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Posts Tagged ‘Evangelicalism’

I am not a big fan of “church signs.”  I put that in quotations because of course I don’t have a problem with signs that inform people of church services or church locations etc.  What I do have a problem with is the trivializing of serious biblical truths that can be found on church billboard such as “Hell is hot, come on in we are prayer-conditioned.”  Despite my disdain for some of the sillier signs, every once in a while, I will come across one that I really like, this happened to me recently on the way home from running. The sign that I saw said this, “COMING SOON:  Jesus!”  I read that and I thought, “YES, my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ is coming again and he is going to raise me up to be with Him forever!”

Are you excited about the Lord’s return?  This is how the Bible ends:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21).

When John received the promise and vision of Christ’s glorious return to finally and fully redeem his children, he got excited.  He said, “Amen” which literally means “truly” or in more modern terms, “YES!”  “Come, Lord Jesus!”  Paul was excited about it too, when Paul wrote the Philippians, he was in prison and wasn’t sure if and when he would be executed, he said, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which shall I choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:22-23).  In other words, Paul is saying, if I got what I wanted, I would go to be with Christ.  Paul is saying here, “I want to be with Jesus, I long to be with Him for eternity!”  If you read on, Paul admits that it seems that God has more ministry in mind for Paul (thus he indeed live on in the flesh) and he submits himself to God’s will in that regard—there is no morbid longing to die in Paul, just a longing to be with Christ in a fuller way than he currently is.

This is a great question to ask yourself to gauge where you are spiritually—“do you long for Jesus to return?”  If not, what is keeping you from longing for that?  What is it that you want in this life that is keeping you from longing for Christ?  What do you want to experience this side of eternity that is keeping you from longing for Christ supremely?

When I was in high school and newly converted, I started dating a girl (neither of us were mature enough in our faith to be dating but that is another story) who from time to time would make comments like, “I hope Christ doesn’t come back before I have the opportunity to get married and have a family.”  At the time I suppose I sympathized with the sentiment, but I was also devouring the Bible at the time and Paul’s words, to “be with Christ is far better” seemed to contradict her sentiments.  So from time to time, I ask myself—is there anything keeping me from longing for Jesus to come back?  Are there things I think I would miss if Jesus came back now?  Those questions have helped me to identify idols in my life that are keeping me from delighting supremely in Christ.

If your heart’s desire is not, “come Lord Jesus,” why not?  Answering that question could be key in removing tremendous road blocks to growth in your walk with Christ.

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Dear Secular American,

I know what you have heard, that evangelicals are trying to force their religion down the throats of our country’s citizens by teaching creationism in the schools, fighting against gay marriage, and illegalizing abortion.  I know how evil you think those agendas are.  Fair enough, you are free to think that such agendas are evil and no doubt you have bought into the idea that is being proposed by the secular media that such agendas stem from people who take the Bible seriously and believe it to the Word of God.  And I know how the media and silly documentaries like Jesus Camp and Religulous have told you that evangelical Christians are dangerous nut jobs who actually believe the Bible.  If the goal of evangelicals is to force their religion upon secular American society, then I would agree, what evangelicals are doing is evil.

First, your thinking about the Bible needs to be challenged.  If evangelicals are really utilizing the Bible to force their religion down other American’s throats, then those evangelicals are NOT taking the Bible seriously.  Let me just challenge you to read the New Testament a little.  Nowhere in the Bible do Jesus or any of the Apostles command Christians to force their religion on anyone or usher in a theocracy.  Jesus tells his followers to preach the good news, to call people to repentance, and to give to the needy.  Any “Christian” movement that attempted to force people to become Christians did NOT do so because the Bible told them to.  In fact Jesus taught that His kingdom is not of this world, otherwise His servants would be fighting (John 18:36).  “For this purpose” Christ came into the world, “to bear witness to the truth.”  That is what the Bible calls Christians to do–to bear witness, not to make people, who don’t want to be, Christians.

If evangelical Christians would take the Bible seriously–you, secular American, would have little to fear.  You know what Jesus told his disciples to do when people would not receive them or their message?  Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet and leave (Matthew 10:14)–scary huh?  If you choose to reject the gospel, the Biblical Christian will simply pray for you, he may persist in speaking the truth to you in love, but he will never force you to accept the gospel because the Bible-believing Christian knows he cannot force you to do anything.  So when you persist in unbelief, the Biblical Christian will simply move on and preach the gospel to other people and pray that some seed was planted that God will cause to grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

The Bible teaches that it is God who draws lost people to Himself–”no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Again, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3-6).  A Christian who really believes the Bible knows that she/he is utterly incapable of causing you or anyone else to be born again.  Biblically-minded Christians know that it is the “Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6).  So all you have to fear from a Bible-believing Christian is a gospel presentation that you are free to reject.  No doubt, a true Christian will try to persuade you (2 Cor. 5:11, 20) and implore you to be reconciled to God through Christ, but they will NEVER force your hand.

The goal of Biblical Christianity is to worship God and the testimony of the Bible tells us that we do that, not primarily in the political sphere but in the spiritual sphere (2 Cor. 10:4-5).  Our war is fought in the marketplace of ideas and in the hearts of those to whom we preach the gospel and because conversion is the work of God we WILL NOT force it anyone, we will simply speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  We live out our mission as Bible believing Christians by preaching, teaching, and proclaiming, never by forcing you to submit to the truth–one Day God will do that (Rom. 12:9).  I believe the Bible is true and that in the end every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue will confess Him as Lord, whether to one’s eternal glory or to one’s eternal shame in Hell.  I know I can’t make you appreciate that and I won’t try to make you, but I will tell you the truth and pray that God would open your eyes so that you can see it!  I apologize for those “Christians” who have made you think that the Bible teaches that our job is to force the world to bow the knee to Christ and shove our Christian morality down your throat.  If that is your perspective, my guess, however, is that you learned to perceive Christians in such a way more from the media and perhaps from a few Biblically-uniformed “Christians” rather than from the Bible itself.

If evangelical Americans owe you an apology, it is this–”sorry for not taking the Bible seriously, because if we had, our primary agenda would not be abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution in the schools but rather preaching the gospel.  I am sorry that many evangelicals (myself included) are far too uninformed on the Bible. We do not think those issues are unimportant, but they pale in comparison to how desperately you need to hear the gospel of Christ.  We apologize that our politcal agendas have distracted us from what is most important–the gospel.”  I will admit upfront that I believe abortion is wrong and that God created marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but before we talk at any length about those issues, I want to talk to you about something far more urgent–I want to talk to you about the gospel:

God created the universe and is the greatest being.  Before the universe was, God simply was–God is, was, and always will be.  God is holy–He is perfect in every way, in love, in justice, goodness, and power.  God created the World and He created it good.  God created people in His own image, He created women and men to be in fellowship with him.  He created them to love Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him (Isaiah 43:6-7).  There is a problem though, men and women freely chose not to worship God, in fact they rebelled against God’s holiness and tried to take His place despite how good and gracious God had been to them.  Because God is holy and perfect in justice, He could not overlook such a heinous act of insurrection against Him or He would not be just.  So the penalty of sin is death (Gen 2:17; Romans 6:23) and not just physical death but spiritual death, death cut off from the goodness and mercy of God (Isaiah 59:2).  Every single one of us have sinned in the same way that the Adam and Eve did.  We have sinned in that we have broken God’s laws (10 Commandments: we lie, we steal, we commit adultery–Jesus said you lust after a woman not your wife, you have committed adultery, Matthew 5:28), but more than just breaking the rules we have rebelled against God (Joshua 22:19, Rom. 1:18-20) by worshiping things other than God, who alone is worthy of worship.  We have worshiped, valued, delighted in many things that are not worthy of worship.  And God being ultimate and perfectly just, must punish us for our insurrection and that punishment is Hell.  Which is a real place that Jesus talks about extensively (Matthew 10:28) and because no one is righteous before God and no one seeks for Him or worships Him, we all deserve to go to Hell (Romans 3:10-18).

That is the bad news of the gospel, but the gospel is profoundly good news, so here is the good news:

Though God is just and must punish us in our sin and rebellion against Him, He made a way for us to be forgiven and restored to the purpose for which He created us.  We can be restored to a right relationship with Him in which we value Him supremely through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.  On the cross Jesus was bearing on his own shoulders the punishment that sin deserves for all who believe in Him (2 Cor. 5:21; Romans 3:23-25; 1 Peter 3:18).  If you will believe in Christ and turn from sin to Him, then Christ has died for you as a substitute.  He died in your place that you would forgiven from sin.  But more than that, Jesus conquered the curse of sin–death.  He rose again from the dead to show that what sin has power to do, he has power to overcome.  In His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death for all who would believe.

If that makes sense to you and you sense you need to come to grips with the God of the gospel, then I encourage you to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).  Pray to God that He would make His Son real to you and that you would turn away from sin to God and embrace Jesus as Lord over everything in your life.  That doesn’t mean you won’t sin anymore, you will, but you will then be free to begin living in a way that values God supremely and in valuing God supremely there is “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

Get a Bible (I recommend starting with the ESV or the NIV), read it, I recommend starting in the New Testament perhaps with the book of Mark or John.  Find a church that preaches and teaches the Bible faithfully.  Look for a church that does more than just tell you how to have a full life, look for a church that equips you with the Bible and encourages you to grow in fellowship with God and in conformity to Christ.  Find a mature Christian who is willing to talk through your questions about the Bible and will hold you accountable to study and to grow in community with others at church.

Christianity is not so scary if you really believe in the God of the Bible.

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I was recently asked to be a part of a group blogging project at Said at Southern on David Wells’ new book The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. I volunteered to write a summary and analysis of chapter 2 of the book called “Christianity for Sale.”

The chapter is a critical assessment of the the market-driven direction of many evangelical churches today. Since some of our readers do not read Said at Southern, I thought I would post the article here as well. If you want to comment feel free to do so, but I would prefer that you comment over at S@S so that all the comments are in the same place! Let me know what you think.

Overview

Christianity for SaleI remember the first time I heard the word “evangelical.” I was in high school and had only been a Christian for about a month. I thought the word meant that a church preached the gospel–I was completely naïve to how loaded the term was.

Today the word “evangelical” carries with it a ton of baggage, much of which has very little to do with the gospel. I wish my naïvete had been correct because in today’s market-driven evangelical churches, it seems that the gospel has shifted from the foundation to the periphery. It may or may not be time to throw out the word “evangelical” but evangelical churches certainly cannot hope to bring glory to God if the methods of the market continue to trump those of Scripture.

David Wells calls attention in this chapter to this trajectory and rebukes such evangelical churches for letting the market take precedent over Scripture. What drives the marketers is the idea that “things are stagnating in the evangelical world and the ways of ‘doing’ church in the past won’t work with the newer generation.” Thus, evangelical churches, it is thought, must “change their way of doing business or face extinction.”

Many evangelical churches have turned to the marketing world for answers; it would seem that traditional or liturgical churches have ignored their customers as the way they “do church” has not changed over the years. Marketers, on the other hand, realize that in the business world, the customer is supreme. Indeed, as Wells says, “Customers, after all, are sovereign.” This is why today there are entire conferences for pastors on how to make one’s church more relevant that make almost no mention of doctrine, truth, Scripture, or expositional preaching. Apparently the market is not ripe for truth! Wells’ basic argument is that the “form” of these marketing churches “is actually affecting the content” and when the customer is sovereign, he determines the agenda over and against any other potential sovereign.

Several factors have added to the market-driven climate that much evangelicalism finds itself in. Modernization, the rearrangement of our societies around cities, has contributed along with the rise of the information age in which consumers are confronted with an over-abundance of information. Consumers are buying new products at ever increasing rates and the church has learned to speak the language of the market by offering consumers exactly what they want.

There are so many choices in the market place today that the customer must be treated very delicately–one false move and the customer will take his business elsewhere. This same mindset is taking place in many churches today who are struggling to keep up with the market in fear of losing those who they have marketed the church to. In pandering to the consumer, churches inevitably sacrifice the truth. When churches begin to sweep the hard truths of Scripture under the rug for the sake of getting people into the church doors, these hard truths run the risk of being lost altogether. What use is a seeker-sensitive church that never offers anything of substance for seekers to find?

Wells compares this delicate balance between consumer and customer to parents with disaffected children. These children feel their parents have been cruelly unjust towards them and the parents response is “to back off and take the path that inflicts the least pain.” What these parents fail to see, Wells notes, is that “they are about to be robbed . . . out of their good intentions, space is enlarged around the child, latitude allowed, rules are rescinded, rebukes are stifled except in rare cases, and expectations are lifted.” Despite the parent’s best efforts to give their children space to grow out of such onerous attitudes, the result of such abdication is children who are more onerous and intolerable than ever before.

This is a powerful metaphor because I think Wells is correct–this is exactly what is happening in many churches today. In garnering themselves to the market, churches have actually driven a wedge between the average church member and theology, between doctrine and practice. Wells cites a Barna poll which reports that “in America 45 percent say they are born again but only 9 percent, and maybe only 7 percent, give any evidence of Christian seriousness by way of minimal biblical knowledge for making life’s decisions.” The result of this delicate dance is church members who do not know their Bibles and do not live by them. This is because the world has set the agenda for church over and against the Bible.

Analysis

Although the emergent church movement represents a significant shift in the evangelical church today, I think that the influence of the market-driven churches are much more widely felt. This can be seen in the vast number of mega churches present today-in America in 2005, there were 1,210 mega churches (churches with more than 2,000 members) as opposed to 16 in 1960. This can be seen in Barnes and Noble and Borders when Your Best Life Now competes for position on the best-sellers shelf with the latest Oprah Book Club title.

This can be seen in the disturbing statistics on how many “Christians” in the evangelical world today actually read their Bibles and apply them to their day-to-day lives. This can be seen in churches that have the most up-to-date facilities, all the best technology, and multiple services based on every genre of music but are clueless about what it means to be a member of a local church.

Wells is absolutely correct when he points out that the needs consumers identify for themselves are not their true needs. The true needs of every man, woman, and child are the needs God identifies for them. Indeed, we suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) and “are incapable of being obedient to it (Rom. 8:7).” In other words we need the Lord to change us-we need a revival of Biblical Christianity because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Furthermore, Wells cites a study by Thom Rainer on the unchurched in America that indicates that the people are leaving these market-driven churches because they came to church to hear preaching and to learn doctrine! The death knell of market driven churches is the ever-changing nature of the market.

What good are churches doing if they succeed in getting people into the church but fail to give them anything of substance to which they can commit to? I am all for getting seekers to come to church, but not at the expense of minimizing or eliminating doctrine and the commitment implied in Biblical church membership. If we continue to let the market drive our Christianity, it will inevitably cease to be distinctively and historically “Christian.” You know there is a problem in the evangelical church in America when the preacher of the largest church can tell Larry King that he believes Mormons are Christians and yet there is not a mass exodus of people leaving his church!

The stakes are high, if our churches continue to pander to the market they may for some time continue to draw a crowd, but if in doing so they are sacrificing the truth of the Bible then they have utterly failed at their primary objective. The church’s primary objective is to display the glory of God in Christ Jesus. When the preaching of the cross is no longer the church’s firm foundation, the church will inevitably fail-not by the world’s standards but by the Lord’s. I don’t mean to communicate that we cannot learn anything from the marketing world, but when the market drives our Christianity over and against the Word of God, our evangelical Christianity has ceased to be truly Christian or evangelical. I have not decided whether I am ready to search for a new term to replace evangelical, but I am determined more than ever, to join Wells in preaching Christ and him crucified and letting God’s perfect Word set the agenda for my church. Wells makes a compelling case:

It is time to reach back into the Word of God, as we have not done in a generation, and find again a serious faith for undoubtedly serious times. It is now time to close the door on this disastrous experiment in retailing faith, to do so politely but nevertheless firmly. It is time to move on. It is time to become Protestant once again.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How has the market-driven model affected Churches you have been a part of? (Please don’t name names, share stories but don’t slander anyone)
  2. Can we salvage the term evangelical and still distinguish ourselves from the marketers who have essentially made the gospel secondary?
  3. Am I being too critical? What can we learn from these marketers?
  4. Wells doesn’t lump all mega churches into the category of marketers, how does a mega church (or any growing church for that matter) avoid the inevitable temptation to pander themselves to the consumer?
  5. How ought we to seek to grow our churches biblically?

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