Friday, December 21, 2007

"Mired in Just What the Fundamentalists Warned"

I don't have the energy, time, or even the intelligence to break down Touchstone's group assessment of the contemporary state of Evangelicalism. (I'd be interested to hear reactions from any of you who thought through it.)

But this comment from Russell Moore, executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, caught my eye:
The Evangelical movement has “matured” out of Fundamentalism in some of the worst ways. Yes, Fundamentalism was often narrow, often legalistic, and often tied to an inordinate fear of contamination by the outside culture.

In our flight from Fundamentalism, however, many of us—individuals and churches—have become mired in just what the Fundamentalists warned us we would: worldliness. The carnality in many Evangelical churches is astounding, not just at the obvious level of sensuality, but also at the less obvious (to us, anyway) level of covetousness, love of money, and celebrity worship.
Later, Moore says:
I’ve found that some of the harshest “inside the tent” critics of Evangelicals share the basic assumptions of the early pioneers of the movement: that a constellation of parachurch ministries and institutions, unaccountable to specific local churches, can have an identity at all. Indeed, I’ve found that some of the harshest critics of Evangelicalism are often also the least ecclesially situated, and thus the most prone to the individualism that, it is asserted, threatens Evangelicalism—whatever that is.
This second point touches on a discussion we had here a couple months ago on the centrality of ecclesiology to the devolution of both fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Thanks to Andy Naselli, I got my hands on a copy of a TEDS PhD dissertation by Larry Oats, chairman of the Bible department at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. It was encouraging to see someone document the ecclesiological deficiencies in both movments that have led us where we are today. It's difficult for me to imagine anyone in either movement stumbling on a solution without first identifying the problem. I intend to work through that dissertation more in days to come. We'll see if time permits.


Fr. Bill said...

The lack of an ecclesiology contributes to both problems within evangelicals/fundamentalists that Moore mentions .

In the absence of a vital ecclesiology, a community of Christians cannot resist for very long the acculturating affects of the world. With no ecclesial tradition to continually set the standards for what the church looks like and behaves like, any Christian communion will unconsciously resort to the world for such standards. Eventually you get to the place where such recourse is aggressive and deliberate, as in modern evangelicalism today.

As to the practical parity between parachurch and church, what else can we expect, if "church" means what turns out to fit an entirely novel parachurch organization. Evangelicals will purport to give all sorts of definitions of the church or churches, definitions which are supposed to be "Biblical." But, consider, -- How many of those definitions would have been accepted as clear and complete by any of the magisterial reformers?

A parachurch is an entirely voluntary association of professing Christians, who band together to advance a mutually agreeable agenda by a mutually agreeable set of techniques. But, this would describe any congregation, or a denomination. The church's attenuated notion of its own identity promotes the formation and "peerage" of other organizations which say they are not "the church."

JP said...

Fr. Bill,

Are you suggesting that Anglicans, Lutherans, and Catholics (all of whom have no shortage of "ecclesial tradition")are better insulated against worldliness than ordinary evangelicals?

It seems to me that worldliness is a major problem for all. Adherence to the Word, faithfully preached (II Tim 4.1-5) is the primary safeguard for the believer.

Fr. Bill said...


Well, I guess that's exactly what I'm saying. "Better insulated," rather than "successfully insulated," as if an ecclesialstical tradition were all one needed. No, an ecclesiastical tradition is not all one needs; but, in the absence of one, an ecclesial communion is perpetually reinventing itself, to the detriment, maybe the destruction, of its mission.

To Anglicans, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics, I'd add the Orthodox, who -- one might argue -- have taken insulation from the world to such an advanced form that worship within their ranks compares favorably to entering some sort of time-machine to the past. I noticed one of their print journals is named "Again." The tenacity of insulation one observes among them is sometimes self-consciously adhered to.

I heartily concur that worldliness is a problem for all, including the Orthodox, certainly Anglicans, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics. I also heartily concur that adherence to the Word faithfully preached is an antidote to worldliness for the believer.

But consider -- if a church, or a loose communion of churches (Baptists, say; or Methodists; or pick any communion that makes a point of repudiating tradition) -- because they make this point of repudiating tradition they have a vulnerability to worldliness which itself erodes any agenda within it to preach the Word faithfully.

Said another way, if one at the outset repudiates Biblical ecclesiology in the way Anabaptists did, for example, one cannot preach the Word faithfully in an area which has as one of its major consequences the formation and transmission of an ecclesial identity over periods of time vastly longer than any ordinary lifetime.

Two things result: (1) a continual going back to "square one" hoping to get things "right" this time, a agenda that repeatedly crops up over and over and over among Christian communions that are committed to rejecting the past; or (2) the acoption of "baptized" techniques, devices, or agendas from the world. This latter approach is epidemic among self-styled evangelicals today.

By all means preach the Word faithfully! Include in that preaching the whole counself of God concerning the identify of His people in history -- how they worship, how they govern themselves. By all means understand that over time there will be a proper, healthy, and expected development from the primitive to the mature (consider, for example, Abraham's earthen altars, the tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple of Solomon, for instructive parallels).

But, never reject and repudiate what the Keeper of the Vineyard has produced over centuries. Among Protestants who were carrying forth a much needed reformation, it was largely the Lutherans and Anglicans who finally achieved what they set out to do -- to cleanse the Church of much superstition and corruption. The Anabaptists, and some of Calvin's heirs, on the othe rhand, decided that the best tack was to reform by amputation, and to repudiate the past and attempt to start from square one. Their sons in our day are either aping the world, or trying to recapture "the Church of Acts." Both programs are deplorable.

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