The Collapse of Evangelicalism and its Renaissance

Recently I have been thinking much about Evangelicalism. I call myself an evangelical. I was born into an evangelical family, raised at an evangelical church and attended a (mostly) evangelical school. I’ve been to the camps, read a lot of the literature, and since a young age have been passionate to defend my evangelical beliefs. Yet, despite being steeped in evangelicalism for 21 years, it was not until I came to Torrey Honors at Biola University and exposed to the rich, intellectual tradition of Christianity and the “big ideas” that shaped Western and Christian thought that I actually came alive to the goodness, wonder, and profundity of Evangelical Christianity.

So I had to ask myself, what was it that I was steeped in for so many years? What is Evangelicalism? What are evangelicals teaching their kids? Does Evangelicalism have a future?

It turns out, I am not the only one asking these questions.

Over the past several months, thoughtful authors have released a spate of essays addressing “evangelicalism.” To help others think through the questions I raised, I’ve collated some of the most insightful.

Defining and Defending Evangelicals and Evangelicalism

About a year ago philosopher and author JP Moreland wrote a concise essay where he gave a solid definition of “evangelical” that I think people can really hold on to. According to Moreland, Evangelicalism at its core is defined theologically. Quoting Roger Olson, Moreland gave five characteristics that defined evangelicals. In brief, they are (1) biblicism, (2) conversionism , (3) centrality of the cross, (4) respectful evangelism and social action, and (5) deep respect for Christian history and tradition.

Also released a year ago was the “Evangelical Manifesto” penned by thought leaders in the evangelical movement. Like Moreland, the authors of the manifesto defined “evangelical” in theological terms. According to them, “evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Where Moreland “sums up” evangelical beliefs with a few broad terms (like biblicism), the manifesto dives deeper to dredge up for plain viewing the bedrock theological beliefs of evangelicals. Both documents place an emphasis on the evangelical’s call to do social good. However the manifesto does good work in walking the fine line between emphasizing social good without falling into the trap of either liberal revisionism or conservative fundamentalism. This work was important since it anachronistically “responds” to some recent critiques levied against the evangelical movement.

Intriguing Thoughts and Critiques of the Evangelical Movement

The hot place to start this section is with Michael Spencer’s recent series of posts discussing the coming evangelical collapse. Spencer published his essay at the Christian Science Monitor, but re-published the unedited (and more interesting) version at his blog. Spencer cuts to the chase. Citing what he sees as a rapid exodus from the evangelical church, Spencer sums up the problem of evangelicalism as: (1) Evangelicals being tied too closely to conservative politics; (2) evangelicals’ failure to educate the young in deep, Christian beliefs (versus deep cultural beliefs); (3) the problem of evangelical churches either being (a) mega and consumer-driven, (b) dying, or (c) “emergent” with a tenuous future; (4) a christian education system that is mostly incestuous (my word not his); (5) the prominence of religion in the south being a matter of cultural form more than faith; (6) the financial loss that the evangelical church will incur once the boomer generation becomes the primary donor base.

Above all, Spencer seems to be critiquing what he sees as a loss of a meaningful, theological core within mainstream evangelical churches. As a result of the loss of this core, he predicts that the evangelical church will dramatically decrease in numbers and significance in the next 25 years and he suggests that the Southern Baptist Convention will be “exhibit A” in submitted evidence for his claim. He points to Charismatic-Pentecostals and the good work of some very theologically minded, young reformed pastors (I wonder who he could be thinking of) as the future of the evangelical movement. With his predictions delineated, Spencer offers a number of thought provoking conclusions that are worth mentioning. Spencer believes that (1) the orthodox and Catholic churches will become more “evangelicalized” as a result of the collapse of evangelicalism and (2) that there will be a collapse of the seminary system and a growth in the house-church movement. I encourage you to read all his posts to see why Spencer arrives at those interesting conclusions.

Matt Anderson recently shared many of Spencer’s observations. In his post “The New Evangelical Scandal,” Anderson cited a mass exodus of (especially) intelligent evangelicals, many of whom were moving to Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Among the reasons Anderson cites for young people leaving the church is a lack of “authenticity” within the church. More importantly, according to Anderson, young evangelicals feel a lack of a solid, unifying core to evangelicalism. The success of the book Blue Like Jazz is, in Anderson’s opinion, a quintessential illustration of the lack that young evangelicals say they feel and the shallowness of thought that these disillusioned evangelicals are mired in. And who can blame them? Anderson wonders if any of them have ever read the writings of John Wesley, Andrew Murray, or A.W. Tozer. Incisively, Anderson wonders if evangelical leaders like Rob Bell or Rick Warren have read these great forefathers of evangelicalism either. And that seems to be precisely a deeply resonating point of both Anderson and Spencer’s essays: when it comes to evangelicalism, there seems to be no theological “there” there. So to fill in the hole of a theological identity, evangelicals are grafting themselves in the deep heritage of the Orthodox or Catholic churches, identifying themselves through their own work and thoughts and finding a community of like minds, becoming secular / agnostic and ignoring the hole, or moving to the fringes of evangelicalism hoping that rigorous reformed doctrine or spiritual gifts will save them from their identity crisis.

Responses to the Critiques of Evangelicalism

Senior Managing Editor of Christianity Today Mark Galli weighed in on Spencer’s critiques. Galli’s attempted to shift focus away from the social elements of evangelicalism that Spencer believes has corrupted the movement, namely the involvement of the majority of its members in pro-life, pro-traditional family causes, and to refocus the conversation on the religious core of evangelicalism.

Galli eschews theological characteristics of evangelicals like those outlined by Moreland and the Evangelical Manifesto. Instead, Galli defines evangelicalism as a “religious mood.” According to Galli, Evangelicalism is, “a spiritual sensibility that includes pessimism about human nature, a longing to be converted from the worst of our selves, mystical moments when Jesus Christ is experienced, a conviction that nothing can be redeemed without suffering and that resurrection is ultimate reality, and a passion to make a difference in the world.” This mood is big enough to rightfully be felt strongly by advocates of monasticism to Billy Graham. Most importantly, this mood is as fundamentally a part of human existence as the problem of evil and the need for salvation. As a result, evangelicalism transcends any socio-political / cultural phenomenons that may be impacting evangelicalism’s most current expression in the culture – in this case, the evangelical church in America. If the evangelical church collapses, evangelicalism will live on, probably in some new form.

The Coming Evangelical Renaissance of Thought

I am optimistic there is a renaissance on the horizon; a renaissance of evangelical thought. Contra Galli’s perspective, which I understand to be a move away from association with doctrines and ideologies, I think that there is a rising contingency of evangelical intellectuals who will lead their peers to a deeper, richer, more connected and whole view of their life and the faith that guides it. Without turning this post into a critique of Galli, I think his view of the situation is the most horrifying. I think what Galli fails to realize is that it is precisely the perception that evangelicalism is little more than a mood that is making it unappealing to people. If evangelicalism is merely a sensibility to which one holds strongly and from which one judges the world, how can one be sure their sense of things is accurate? What if another of their “sensibilities,” namely some sort of cultural sensibility, comes into conflict with their religious sensibility? What evidence can one offer to defend the truth claims rooted a religious sensibility? When Paul claimed that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, was that merely his sense of things? No. I think that Galli’s statement is my “exhibit A” evidencing the decline of intellectual seriousness among evangelical leaders.

I look around me and observe people who long for something deeper than merely a church camp “high” or consoling words to make one feel like they have God. People want to know God. They want to know Him not in His totality, but to know him in the way that He has designed us to know him: through faith and by evidence. They want to know their beliefs are sensible, reasonable. And I think that they have every natural right to want that, it is a natural desire created by God, an integral part of the human design.

I propose there is a coming a renaissance of evangelical thought. I cannot give definite form to this movement, but I see organizations like Veritas, Wheatstone Academy, even my own Torrey Honors and I see a revival of thought among young evangelicals. I see them deeply appreciating the evangelical, Christian tradition. I share lectures by Dallas Willard or Mars Hill Audio Journals with my friends and I see a spark of faith turn into a flame. This is my story. It’s a transforming, enlivening experience – one that has been sustained far longer than any summer camp high, one that has outlasted every “5 steps to a better life” church program. I am young and still learning, many of the renaissance leaders are. Nonetheless, these evangelicals are out there, are doing things, and (I am optimistic) represent an important yet unconsidered variable in the 10 year predictions of insightful men like Mark Spencer. I think this variable is a likely game changer, Lord willing. ‘

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Dustin R. Steeve

Dustin Steeve is a blogger and web enthusiast. Dustin's passion is to see his generation of Christians rise up as thought leaders, doing remarkable, good work Christianly. Dustin is interested in the rise of web media and increasingly prominent use of computer technology as a tool to aid people. Dustin worked for three years as the director of GodblogCon and is an adviser for the Christian Web Conference. Dustin graduated summa cum laude and received his B.A. in History from Biola University where he also graduated from Torrey Honors Institute. Dustin has completed some post-graduate work at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he was appointed to the Dean's List and received a certificate of completion from the Summer Institute for General Management.

  • Brian

    Evangelical churches focus so much on how everything has to be applicable to living your best purpose-driven life now! Then they try to accomadate a lifestyle that tries to squeeze Jesus in between soccer practice, family vacations and going to the gym the hectic suburban lives. The church is not creating disciples. My sense is that the majority of people in church on a given Sunday have no sense of church history or basic Christian doctrine. I’m not sure if many of the pastors are all that familiar with them either.

  • Jason

    (5) deep respect for Christian history and tradition.
    I am a former Evangelical who converted to the Catholic Church in 2005.
    While I do recognize the first 4 characteristics of Roger Olsen’s description of evangelicalism, I couldn’t disagree more with his fifth.
    After attending evangelical churches for over 30 years, I did not know who major historical Christian figures were such as Irenaeus, John Chrysostom, or Augustine until I was exposed to the Catholic Church.
    There was zero discussion of historical Christianity in the Evangelical Methodist or Non-denominational Bible churches I attended.
    I think there are a couple of reasons. The Early
    Church Fathers (as the Catholic Church calls them) are too Catholic for Evangelical theology.
    Second (and perhaps more importantly) Evangelical emphasis on Bible alone (“biblicism?”) theology inherently disregards historical teaching. In my upbringing, scriptural study was a combination of consulting the original language of the scripture (for those who had the education) and personal interpretation.
    The idea that I should refer to the Christians in history who came before me to see what they believed was simply not considered in my evangelical experience. After all, the bible was so easily understood, there could be no disagreement. Yes, I had to willingly ignore the disagreements present in modern Christianity. I simply assumed all historical “true” Christians were Evangelicals.
    Eschatology in Evangelical thought is dominated by premillenial dispentionalism – “Left Behind” style (although I am now seeing more and more disagreement on this point in evangelical circles). I was surprised to learn that my belief the in it had no historical legacy prior to 1827.
    One of the reasons for my conversion to Catholicism was my realization of the disconnect between Evangelicalism and history.

  • pentamom

    Boy, I hope Galli is wrong. A “religious mood” that is not tied to common theological beliefs and incarnated in the body of Christ is the LAST thing a lost world needs, even if it’s a mood with some of the right tendencies. Moods don’t deliver people out of darkness into light — the gospel does, when lived before the world.
    We don’t need a “mood” with no particular manifested reality to live on, and we don’t need an evangelical “ism” that is defined by loose theological associations and social factors. We need a church (made up of local churches) filled with faithful disciples, believing, proclaimng, and living out the faith that was evangelicalism before evangelicalism became a vague pseudo-political, pseudo-theological mass social movement.
    And Jason is onto something though I don’t think rejecting evangelical faith and converting to Roman Catholicism is the answer: we need to remember that the faith is something much, much older than our current “mood,” and learn it and live in light of that.

  • Dustin Steeve

    Jason and Pentamon,
    I agree with you both. There is something powerful and good about rooting evangelicalism in the deeper history of Christianity. I fear that this has not been done well. Even the Manifesto and Moreland make mention of Evangelical’s having a deep respect for church history. Sadly, I don’t think that deep respect has been transmitted through our youth culture and I do not believe it is even being preached to many evangelical congregations in America.
    Pentamon – I could not agree more w/ your remark about Galli’s comment. Before I jump to too many conclusions, I would want to challenge him on what he meant by the word “mood,” but I fear that he has too transitory a view of evangelicalism and the ideas that shape the movement.

  • Cheryl Toliver

    I agree about many evangelicals’ lack of historical understanding of the Bible, the church, its traditions, and their theology. When I teach classes on biblical or church history, there is great interest, and my efforts have led people to question their theology, but I think whatever form evangelicalism takes in the future, it needs to rediscover its roots.

  • Bakatya

    Please forgive me for my inadequacies in writing, but I have no college degree, let alone an advanced degree.
    It is very possible that I completely missing the point, but is not a good portion of the New Testament pointing to the sufficiency of Christ. Does not Jesus say He is enough? Faith alone saves? We do not need philosophers to present Jesus to us. I enjoy reading books and gathering ideas and additional depth on issues from sources outside the Bible, but I am not better than somebody that does not read additional authors.
    God will provide for His bride. His bride does not require the services of other good (or bad) authors to explain Him.
    In a quick Bible search I found in Collosians 2:8-23
    8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
    9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
    13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.[d]
    16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
    20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21″Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

  • John

    I believe that at its heart, the early inception of Evangelicalism was to spread the good news of the gospel throughout the world by preaching the Word of God. The problem today is that Evangelicalism has become such a broad and all encompassing word that anyone can claim refuge under its umbrella. Because of this, it’s become watered down and doesn’t carry the same meaning that it used to. Simply look at the list of evangelical Christians and you’ll see the broadness that the new Evangelical Movement has brought to historic Evangelicalism.
    Second, the definition provided for Evangelicals that comes from the linked “Evangelical Manifesto” states the following, “As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.” It may be just me, but this sounds a bit too ecumenical for my tastes. When we begin to promote social issues and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we lose focus of our true mission as Christians.
    As I mentioned, Evangelicals no doubt started out with a Christ-centered, gospel focused mission, however the Evangelical Movement abandoned these truths and has replaced them with social issues for convenience of inclusivity. The movement is now so mixed, so inclusive that it has lost its way.
    For a good discussion of “What is an evangelical?” follow the link below. It’s a discussion by “evangelical” Phil Johnson, as given at John MacArthur’s 2009 Shepherd’s Conference.

  • Scott

    While Spencer has been on the Internet scene for a while (his assumed title being Internet Monk), I suspect that his writings are now more popular since the predictions of the collapse of conservativism, particularly social conservatism. Spencer’s recent article doesn’t break new ground for him, but seems to serve more as an introduction to more conventional media. He has been predicting the end for some time now.
    That being said, I think he has a point, but the point only goes so far. Evangelicalism will not fail because it has embraced political views. In fact, political involvement by evangelicals has been shrinking since 2000. Political evangelicalism was led by men like Falwell and Dobson, who are no longer available to lead, Dobson by choice, Falwell by death.
    Interestingly, in the past election, evangelicals identified with Rick Warren were at least sympathetic to, if not supportive of, the Obama campaign in spite of the critical issue of abortion(so much for conservative politics). The Catholic Church was more visibly involved politically than evangelicals, so perhaps Spencer’s article is a case of projection more than prophecy. After all, Spencer has been unsympathethic to Southern Baptists for as long as I have read him on the Internet.
    While I agree with him, and you, that most denominations are ignorant theologically as well as historically, it is more of a social issue than a church issue, or more accurately, socially, education has failed, which affects church members equally with regard to their interest in difficult subjects such as theology and history.
    However, we have had issues such as this before, as have other denominations. As noted by Spencer and here, more orthodoxy denominations appear to be attracting younger believers. Who would have predicted that the American Catholics could hope for a revival? Their demise was proclaimed far and wide as a result of the pedophilia scandal. But their influence seems to be rising because of their conservative leadership, and perhaps just a bit because of their willingness to take a moral stand on abortion. While not reported extensively in the media, the Catholic Church was dogmatic in its stance on abortion, a topic that evangelicals have been involved in.
    So doom and gloom, or perhaps, the sense of coming victory that Spencer feels in the collapse of the Southern Baptists is premature. True, we need leadership, but each age has the chance for leadership. Perhaps we will see it again.
    After all,,8599,1866094,00.html
    If evangelicalism can break out in the Church of England (even if they don’t want to be called evangelicals), it can break out anywhere.

  • ex-preacher

    I would think the greater concern among Christians would be for the collapse of Christianity itself. Recent surveys and reports are revealing significant declines in membership in most US denominations, including the Catholic Church. Without the recent influx of Hispanic immigrants, Catholics would be in a huge decline. The Southern Baptist Convention also reported a decline in membership.
    According to the recent ARIS report, the only religious group growing in all 50 states is “None.” This group is especially growing among young adults.
    George Barna reports that only 9% of US adults hold a “biblical world view.” Among the group Barna calls the Mosaic generation (ages 18-23), only one half of one percent hold what he considers a “biblical world view.”

  • Donald Todd

    Using Scripture as the basis for faith, re Batakya above, appears to disregard the immense differences of interpretation from church to church and sect to sect and from person to person.
    My first conversion found me weighing the differences between the non- and Pentecostal camps. It was required to be determined if the gifts of the Holy Spirit were still operating through individuals. The Baptists said such gifts ended with the last Apostle, and the Assemblies expected the spiritual gifts, particularly tongues, to be in evidence.
    Early on I was also aware of the number of “brand names” in competition for belief. One could open the yellow pages to Church and begin reading. It was a virtual litany of names which implied positions, with various (mild to major) degrees of difference.
    Which to believe, if any of them? The Reformers weren’t there when the canon of scripture was set. Luther’s dislike of James (primarily for what appears to be a conflict about faith and works vis-a-vis Romans) did not drive James out of the Scripture. In fact, I found that trying to view James through Paul was unfair to both of them.
    After an immense amount of historical reading I figured out that neither the Baptists or the Pentecostals were present when the last Apostle died. It put a crimp in their interpretation of whether the Holy Spirit’s gifts (particularly charisma) were currently in operation. They weren’t there to document anything because they did not exist as Baptists or Pentecostals. They took positions based on their initial experiences more than a millenia after the Church was founded and found scripture to support their differing positions.
    More often than not, a particular part of scripture would be ignored because it was not part of the belief that “we” (whoever “we” were) were willing to accept.
    Is the Eucharist the Body and Blood of Jesus? Is it a symbol? Is it the repast of the Salvation Army?
    What about baptism? Is baptism necessary (Quakers)? Is immersion necessary? What about the baptism of infants?
    The United Pentecostals made their appearance as a breakoff of mainline Pentecostalism and told us that there is only one Person of God (a unique unitarianism). The Trinitarian belief is denied. Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit, to be sure, there is only One Person of God. Then the UPers passed us their own version of the Schick tracts so we could know what we were fleeing from and what we were running to.
    The Jehovah’s Witnesses (good bible students) showed up and told us that Jesus is not God but rather he is an archangel, who did not die on a tree. Indeed, they had re-wrote the bible to make it conform to their beliefs.
    They also informed us that if we are not one of the 144,000, we should not drink from the communion cup. To do so is presumptuous and it should not happen again. So much for salvation in the Kingdom Hall.
    I read about the historical changes in the JWs from a popular bible study to what they are today. I assume that a particular personality type is drawn to them. I lack whatever it is that responds to that pull but had friends and acquaintances who walked in that stream for a time.
    I kept coming back to the real question. The real question was one of authority: Who is responsible? If it is me, then we arrive at the current impasse,no matter what name I put on it. I read the scripture, I interpret the scripture. I bump heads with those who read and interpret the scripture differently than me. We are all filled with the Holy Spirit, so who is right.
    It reduces God to a God of disorder. He becomes a Being Who cannot really be known because He becomes a cosmic Joker Who gives one answer to one person and a different answer to another person. In fact He becomes repellant because Truth is replaced by chaos. Truth does not exist if I am responsible for the determination of Truth.
    Who has the authority to collect the writings and then pass judgment on them? Luther(and we know the judgment that he passed on James and Revelations)? Calvin? Zwingli? King James? The Wesleys? The early members of the Pentecostal movement? It would appear that God had abandoned us.
    One of my acquaintances was raised a Lutheran. Then, when he was an adult, his parents became Presbyterian lay missionaries and worked in Mexico, Israel and India.
    He spent time with Orthodox monks and appeared to enjoy time spent in their presence, and his involvement in their liturgy.
    Now he has decided that God abhors the congregations he had been involved with. Now God has him off on his own quest, no longer a participant in a congregation of any sort. God has freed him from that constraint of worshipping with other believers.
    He reads the scripture and interprets it and whether it is the Baptists, the Orthodox, the Four Square people or some other group, he no longer has a need for them because they are wrong. He has the Holy Spirit and has been informed.
    I think he is the end result of a Protestant position that was developed by Luther: Any man inhabited by the Spirit of God is capable of understanding and interpreting Scripture. (Luther was forced to abandon that position and opt for seminaries.) It turned out that when Luther freed people from Catholicism, he freed them from Luther as well. Just ask Zwingli and Calvin, who – like James – were not favorites of Luther.
    One might, in one’s prayers, beg God for the Truth and then for the immense and necessary courage to follow that direction. Of course, at that point, one would come to understand that human reason is pretty limited and that God-given authority resides outside of the individual.

  • David N.

    Luckily, most traditional evangelicals are becoming less ethno-centric than in previous generations, so they realize that the decline of Christianity in the US does not mean the decline of Christianity per se. Speaking for myself and some of the authors of this blog, we realize that there are currently more “traditonal” or “conservative” Christians (whether Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentacostal, or whatever) in Africa, South Korea and China than in the US and all of Euorpe combined. And their numbers are growing rapidly. So there’s no question of whether Christianity as a whole is increasing or declining (it’s definitely increasing). In other words, we simply realize that “American” is not synonymous with “Christian.”
    Now of course we are concerned for America, since it is our home, and of course we want to see her return to her Christian roots. But we aren’t at all concerned about the “collapse of Christianity itself.”

  • Spartan

    I continue to be disappointed… I am longing for Jesus – for the ‘church’ to talk about Jesus and HIS words, share Jesus with me. Yet again, and again and again people banter about this line of thought or that historical perspective, or this particular mood. Want to talk history? Go back to Jesus! Want to talk relevance? How about Jesus? Seems to me His strongest words were reserved for those following the ‘traditions of men’. The perpetual focus on all sorts of things outside the centrality of Christ baffles me coming from those I thought would know better.

  • David N.

    The problem is that what you are saying is EXACTLY what “evangelicalism” has been saying for at least 100 years. Forget the traditions of men, let’s just get back to Jesus! The problem is, once you cut yourself off from everything that has been said for 1900 years and attempt to re-invent the wheel, you are more likely to be influenced by your own culture’s prejudices and “blind spots.” Not only that, but you are very likely to fall into the problems (and even heresies) that the church faced in the past, because you’re not reading Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther and Calvin, who faced those problems before us.

  • Donald Todd

    “Not only that, but you are very likely to fall into the problems (and even heresies) that the church faced in the past, because you’re not reading Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther and Calvin, who faced those problems before us.”
    re: David N’s note above.
    Irenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine hold a different position than Luther or Calvin, and Luther and Calvin hold different positions between themselves. Using them to buttress your position works against it.
    Augustine appealed to the pope in support of Athanasius and for orthodoxy. The pope concurred with Athanasius and Augustine in the face of the Arian bishops in the east, and orthodoxy was maintained without splitting the Church.
    Luther and Calvin disagreed with the pope (and each other), and founded different churches expounding positions with different theologies that were certainly heterodox with one another, and with Catholicism.
    The Church was split, or splintered into what is now a virtually uncountable number of churches, sects and competing beliefs.
    Currently, in deference to a lot of people who are tired of the divisions in Christianity, we now have non-denominational churches, Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal.
    What is occurring in those churches is that they appeal to the lowest common denominator. Accordingly when someone wants to make a effort for holiness (or some other spiritual trait), they begin to either pull away from the non-denomination form or to have an influence on a wider group of people inside that congregation who are looking for more than what is being served currently. (A good model and example for this is the Wesleys, who wanted a method of holiness inside of Anglicanism.
    Eventually Methodism split from Anglicanism and a lot of theological differences formed between the Anglican and Methodist communions.
    John Wesley was an ordained minister of the Church of England (Anglican). His spiritual heirs are no longer members of that particular church.)
    Accordingly, you’ve identified a problem, albeit in a manner you did not discern:
    You can stand with Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Augustine (who evidenced the same beliefs), you can stand with Luther (German theology), you can stand with Calvin (Institutes of Christian Religion), or you can stand with some other individual (the Wesleys for instance), but given their writings and their positions, it is virtually impossible to lump them together. Their ideas are in conflict.
    We all want Jesus. The question is do we want Jesus as He is, or as we want Him to be? If you see another split, it is because someone wants Jesus as “we” want Him to be.
    CS Lewis wrote a series of essays entitled God on the Dock. It is worth reading.

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