New controversies in Evangelical theology

Evangelicals today are being torn by some major theological controversies.  The debate between Calvinists and Wesleyans is getting more and more heated.  Then there is a related debate between “Traditionists,” who believe Christians should hold onto the traditions of the historic church (particularly the decisions of the early church councils0 and the “Meliorists,” who reject holding onto traditions and believe the church can get better and better.  The Calvinists tend to be Traditionists (who themselves can be divided between “Biblicists” and “Paleo-Conservatives”) and the Wesleyans tend to be Meliorists.

We confessional Lutherans have our own theology worked out, of course, and in many ways might think of ourselves as above this particular fray.  And none of the debates, as far as I can tell, even bring Luther into the picture at all.  And yet I would suggest to the contending parties of both sides that they study how Lutheranism resolves Wesley and Calvin, the Bible and Tradition, Orthodoxy and Reformation.

After the jump, a sample and a link to a detailed account of what is going on in evangelical theology. [Read more...]

Evangelicals among biggest moviegoers

A new Barna survey has found that evangelicals go to more movies than just about anybody. [Read more...]

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.

Where are the Lutherans, revisited

Reformed baptist Kevin DeYoung raise a question on his blog asking where are the  Lutherans in the contemporary evangelical scene.  It provoked quite a conversation, both on his blog and here.  As a follow-up, Kevin interviewed Paul McCain of Concordia Publishing House.  Paul did a superb job of communication.  You’ve got to read his the entire interview:   Those Dern Lutherans: An Interview with Paul T. McCain – Kevin DeYoung.  I especially liked his concluding remarks:

9. Anything else you think the world needs to know about Lutherans?

I would say this: I think Evangelicals often find themselves searching for something they feel might be a bit “missing” in their Christian walk, and think that Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy may fit the bill, while all the while Lutheranism is there, right around the corner. Often when they find a traditional Lutheran Church they are surprised to find a robust, rich worship life, rooted in the Scripture (which is what the liturgy is, in its entirety). They find a rich focus on Christ and the Gospel–Lutherans are adamant that Christ is the heart and center of everything, and they also find a tangible experience with God, not based simply on feelings or emotions, but on a concrete and objective experience with God’s grace through the sacraments. And all this is wrapped up in such a vibrant passionate love for Jesus. We Lutherans combine the best of what is Evangelical, with the best of what is truly catholic about the Church, with the rich heritage of the Lutheran Reformation. I think it is a winning combination, but of course, I’m kind of biased.

Which raises another issue:   Many evangelicals yearn for sacraments and liturgy and historic Christianity.  They seem to first become Anglicans and then migrate to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy.   To be sure, some find Lutheranism, where sacramentalism and liturgical worship go hand in hand with a theologically rigorous commitment to the Bible and to the Gospel.  And yet many ex-evangelicals do not even consider Lutheranism but go right to other traditions even at the expense of giving up  the Gospel of justification by Christ alone (in favor of Rome’s  justification by faith plus works, or Constantinople’s theosis).  I mean, I can understand someone ceasing to believe in the evangelical view of justification–and many “evangelicals” are now disbelieving in it, which is a major reason to leave their churches–but I don’t see the Lutheran alternative even being considered by many of these folks.

Why is that?  Is it that they don’t know about it, or that if they go to a Lutheran church they find one trying to be like the one they want to leave?  In which case, this is the fault of Lutherans, and our lack of contact with other Christians, which is what DeYoung first complained about, has to be a factor.  Or are these ex-evangelicals running towards elements of Catholicism or Orthodoxy that are already inherent in their own theologies, namely, a preference for moralism (as opposed to the Lutheran freedom in the Gospel) and absolute authority (the pope or tradition as a more certain authority than how they formerly used the Bible, as opposed to the Lutheran view that sees the Bible as an authority that gives us mysteries, not rationalistic clarity, and that functions primarily as a means of grace in which God’s Word addresses us personally)?

A prominent evangelical discovers Bo Giertz

Remember our recent discussion about “Where are the Lutherans?”, responding to another blog complaining that Lutherans are invisible in the evangelical world?  Well, here is a post from Tullian Tchividjian.  He is a Reformed pastor, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to the late D. James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church.  He describes reading The Hammer of God  by the Swedish Lutheran bishop and novelist Bo Giertz.  The result?  A  “Copernican revolution” in his ministry:

After sitting on my shelf uncracked for the better part of last year, I finally decided to read Bo Giertz’s classic novel The Hammer of God (first published in 1941). I first heard about this book from my friends Elyse Fitzpatrick and Mike Horton. I’m a third of the way through it and it is simply breathtaking. Giertz was a master storyteller and theologian. Both of these gifts shine brightly on every page of this book. It is the story of three pastors who learn the necessity of relying on God’s grace. It is law/gospel theology in the most captivating narrative form. But, you’ll have to read it for yourself. I just want to share one part. I need to first give some context, though.

Set in Sweden in the early 1800′s, Henrik is a young, remarkably gifted and fiery preacher who very much looks up to Justus Johan Linder, a preacher ten years his senior. Henrik is having a crisis of faith. Bothered by the worldliness all around him, he has become widely known for his passionate pleas and exhortations for people to stop sinning. He’s meticulous in his examination of sinful behavior both in and out of the pulpit. And it is bearing fruit. The church is packed every Sunday and bad behavior is declining in the village. But, much to his surprise, pride and self-righteousness are popping up everywhere. He’s noticed that while drinking and debauchery may be at an all time low, a cold and legalistic hardness of heart has emerged in their place. While on the one hand Henrik is encouraged to see external worldliness dissipating, he’s remarkably discouraged to see a cold, loveless culture developing. Not only that, but now he’s beginning to realize the depth of his own sin. He feels like a hypocrite for preaching so strongly against the external manifestation of sin while ignoring the deeper problem, sin’s root. In despair over his own inability to be as good as he tells other people to be, he breaks down and confesses to Linder that he’s not even sure he’s saved. Linder’s response is pure gold:

Henrik, we must start again from the beginning. We have thundered like the storm [speaking of the way he and Henrik have preached God's Law], we have bombarded with the heaviest mortars of God’s Law in an attempt to break down the walls of sin. And that was surely right. I still load my gun with the best powder when I aim at unrepentance. But we had almost forgotten to let the sunshine of the gospel shine through the clouds. Our method has been to destroy all carnal security by our volley’s, but we have left it to the soul’s to build something new with their own resolutions and their own honest attempts at amending their lives. In that way, Henrik, it is never finished. We have not become finished  ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which is built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads. And now I always apportion the Word of God in three directions, not only to the self-satisfied [the bad people] as I did formerly, but also to the awakened [the "good" people] and to the anxious, the heavy laden and to the  poor in spirit. And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption.

Henrik is captivated by the “new” way in which Linder is preaching and he asks about the results. “Do you note any difference?”

Linder answers:

In the first place, I myself see light where formerly I saw only darkness. There is light in my heart and light over the congregation. Before, I was in despair over my people, at their impenitence. I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals. Do you wonder why I am so happy? Now I see everything in the sun’s light. If God has done so much already, surely there is hope for what remains.

The way Linder describes the transformation that took place in his preaching is almost identical to the transformation that has taken place in mine (and Chuck’s–click here). I  have a long way to go (bad habits die slowly, for sure). But a Copernican revolution of sorts has taken place in my own heart regarding the need to preach the law then the gospel without going back to the law as a means of keeping God’s favor.

via The Whole Debt Is Paid – Tullian Tchividjian.

I would add that I have just reviewed a manuscript by Rev. Tchividjian entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything, in which he describes his growing understanding of the  Gospel, with the help of writers including Gerhard Forde, C. F. W. Walther, and Harold Senkbeil.  So there are the Lutherans for contemporary evangelicals.

HT:  Larry Wilson


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