Thursday, May 31, 2007

Liking the term "Evangelical" less and less

Thinking out loud here (as a blog allows), combined with recent personal observations and studies, I have been questioning whether I really qualify as an evangelical. Don't get me wrong, if "evangelical" is defined as one who believes faith in Christ is the only way of salvation and the bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, then I am an evangelical. However, based on popular culture's (TIME Magazine) identification of who the "Top 25 Evangelicals", I see little connection between me and almost all of them.

Consider these names, with no offense meant against these individuals- Rick Warren, Douglas Coe, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Billy and Franklin Graham, Ted Haggard, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Richard Land, Brian McLaren, Joyce Meyer, Richard John Neuhas, Mark Noll, J.I. Packer, and Jay Sekulow. These are just 16 of the people identified as the "Top 25 -most influential- Evangelicals". Seriously? These folks are what is considered evangelical? It strikes me that none of them are listed for their commitment to Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) or Solus Christus (Christ alone), but for their seeming political and cultural sway in America. Certainly J.I. Packer is a faithful defender of these reformational principles and one of my heroes. Mark Noll is also a sound representative of historical Christianity. Land and Colson have certainly made solid statements supporting biblical and Christological commitment. But there are few on the list that qualify as defenders and promoters of the historic Christian faith. Again, I mean no offense against any on the list, I'm just wondering how I fit, since I have always called myself an evangelical.

Perhaps what irks me the most is Rick Warren being listed at the top. Praise God for whatever has been done for the honor and glory of Christ through Rick Warren's ministry, however, his statement about a "second reformation" (a subject I am very passionate about), showed dangerous ignorance, especially if it reflects what most evangelicals think:

"I’m looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what is the church doing".

Warren is seriously wrong. The first reformation, very simply, was about authority (the bible or the pope ?) in order for the people of God to live for God's glory. There was never a separation between creeds and deeds for any of the reformers! Sure, there are many other issues that came up during the remarkable 16th Century Reformation, however, the most practical issue was determining man's locus of authority. I say practical because the matter was directly linked to our deeds (again, Warren seems to think there is no connection between creeds and deeds- very telling, very dangerous). The first reformation was about a rediscovery of God's authoritative Word so our lives could be lived for the glory of God. The Scriptures were released from their inaccessibility in a Josiah-like rediscovery and given to the whole church. The first reformation was about right thinking (orthodoxy) producing right actions (orthopraxy). WE NEED THIS AGAIN TODAY!

Warren epitomizes what is wrong with modern Evangelicalism- he assumes we (evangelicals) know doctrine well but just don't live it out. I would contend we do not know doctrine well and that is why we are NOT having a serious impact on our culture.

Why would I suggest we do not know our doctrine well? Besides my personal interactions with many different believers from several "evangelical" denominations and churches, just look at the "Top 25 Evangelicals". Most could not be classified as trained biblicists: one is a heretic (T.D. Jakes- does not believe in the Trinity), and one is a Roman Catholic (Richard Nehaus). Of the group Time magazine enumerates, only Richard Land, Mark Noll, and J.I. Packer can be considered trained, studied, learned biblicists. The 16th Century Reformation was led by trained pastors and theologians, not pop icons. I have great respect for several of the people on this list and do not challenge the notions that God has used them for his glory in some way or that they have an important role to play in leading Christians and culture, I only point out the relative lack of biblical prowess among those who are considered leading evangelicals. James Dobson has some helpful pointers for family life and parenting, but his dependence and on secular psychology ought to be challenged more. Billy Graham seems to be a wonderfully godly man, however his consistent refusal to speak in biblically absolute terms regarding the fate of those who do not trust in Christ has long been troubling to me. Tim LaHaye can certainly help write top-selling "Christian fiction" (what kind of genre is that?), however he is in no way to be considered a biblical scholar. Frankly, his brand of eschatology has caused a wide level of pessimistic, separatistic practices by churches who believe "it's getting worse and worse", basically according to God's plan for the end times. Bill Hybels, Ted Haggard, Joyce Meyer? Wow. These are the leaders of the American evangelical Church? I really do wonder how long this label "Evangelical" can be used and still mean something. The label "new evangelical" or Neoevangelical has been batted around to describe some of the people mentioned in Time's article. Maybe such a label is more helpful? I don't know. I think "evangelical", for most people in America, means right-wing conservative who goes to some kind of "purpose-driven" mega church.

When I read who popular culture identifies as "Top Evangelicals", quite frankly, it saddens me. Evangelical has been reduced to having a big church, best selling self-help books, or seemingly great political influence and friends in "high" places. I'm none of those things, don't want to be, and never will be.
While popular with many (and hated by others), Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox weren't these things either. They did garner large crowds, distribute lots of books, and exert certain political influence, but did so with a constant focus and emphasis on the glory of God, a commitment to the bible and teaching sound doctrine. I assure you, none of them got rich doing these things. They really believed the Scriptures were all we need for life and godliness. They believed faithful exposition of Scripture would be the catalyst for changing not only the Church, but the world. All were willing and ready to die for reformation. Why are names like Sproul, Piper, MacArthur, Zacharias, Chapell, Frame, Pratt and Mohler not mentioned in such a group? I think this is telling.

R.C. Sproul Jr. has been credited with making this observation- An evangelical is a fundamentalist that wants the respect of modernists, and sells his soul to get it. He has a point.

Maybe I'll snap out of this, but for now, I just don't like what the label "evangelical" has come to mean. I don't know if I am one.


Aaron said...

Dude, you're so cranky. Did you get enough sleep last night?

My take is that the word 'evangelical' means whatever the person uttering it wants it to mean. It seems like it's been that way for a long time.

AJF said...

Maybe you're right....I did get to sleep late last night.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Cranky or not, I'd say your analysis is spot on.

A wise man has written:

"Modern evangelicalism is in a state of crisis. The very community that historically has been deeply interested in transcendent, timeless truth seems intent upon focusing on the merely private, personal, and temporal. If I may be so blunt, the church has lost its soul. The quest for contemporary relevance has led it down the path of increasing irrelevancy and marginalization. The evangelical church is on the brink of becoming another of the many social do-good agencies whose purpose has to do with helping people to more fully enjoy this life while neglecting the implications of eternity. While our culture has shown a marked inclination to secularism, the church seems to have followed suit. One of our Christian social critics has summarized the problem like this: "The stream of orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now damned by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself." There is also an appalling ignorance, among the churches, of their rich Christian heritage. Church historian Mark Noll speaks of "the scandal of the evangelical mind," the denigration of the intellectual content of the faith, and the elevation of the subjective and personal. Christian pollster George Barna complains that the average Christian is uninterested in life-changing religious convictions, having little more than the most superficial awareness of sin, grace, and redemption. . . .

The need of the hour is not for revival; it is for something even more fundamental. It is time for a reformation in the church. Revival has to do with the extension of the gospel; the greatest need in the contemporary church is to rediscover the gospel, its glory, and its power. It is time to return to the fundamentals of the faith and be refreshed in its truths, to gain anew a love and respect for the Holy Scriptures. Revival without reformation is religious fervor at best; revival out of reformation is the only hope of the church" (Dr. John D. Hannah, Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine, p. 18, 20).

AJF said...

Excellent quote from Dr. Hannah.

Kampfgruppe Hoppa said...

I agree with you reference most "evangelicals" don't know doctrine. First, if evangelicals knw their doctrine (scripture/God's word) then they wouldn't be filling the megachurches of Meyers, Jakes, Olsteen, et al. Read what these people are writing and listen to them preach. They are teaching in many cases, unbiblical ideas, and in some cases heresy. Second, if what Warren says is true, why do I need Christ? Why do I need Christianity? If a behavioral reformation is all we need. I can be good and do good on my own merits. I can follow the doctrines of Dr. Phil and Oprah and live out a pretty good life, and helping others in the process. As stated, a proper understanding of doctrine leads to proper behavior. I see a dangerous trend among some modern evangelicals: the 'Church without Christ.'

Qayaq said...

So on the list we have,
A homosexual drug addict, Ted Haggard. Several heretics including T.D. Jakes and Brian McLaren. Along with a reencarnation of Charles Finney, Billy Graham, and several self help gurus. Christ did not need to die for anything these people teach.

IMO the good thing about the "Left Behind Series" is that the ridiculousness of it being put forth in print is causing smart people to look for other possible alternatives for the end times. Hopefully these people "evangelicals" are a catalyst for true believers to start craving real biblical truth.

Anonymous said...

Well put. Here is another blog from today, with a similar view of "evangelicals". It is also a good read.

mike b

Frontier Forest said...

A lot of heavy thoughts rightly pontificated from Pastor Tony and some very insightful bloggers.
Isn’t interesting how the
“emerging” church, as well as our anti-Christian post-modern culture have forced, once good and healthy, Christians of principle, pointing fingers of bigotry and now implying them now as

15 years ago, I used to be proud to place myself in fundamentalist” camps. Then nuts like Fred Phelps became “media madness” and anyone who would dare call themselves,
“one of those” was immediately labeled as “right-wing radical, fundamental Christian extremists”.
Now “intolerance” is a bad word and “tolerance” has become a good word? Therefore Christians who are pillars of unbending truth are immediately guilty, and labeled as “intolerant”! Leaving men like Sproul, Piper, MacArthur, Zacharias, Colson, Lamb, Swindoll, whose strong voice for truth is generally mocked…. these brave warriors of faith are being disgustingly marked, even referred to as “Christian Terrorists!”
So it is today, anyone who sits in a pew, proudly boasts of being an “evangelical!”
And popular media guru, Rick Warren paints a false but rosy portrait of evangelicalism as an easy formula for “doing good” rather than knowing intimately, the only one who is eternally GOOD!
With great success such charismatic figures have gained the respect of the world and lost touch with the real meaning of what it means to be evangelical!
What do I call myself now? I am an intolerant Christian, striving to "speak the Word in truth and in love," who believes sin is sin and knowing Christ and His inerrant Word, is mankind’s only hope for peace and happiness. As Oswald Chambers so lived, “Christians who are totally abandoned unto Christ, are joyfully content to live a life of abandonment unto the world.”