Archive for the ‘The Mysterious World of American Evangelicalism’ Category

James Davison Hunter says that, “…Christianity in North America…is a weak culture; weak insofar as it is fragmented in it’s core beliefs and organization, without a coherent collective identity and mission, and often divided within itself, often with unabated hostility.”

My question: “what’s the solution?”

Jared Wilson suggests that hymns aren’t outdated as much as the progression of preaching that has morphed into something that makes hymns sounds weird (link). The point being that preaching is no longer as Gospel-saturated as it once was, which provided the fitting response of the hymn because the emotions were engaged within the context of Biblical preaching. Lot’s of people say that hymns are too doctrinal and too God-centered. This explains why many newer songs lack any doctrinal precision and are filled with repetitions of how God loves us and how we love Him, as if love is the lone attribute of God toward us and us toward Him.

Andrew Sandlin wrote a good post this week on the same subject that I keep seeing – Christians who use grace as a cover for antinomianism. Sandlin says:

We ourselves are required to rebuke evil and have no company with it (Eph. 5:11–13).

What many of today’s grace-talking non-judgmentalists actually want is a grandfatherly God who overlooks their rebellion and favors them despite their gross, unrepentant sin.  They want to fornicate, despise God’s church and its ordinances, observe pornography, abuse prescription (and illegal) drugs, profane God’s name, revel in lewdness, spurn the godly counsel of parents and pastors and teachers, eschew hard work, and otherwise lust to be accepted by an apostate, pagan culture — all while assuming the pious protection of God’s grace.

Hyde, Daniel R.. Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims. Orlando, Fla.: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Reformation Trust provided this copy for a honest review on my part, so here it is:

Rev. Hyde offers readers a primer on the history and doctrine of the Reformed Church, focusing mainly on the 3 Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt).

The Good:

Although an Evangelical Baptist, I am indebted to the 3 forms more than any other confession, catechism, or doctrinal formulation. I welcome with joy this brief book which introduces many to a heritage that is little-known in the broader American Evangelical Church.

Rev. Hyde takes great care to represent Reformed theology as a religion of the heart and mind. Hyde states,

“God has established an inseparable connection between truth and godliness. If truth remains in our heads but does not proceed to dwell in our hearts and find expression in our conduct, then we are no different, James says, than the devils (James 2:18-19).”

 Many have criticized Reformed theology as being arrogant and cerebral. While there are some who may unfortunately represent the Reformed heritage in such a way, this certainly is unrepresentative of the whole. Hyde commends Scottish Presbyterian John “Rabbi” Duncan’s quote, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist and finally a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order.” Hyde reminds us that we are first Christians, and secondly catholics. Catholic in the sense that we affirm solidarity with the church behind us, the church around us, and the church ahead of us.

Hyde also reminds us that Reformed theology highlights the importance of Sanctification. While many may first think of God’s sovereignty and Justification as key Reformed doctrines, the Reformers cared just as much about holy living. Hyde notes:

“Our Reformed fathers focused heavily on holy living. The volume of teachings they devoted to sanctification in their confessions and catechisms is striking. The Heidelberg Catechism devotes forty-four of its 129 questions and answers, more than one-third of its material, to sanctification, while the Westminster Larger Catechism devotes an impressive eighty-two of 196 questions and answers (42 percent) to this subject. By this emphasis, the Reformed churches declared that Calvinism is no mere religion of “head knowledge,” and we cannot live as if it makes us the “frozen chosen,” as we are sometimes derisively known. It is a religion of head and heart.”

The last emphasis that I found helpful was Hyde’s treatment of the Church and the centrality of the means of grace through Word and Sacraments. He reminds us that,

“It is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, that creates the people of God. The gospel not only saves us from our sins and the wrath of God, it places us in vital union with Jesus Christ and other Christians. Thus, the church is the fruit of the gospel; it is not our own creation, but a creation of the triune God of grace.”

The Bad: (more…)

Like many Christians, I’ve wished that Christians could be more united even while I am a Protestant, a member of the most divided of the branches of the Christian tradition.  Recently I read two articles about two efforts to address our current divisions.  One is far away from me in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the other nearby in the Northern suburbs of Chicago.  The Christ Together movement in Lake County, IL, has apparently spread to Hampton Roads in coastal Virginia too.

I read the article about Argentina first.  Here are some excerpts from the article that explain the rationale and story:

Argentina’s unity movement is based on a simple biblical concept.

“Each time the New Testament speaks of the church in a city such as Ephesus, it is always singular, never plural,” says Carlos Mraida, pastor of Del Centro First Baptist Church. “Yet when the New Testament speaks of leadership in a city, it is always plural. The church is singular, but leadership is plural.”…

A new spirit of unity arose in the early 1980s, when hundreds of Argentine cities formed pastors councils thanks to the crusades of Carlos Annacondia. The Pentecostal businessman-turned-preacher required the formation of a council before he would visit a city. The decade closed with two national retreats attended by 1,200 pastors.The Buenos Aires council was founded in 1982 by five pastors: Bongarrá, Saracco, Mraida, charismatic pastor Jorge Himitián, and Baptist pastor Pablo Deiros. Their starting point was creating friendships between pastors, said Saracco, as it’s easier to unite people than denominations.

Next came reconciliation over past wrongs. The political tumult during the nation’s Dirty War of the 1970s and ’80s created a deep divide between mainline churches, which defended human rights, and evangelical churches, which remained silent, says Saracco. At a downtown summit in 1999, the council asked the two sides to forgive one another in front of the 250,000 gathered.

Over time, pastors wanted a formalized structure and created rotating elected offices of president, vice president, and other traditional positions. But functioning as a typical institution did not work well, says Bongarrá, and the council lost momentum. So in 2006 the council invited the founders (minus Deiros, who had left for Fuller Theological Seminary) to come back and revitalize the council. The four agreed—on one condition. (more…)

Anthony Bradley, a writer for World magazine, as well as the author of “Liberating Black Theology“, posted an article “Practicing True Diversity“, in which he advocates more cultural diversity within Evangelicalism to reflect the global Christian faith, but insinuates that Voddie Baucham, Tony Evans, and Thabiti Anyabwile are invited to mostly “White” Evangelical conferences as a token effort to show diversity. Here are my issues with Bradley:

  1. While I wholeheartedly agree with his plea for more diversity, and would even amen his observation of the lack of Latinos and Asians in many of the Evangelical conferences across America, I would be bit more tempered, lest we advocate some form of Affirmative Action for every Evangelical conference or gathering in the country. Now I think that we should pay attention to racial diversity; we are not to be color-blind, for God is not color-blind, which means that we should positively affirm the global Church and show appreciation for the diversity that God has given us. This however should not equate to some form of Affirmative Action scale where we make so much of race to call to attention the fact that a certain conference only had one “token” black guy and whites. Bradley should apologize to Evans, Baucham, and Anyabwile.
  2. I hate to state the obvious, but many of these conferences are hosted by churches that are predominantly white. I’m not suggesting that you should only invite your own kind, but is it really reasonable to expect a local church to reflect global diversity when their local demographic is predominantly white? I commend Bethlehem Baptist church and the leadership of John Piper, who dealt with the reality that there was a sizable black demographic in the Twin Cities and therefore wouldn’t be content with an all-white church. They have sought diversity in their pastoral staff and have targeted blacks in the community, targeting African immigrants, which are a growing population in the Twin Cities. I bring up Piper, because he has invited people of various ethnic backgrounds to his conferences throughout the years. Does Bradley have issue with Piper? I certainly hope not, considering his call for global missions and adoption of a black daughter. I’m sure that Bradley would offer more qualifications to sooth some of my angst. I realize that a brief post can’t die the death of a thousand qualifications, but I caution Bradley to be careful with what he says and insinuates. I have read some comments on Voddie Bauchamn’s Facebook wall, that includes a peaved individual who actually invited Voddie to speak at a homeschool conference. I will leave the details of the comment private to Facebook, however this person made it absolutely clear that Voddie was invited because of his passion and convictions relating to the topic of discussion and race played no equation at all. I don’t think Bradley gave enough forethought to how his comments would seem to insinuate that people who have invited black speakers were simply trying to appease their own conscience for diversity sake. Power hungry politicians prostitute racial tensions for the sake of gain in the polls, but I would certainly hope that the Body of Christ would not play the race card in such a fashion. If anything, Bradley should be celebrating the prominence of blacks on the Evangelical consciousness…including his own.    
  3. I still like Anthony Bradley and don’t think he should be crucified for his post. Many followers of the quoted black invitees have show disgust with Bradley and have written World Magazine to complain. I acknowledge the tension of racial relations and am in fact going public with this post, but I still stand by Bradley as a thoughtful Christian who longs for more diversity in American Evangelicalism and has been willing to call out the black church to abandon liberation theology and other harmful theologies. For that, I give him praise. This is not some Blood-Crip thing where blacks are shooting each other in the Evangelical ranks, but I do wish Bradley would have been more careful about the grief he has caused to many by his post. His post has not brought more reconciliation and healing to whatever racial strife exists, but reinforces a stereoptypical bitter prophetic voice that I think no longer applies the way it once did. Bradley presupposes that the motives of the conference was to invite a token black; he even calls into question the competence of his brothers as he suggests that they are mostly invited because of their color and less to do with their competence to address the matters they are called upon to address, and Bradley is perilously close to suggesting that his fellow brothers are accomplices in a purely racially motivated, conscience appeasing effort from the white Evangelicals. This is a lose-lose-lose from Bradley’s end and I wish he would now offer the necessary qualifications to the subscribers and readers of World (I have been a subscriber of World and am not renewing my subscription, but due to other reasons that Bradley’s post). I would hope he would demand the same if I carelessly suggested that he is a “token black” for WORLD Magazine and for his publishers because they are aiming at some minimal level of diversity for conscience sake. I find it ironic that he will offer blanket criticism for the Evangelical conferences that invite certain black speakers, but not criticize Crossway publishers because they happen to publish a disproportiante number of white to black authors, ironically including  both Bradley and Bauchamn. Should we throw Crossway under the bus as well? I hope not. Just to be clear, I am employing “inductio ad absurdum” (arguing against Bradley because of the absurd consistency it would demand).  I speak in love and hope that Bradley will offer us a better vision and more responsible criticism in his future appeals for diversity. I trust he knows better and look forward to what he has to say.

I admire Glenn Beck’s love for country, but there is more than meets the eye behind all his rhetoric. He conflates religion with America because the LDS Church believes that Jesus came to America, that God blessed the “Jews” who responded to Jesus here in America (none of this has been historically or scientifically substantiated). They also believe that the Garden of Eden was placed in none other than, MO. Creation began with America, quite literally in the middle of America (http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/gardenofeden.htm).

Mormons also believe in a millennial reign of Christ at His second coming, where He shall come and establish His reign in…you guessed it, America. Quoting their statement of faith:

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.

Not to mention that the whole LDS Church is founded on the premise that the Christian Church had been in apostasy since Christ and needed to be restored. Guess who it was restored to? Yep, an American in America. Go figure. Jesus founds His “pure” Church and entrusts the “purer” scriptures in America.

So there you have it, God started creation in America, placed the Garden of Eden in America, Jesus visited America, restored the true and “pure” church by visiting an American in America, entrusting Smith with “purer” scriptures (which were published and promulgated from America), and is coming back to America to establish His kingdom. All of this will help explain why Beck’s patriotism is much more than meets the eye and why Evangelicals have good reason to resist much of his rhetoric.