Thinking Out Loud

April 30, 2018

Evangelical Assimilation: A Review of the Babylon Bee Book

The year was 2010, and a popular Christian humor and satire blog, Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff was a must read on a daily basis when a book of the same name released, Stuff Christians Like. Today the satire site of choice is The Babylon Bee, and it was only a few weeks in that we finally learned that the creator of the site was Adam Ford, known to that point as the artist behind the Adam4D comic.

Cracking the pages open of How to be The Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living, it was hard not to make comparisons to Stuff Christians Like, although about halfway through I had bought in to the premise of How to be… enough to enjoy it on its own merit.

For the record however, Stuff… took material from the daily blog and incorporated it into a collection of columns, whereas How to be… offers all-original material which has not appeared on the blog, in this form, to this point. So to get the comparison out of the way, I think the Babylon Bee material, like Jon Acuff’s blog before it, has more bite to it in the short-form rather than long-form format, and I also think the How to be…’s long-form moved it away from some of the references de jour, which make it so amusing. Ford, and (we’re told) a team of writers scour the Christian headlines, all too familiar to Wednesday readers here, and extrapolate fictional (i.e. fake) news stories taking those headlines to extremes.

The book instead tries to be more timeless though names are named. For the first few chapters, I pictured this book falling into the wrong hands, such as some neophyte convert in a Third World country where satire doesn’t exist. I longed for a page at the front, blank except for the words, ‘Warning: This book is satirical and should not be taken seriously.’ Now we might have to wait a year or two for some missionary to return with stories of a tribe where the book is being followed to the letter.

The book is published in hardcover in North America; 193 pages, of which 19 are blank, 12 are simply chapter titles and 12 are half-blank by virtue of the page formatting. So more like 156 digest-sized pages for $20 US or $26 Canadian. Forgive me for saying the book would be funnier in paperback.

What I did especially like is that Ford and co-author Kyle Mann offer some solid Biblical quotations to offset the farce, including an entire page (8 verses) from The Sermon on The Mount. This, plus allusions to other scriptures stand in contrast to the way they can be misused by churches (and satire writers) to produce unintended interpretations.

This is a book about learning how to assimilate into Evangelical culture. Like the Acuff book, it also reminded me of Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row, which we mentioned a few months ago in a general article on the Christian use of humor.

The Babylon Bee has an enormous online following. This book will resonate well with people who are informed as to the people, places and things which make up Evangelicalism. (Though one review suggests some names in the advance copy were excised from the final printing.) There were a few laugh-out-loud moments for this reader, but often what comes across isn’t satire, but rather sarcasm, and there is a difference.

On the other hand, if you decide to fully buy-in — if you live in the aforementioned Third World country, for example — there is a Holiness Tracker at the end of each chapter by which you can gauge your spiritual progress. Reading those brief sections, I do get the feeling that some will try to take the book literally, or, that many are already following the same steps to Evangelical conformity.

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April 24, 2018

Evangelicals: A Guided World Tour

As Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Brian Stiller has a big-picture perspective unlike anyone else on the planet. His two most recent books have confirmed this: Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Zondervan, 2015) and An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker, 2016). Simply put, Brian Stiller is a walking encyclopedia on all things Evangelical and he gains his information not from typical research but through firsthand, on-the-ground observation and involvement. We’re talking both frequent flyer miles, and the recognition of Christian leaders on every continent.

This time around he’s with InterVarsity Press (IVP) for From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity (248 pages, paperback).

So…about that title. Brian Stiller argues that if we see Jerusalem as the birthplace, and thereby global center of Christianity, that center point moved up into Europe and then back down and then, around 1970 that center started shifting to the global south. The impact of this is huge; it means that North American and Western Europe are no longer setting the agenda for Christianity. It also means that one particular nation, rocked by the link between Evangelicalism and the election of a particular leader and now trying to consider if it’s time to rename the group entirely, simply cannot be allowed to dictate that change when one considers all that Evangelicals, quite happy with the term, are doing in the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: I am blessed to know Brian personally. His wealth of knowledge impacted me when I sat in the offices of Faith Today magazine, and Brian rhymed off the names of organizations founded in the years immediately following World War II, and then how, as these maverick, dynamic leaders passed the baton to the next generation, these organizations entered a type of maintenance mode, with lessened radical initiative. As Director of Youth for Christ Canada, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (this country’s counterpart to the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global World Ambassador for the WEA, he has truly lived four distinct lifetimes.

But that’s not the topic for this book. Rather he looks at five drivers which have characterized the growth of Evangelicalism globally. These are:

  1. An undeniable increase in emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The fruit of years of work by Bible translators.
  3. A shift towards using national (indigenous) workers to lead.
  4. A greater engagement with legislators and governments.
  5. A return to the teachings of Jesus regarding compassion and justice.

Beginning with the first of these, Brian doesn’t hide his own Pentecostal/Charismatic roots, something I haven’t seen as much in his earlier books. A final chapter looks at the influence of prayer movements, the role of women in ministry, the trend in praise and worship music, the challenge of welcoming refugees, and the constant spectre of persecution.

The book compresses decades of modern church history into a concise collection of data and analysis.  It is an answer to the question, “What in the world is God doing?”

I know of no better title on the subject simply because I know of no one more qualified to write it. This is an excellent overview for the person wanting to see the arc of Evangelicalism since its inception or the person who is new to this aspect of faith and wants to catch up on what they’ve missed.

For both types of people, this is a great book to own.

► See the book’s page at the IVP website.

January 29, 2018

What Does American Evangelicals Electing Trump Say About the Movement?

In Canada we have no fixed Evangelical voting block. Consensus from my church peers on any candidate — municipal, provincial or federal — might be hard to come by.

But if Evangelicals in the U.S. could elect one such as Donald Trump, what does that say about the movement as a whole? Could it happen with Canadian Evangelicals, or Australian Evangelicals?

Skye Jethani probes the fallout from the November, 2017 election in an article too long to print in full here. But I want to share some highlights while strongly encouraging you to click the title below.

Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? (Hint: it’s not the shepherds)

by Skye Jethani

Twenty years ago, when I was engaged to my future wife, a counselor told me, “The key to a successful marriage is not who you are on your wedding day, but who you are becoming. Healthy couples grow together over time, not apart.”

Based on that wisdom, the marriage between American evangelicals and their leaders is heading for divorce. What began following World War II as a marriage between evangelical leaders like Graham, Ockenga, and Henry seeking a biblical form of culturally-engaged Christianity and ordinary Christians tired of fundamentalism’s strident separatism, has now splintered into a house divided.

Since 81 percent of white evangelical voters lifted Donald Trump to the presidency, many of evangelicalism’s leaders are wondering what’s happened to the movement they are supposed to be guiding but hardly recognize anymore. For the last year they’ve been asking tough questions: Can evangelicals support immoral candidates and not lose their moral authority? How did “evangelical” go from a theological label to a political one? And, Who’s a real evangelical anyway? 

These questions have flooded blogs, editorials, and even the mainstream media via articles by luminaries like Tim KellerMark Galli, and Russell Moore

All of this soul searching and hand wringing, however, is unlikely to have much impact because, as Michael Lindsay has observed, “There is a growing divide between ordinary evangelicals and evangelical leaders.”…Those evangelicals who lead denominations, para-church organizations, relief and mission agencies, who write well researched books, and publish editorials in The New Yorker may walk the halls of power but they are not the voices actually shaping popular evangelicalism. In fact, there’s growing evidence that even local pastors are having less influence on the evangelicals filling their churches.

During the 2016 election, for example, polls found evangelical pastors ranked Mr. Trump last among Republican candidates while ordinary evangelicals consistently put the malcontent mogul at the top of their lists…

A 2016 survey by LifeWay Research found that despite claiming to be Christians, most Americans hold unorthodox and even heretical beliefs. That’s not very surprising. What is surprising, however, were the findings when LifeWay used strict criteria to isolate the responses of committed evangelicals. As reported by G. Shane Morris, “Everyone expected [evangelicals] to perform better than most Americans. No one expected them to perform worse.” LifeWay found that evangelicals were more likely than Americans in general to hold heretical beliefs about Jesus, the Trinity, and salvation. Based on the survey, if you’re curious about the Bible and Christian faith you’re better off asking a stranger on the street than the average churchgoing evangelical.

Despite an emphasis on the Bible and teaching in most evangelical churches, and despite the avalanche of resources offered via evangelical media and publishing, ordinary evangelicals are not being shaped by the orthodox views held by the elite evangelicals producing this content.

Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest ordinary evangelicals are not adopting the views of their own pastors on key matters of doctrine either. Roughly half of evangelicals have dispensational beliefs about the end times. (Think Left Behind, the rapture, antichrist, etc.) While a much smaller percentage of evangelical pastors hold these views, and among pastors with seminary and theological training—the evangelical elites—the number drops even lower.

So, the data suggests there are dramatically different sets of theological, cultural, and political views held by those leading evangelical institutions and those populating them. Of course, one should expect some distance between the views of leaders and followers within any group. After all, without a gap there is no where for leaders to lead.

However, the dramatic disparities now evident between elite and average evangelicals on politics, social issues, public policies, and even doctrine is alarming. It signals something much more disturbing and, I fear, unsustainable. It verifies the divide Michael Lindsay identified a decade ago, now, however, the gap may be so wide that it may be incorrect to call elite evangelicals “leaders” at all, because if no one is following are they really leading?…

…I’ve also spoken to administrators at evangelical colleges navigating increasingly frequent conflicts between faculty (elite evangelical) and the parents of students (ordinary evangelicals) who are distrustful of campuses that affirm political, cultural, and intellectual diversity. The “big tent” evangelicalism championed by Billy Graham 70 years ago and embraced by institutions like Fuller, Wheaton, and Gordon is being challenged by siege-mentality evangelicals wanting a safe place for their kids to avoid liberals and their ideas. “We haven’t moved one inch from our evangelical convictions,” one exasperated university official told me. “It’s the people in the churches who’ve changed.”

I suspect in the coming years there will be a reckoning. Apart from a dramatic realignment or unforeseen intervention, the center will not hold and the divide between elite and ordinary evangelicals will become an irreparable breach. Evangelical’s elites will find themselves having to choose between finding new pastures or maintaining their institutions by falling in line with, rather than shepherding, the sheep.

As the divorce between elite and ordinary evangelicals becomes more likely, one question remains unanswered. Who will get the kids?


Again, that was highlights; you’re encouraged to scroll back up and click on the title to read it all. You might want to send the link to friends as well. I received a copy of this in email this morning because I’m subscribed to Skye’s newsletter.

 

November 26, 2017

Short Takes (1): The Bubble

All this week — except for Wednesday — we’re doing a series of shorter subjects.

My youngest son recently spent four years attending a Christian university. Now that he’s interacting in the wider community, we’ve had some discussions about “life outside the bubble;” the idea that the broader world does not consist entirely of Christian people and is not some ongoing fellowship meeting.

Last night I attended a community choir concert in which my wife was a participant. There was a crowd of several hundred people attending, but I realized there were only four people there who I knew by name, and those mostly superficially.

I work in vocational ministry and my friends are church friends and my activities are church activities. I realized that like my son, my life consists entirely in the Evangelical bubble, and whereas he is now forging relationships with people outside that sphere, my situation remains static; my relationship patterns are unlike to undergo major change.

How can we be the salt of the earth when as salt we have nothing to season? How can we be the light of the world when the light is mostly shining on ourselves?

Furthermore I like hanging out with Christian friends. I like discussing Christian ideas. I have great trouble relating to people outside the bubble even though it appears to outsiders as though I can hold my own in conversations on a variety of subjects.

So…on a scale of 1 to 10, where do you see yourself; where 1 is deeply ensconced in the world of Christianity and 10 is completely enveloped by the broader culture?  (Note how I set the numerical values the opposite to what you might have anticipated!)

September 2, 2017

Why the Need to Make a Statement?

Despite the presence of other things which should have been competing for our attention, the top religious news story of the week was something called The Nashville Statement, in which, under the umbrella of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a group first organized 30 years ago, in 1987. Its first major manifesto was released four years later, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism by Crossway Publishing. The group’s tag line is “A coalition for Biblical sexuality.” Coalition. Crossway Publishing. I think you’re getting the picture. 

Signatories to the document include MacArthur, Piper, Grudem, Mahaney, Carson, Moore, Mohler, Duncan, DeYoung, Chandler, etc.,; a case of rounding up the usual suspects so familiar that first names aren’t needed here; albeit with Charismatic Stephen Strang expected to single-handedly provide some balance.

One of the two best articles I’ve read on this to date is from Jonathan Martin. He writes,

With the 4th largest city in America underwater, in the midst of a daily assault on basic civil rights from the President of the United States, a group of largely white—to be more specific, white male evangelical (to be uncomfortably specific, largely white male Reformed/white male Baptist) leaders tried to change the subject to genitalia.  Framers of the Nashville Statement have clarified that the date of its release was set many months ago, which makes the decision to move forward with it given the timing only more disconcerting. I would contend that it is not newsworthy that conservative evangelicals in the mold of John Piper and John MacArthur still hold a traditional view of marriage, only the disastrous timing of the statement that has given the story traction in the news cycle.  That is to say, the calloused timing of the statement generates far more heat than the theological convictions, which are not in themselves new or newsworthy at all.

The other article which brings perspective to this is from Zack Hunt.

It goes without saying that the signers of the Nashville Statement see themselves as taking a stand for truth in an age they see increasingly defined by opposition to both Christianity and the Bible. They created a document they believe is grounded in the truth of the Bible, a truth the rest of the world no longer wants to hear, let alone obey. And if they face harsh criticism for doing so, even by other Christians? So be it. In the world things like the Nashville Statement are created, condemnation and criticism are spun as religious persecution and that persecution is a sign they are standing for God’s truth. It is most definitely not a red flag signaling the need for further introspection.

He then compares it something he’d seen before:

…what I’ve called the Richmond Statement appeared in the Richmond Enquirer way back in 1821 and while its subject matter was not LGBT inclusion, the tone, intent, foundation, reasoning, and form are essentially the same as the Nashville Statement. In fact, the authors of the Nashville Statement could have simply switched out the last word of the Richmond Statement for something like “condemning homosexuality” and saved themselves a lot of time.

Do take time to click the link. The similarities — it’s now 156 years later — are astounding.

But why do we need a statement at all?

Doesn’t the world at large know where conservative Christians stand on these issues?

And why do people of a certain type of doctrinal tribe feel that writing and publishing and blogging and issuing statements and having conventions is the solution to everything. They’ll know we are Christians by our words. I’ve written about this before.

I keep going back to the joke,

“Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers?”
“Because while everybody else is writing about it, they’re out there doing it.”

What does action look like in the case of gender roles? I believe it looks like coming alongside people and gently guiding them closer to Jesus. Definitely not offending them and making them run away. Certainly not doing the things that produce this type of response.

Jonathan Martin continues,

Many people feel conflicting impulses, wanting to embrace LGBTQ sons and daughters who have been wounded by the church—lives already subject to so much hardship, including the suicide rate among LGBTQ youth, which surely qualifies as a pastoral emergency—and yet struggle with how to work all of this out theologically, in a way that would be faithful to their understanding of Scripture. At the risk of offense to both my affirming and non-affirming friends that I call brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, I want to suggest that public dispute over this internal matter of Christian discipleship—as important and weighty as it is—could keep conservative and progressive Christians from having a unified public witness around that which we ought to be able to agree, right now. I am not minimizing the stakes of this conversation, nor the real lives who are threatened by it.

And then there is the damage to Evangelicalism that the 2016 US election, and now this Nashville Statement brings. This is the quotation that was posted on Twitter which drew me to Martin’s article:

The “average” Christian in the world today is a 22-year old black or brown female.  She has not been to a Passion conference; she has not read Desiring God or Christianity Today, she has not read your blog, nor mine.   People like me are merrily moving chairs around the Titanic, while the entire hijacked project of American evangelicalism comes to a merciful end.  We debate each other on Facebook with competing C.S. Lewis quotes, listen to Coldplay, drink lattes, and some of us feel liberated enough to have a drink and smoke a cigar while raising a toast to “the good old days.” Whether you think it is providence or natural selection, the world has moved on. The Holy Spirit, I would contend, has moved on.

 

August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.


An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

April 22, 2016

Everything You Wanted to Know about Evangelicals

A few weeks ago we reviewed a book by Brian Stiller, Praying for the World, in which the author provides a wealth of information about world conditions based on his extensive travel and interaction as a former Director of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale College and Seminary, and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Evangelicals Around the World - Thomas Nelson - Brian Stiller editorBrian is actually at the center of another recently-released project, this one also global in its perspective and one which also deserves to be in every church library and on several coffee tables as well. He serves as general editor for Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015), a collection of over 50 essays and reports from almost as many different writers, each with a particular expertise on their given topic.

I’m not sure who it was, but about five years ago, I read a blogger making the point that we need to make a stylistic change from small-e evangelical to capital-E Evangelical. Of course, Evangelicals came of age long before that. Most people reference Jimmy Carter, the born again President, and of course the birth of Billy Graham’s ministry.

But in the book, the roots of Evangelicalism are traced back to 1521, followed by an exhaustive history of the contributing streams to the movement from the 1700s to the present. There is a chapter defining the core beliefs of Evangelicals, their commitment to world missions, their interactions with other denominations and religions, their role in urban ministry, their involvement in politics, their approach to environmental issues, their sensitivities on gender-related issues, their relationship to the similar-sounding word evangelism, and a chapter I personally found interesting, their appreciation of and contribution to the arts.

The authors of each section also include a well-chosen bibliography for those who wish to pursue any given topic.

Halfway through, the book’s focus becomes regional with a look at Evangelicals in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. While the articles about these regions continue the detail of the earlier articles, there is the addition of demographic charts which help paint a clear picture of where Evangelicals rank in different countries, both among Christians in general, but also the general populace.

Particularly challenging is an article on the future of the Evangelical movement, how it will be identified and the type of people who will define its ranks; though that essay needs to be qualified in light of the regional analyses.

Evangelicals Around the World is a hardcover reference book; 422 pages, $34.99 US; but its topical scope exceeds the bounds of academic textbooks. Rather, if you are part of the movement and want to know your roots; or if you are an outsider who wants to learn more about this particular expression of Christianity; this is certainly the definitive work on this subject worth owning.


Postscript: In this review I speak about their role and their perspective, but this is the tribe with which I identify. After a many years of working in interdenominational settings and  trying to be all things to all people; today, when the declaration that “I am a Christ-follower” fails to suffice, I am pleased to say that “I am an Evangelical” and have identified this way decisively for more than 20 years. I did not receive a review copy of this, but sought the book out because I wanted to study it personally and look at it more closely.

March 21, 2016

With Every Head Bowed, and Every Eye Closed

Filed under: Christianity, Church, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

altar-call-first-baptist-church-hammond

Yesterday morning in church I had a flashback to the church of my childhood, and a part of growing up Evangelical which was common to some readers here and possibly quite foreign to others of you.

Our pastor’s message today ended with an emphasis on repentance, and he asked people who needed to make repentance in their lives a priority to raise their hands.

Or something like that. Apparently I was having multiple flashbacks at that point, and missed the exact way he worded it.

Anyway, people raised their hands, and given the theme of the message, I debated about whether or not raise mine. We can all use a little contrition, right? I blinked my eyes open for a split second and noted that a large percentage of people were responding. But something held me back…

…You see, in my childhood church, every Sunday night service was an evangelistic meeting. Almost every service ended with the singing of Just As I Am — the same “invitation hymn” the Billy Graham Crusade choirs would end with — and an opportunity to “come forward” for prayer. It was the part of the service known as the “altar call” even though we didn’t have an altar as such.

Personal workers would then escort the people who “went forward” to the chapel, a room furnished with the pews and stained glass windows from the old building and which, for reasons unknown, I always found rather scary! Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the church was built in the 1960s and everything was bright fluorescent lighting on off-white walls except for the chapel which was incandescents on wooden pews and wood panel walls. A dark place in which to see the light.

But before that happened, and before people went to the front of the church, and before the singing of the song, the pastor would ask people to raise their hand if they wished to be “included in the closing prayer.” This was the direct response to the message of the evening, and throughout the auditorium people would slip up a hand which he would acknowledge by saying, “I see that hand.” And again and again, “I see that hand.”

However, if you raised your hand, the personal workers, who were stationed throughout the crowd but mostly at the back would triangulate your location and then, minutes later, on the first words of “Just as I am, without one plea,” if you didn’t immediately step out into the aisle to “go forward,” they would swoop in like hawks and offer to go to the front with you. They were heading in that direction anyway, and wanting to get other riders to hop on the bus. (Mixed metaphor, I know.)

I made this mistake once as a preteen. My father, seeing that I was terrified of going forward told the personal worker that, “We’ll deal with this with him at home.” Whew! That was a close one!

So the lesson was learned rather quickly that if you didn’t raise your hand, you didn’t have to face an invitation to go forward for prayer and then be escorted to the Chapel House of Horrors…

…Which is why this morning I experienced that moment of hesitation. I didn’t want to get taken to the dark room, I guess; even though we don’t have one.

I guess I really do need to do a lot of repentance.


The image is of an altar call at First Baptist Church in Hammond, IN; the iconic church of Dr. Jack Hyles, which we visited once when I was a kid. Source. Judging by the number of people pressing in, and the empty spaces in the pews, they got a good response.

The church of my own youth is pictured in some magazines we own somewhere, but all of the pictures online are locked up by the vultures at Getty Images.

 

March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Recent comments by Dr. Russell Moore on how he wants to distance himself from the term Evangelical has sparked various discussions including one on this week’s edition of  The Phil Vischer Podcast about the rise of a new category, Progressive Evangelicals. I was reminded of a very lengthy post we did four years ago when a large controversy was happening over a book written by Rachel Held Evans.

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand.

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

Christians Live in Two Worlds


If you’ve ever visited the blog platform Patheos, you’ve also seen that bloggers are divided into two categories, Evangelical and Progressive Christian (as well as Orthodox and Catholic, but strangely, not Mainline Protestant).  I’ve always felt that Patheos was ahead of the curve on this one in terms of making the distinction long before some had consciously considered the differences.


Another throwback: As I write this one of the many, many debates concerning Donald Trump’s aspirations to be U.S. President surrounds the idea of having someone elected to the position who is not a career politician, not a Washington Beltway insider. Some feel this makes Trump uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, we did a tongue-in-cheek post about a guy who is visiting a church and notices a board vacancy in the bulletin. He makes an argument for the refreshing perspective of someone who is not a congregation insider:

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,

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