How Small the Evangelical World

Just got notice that Kent Dobson, the son of Ed Dobson, will be the Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. Small world.

Number one, he lives in the area. Number two, he was formerly on staff there. Number three, his dad is Ed Dobson, former major player with Jerry Falwell during the Moral Majority years. Both Ed Dobson and Kent Dobson are a particular brand of Evangelical, ones who got too close to the fire and pulled away.

Ed Dobson, recently retired from Calvary Church in Grand Rapids as he struggles with ALS, has produced a series of extraordinarily helpful videos of his spiritual journey since resigning and doing the inner world work in preparation for death. Here is a clip from the first video.  They can be ordered at

Of course, Rob Bell was a disaffected Evangelical, too, if disaffected is the right word. My guess is that this is the kind of person who can lead this kind of church. There must be Evangelical credentials but also a refusal to buy in to the full package. There are an increasing number of these in pulpits today.

Ed Dobson, if I read the videos right, now communes at an Orthodox church. This is also a trend. Evangelicalism does not have much room for mystery and quietism, some of the very spheres into which we enter when suffering knocks on our door and apologetics has no soul-satisfying answers. Being right no longer quenches the thirst. This is not a rejection of truth but an acknowledgement that truth cannot be reduced to a Sunday School program or a weekly Bible study. It is a rejection of Evangelical insistence on activism and statistics as self-validating. It is a rejection of public moral campaigns. It is a rejection of reductionist doctrinal statements that nit pick over jots and tittles.  It is a rejection of the rash Evangelicals get from liturgy and the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

I am sympathetic. Evangelicalism is now “bridging” to something it is going to become. Some churches are set down smack dab in the middle of this process. Other churches ignore it or think they have already found the next new thing. Evangelicalism is working to keep its roots in an infallible and inspired Bible and the larger traditions of the believing church at the same time it is trying to shuck off the shallow revivalism that treats people as noses and nickels, subsuming the authentic character of each parishioners spiritual life into larger organizational goals and campaigns, whatever the flavor of the day may be.

My personal journey has settled accounts with my Baptist heritage as guarding some very precious and not to be negotiated away truths. But my eyes are not shut toward our easy believism, shunning of church tradition, careless intellectual life and knee jerk rejection of the value of liturgy.  I am thankful to be associated with churches that are on a learning curve and have not retreated into an early 20th century version of American Protestantism. But the journey is in process and Evangelicalism is seeking a new plateau where it can rest for a while before it once again moves on.

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