In or Out? Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism?

hulahoops4It’s a serious question.

Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism? Who decides who is ‘evangelical’ and who isn’t? Who decides who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?

I ask this, because I have read a number of posts around the blogosphere over the last week or so that claim that so-and-so is no longer ‘evangelical’, or that someone should not call themselves ‘evangelical’ anymore.

Is the edge of what is considered acceptable evangelical behaviour being hardened – are the boundaries of the ‘evangelical’ set being fixed more firmly into position?

Whether you are ‘in’ or ‘out’ seems to be very important at the more ‘traditional’ end of the evangelical tent – I’ve recently read comment by Kevin Miller in Leadership Journal on Rob Bell, Brian Maclaren and Don Miller’s decision to ‘give up’ church (which has now been removed), and Brian Maclaren gracious response, Adrian Warnock’s pronouncement that Steve Chalke is “no longer an Evangelical by any realistic definition”, and now all the fuss over the World Vision decision to employ gay and lesbian Christians who are legally married – and then its decision to change its mind on the matter.

I can’t help but feel that lines are being drawn.

And not, it seems, lines drawn on the traditional theological areas of contention, such as the nature of the atonement, the centrality of the cross, methods of evangelism, the conversion experience and the ‘social gospel’, but on new issues that have become important within a wider post-modern cultural context, namely, the value of church structure and community, the role of women, LGBT rights and the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture (what ever that actually means).

Benjamin L Corey on his Patheos blog yesterday made interesting comments and observations about the World Vision controversy, reflecting on what it means for the wider evangelical community:

“Although it may not have always felt this way, Evangelical Christianity was a relatively large bubble that had room for a range of perspectives. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mainstream Evangelicals, and Progressive/Emergent Evangelicals were able to all be in the same space – though there was usually friction in areas of overlap, for a time it was big enough for everyone.”

Over the last few years, evangelicalism has become more and more centre set rather than bounded set – with boundaries becoming more and more blurred around a main central point of agreement, namely the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His bodily resurrection.

But this now seems to be changing, as Corey explains:

“Yesterday however, we saw a merger between mainstream evangelicals and fundamentalist evangelicals. Together, they were able to merger to the point that it fractured the [evangelical] circle, sending the rest of us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] outside of what used to be a diverse evangelical tribe.

[….] What we saw the death of yesterday obviously wasn’t the theological category of “evangelical” but the culture of “evangelicalism”, it was a death of the tribe as we knew it. The fundamentalist and the formerly ‘main stream’ evangelicals drew hard lines in the sand, merged together, and made it clear that they are not interested in big tents or leaving room for the “other”.”

Interestingly, he drew parallels to Jewish Temple worship in New Testament times:

“Basically, if evangelicalism had a Court of the Gentiles, the other two groups [fundamentalist and mainstream evangelicals] just set up a bunch of tables and told us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] to go wait outside.”

In other words, the fundamentalist and mainstream evangelical ‘elites’ have decided that they want to control who is allowed ‘in’, and who should be left ‘out’, of the evangelical tent, and they are using cultural issues, rather than traditional theological issues, to draw the line.

As Corey concludes his reflection on the pressure put on World Vision to withdraw its diversity policy with regard to employing married gay and lesbian Christians:

“As a result, Evangelicalism as we knew it, died. Instead of affirming the trinity and the inspiration of scripture in order to be called an evangelical and leaving all other theological debates open for charitable disagreement, the New Evangelicals have now added neutrality on same sex marriage something that must be disavowed before signing on. When leaders wished World Vision “farewell” and declared this “apostasy“, they made the lines dark and clear: you can’t be an evangelical if you don’t agree with them.

It was a requirement that didn’t need to be added and has at best, created a “New Evangelicalism” with very little room for diversity, let alone outsiders.

It’s clear they’ll now go in their own direction– without us. Not by our choice, but by theirs. Not because we left, but because they left.”

You can start to see what will happen in this ‘New Evangelicalism’.  Soon, progressives and emergents will not be welcome anymore – opinions will harden, the questioning of central dogma will no longer be allowed, those who disagree will be asked to leave, or asked to stop using the evangelical ‘brand’.

It also shows that these ‘New Evangelicals’ have missed the cultural move away from authoritarian and static structures to relational and fluid structures – they are mixing up holding to theological truth with maintaining a cultural expression – saying you can only be theologically true if you stick to our fixed cultural understanding – hold to our traditional position or you are can no longer identify yourself as evangelical.

I think this is a mistake – and once again shows that evangelicals are as influenced by the worldly culture as anyone else – it’s a power trip, a land grab, trying to put a wall around land that doesn’t belong to them.

Mainly because it belongs to Jesus.

It’s His church, not theirs, and they need to wake up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, He wants ‘in’ those that they want ‘out’.

‘The Road Trip that Changed the World’ by Mark Sayers


When Jack Kerouac’s second novel, ‘On The Road’ was published in late summer 1957, the review in the New York Times said that:

“…its publication is a historic occasion insofar as the exposure of the authentic work of art if of any great moment in any age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion….[and is] the most beautifully executed, the clearest and most important utterance yet made of the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat’ and whose principal avatar he is.”

It was recognised immediately as a classic, a book that reflected the developing worldview of a generation which desired freedom from regulation and traditional expectation, which wanted to be ‘on the road’, constantly seeking the next transcendent experience to somehow overcome the ‘mundane’ existence of life in post-war America.

But as I read it now, 55 years on, the experiences of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty seem tame and almost, dare I say it, boring.  How can this be?  How can such a seminal book, one that influenced and changed the lives of so many, now seem so ‘run of the mill’?

Kerouac’s novel is a classic, but it’s more than that, it’s a signpost, marking the place and time when a paradigm shift took place in culture and society that still underpins our contemporary view of life and ‘post-modern’ existence.  My worldview, my outlook on life is influenced, whether I realise it or not, by the same cultural change that is articulated in Kerouac’s semi-biographical story telling.  I find it mundane because it’s already such a intrinsic part of how I think and feel.  Living ‘on the road’ is no longer a subversive and rebellious act because it’s now ‘normal’ – the counter-cultural lifestyle of the ‘beat’ generation has been adsorbed and is now ubiquitous in our everyday, contemporary culture.

This is the main critique that forms the basis for Mark Sayer’s new book, ‘The Road Trip that Changed the World’, not that Kerouac single-handedly changed the culture, but that Kerouac through ‘On The Road’ spoke on behalf of a generation that was changing, moving away from the certainties of the past to a post-modern dynamic narrative that forever altered how we experience the journey through our lives, including those of us in the church.

In his two previous books, ‘The Trouble with Paris’ and ‘The Vertical Self’, Sayers has shown himself to be a talented observer of the interface between church and secular culture, demonstrating how, so often, the church is overly influenced by the surrounding secular worldview.  ‘The Road Trip’ continues this good work, using the example of Abraham to contrast the ‘way of the road’ with the ‘way of the cross’ – to encourage us to live a different story, to walk a different road, as he explains:

“The choice before us is now clear. To follow our culture’s collection of stories that go nowhere, to believe that the world is a meaningless place, out of which we can only hope to eke out passing moments of pleasure. To follow a road which at the end of our lives will leave us only with a well-groomed Facebook page, a collection of digital photos, and a library of downloadable songs and movies. Our lives will be reduced to a digital memorial that can be erased with the click of a mouse. We will live and die as shallow people living in a shallow culture…..The second choice before us is to…immerse ourselves in the story of a God who came to earth to die for the world. A God who calls us to follow a different road, a road which is tough, a road which does not always let us get what we want, a road of sacrifice and pain, a road that ends with a Cross. A Cross which opens our eyes to the true nature of reality. A Cross which enables us to see that the world is luminously alive. That it pulsates with the sacred, that each atom, every creature, bears the fingerprints of its creator. A place where in the poetic words of William Blake we can “see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower – Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.” Then we will be deep people, on a mission to deepen the world, reservoirs of living water in the secular desert, revealing the glory of God.”

Sayers hits the mark for me. He understanding that the contemporary church in Western culture is at a crossroads where a decision needs to be made. The choice is stark – stay the same, be shallow, follow the road of the world, be hidden and irrelevant, or wake up to your calling, choose to take the road of the cross, become deep, and find again the power of devotion, the creation-changing power that will bring the world back to life.

I have always found Sayer’s writing to be compelling, encouraging and inspiring in equal measure, and ‘The Road Trip’ is definately up to his usual standard.  This is a book that should be read by everyone who loves Jesus and who cares about the future of the church.

So if that’s you, then get a copy before it’s too late.


(For the record, I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review, however, this has not influenced my view of the book in any way, and I have subsequently bought a digital copy on Kindle to show my support of the author.)

Carl Trueman: Consumerism and the church


There is an exert of an interview with Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, on the Q portal which I though interesting, so I have reproduced it in full below:

Q: You argue at great length about the negative impact of consumerism on the Church. How has it influenced us?

A: In economies that depend upon people buying things, there is a need on the one hand to instill the notion that, in some sense, the meaning of life is to be found in the acquisition of goods, or, perhaps to be more precise, the process by which one acquires goods; on the other hand, there is a need to constantly recreate markets or find new ones. The impact of this is huge and I cannot give an exhaustive account here, but the following would be examples, in no particular order.

In society in general:

First, it fuels the the infantilisation of society. Youth is a huge market, and the selling of goods to such a market not only appears to have fostered a view among young people that they are of central importance and much wiser than their elders, it has also created a situation where the desire to be young and trendy percolates through all age brackets. That flies in the face of biblical teaching, where a premium is generally placed on age and experience.

Second, it encourages huge levels of personal debt.  Economists know that a certain level of debt is good: it oils the wheels of the economy, fuels creativity, helps with social mobility, etc. But unsecured debt linked simply to purchasing can very quickly grow to a level where it is actually hindering all of those things. When the values of the culture link status to possessions, and when credit is easy to obtain, the recipe for bad debt is clear; and that, of course, is a large part of the economic problem, both macro and micro, with which we are facing today.

Third, and more subtly, it produces notions of truth and ethics that are as malleable as the market place.  By placing individual purchasing power at the heart of the system, public morals are made dangerously vulnerable to all manner of transformation. The right of private choice, the centrality of consent, and the need to avoid hindering the economy are all related to consumerism. We see this in the arguments in California about how anti-gay marriage legislation is bad because it impacts the economy by discouraging gay tourism; similar arguments can be, and have been, made about abortion. If it makes my life better and does not hurt anybody else, how can it be wrong (see the current debate about the Columbia professor who had an incestuous relationship with his adult daughter)? And if it helps the economy as well, surely it must be right?

In the church all this is evident in a number of phenomena: the obsession with youth culture; a model of ministry that judges success in terms of numbers, not faithfulness; a culture which disregards the past; a dislike of anything approaching discipline, as the church is there for my needs, to scratch where I am itching. When church is just one more product to buy or leave on the shelf, then marketing, not theology, become the driving forces in her life.

Any thoughts or comments?

Read the original article here.

Few Millenials interested in religion, study finds….

From The Christian Post:

Millenials, those born between 1980 and 2000, are not anti-Christian or anti-religion, but they are, in general, just not interested in religion, says a new book based on a survey of members of this generation.

An apathetic attitude toward religious and spiritual matters is common among members of this generation, according to The Millennials by Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Research, and his son Jess, a Millenial born in 1985. Members of this generation are likely to care less about spiritual matters than those from previous generations, the Rainers wrote.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of this generation rarely or never attend religious services, according to the survey conducted by LifeWay on 1,200 Millenials. And spiritual matters was ranked sixth, below friends and education, in a list based on an open-ended question on what is important to respondents…..

But this is the statement that got my attention:

Rainer suggested that the church has become less effective in reaching the Millenials because members of this group tend to be a high commitment generation and they see most of what takes place in churches as low commitment so they are not interested. Another possible reason is that three-fourths of these Millennials come from an unchurched background, meaning they have no Christian faith background.

“They are not anti-religious or anti-Christian, but they tend to be totally ambivalent towards anything religious or Christian,” he said.

The survey also found that Millennials are “a confused generation spiritually.” Although, 65 percent of this generation describe themselves as Christian – notably many of them do not know or practice the basic teachings of the faith….

I also thought this was interesting:

The Rainers state that most Millennials see churches as “business as usual” and inward focused, which turns them off. The members of this generation are looking for radical churches that are dedicated to living the life of the disciples in the first century.

“Millennials don’t ask what the community can do for the church; they ask what they can do for the community,” the authors stress. “Millennial Christians are seeking to move as close to New Testament Christianity as possible.”

In other findings, Millennials are not as environmentally driven as previously thought; they have a surprisingly close relationship with their parents; they respect older people; and they consider family the most important thing in their life.

This is just as relevant to us in the UK church as it is in the USA.

Any thoughts?

Read the full article here.

Gods behaving badly – celebrity as a ‘kind of’ religion

Pete Ward posted a really interesting article on the ‘‘ website about the ‘deification’ of celebrities in popular culture and the theological response to the phenomenon:

“In 1996, the pop singer Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage at the United Kingdom’s Brit Awards. Michael Jackson was performing “Earthsong.” Jackson emerged, out of a huge image of the earth, surrounded by white light. He raised his arms in the shape of a cross and started to sing about the planet. As the song continued, Jackson was joined on stage by a crowd of people in tattered clothing, and as the song came to a close the singer took off his shirt and his trousers to reveal white robes. Again bathed in light, Jackson stood as if crucified. Slowly the crowd came to him, one by one, and he touched them or kissed them as if in blessing. Eventually, Jackson was left with just a small group of children. Holding a girl by her hand, he started to speak about the devastation of the planet, saying that he “believes in us,” that we can make a difference. “I believe in you, I love you” said the pop star, and he turned, surrounded by children, and exited the stage.

All of this was too much for Cocker. He climbed onto the edge of the stage bent over and patted his backside at the messianic Jackson. Fourteen years after the event, several years after Jackson’s trial, and nearly a year after Jackson’s death, Cocker is unapologetic. Asked by an interviewer if he thought now that he was “mean” to Jackson, Cocker said, “Not really. His performance was bad taste. Pop stars are not deities. In one iconic gesture, Cocker refused to worship the messianic Michael.”

As he goes on to explain:

“…celebrity culture is about knowing and being known. Back in the ’60s Daniel Boorstin said that “the celebrity is a person who is well-known for their well-knownness”. The implication here is that celebrity is somewhat shallow. Being known, it is implied, has no relationship to artistic merit, skill, or value. Being known is simply a result of media attention. Some might wish to stay with this reductive analysis and emphasize the way that celebrity culture is characterized by a facile curiosity or by tasteless self-promotion. If we add to this the link between celebrity as self-revelation and the commercial interest associated with the promotion of the products of a popular culture, then it is clearly tempting to conclude that celebrity is simply an aspect of the culture industry’s exploitation of a gullible public. Thus, the only credible theological response would be to seek to expose the failings of the celebrity obsession and to critique popular culture as a dehumanizing and degrading phenomenon. Such a move, I believe, not only misunderstands this aspect of contemporary life, but it also runs the risk of closing down a potential area of theological creativity and ignoring the missiological challenge of celebrity culture.”

Read the full article here.

HT: Jonny Baker


Late modern or postmodern?

Interesting article by Tim Keller on the Gospel Coalition blog:

“In the past, many of our neighbors could understand traditional Christian preaching even when they responded with disagreement or indifference. During the last 15 years, however, our message is increasingly met with dumbfounded incomprehension or outrage. Until a generation ago in the United States, most adults had similar moral intuitions whether they were born-again believers, churchgoers, nominal Christians, or nonbelievers. That has changed.

Many have characterized the change over the last generation as “the postmodern turn.” The “modern” era, we are often told, was characterized by confidence in rationality and science and the pursuit of a grand social order that would be mediated by institutions such as the academy and the nation-state. The postmodern era is marked by pluralism, a loss of confidence in the rational, a desire for experience, and so on.

Recently, however, I’ve been reading thinkers who believe that this way of describing things obscures much of what is happening. They say that the term “postmodern” overemphasizes the discontinuities with the recent past and fails to see the strong continuities. They propose that what we have today is not so much a departure from modern patterns of thought and life, but rather an intensification of these patterns as they have now penetrated further into our institutions. These thinkers prefer to talk of “late” modernity or even “liquid” modernity…..”

Read the full article here.

Redefining masculinity for a ‘female’ world


Newsweek had an article recently about the future of manhood in the US contemporary culture:

What’s the matter with men? For years, the media have delivered the direst of prognoses. Men are “in decline.” Guys are getting “stiffed.” The “war on boys” has begun. And so on. This summer, The Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin went so far as to declare that “The End of Men” is upon us.

There’s certainly some substance to these claims. As the U.S. economy has transitioned from brawn to brain over the past three decades, a growing number of women have gone off to work. Men’s share of the labor force has declined from 70 percent in 1945 to less than 50 percent today, and in the country’s biggest cities, young, single, childless women—that is, the next generation—earn 8 percent more than their male peers. Women have matched or overtaken men as a percentage of students in college and graduate school, while men have retained their lead in alcoholism, suicide, homelessness, violence, and criminality. Factor in the Great Recession, which has decimated male-heavy industries like construction and manufacturing, and it’s no wonder so many deadline anthropologists are down on men. But while the state of American manhood has inspired plenty of anxious trend pieces, few observers have bothered to address the obvious question: if men are going off the rails, how do they get back on track?

Read the full article here.

Also have a read of Al Mohler’s comment on the Newsweek article here – I don’t completely subscribe to Mohler’s view, but I do think his summary is pretty well on the mark:

A true masculinity is grounded in a man’s determination to fulfill his manhood in being a good husband, father, citizen, worker, leader, and friend — one who makes a difference, fulfills a role for others, and devotes his life to these tasks. Most of our fathers went to work early and toiled all day because they knew it was their duty to put bread on the table, a roof over our heads, and a future in front of us. They made their way to ball games and school events dead tired, went home and took care of things, and then got up and did it all over again the next day.

Today’s men are likely to be more nurturing, but they are also statistically less faithful. They may be changing more diapers, but they are also more likely to change spouses. Men must be encouraged and expected to be both faithful fathers and faithful husbands. Otherwise, any society is in big trouble.

The Newsweek cover story is an undisguised alert that the world is changing. A healthy masculinity should motivate men to find their way in this new world of changed economic realities and work opportunities, and to do this while remaining men. The unanswered question from Newsweek’s analysis is this: Will men change the new work of work, or will the new social realities change men?

Though barely mentioned in the article, the most haunting question is about today’s boys. The magazine’s cover features a shirtless man holding a young boy. It is the boy’s face that looks at the reader. We had better hope that the “new masculinity” of the uncharted future is one that leads that boy and his generation to become authentic and faithful men.

I think this is a problem in our contemporary culture for which we, the church, have a viable solution – bringing the hearts of men back to their families!

Neil Cole sums it up for me at the end of his book ‘Search and Rescue‘:

“Society is filled with problems, but trying to fix society one problem at a time is daunting and suffocating.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are some problems that are root causes of others.  If we can identify and bring kingdom healing and restoration to those areas, scores of other problems will be resolved.

One such problem is the irresponsibility of men in our society, especially fathers.  If the hearts of the fathers returned to their children, and if fathers were faithful to their children’s mothers, street violence would subside, drug and sexual abuse would decrease, theft would drop, schools would improve, illiteracy would decrease, and dependency on teh state’s welfare system would diminish – releasing more tax revenue to address other problems.  Sexually transmitted disease would die down quickly.  Unwanted teen pregnancy rates would drop significantly.  The AIDS crisis would end.  The abortion issue, one of the most divisive issues of our day, would be resolved, not because of political lobbying and picket signs, but because the hearts of fathers would be turned back to their children.

You may think that this is a grand oversimplification, and perhaps to an extent it is, but I am thoroughly convinced that if men’s hearts were changed and men were challenged to live bold and authentic lives for Jesus – as heroes – our whole society would be changed in a short time.”

Now that is what I call ‘redefining’ masculinity – Jesus focussed with His kingdom as our priority – the way we were designed to be.

Mind map of the digital age

I saw this mind map by Richard Watson and thought it was interesting:


As discussed on the Fast Company website, the specific things the map seeks to explore include:

Constant connectivity means we are constantly distracted. It’s now difficult to be truly alone. As a result we never get a chance to think deeply about who we are and where we are going. This links to Nicholas Carr’s point in The Shallows that our thinking is becoming hurried, cursory and superficial. Interesting counter-point here. We have never been so connected and yet U.S. research is showing that we have never felt so alone.

24/7 access to everything is creating a culture that values immediacy over and above almost everything else. We can no longer wait for things to happen. Again, this can give rise to a lack of rigour and reflection but it can also cause serious mistakes. I’d predict a single-tasking movement as a reaction against multi-tasking.

Digitalisation is creating too much information and choice. There is now so much to consider that we take shortcuts to knowledge. The result is a convergence of sources, which may reduce creativity and originality. For example, only 1% of Google searches now proceed past the first page of results and academic papers are now referencing fewer citations–not more as you might expect.

Generational shifts. Teens figure there’s no point in learning anything if you can just Google it. Moreover, trends like digital instant gratification and the shift towards interactive media mean that teens no longer have the patience to sit quietly and read. Does this mean that we are breeding a new generation with plenty of quick answers but very few deep questions? What will this mean for innovation?

Virtualisation means that we are removing the physical interactions that both people and ideas require. (i.e. both people and ideas are inherently social). Companies think that they can scatter people all over the world, give them access to a computer and expect something of great value to happen almost instantly but it rarely does. Will we perhaps see a back-sourcing counter-trend within the world of innovation, especially where R&D becomes concentrated in a single physical location rather then being distributed geographically?

Read the full article here.

Generation Y has a faint cultural memory of Christianity

There was a very interesting article on the Church of England website yesterday:

“Young people have not inherited the rebellious hostility to the Church of their parents’ generation, although for many of them religion is irrelevant for day-to-day living. These are two of the findings of an informative new book The Faith of Generation Y, authored by Sylvia Collins-Mayo (sociologist of religion), Bob Mayo (parish priest in West London), Sally Nash (Director of the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry) with the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth (who has five Generation Y children).

Reporting a study of over 300 young people in England aged between 8 and 23 who attended Christian youth and community work projects in England, The Faith of Generation Y (those born from around 1982 onwards) provides an empirically grounded account of the nature of young people’s faith – looking into where they put their hope and trust in order to make life meaningful. The book goes on to consider whether Christianity has any relevance to young people, and asks whether the youth and community projects in which they participate foster an interest in the Christian faith.”

Read the full article here.