Archives For evangelicalism

American Evangelicalism

Greg Strand – April 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Carl Trueman is insightful and often right in his assessment of theology, culture and theological trends, especially among Evangelicals. I appreciate his words and works immensely. However, he can at times sound edgy and critical.

In this brief article, “Mark Driscoll’s Problems, and Ours” he addresses American Evangelicalism, the young, restless and reformed group, and the recent revelation that Mars Hill bought Driscoll’s book on marriage onto the bestsellers list. With this recent revelation, Trueman uses it as an example of a larger problem in Evangelicalism. The subtitle speaks to the heart of his concern: “The crisis of leadership in American Evangelicalism.”

Yet he [Driscoll] is also a function of structural problems within the new Reformed movement itself. Despite its distinct and in many ways sophisticated theology, the “young, restless, and reformed” movement has always been in some respects simply the latest manifestation of the weakest aspects of American Evangelicalism. It was, and is, a movement built on the power of a self-selected band of dynamic personalities, wonderful communicators, and talented preachers who have been marketed in a very attractive manner. Those things can all be great goods but when there is no real accountability involved, when financial arrangements are opaque in the extreme, and when personalities start to supplant the message, serious problems are never far away. The overall picture is one of disaster.

This is in contrast to yesterday’s post that focused on an instance in which Evangelical identity worked. There were boundaries that were discerned and addressed which made a difference in one Evangelical para-church ministry’s decision. Here Trueman focuses on what is not working well in American Evangelicalism. Rather than address these significant issues, Trueman notes that no one really said anything about these matters. There was silence. As he noted, it was not that this group was afraid of speaking to other issues, as they had often in the past. But, claims Trueman, those other issues and people like Osteen and those from the Emergent group were soft targets. It is much more difficult to say anything when the issues are closer to home and heart. This, he concludes, is a mark of a fracture in this movement, for all the good it has done.

The one thing that might have kept the movement together would have been strong, transparent public leadership that openly policed itself and thus advertised its integrity for all to see. Yet the most remarkable thing about the whole sorry saga, from the Jakes business until now, has been the silence of many of the men who present themselves as the leaders of the movement and who were happy at one time to benefit from Mark Driscoll’s reputation and influence. . . . All of us who are thought of as Evangelical or Reformed now live with the bitter fruit of that failure of leadership.

Though I acknowledge and agree with many of the concerns raised, I wonder if some of the criticism is due to expecting of and from Evangelicalism what it is not intended to provide. The expectations stated above regarding structure, leadership and accountability are more matters for denominations not broader coalitions or movements that make up Evangelicalism.

It raised a number of questions, which I share with you.

  • How do you assess the strengths and weaknesses of American Evangelicalism?
  • Is Evangelicalism intended to have structure and leadership that policies itself and others within the movement?
  • Is Evangelicalism supposed to be similar to or equated with a denomination?
  • Are we expecting from Evangelicalism what we ought to expect from denominations?
  • How do we relate to Evangelicalism?
  • Where is my accountability?
  • Am I plugged into a denomination?

Recently I had a conversation with Michael, my son, who sent me an article written by a contemporary of his. The experience described by this person explains the plight of a number of young evangelicals or former evangelicals. As Michael notes, this differs markedly from his own experience, for which I am humbled and grateful to the Lord. I thought including this dialogue shared between Michael and me regarding this shift would be helpful.

Michael wrote: “This is an interesting and very strongly written article on someone who “left” evangelicalism: Confessions Of An Ex-Evangelical, Pro-SSM Millennial Their experience is almost the opposite of mine and saddens me that they didn’t make their faith their own.” (Michael also responded: “Confessions of a Current Evangelical.”)

I replied:

It would be interesting to see and experience what he now remembers and describes of his past to see how similar his description of it is in comparison or contrast to what actually occurred. Though our memories are our memories, and though most of them contain some elements of what actually did occur, many of those memories are interpreted and remembered through our own personal lens. It does not make then untrue, but they are subjective and have a bias. This is not to call the person or his recollections into question, or to read this merely with suspicion. This is actually the experience of us all. Rather I state this as a reminder to read it with this awareness.

Though I disagree with this young person’s solution, he raises some legitimate issues. Here are a few thoughts/responses, based on his observations.

  •  He is young and has limited experience, and it appears his experience was mostly in a similar kind of service in what sounds like mostly one church.
  • It was marked by anti-intellectualism and emotionalism. This has more fundamental and revivalist influence, than evangelical, though I don’t deny that some evangelicals move in this direction as well.
  • This was made evident in that every service was virtually the same with the same end-goal – an emotional response of “salvation” or “rededication.”
  • Doctrine or theology was equated with the Bible. This does not call into question the Bible but my understanding of the Bible and how to move from the Bible to theology. This is a major problem with many. What often happens is that in order to defend, support and bolster one’s view or position and its accompanying claim that it is biblical, there is a huge overreach such that one ends up undermining the Bible by what one intends to support using proof-texts from the Bible. There must be a unwavering, non-negotiable commitment to the Word of God and a humble commitment to theology, recognizing the former is inerrant and the absolute authority, while the latter is important but revisable.
  • There is a reality to an ick factor in ethics. But it generally arises in light of what culture determines to be taboo. The problem with basing an ethic on an ick factor is that one’s ethic is based on cultural mores, not unchanging biblical truth. This is precisely what he explains happened.
  • He is right to say that meeting one who is gay has been a game-changer for many. But the fact that they might be nice and kind does not change the fact that they are still sinners in need of repentance and the saving work of the Savior. This is true for any and all apart from Christ. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). And if I truly love them, it does not result in simply concluding they are nice and kind but sharing the gospel with them in hopes they will be saved. This, again, can be traced to the problem of those who have created the boogey man which is a straw man argument. This sort of argumentation can work for a while (I am not saying it is right, just acknowledging it can work) until one actually meets a real person that fits the description of the sin but without being the boogey man as portrayed.
  • There is a temptation to fall off one side of the horse or the other, either hyper-rationalism or hyper-emotivism. This is why I teach that the best of evangelicalism affirms the truths of the Reformation along with the truths of Pietism/Revivalism, viz. rational and relational, head and heart.
  • Sadly, too much of evangelicalism has treated any history of the church or Christian doctrine as suspect, at best, and from the antichrist, at worst. This is why when young people may be exposed to the teachings of the great tradition (or Great Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church or Orthodox), they conclude the only answer the first time they are exposed to this is either Canterbury (Anglicanism) or Rome (RCC). It grieves me. I ask, where are the pastors who ought to be teaching this?

Michael described briefly his experience: “My opposite experience was that some people over-emphasized the intellect to me at the expense of emotions. I had to learn that I could connect to God emotionally, which revolutionized my faith. It was amazing to me that I could connect emotionally to the Bible and to God and saw that my faith was both/and not either/or.”

I concluded our dialogue in the following way:

You will not generally find anyone who has all of the Christian life in “perfect” balance, apart from the Lord Jesus. This means that one needs to extend grace recognizing we are all in process and will be until we reach glorification. All believers generally know more and better than they live. The “damned disjunction,” as noted by Carson, is doctrinally disastrous and results in the truncated view of the Christian life as one applies doctrine to life.

Carson writes (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], 234), “So which shall we choose? Experience or truth? The left wing of the airplane, or the right? Love or integrity? Study or service? Evangelism or discipleship? The front wheels of a car, or the rear? Subjective knowledge or objective knowledge? Faith or obedience? Damn all false antithesis to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ.”

This is partly why some wisely focus on dead people as models because dead people don’t sin! There is truth to that. But if we only focus on dead people something important is also missing!

Remember Jaraslov Pelikan’s fitting words: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” (The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities)

Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and ETS

Greg Strand – November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

As a follow up to the last post on inerrancy, the theme of the Evangelical Theology Society’s annual meeting (November 19-21) is “Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and ETS.” Thomas Schriener, the ETS Program Chair, and James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes the following in his opening welcome to attendees:

The theme for this year’s conference (“Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and the Evangelical Theological Society: Retrospect and Prospect”) takes us back to the founders of the Evangelical Theological Society and to the reason the society was established. As evangelicals, who stand in the stream of the Reformation, we believe Scripture is the final and ultimate norm, so that the Scriptures are our final authority. Scripture stands over reason, tradition, and our own sensibilities and feelings as the authoritative Word of God. Hence, the Scriptures are infallible and inerrant. Such a view of Scripture’s authority and truthfulness represents the teaching of the church throughout history. The founders of the Evangelical Theological Society were not innovators; they stand in the stream of the orthodox church, learning from the saints of previous generations. Still, we are particularly grateful for the founders of the Evangelical Theological Society since they blazed the trail for us as a society in their unswerving devotion to the Scriptures.

The truthfulness of Scripture is contested in every generation, though the guise in which that rejection appears changes. Today there are new challenges and questions to Scripture’s authority, and thus we are called upon to proclaim the truth of the Word of God afresh, “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and to teach that “the law of the LORD is perfect” (Ps. 19:7).

Three plenary lectures are scheduled focusing on different aspects of inerrancy:

Plenary Session 1: John M. Frame, “Inerrancy in Christian Perspective”

Plenary Session 2: D. A. Carson, “An Evaluation of Some Recent Discussions on the Doctrine of Scripture”

Plenary Session 3: Ben Witherington III, “The Truth Will Out: An Historian’s Perspective on the Inerrancy Controversy”

In addition to these plenary lectures, there will be hundreds of papers addressing the theme of inerrancy and other biblical, theological, historical and pastoral issues that affect and are affected by the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

This is a timely topic and it should be an excellent conference!

Evangelicalism

Greg Strand – October 7, 2013 Leave a comment

This year we celebrate the centennial of Carl F. H. Henry’s birth. We also reflect on the implications of his new birth and the significant way God used Henry in the broader movement known as Evangelicalism.

In a recent article in Trinity Magazine (Fall 2013), “The Legacy of Carl F. H. Henry: An Evangelical’s Evangelical,” Doug Sweeney, Professor and Chair of the Church History and History of Christian Thought Department at TEDS, elaborates on Henry’s commitment to evangelical identity writing,

Evangelicalism at its best has been intentionally collaborative, intentionally international, inter-ethnic, and interdenominational. We need to be fed by the deep waters of our own denominational, churchly, and confessional traditions, even as we agree to disagree on secondary matters for the sake of working together for the gospel.

I like Sweeney’s understanding/definition of Evangelicalism!

This year marks the centennial of the birth of Carl F. H. Henry. Henry was an evangelical giant of last century. He served as an architect of modern day evangelicalism in the United States, was involved in the inception of Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and the Evangelical Theological Society. Henry was also a professor, friend, and supporter of TEDS. While at TEDS, I was privileged to have Dr. Henry as my Systematic Theology professor, one of the last classes he taught.

This centennial provides a wonderful opportunity to remember Carl Henry, the man and his ministry, and to rejoice in the God he loved and worshiped. It also provides an occasion to reflect on Henry’s work and to rekindle the enduring significance of his theological vision for the present and future of evangelical scholarship, continuing the spirit of philosophical, theological and social engagement that Henry lived and envisioned.

Trinity International University will be hosting one of these opportunities through a one-day Conference, sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding: “Remembering Carl Henry: Evangelicalism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”

The Conference will be held on Friday, October 11, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.  There will be six excellent lectures addressing different aspects of Carl Henry’s life and theology and the important things we can learn from him that will enable us to understand evangelicalism of yesterday and to strengthen it today.

Michael D. White, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Carl F. H. Henry’s Christ-Centered Biblical Interpretation”

Jason Stanghelle, “God, History, and Authority? History and Revelation in the Thought of Carl F. H. Henry”

Keith Yandell, “On Not Confusing Incomprehensibility with Ineffability: Carl F. H. Henry On Literal Propositional Revelation”

Timothy Padgett, “Carl F. H. Henry, the Principled Patriot?”

Owen Strachan, “The Great University Crusade: Carl F. H. Henry’s Vision for Crusade University”

Gregory Thornbury, “Carl F. H. Henry and Cultural Change: Is ‘Transformatinalism’ Dead?”

The lectures will be followed by a banquet beginning at 6:00 PM: “Global Vision: Carl Henry, Evangelicalism, and Trinity’s Enduring Significance.” Guest speakers will be D.A. Carson and Gregory Thornbury.  This will prove a wonderful evening for the Trinity community and all interested persons to recall Carl Henry’s vision, celebrate his life and legacy, and rekindle his relationship to Trinity.

If you are interested in reading more of this, please see the Conference website.  If you are able to attend, you can register here.

I will be attending. I trust many of you will be able to be present as well!