The State of the Evangelical Movement – from Ed Stetzer with my own thoughts interjected

The State of the Evangelical Movement – from Ed Stetzer with my own thoughts interjected June 3, 2010

These notes reflect my own impressions of what Ed Stetzer had to say at the recent Dwell London event. He was doing a seminar for cross-cultural workers to help them understand the current evangelical movement.  There are many of my own comments entwined with what Ed actually had to say. So blame me, rather than him for anything you disagree with, and credit him and not me for anything useful! Anytime I use the word “I” in these notes, this definitely reflects my opinion, not Ed’s necessarily. And, since this was an hour long seminar, you can tell I only grabbed parts of what he said.

Stetzer showed a remarkable grasp of the modern evangelical movement, among which he moves remarkably freely as a friend of many from remarkably different streams. Ed speaks to a broader Christian constituency than anyone else I can think of. I should also mention also that in private conversation this past weekend, Ed stressed to me the importance of each of these groups continuing to feel passionately about their distinctives. Ed argued that if we all try and minimize the things that mark us out as different to other groups we will loose traction as movements. Ultimately the lowest common denominator approach to unity is a road to compromise and liberalism in my view. So I agree with Ed that our best approach to the many and varied movements in evangelicalism is to be united where we can, learn what we can, but still hold strongly onto our own values, always being clear that as Bible people, we are open to being persuaded away from our perspectives.

Ed began by explaining that there has been a collapse of the methodological consensus. Over the last few decades it is no longer the case that an Anglican church looks like an Anglican or Baptist like a Baptist. Now you have moderators. Eg “Pupurse driven,” “moderately reformed,” or “missional.” It is now the case that a Lutheran church that is Purpose Driven will be more similar to a Pentecostal Purpose Driven church than another Lutheran. Thus, a lot of affinity is atheological, rather it is about what ministry you receive.

Ed then spoke briefly about a number of movements that affect the Church today. The pentecostal movement began in early 1900s. Fastest growing movement in the history of Church if you include the charismatic movement also which is not as distinct from it as some imagine. Some of that growth is the movement within Christianity ie non Pentecostals becoming pentecostal. The charismatic is in some ways distinguished from the broader pentecostal group in that they believe in a separate experience of Spirit baptism but emphasizes all the gifts, and tongues is not quite as essential. The charismatic movement was born late 60s early 70s. Then 80s there was the “third wave“. This tends to be continuationist but most do not believe in a second experience of grace. The whole of global Christianity is now influenced by this broader continuationist charismatic/pentecostal movement. Pentecostals and charismatics won the worship war but lost the organizational one. So raising hands and clapping would be mainstream now but rejected before, whilst many would see the movement itself as past its sell by date, at least in America.  The milder expressions of charismatic worship would be mainstream in what would become contemporary churches.

Just to be absolutely clear, this next whole paragraph is an addition to what Stetzer said: As a charismatic, I myself would argue that we have much more to contribute than body language and music style.  I do not recognize worship as charismatic simply on that basis. So it is a shame if some people now think “we are all charismatics now.” The truth is, Spirit-filled worship can occur while hymns are sung and people are in a state of subdued awe, whilst loud modern music can be accompanied by an un-engaged congregation.  I would argue that the far more important emphasis we can help to restore to the wider church is the personal relationship with the risen Jesus, which is something I speak a lot about in my book.  I personally also strongly suggest that the charismatic movement is far from over, even in America.  The USA itself is ready primed for a fresh wave of church planting, especially by those who would are reformed and yet aggressively pursue spiritual encounter with God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Grudem appears to have almost won the theological war with many now at least accepting the theoretical availability of the gifts.  But many of those theological converts to a continuationist position have not themselves seen true gifts operating within a biblical framework. It is time for many more models of a sane charismatic church to be founded.  On that note, it might be interesting to watch Chandler and Grudem on the gifts if you haven’t already.

Now there are different wings of the church currently. Traditional, non traditional or pragmatic, 3rd wave and Pentecostal/charismatic.  Of course one reality which no talk like this can really be expected to fully address is that many churches will try and take good aspects from each of these movements. In my own view this is why books that speak about models for the church are so popular. We are each eager to learn what we can from each other, convinced none of us have all the answers for how to do church in a modern world.

Ed spoke about what he called the pragmatic evangelical movement (using the terminology of Robert Webber in The Younger Evangelicals. Ed nicknamed it the Willowback movement– Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. Big global influence. Saddleback is probably the most influential church in the world. They tend to look like a Calvary Chapel or a Vineyard, are continuationist, informal, but mostly leaving behind the ecstatic expressions in a worship service. There is a drive to de-emphasise anything people would find strange. Many think pragmatic is a bad word. But it just means determining what works. In this sense, I believe that there is much that we can learn from these churches, even if we do not want to fully adopt all their methods.

Traditional evangelicals (also from Webber) would have conferences about for example creationism vs evolution. Must prove these things to be true. For example how should we defend the verse that the rabbit chews the cud when science says it is not quite the same way of cud chewing. Rick Warren is a very conservative evangelical on almost all issues but he says “what people really want to know is how God can change their life or marriage”. Many traditional evangelicals rushed into pragmatic evangelicalism as they were so fed up of dry dead theology.

A decade ago, Purpose Driven was the most influential Christian movement in the world. Very broad reaching. In the the USA, these movements are still influential, but not like they were ten years ago. I have not had much to do with Bill, but I find Rick’s tweets very helpful indeed, and strongly supported John Piper’s decision to invite him to speak. Willow Creek originally spoke about being seeker driven. Stage driven. Take into account the local expressions of music and drama. Willow Creek was also influential but less globally. The seeker paradigm of ministry has declined in influence, and Willow itself has changed their own paradigm. When they realized they needed to change their way to disciple, and announced that they were changing, many people went after them in a nasty way, especially online.

Younger evangelicals (again, Webber’s term) are building on or charting new directions. Younger evangelicals can be found among a number of different groups: 1. Hyper-contemporary . Desire for “in your face,” eg series on sex with aggressive titles that get complaints. Gets media attention and they like it. Eg one church laid out a Seven day sex challenge to their congregation to have sex every day for a week. Newspring Church, a rapidly growing church in South Carolina, had an ACDC song “You’re on a highway to hell” at their Easter service. The idea is that in the modern world it is harder to get peoples attention. So the desire is to cut through the noise and get people to notice. In an all consuming passion to reach the unchurched they often offend the Christians. In a way they are a continuation of the seeker movement but “louder.”

2. Emerging Church.  These should be considered as several different groups: Relevants A lot of this is just about being relevant. Appropriate to the culture. Same understanding of the gospel but engage in a different way.  Reconstructionists want to change the way we do church. They believe in the gospel. Believe in conversion. But believe that much of what had been done in church harms the gospel. So we see, House Church, Missional,  incarnational models. The reality is indeed that many churches do need to change.  Revisionists like Maclaren want to rethink the gospel want a bigger gospel, more societal. Some want to ditch the idea of gospel as a transaction altogether.

3 New reformed. These respond to society by wanting to go deeper. Time magazine thinks that this idea is one of the most influential ideas (including secular ones)  in modern America. Different varieties eg charismatic reformed. John Macarthur and Driscoll are very different for example. A lot of younger reformed evangelicals became reformed in response to more vague churches they grew up in.  There is much to rejoice about, but much to be anxious about also. There is a level of anger in some that is so concerning that they are nick-named the “TR” =truly reformed. Fortunately there are also the “WR” =winsomely reformed. Many in more traditional forms criticize. Actually the new reformed have something in common with the emerging in that they want to correct the common gospel, in this case they want a bloodier one with more emphasis on cross and resurrection. There is a growing evidence of dissatisfaction with evangelicalism. People feel that they are not seeing the results that they thought they would. There is much experimentation that is going on, and coming up with new expressions of church. Stetzer calls this Evangelical angst. People are seeking a model. Unsure about who they are. There is a drive to reclaim the centre, because the edges are fuzzy. We live in a time of Tumult. Many are dissatisfied with the results so far, unsure what the future holds. I argue in my book that one of the reasons for all this agnst is our neglect of Jesus’ resurrection:

“Could our neglect of the resurrection be both cause and effect of the alarming state we are in? Certainly the success of liberal theology in taking hold of many churches after the First World War led to an increase in the number of those who denied the resurrection of Jesus and was also associated with the beginning of the decline in church attendance recorded since then. As a direct result of this, Christians have become marginalized by society and feel uncertain about how to share their beliefs with others in a hostile world. The vigor of our faith has waned, and church attendance is believed by many to be in a terminal decline. The general level of biblical knowledge among Christians is appalling. In a world where more study material is available in books, software, and online than previous generations could ever have dreamed, the Bible has never been less understood by members of the church, and even by our preachers.

Presumably as a direct result for many who attend church today, there seems to be little observable difference from the world in terms of personal lifestyles, values, and beliefs. The old accusation that the Western church is a mile wide and an inch deep has never been more true. . .

There is still a silent majority in the general population who claim to believe in God. At the same time, there is widespread ignorance about the Christian message. . . Many are proposing solutions for the challenges that the Western church faces today.  Some lack confidence in the message of the gospel, arguing that we should speak less about our beliefs in the hope that the world will be less offended. Others go further and quietly deny core Christian values. Some look to marketing techniques, changes in worship style, or modern management strategies. An industry has arisen offering solutions to struggling pastors in the form of leadership books and programs. We should learn everything we can without compromising the Bible, but no single solution will cure the multiple ailments of the church. In spite of this general decline, there are many encouraging signs. This book is written in the hope that if we will faithfully proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus and work out the implications of that message in vibrant, grace-filled churches, the tide will turn.”


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