Assumption 3: Questions can be dangerous. Many in our culture have opted to stay safe by limiting our knowledge to what we already know–a self-induced retirement of the mind. If we ask too many questions, the resulting answers might cause us to change. We might become accountable for truth and have to act on it. The Pharisees wanted to shut up Jesus for good. His constant questions were threatening to the status quo. Jesus’ questions were dangerous because the very asking of them was eroding the power structure. Jesus had to be killed because He had to be silenced. Asking “who is my neighbor?” and “whose image is on this coin?” can start a riot. Mike Yaconelli
Last night in my Christian Traditions class we covered theological liberalism in American Protestantism and its entrance into the scene in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The reality is that the basic differences among churches is not the denominational labels, confusing enough to those just making their way into the church. The one underlying distinction among them all is orthodox or liberal. Students who are not churched find this surprising and not altogether intuitive. They naturally assume a church would be by definition orthodox/supernaturalistic.
If you want a great picture of how liberalism in American Protestantism got a foothold, go to Episode 4, “A New Light” in the series “God in America.” The last half of that episode is particularly illuminating, culminating in the standoff between the Fundamentalists and liberalism in the Monkey trials in Dayton, TN. Along with this video you might want to read J Gresham Machen’s Liberalism. In it he essentially says that liberalism is not a brand of Christianity. It is another religion entirely. You can download the book from the internet for free. Have read it several times and it always instructs and focuses me again on the nature of the theological war in which the church is engaged. And it is a war. Go here for Machen’s book.
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.
Give me the lowest place: not that I dare
Ask for that lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share
Thy glory by Thy side.
Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.
… Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
“The prophets and angels longed to see what God is doing in your life through Jesus.” (1 Peter 1:10–12) John Piper
It is true that we are sinners;–but Christ has suffered for us. It is true that we deserve death;–but Christ has died for us. It is true that we are guilty debtors;–but Christ has paid our debts with His own blood. This is the real Gospel! This is the good news! On this let us lean while we live. To this let us cling when we die. Christ has been “lifted up” on the cross, and has thrown open the gates of heaven to all believers. J. C. Ryle
I am at that point in ministry (age 65) where just at the point when I think I have some idea of the rhythms of ministry and culture it is someone else’s turn! My basic response to future ministry challenges that will face Evangelicals is how complex the lay of the land is. In my younger years the options were fewer, the culture more friendly, and the Neo-Evangelical consensus of the Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga and Billy Graham variety was holding firm. The charismatic movement was making big inroads, the seeker sensitive movement was just beginning to gain some attention, and the role of women in the church was raising the temperature in all things ecclesiastical. Worship wars were in the infant stage, with Calvary Chapel spearheading contemporary music. Reformed theology had not yet hit critical mass outside of historically Reformed communities as it has now in the Young, Restless and Reformed movement. Theological debates were significant, as they have always been, but the rancor and sharpness of controversies were confined to smaller networks. Obviously, the internet has changed the landscape.
There is no one model or path that seems to have captivated the larger Evangelical movement. Diversity is increasing and theological differences are deepening. There are no Ockgengas and Henrys dominating the Evangelical consensus. Up and coming Pastors are having to make more choices than those I faced.
Stetzer’s take on the next ten years is here. I am wondering what the theological trends will be among Evangelicals. There seems to be a softening of hard lines and more openness to rethinking and/or restating doctrines that we thought were once for all settled – theories of the atonement, the historical Adam and Eve, sexual morality, and eternal punishment to name a few. I do think the YRR has seen its peak and will ride that for awhile until Arminians figure out how to wage theological battle and find a spokesman who can be their version of the likes of John Piper.