Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If We Believe All the Same Things, Why Do Our Churches Seem So Different?

Many Christians see the church world in black and white. You have liberals on one side–they are the bad guys who doubt the resurrection and don't believe in the Bible. And on the other side you have the good guys who believe in the miracles, do not waver on the deity of Christ, and want lost people to be saved. We call these folks evangelicals or conservatives or Bible-believing Christians. Give them a checklist of doctrines and they will get almost everything right.

Liberalism is a problem, but squishy evangelicalism is the much bigger problem.

I do not write thinking that churches self-consciously in the tradition of Bushnell, Beecher, and Briggs will do an about face, or that those in the stream of process theology, liberation theology, or feminist theology will abandon ship. I may vehemently disagree with full-on liberalism, but I can respect that there is an ecclesiastical and intellectual tradition behind it.

The audience I have in mind are those Christians, pastors, and churches that continue to affirm the basic contours of evangelical faith. They've never read Fosdick or Tillich or Schleiermacher. They don't read the Christian Century. They don't know much about Deutero- or Trito-Isaiah and don't really care to waste any more time with documentary hypotheses. They think Paul wrote Ephesians and John wrote John. They love Jesus and want other people to love Jesus. If you ask these Christians, pastors, or churches if hell is forever and people must be born again, they'll say yes. If you ask them whether you can trust everything in the Bible, they wouldn't dare say no. They have no problem with any of the historic creeds and confessions. The people and institutions I have in mind gladly affirm penal substitution, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and a real historical Fall. The folks I want to address are energetic about evangelism. They want to see churches planted and people come to Christ. They think small groups, accountability partners, and mission trips are excellent. And at least in private conversation they'll tell you that homosexuality is not. These Christians, pastors, and churches are not liberal. They don't feel like one of the bad guys.

The problem is they don't feel like the good guys either. Read more

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