What defines an “evangelical”?

Al Mohler has an interesting piece trying to define what is meant by “evangelical.”  He goes back into history, though strangely he says nothing about the source of the word in Lutheranism.  “Evangelical” used to be the name for “Lutheran,” in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Calvinists, a.k.a., “Reformed.”  The term comes from  evangelium, the Latin version of the Greek word for “good news”; that is, the Gospel.  And the Christian Gospel is that  salvation is a free gift, won by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who atoned for the sins of the world when He died on the Cross and who rose from the dead for our justification.  “Evangelical” was used to describe Lutheranism because the Gospel is the “chief article” of its theology–not God’s sovereignty, not morality, not church government, but the Gospel–the linchpin of every other teaching, including Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But I acknowledge that many other kinds of Christians–not just Lutherans–also believe in the Gospel and make it central, and they too can go by the name “evangelical.”

Dr. Mohler, whom I think highly of,  says that the term refers to conservative Protestants to distinguish them from liberal Protestants, as well as from  Catholics.  He then gives some description of evangelicals as a social group.  But I think that the term, to be meaningful, must retain its core meaning of holding to the centrality of the Gospel.  And some conservative Protestants do NOT make the Gospel central, not really, and so shouldn’t use the name “evangelical.”

If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that salvation comes from how good you are, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you no longer believe in justification by grace through faith in Christ (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you do not believe in the Atonement (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about creating a perfect society on earth,  you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about giving you prosperity, that the good news is about your earthly success, rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe in faith, but put your faith in yourself, rather than in Christ (as I have heard “evangelicals” preach on TV), you are NOT an evangelical.

I’m not saying those I’m referring to may not be Christians–if they have even a trace of faith in the work of Christ, buried under all kinds of other teachings, they may be–but they should come up with other words for themselves.

What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical?, Christian News.

The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven

More great preaching from our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, on the text Matthew 18:1-20.  Read it all.  Here is the beginning and the end.  Notice how the law passages are all brought down on Jesus:

In common thinking, the phase of life called childhood is something to pass through. But for Jesus, to become as a child is something to attain, and a place to remain.

In common thinking, children need to be taught to become adults. But for Jesus, adults need to be taught to become like children.

In common thinking, children grow up to become something great. But for Jesus, greatness is in being like a child.

Clearly, Jesus is looking at things quite differently than we often do.

For being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with your age. Whether you are the youngest of the young or the oldest of the old, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how much you know. Whether you have been a Christian all your life and know your Scriptures and catechism well, or you are just beginning in this life of faith, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how you act or your level of spiritual maturity. Whether you are a pastor or a layman, an apostle or a catechumen, a leader or a learner, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

And so the disciples’ question today, “Jesus, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” betrays the fact that they are not thinking as Jesus thinks, or seeing as Jesus sees. And so Jesus rattles them good! No beating around the bush with Jesus. He grabs a child – who, by the way, always seem to be around Jesus, have you ever noticed that? He grabs a child, stands him (or her) right in the midst of these big disciples and says: Here you go. Greatness. Be like this child. Humble yourselves. And if you don’t, you will never, ever, not in a million years or a million tries, enter the kingdom of heaven.

As usual, the disciples got more than they bargained for. But its always that way with Jesus. He is always giving more than we ask or imagine or think. And so the disciples ask a greatness question, and Jesus gives a faith answer.

For that’s really what this is. It’s not primarily about what we do, it’s about faith. For to be a child as Jesus is describing here means to be dependent. To be dependent upon your Father in heaven, like a child, for everything – to supply your needs, to give you your identity, to rescue you, and to protect you from your enemies. It is to acknowledge that you are, in fact, utterly dependent and in need of Christ and His provision. It is to be weak and vulnerable, and to learn to see yourself in this way.

For no matter how strong or high or learned or powerful you may be in the world and in the eyes of the world, none of that matters when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. Here, greatness is quite different. Here, greatness is to be among those whom Christ serves. And to see others and to serve others in the same way. . . .

And so you are the greatest when you are the least, for then all that you are and all that you have is of Christ and not of yourself, as He supplies your need, as He gives you your identity as His child, as He rescues you, and as He protects you. For greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not to accomplish the most, but to receive Christ and what He has done for you. For He has come and given His hand and feet and eyes in place of yours. He has taken the millstone you deserve and put it around His neck. He was cast into the hell of fire on the cross, for you, in your place.

And so if it is better for you to be hacked and plucked and drowned, far better is it for you that Jesus has come to do this for you! That the Father has sent His child, His beloved Son, to seek and to save the lost. That you have a faithful Father, a Good Shepherd, and a Spirit given to you and living in you. A Spirit by which we pray, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) as His children, and knowing that our Father has heard our prayer for Jesus’ sake, and will always do what is best and good for us. . . .

For Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Working! More huge words! Promise words. Words you can count on as you ride the Gospel all day, until your Father calls you to come into your heavenly home.

And with those words – did you notice? – we’re back where we started – except now the child in the midst of us is the very Son of God. And He really is. Not just in some mystical way – He really is! In His very Body and Blood, given to you here in the midst of your sin and mess. But He is not ashamed of you, to give Himself to you, to forgive you and give you life again. He is happy that you’re here. Not because of all that you accomplished this week, but because you are His little one. Which makes you great. For in the end, greatness is not what you do, it’s who you are. And you are a child of God.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 12 Sermon.

Why there shouldn’t be clergy at Ground Zero

That Mayor Bloomberg is not inviting clergy to participate in the ten year anniversary events marking the 9/11 anniversary has provoked not a little outrage.  But Lutheran pastor William Cwirla presents a contrary view:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned clergy from participating in this year’s 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero. Good for him! He’ll save us all a bunch of post-9/11ecumenical hangover headaches on Monday. As far as I’m concerned, clergy are best neither seen nor heard in the public square. And I’m one of them.

What makes clergy “clergy” is their appointment to serve their “faith communities” as we like to call them. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams and the like represent their various religious bodies and teach their various religions to their respective groups. They are public figures within their congregations and circles of influence, not within society at large. At least in this society.

The events of September 1, 2001 were not inherently religious in nature. I know Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and their ilk like to say they were, but they’d find any excuse to bash religion. Yes, the perpetrators were radical fundamentalist Muslims. Yes, they did what they did in part believing they were doing the will of Allah and would be rewarded eternally for their actions. But 9/11 was an attack against the United States of America for its policies and presence in the Middle East. It was not an attack on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. In case we’ve forgotten, the targeted buildings were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and presumably, the White House. No cathedrals were harmed in the atrocity.

The reason we get all religious about 9/11 is two-fold, I think. First, it was an enormous, sudden and violent loss of life, property and personal security. The enormity of what happened that day is hard to fathom let alone put into words. I remember that Tuesday vividly and still don’t quite believe it. We were supposed to have our monthly pastors’ meeting. Instead, we planned our services for later that evening. I remember the silence of the skies overhead as planes were grounded. Events of such enormous loss seek enormous answers in a God who is bigger than the enormity of what happened. When really bad things happen, most people get religious. I do. I get that.

Second, we believe in our patriotic heart of hearts that our being American somehow transcends our being Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. That’s not true, though we like to believe it, at least on days other than Sunday. Hence the parade of religions around 9/11. We did it at the first 9/11 event at Yankee Stadium to show the world how we all get along and play nice in this country. It hasn’t always worked out that way since, but we like to pretend, at least when the cameras are rolling.

America’s civil religion has grown increasingly complex and diverse since our formative years when our largely Deist and Christian founding fathers carved out a place for Divine Providence in the public psyche. Ironically, a few of the founding fathers were skeptical atheists too, including notably Thomas Payne and Benjamin Franklin. But they, like the Deist Thomas Jefferson, saw the value of a little religion in public life, so long as it was neutered and kept on a short leash. We like our civic religions tame and domesticated in the public square. But as we who worship the Lion of Judah know, God is never tame or domesticated.

So as a Lutheran clergyman with a firm hold on the proper distinction of the two kingdoms, I say, “Good for you, Mayor Bloomberg.” And thank you for giving all of us clergy a day off from the public square. I’ll be sure to get together with my faith community on Sunday, September 11, as is our custom every Sunday, to hear of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death and receive the gifts of His Sacrifice for the sin of the world.

And we’ll say a prayer for our country, for the government and those who protect us, including you, Mr. Mayor, as well as for all the nations of the world, for our fellow Christians scattered throughout all the world, for our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and for that peace that the world cannot give.

via Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere – No Clergy at Ground Zero.

Christianity & Science

In an article on “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science,” Hillel Ofek describes and helps account for the great contributions of early Islamic scientists and mathematicians, but he then chronicles how ever-more-absolutist brands of Islam came to shut them down.  Ofek says that civilizations often abandon scientific inquiry–citing China and India–and that the West is the notable exception.  For this he gives Christianity lots of credit:

As a way of articulating questions that lie deeper than the Ash’arism-Mu’tazilism debate, it is helpful to briefly compare Islam with Christianity. Christianity acknowledges a private-public distinction and (theoretically, at least) allows adherents the liberty to decide much about their social and political lives. Islam, on the other hand, denies any private-public distinction and includes laws regulating the most minute details of private life. Put another way, Islam does not acknowledge any difference between religious and political ends: it is a religion that specifies political rules for the community.

Such differences between the two faiths can be traced to the differences between their prophets. While Christ was an outsider of the state who ruled no one, and while Christianity did not become a state religion until centuries after Christ’s birth, Mohammed was not only a prophet but also a chief magistrate, a political leader who conquered and governed a religious community he founded. Because Islam was born outside of the Roman Empire, it was never subordinate to politics. As Bernard Lewis puts it, Mohammed was his own Constantine. This means that, for Islam, religion and politics were interdependent from the beginning; Islam needs a state to enforce its laws, and the state needs a basis in Islam to be legitimate. To what extent, then, do Islam’s political proclivities make free inquiry — which is inherently subversive to established rules and customs — possible at a deep and enduring institutional level?

Some clues can be found by comparing institutions in the medieval period. Far from accepting anything close to the occasionalism and legal positivism of the Sunnis, European scholars argued explicitly that when the Bible contradicts the natural world, the holy book should not be taken literally. Influential philosophers like Augustine held that knowledge and reason precede Christianity; he approached the subject of scientific inquiry with cautious encouragement, exhorting Christians to use the classical sciences as a handmaiden of Christian thought. Galileo’s house arrest notwithstanding, his famous remark that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” underscores the durability of the scientific spirit among pious Western societies. Indeed, as David C. Lindberg argues in an essay collected in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009), “No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.” And, as Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark notes in his book For the Glory of God (2003), many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution were also Christian priests or ministers.

The Church’s acceptance and even encouragement of philosophy and science was evident from the High Middle Ages to modern times. As the late Ernest L. Fortin of Boston College noted in an essay collected in Classical Christianity and the Political Order (1996), unlike al-Farabi and his successors, “Aquinas was rarely forced to contend with an anti-philosophic bias on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. As a Christian, he could simply assume philosophy without becoming publicly involved in any argument for or against it.” And when someone like Galileo got in trouble, his work moved forward and his inquiry was carried on by others; in other words, institutional dedication to scientific inquiry was too entrenched in Europe for any authority to control. After about the middle of the thirteenth century in the Latin West, we know of no instance of persecution of anyone who advocated philosophy as an aid in interpreting revelation. In this period, “attacks on reason would have been regarded as bizarre and unacceptable,” explains historian Edward Grant in Science and Religion, 400 b.c. to a.d. 1550.

via The New Atlantis » Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.

Augustine indeed, on the basis of the classical science of his day, said there was no need to take the creation account in Genesis literally in every detail, while still affirming the truth of what it means.  Arguably, the worldviews of Christianity and those early scientists were in harmony–indeed, the former made possible the latter–whereas  they started to clash after the Enlightenment and 19th century materialism.  Still. . . .

HT:  Joe Carter

“Get behind me, Satan!”

What we heard from Pastor Douthwaite on Sunday, preaching on Matthew 16:21-28:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ouch. Poor Peter. He meant well. He really did. He loved his Lord. He had come a long way since that first day by the Sea of Galilee. And yet, with this word of Jesus, he seems back on square one. No, actually, it’s worse than that. For while before he might not have known Jesus from Adam, at least he wasn’t working against the Lord – he was minding his own business. But now, not only does Jesus call him Satan, an enemy of God, he then says you, Peter, are getting in my way! You are a hindrance to me. You’re not thinking right. Your mind is not on the things of God but on the things of man. . . .

Now, what did he say that caused such a violent reaction from Jesus? He said: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” in response to Jesus’ statement that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter was thinking: Jesus, as I just said, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the Son of the God who brought His people out of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea for them, who kept them through the wilderness, fed them with manna, gave them water to drink from a rock, and who is mightier than all the armies of the world. You are the Son of the God who created all things and keeps the sun and moon and stars and earth in their courses. You are the Son of the God who feeds all living things, like you fed the over 5,000 in the wilderness not too long ago. There is no one greater than you and your Father in heaven. He won’t let this happen to you. He will protect you. He will stop those who oppose you and seek your life. . . .

Peter is trying to tell Jesus how to do His job; how to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Which is what we do, too. We confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And maybe even one better than Peter, we know the story of the cross, of His death and resurrection, and forgiveness and all of that. We got that. . . . Yet when we find out what that means for our life, how often do we think as Peter thought? When pain and suffering come into your life. No, Lord. When faithfulness to God’s Word means giving up what you want and think you need. No, Lord. When we’re told, as we heard from St. Paul today, to bless those who persecute you . . . to be patient in tribulation . . . to feed and give drink to your enemy. No, Lord. When earthquakes and hurricanes threaten. No, Lord. When being a Christian means bearing the cross. No, Lord. I’d really rather not, Lord. Some other time, Lord. Somebody else, Lord. No, Lord, I’m your child. Shouldn’t I get good things, Lord? Long life, Lord? Blessings and not sadness, Lord? No, Lord. No. . . .

The cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, still today, is for you. For the purpose of His cross, and the crosses that you bear, are not just His death and resurrection, but your death and resurrection with Him. You’re going to one day die because you’re a sinner. You cannot get around that. But to die with Christis quite a different thing. It means to die a death that ends in resurrection and life. And it is a death and resurrection that is already taking place in you, as you die and rise with Christ in baptism, as you die and rise with Christ in repentance. As you die to your old way of life, your old way of thinking, your Old Man’s “No, Lord,” and rise to live a new life, a “yes, Lord” life, a right-side-up-in-an-upside-down-world life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.


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