Nov 30 2009

Idiotic Evangelicals (and some who aren’t)

The other day I was reading something online about the Manhattan Declaration, and saw a comment stating that many evangelicals are hesitant to sign the document because it has been endorsed by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders, and so they were concerned about the loss of the Gospel.

Idiots.   They haven’t stopped to consider that if it weren’t for the Orthodox and RCC churches, they’d have no gospel.  For example, fundamentalists (perhaps the most idiotic of the evangelicals) rely heavily on Augustinian concepts (that’s where Calvin got most of his stuff).  And, of course, the concept of the Trinity, our understanding of the dual nature of Jesus and the Biblical Canon all comes from the early Orthodox Church (before the RCC was the RCC).

In fact, many from liturgical churches question whether evangelicals really have the Gospel, or if they’re championing some “other gospel” (a la Galatians 1:8).  But, that’s a topic for another time.

In 1977, a group led by Robert E. Webber drafted a statement known as “The Chicago Call,” which pointed out some of the idiocies of popular evangelicalism.  This movement led to the formation of groups such as the Charismatic Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Orthodox Church (now a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Church), and to other movements within evangelicalism.  Eventually, another document, known simply as “The Call,” (I believe the long name is, “The Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future”) was developed.  Someday I plan to review both of these documents.

The Prologue to Chicago Call states:

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Scripture. We recognize with gratitude God’s blessing through the evangelical resurgence in the church. Yet at such a time of growth we need to be especially sensitive to our weaknesses. We believe that today evangelicals are hindered from achieving full maturity by a reduction of the historic faith. There is, therefore, a pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage. Without presuming to address all our needs, we have identified eight of the themes to which we as evangelical Christians must give careful theological consideration.

My favorite passage is in the following paragraph, in a section entitled, A Call to Historic Roots and Continuity:

We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scriptures and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures.

When I first read this in the early 80’s, it captivated me – and it still does.  It helped a great deal to keep me from becoming one of the Idiots (although I can tell myself that I am too smart to have ever become one).

I have tried to find a version of The Chicago Call online, but apparently it has been removed from it’s old site, and no one else to my knowledge has posted it.  So, I have decided to post the text on Smallvoices.net where it will remain as long as I keep paying the bills.

Enjoy.


Sep 22 2009

Do evangelicals really need a Manifesto?

I just read a post about the apparent failure of “The Evangelical Manifesto,” something I didn’t even know existed.  I guess that would support the idea that it failed.  I skimmed through the post and the Manifesto, and was left thinking, “why in the world do they think they need one?”

Everyone seems to need to define themselves, and these evangelicals are no exception.  This is not a confessional document, although it does make a poor attempt at this.  It doesn’t deal with any specific error.  Rather, it seems merely to attempt to define what makes one an evangelical, or perhaps more accurately, to define what is not an evangelical.  I still wonder why this is needed.

The document, which is needlessly wordy (obviously written by men who are used to taking 45 minutes to deliver a sermon that could have taken 10), identifies three evangelical mandates, the first of which is to reaffirm the evangelical identity:

Our first task is to reaffirm who we are. Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. (Evangelical comes from the Greek word for good news, or gospel.) Believing that the Gospel of Jesus is God’s good news for the whole world, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that we are “not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.

I wonder who they think they are leaving out?   The Manifestites, as the document explains, believes that “right belief and right worship” was restored at the reformation.  They are, therefore, excluding the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics from their definition; they also exclude fundamentalists, liberals and by inference, much of the “emerging” movement.  They claim to want to be defined theologically rather than culturally, however they do not seem to be able to so.

The problem, in my opinion, is that are trying to define a generic term in a specific way.  Martin Luther was the first to use the term to identify himself, but most contemporary evangelicals would not accept his broad definition (Lutherans aren’t usually considered protestant enough for these folks).  The Manifestites claim “Amazing Grace” as their own, which means that they accept some Anglicans as evangelical.  But then again, those they would define as liberal or fundamentalist are out.  Their intent to be restrictive is even clearer in their claim to be “the narrow way.”

Without dealing with the whole 20-page document, here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. There is a sense in the document that contemporary evangelicalism is dead or dying, and this is a last-ditch effort to preserve an ideology.
  2. They cherry-pick historic church teaching by claiming a commitment to “the central axioms of Christian faith expressed in the Trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church” while disdaining the context in which these arose.
  3. They confess a litany of failures, and “call humbly but clearly for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle,” without having really defined it.
  4. They do claim not to represent all evangelicals, just themselves.  In that case, it would seem somewhat arrogant to try to define evangelicalism for everyone; perhaps they should come up with some new term, like the “emergents” did.
  5. The document is incredibly wordy, lacking specificity.

Overall, it seems like this manifesto is a shot in the dark, and looking back it seems to have missed anything worth shooting at; again, I have a sense that this was written with a sense of desperation as Western Christianity becomes more and more post-evangelical.

I remain much more impressed by The Call, a 2006 document spearheaded by the late Robert Webber, which calls the evangelical church back to more historical faith and practice.


Mar 20 2008

Webber: The Divine Embrace 9: What now?

The final chapter in Webber’s The Divine Embrace is entitled Life Together, which is, of course, where all this ends, in church. One of my repeated critiques of a contemporary church experience is that it is essentially existential, focusing on the self. Webber agrees, saying that the problem is that spirituality itself is taught as generating from the self: “It is a view that seems to permeate the evangelical culture.

Webber proposes that when spirituality is situated in God’s embrace, church and worship then reveals that to us. We are no longer cheerleaders (my term) that have to conjur up some sense of worship and spirituality, but are rather participants who have God revealed to us as we respond to his embrace. 

Webber criticizes the modern business model of the church, which has created, as you’d expect, a consumerist mentality. This has followed a natural progression, with churches focusing on what the unchurched want, and making the church culturally relevant. As a result, many churches merely reflect not only the look, but the “narrative of culture.” Churches offer programs to meet the needs and desires of the congregation, as opposed to nurturing new converts and discipling them.

This chapter also discusses what Webber calls the crisis of worship. As I have mentioned before, contemporary worship sees God as the object God who needs to be worshipped by us, which originates worship in the self. Webber believes that a Biblical and historical view of worship is that “worship does God’s story.” Worshp proclaims God and what he is doing, and in worship we enact the story. A worship that is nourishing focuses on historical events (not emotions), uses Biblical language, and includes prayer that discloses and echoes God’s story.

Since I’ve started reading this book, I have paid even closer attention to what kind of worship happens in the churches I attend, and I think Webber is correct. The further and further we have “progressed” into evengelicalism, our worship songs have become more and more meaningless, offering little if anything of the truth of the Gospel. Even in my own Vineyard culture, the contemporary worship songs have become less and less doctrinal. No longer is the Trinity mentioned (in fact, often the Persons are confused). In fact, it’s rare to find Biblical language used that hasn’t been edited and lost among less meaningful phrases.

What now?  As I’ve probably mentioned in the past, I really don’t have a great deal of hope that the Evangelical church will stop the nonsense and realign itself with a Biblical concept of spirituality. I also don’t have hope for the emerging church, which to me is simply modernism will the lid off.  That’s not to say I haven’t lost  faith in God’s church, or his ability to pull it together.

As for what I do, I’m not sure. Next Sunday is Easter, and at the moment, I’m looking for a good church that remembers what it’s like to celebrate a resurrection. Then, I’ll go to our church with my family.

 


Mar 9 2008

Webber: The Divine Embrace 8: Everything must change

Some of you might recognize Everything must change as the title to a rather poor book by Brian McLaren which I reviewed some time back. While McLaren – in my opinion – failed miserably in laying out a case for why everything must change, I think Webber does just that quite well in The Divine Embrace, although he doesn’t use those words.  I am surprised, though, that evangelicals could read and say they agreed with what Webber says, but then go merrily on their way.

This post, by the way, is the 8th article in my Webber series that is discussing the book. These next 2 chapters are entitled My life in his and His life in mind. In My Life in His, he states:

The Christian life does not oppose experience of the transcendant, but the Christian spiritual life is not an experience out of this world, it is an experience of transcendant meaning here and now in this world.

This is a key, I think, in distinguishing between the spirituality of the past and that of the present. We tend to think of transcendant experience in a Platonic sense, where we leave the physical (the secular) and reach the spiritual (the sacred). However, this is to deny the incarnational aspect of God’s work.  God did not only become incarnate once; he continues his incarnational work in his embrace of us and creation. Webber suggests, in fact, that few evangelicals really grasp the concept of the humanity of Jesus. The incarnation is so contrary to our modern sense of Platonic dualism that we have a hard time really accpeting it for what it is.

In Chapter 9, Webber deals with what he sees as the common misunderstanding that spritiual disciplines as the source of our spirituality. I would agree, from my own experience in dealing with various evangelical groups, that this is indeed the basic teaching: if you want to “grow,” you must pray, read the Bible, and so on. There is a constant tension in teaching that we are not saved by “works,” but that we require works to mature, or in some cases, even to continue being saved. However, Webber says that “our goal is never to become spiritual but to live out the spirituality we have” in continuing to live in the divine embrace.

Webber, however, lost me a bit in this chapter as he spends a lot of time discussing a Benedictine approach to the spiritual disciplines. As this chapter is drawing conclusions about how to respond to everything he has said in the prior chapters, I found this suggestion to follow a Benedictine approach a bit anticlimactic and disappointing.  Even so, his points about prayer, study and so on are well-taken.

As I sat in church this Sunday morning, I was very aware of how far the evangelical church has moved from any sort of Biblical understanding of spirituality. The “worship” songs had very little worship content in them (most celebrated our emotions) and the sermon gave us ideas on things we could do to grow. There was no celebration of God With Us, no sense that God is able to do all that He has set out to do.  Not too long ago, I just would have left disatisfied, not really knowing why. Webber has been beneficial in that now I can better see and understand what lies beneath these defects. It helps to know why… I didn’t leave angry. Sad, yes… disappointed, yes… but not angry. That’s progress.