history which is their heritage.  They believe what they are taught here-and-now and have no awareness of the there-and-before.  To hold evangelical faith without a minimal knowledge of its history is theologically unhealthy if not precarious.  Without question, a number of fundamentalists and evangelicals have deserted the camp because, lacking any real historical knowledge of their heritage, they did not see their heritage in its proper light nor did they have an appropriate vantage point from which to assess the alternative view to which they capitulated.

– Bernard Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage: A Study in Historical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 14

The King James is better than most, translating one particular word here [in Philippians 3:8] as dung.  The word is skubalon, and means in the first place some kind of animal excrement.  And this verse helps show the problem we are in- Paul does teach elsewhere that we are to avoid filthiness in our speech, coarse jesting, and so on (Eph. 5:4).  But we have taken this and over-refined it, absolutizing it in terms of latent-Victorian sensibilities.  As a result we simply cannot imagine the lofty sentiment of this wonderful passage (e.g., the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord”) functioning in the same sentence with dog shit.  But there it is-Paul has scraped all self-important, prim and proper, fussy-tidy religion off the bottom of his shoe.  Why?  That he might win Christ. …

And depend upon it- modern evangelicals will be far more upset with my use of a certain phrase in the passage above than they are by the fact that many of our popular religious practices, customs, and superstitions smell like that phrase.

– Doug Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, 64-65

To these elitist developments [within Evangelicalism], we might add the emergence of the ‘flying teacher’ as an aspirational goal, given the departure from local pastorates by some to enhance ministry opportunities. Such a lifestyle has much to make it attractive: positively, it does allow wider access to the insights of a talented individual; negatively, it offers the individual limited accountability, not much need to prepare new sermons each week and none of the aggravation which comes from facing the same people year in, year out, sermon after sermon. Thus, it surely lacks the kind of context which would make such leaders truly helpful as role models. It is one thing to preach the same amazing sermon a dozen times a year, each time to a different crowd; but it gives you no insight whatsoever into the struggles of the pastor who has to prepare sixty plus sermons in the space of twelve months and keep his congregation engaged, fed and watered thereby. The loosening of role model from actual local church commitment is becoming quite dramatic and yet an almost unquestioned part of the culture.

Carl Trueman, “An Important and Positive Lesson from the Liberals (which you might not hear elsewhere)

For various reasons, satire is studied today as something of a museum piece, in much the same way that a military historian might analyze a crossbow.  The learned and respectable among us have agreed to abandon the use of satire, leaving this particular form of abuse to the buffooneries of late night comedians.  Our academicized scholars have gravitated to respectable discourse, along with other forms of surrender.

– Doug Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, p. 11

As I’m sure everyone who has Facebook knows, Jefferson Bethke’s “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video is lighting up the internet.  Currently, his video has over 6.5 million views on YouTube.  Clearly, something about his message is appealing to many people (it also helps to get a shout-out from The Resurgence).

In light of the way it has gone viral, I thought I might offer a brief response.  Below are four reasons why I love (pure) religion, but hate false dichotomies.

  1. Jesus was highly religious.  He was a devout, Torah-observing Jew, profoundly concerned about living a pure, God-honoring life.  When Jesus criticized the Pharisees and teachers of the Law – the self-proclaimed “religious people” of his day – he was not criticizing their “religion” but rather their lack thereof (cf. Jam. 1:27)!  It’s not that the Pharisees were too careful or strict in their observance of the Law.  Rather, they felt the freedom to pick and choose what they would follow, preferring to puff up their self-righteous hearts by (rightly) tithing out of their spice racks while (wrongly) neglecting justice, mercy, and faithfulness (“the weightier matters of the Law“).  Pitting Jesus against “religion” is inconsistent.
  2. Religion isn’t the problem.  Prideful works-righteousness is.  Do we really want to give up the word “religion” to a few self-righteous legalists who don’t understand the glories of grace?  I don’t.  The real issue is the way we all (not just the grumpy Baptist fundamentalists down the road) tend to confuse God’s grace with our merit.  You don’t have to be wearing a suit and tie to be brimming with self-righteousness.  The contrast isn’t “religion” vs. Jesus.  Rather, it’s mandated obedience in order to please a heavenly Dictator vs. a vital, Spirit-formed relationship with our benevolent Father. Christianity is fundamentally about the latter, not the former.  Pitting Jesus against “religion” just isn’t helpful.
  3. Christianity is a religion.  From a historical perspective, to abstract Jesus from the religion that he started is kind of silly.  By any normal definition, Christianity is a religion.  We can repudiate religion based on works-righteousness without disparaging religion based on Jesus.  Additionally, your “I follow Jesus, not a particular religion” line will only go so far.  Sooner or later, your unbelieving friends will realize that you’re simply a Christian who loves Jesus, and your false dichotomy will just end up making you look dumb and/or insincere.  Pitting Jesus against “religion” is simply silly.
  4. Jesus loves His church.  I worry about the conclusions that many will draw from rhetoric like this.  Many who dislike “religion” also dislike “the church,” thinking it’s full of disingenuous, self-righteous people.  And they’re right – the church is full of disingenuous, self-righteous people because the church is full of sinners!  But Christ loves His church.  He created it, sustains it, and is Lord over it.  And He desires that His people live, worship, and evangelize the world in community.  There’s no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian.  We were (re)created for Christian community (aka, the church).  Additionally, the New Testament clearly outlines a certain organization, structure, and authority for the church.  Yes, it can be abused, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to throw it out.  Pitting Jesus against “religion” is potentially dangerous.

All that being said, I understand the “heart” of the video’s message and agree with it. Christianity is first and foremost about the God who, in love, sovereignly reached out to wayward men and women for their salvation and joy. It’s not about what we need to do for God, but what He has already done for us.  Amen and amen.

I just think there are more helpful ways to go about accomplishing what Bethke and millions of other Christians really want: the faithful proclamation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more good thoughts on this, check out Jared Wilson’s blog.