Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Evangelicals, Repent

If it hasn’t been obvious before, it should be by now. Evangelicals need to do some serious soul-searching, humble themselves, and repent.

And no, this isn’t a cheap shot at the president-elect of the country south of Canada. If anything, their POTUS-to-be is a warning, or perhaps a symptom, of a problem that goes back for years. “Bigley Orangelid” is simply the inevitable outcome of sinful decisions made in the past.

In less than two months, a man who has been variously called bully, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, vulgar, crass, manipulative and immoral (plus a few epithets that would make a cockroach blush) will be known by a new nick-name: “Mr. President.”

And white evangelical Christians voted in massive numbers for him, and in all likelihood, may have been the deciding factor in the election.
But even if “Crooked Hillary” had won, evangelicals would still need to repent. And no, not because of Clinton’s position on abortion.

Evangelicals need to repent for something far more insidious.

Its not just an American problem. In many countries, evangelicals have long been guilty of pursuing political power in the name of advancing the Kingdom of God. From somewhere came the idea that worldly power is necessary, or at least an advantage, for accomplishing God’s purposes.

In contrast, Jesus told the political powers of His day: “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

Much has been said regarding the long-reaching negative consequences that befell the Church after Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion as he sought to consolidate his Roman Empire. Many have also noted, throughout church history, the detrimental long-term effects when the church is controlled by the State.

Conversely, what many Christians seem to be pursuing in recent years is a State controlled by the Church. This isn’t surprising, if one has embraced a “Kingdom Now” (Latter Rain/NAR) paradigm, wherein believers think they will usher in the Kingdom and then turn it over to Jesus later. But it’s not just charismatic extremists who need to repent.

The root goes much further back. Remember the “Moral Majority” movement of the early 1980s? When Fundamentalists decided to use political power to force Christianity—or, at minimum, Judeo-Christian morality—on the masses? And then evangelicals jumped on the Moral Majority bandwagon as well, just in case it might succeed?

(Parenthetical question: Why is it so horrifying to think that Sharia Law might be imposed on the populace, but it’s perfectly acceptable for fundamentalist Christians to do exactly the same thing? Asking for a friend.)
Evangelicals world-wide need to repent of embracing the seductive and idolatrous lie that the Kingdom of God will be advanced through political power. The pursuit of worldly power has resulted in evangelicals supporting worldly politicians, and becoming worldly themselves in the process. As evangelicals, if the shoe fits, it’s time to repent.

All evangelicals, not just white males in America.

“My Kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus, the One we claim to be following, who calls us to be “in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-19).

The first disciples had the same problem. We’re faced with the same lessons they had to learn. Check out Acts 1:6-8:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Political power for their people.)

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Spiritual power for  advancing a different Kingdom.)
Yes, it’s time for evangelical Christians to repent.

We serve a different King, and we are called to partner with Him to advance a very different Kingdom.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Awkward Continuationist: Both/And

Any group of people that spends a lot of time together — athletes, artists, coworkers, volunteers, churches — will develop their unique tidbits of jargon. 

Jargon isn’t a bad thing, as long as you take the time to explain what it means to outsiders. At its best, jargon serves as a sort of “verbal short-hand,” where complex ideas can be quickly communicated without having to go into detail each and every time. 

For example, Canadians nation-wide know the meaning of “double-double” (coffee, two creams, two sugars). It’s helpful jargon, and only becomes a problem if you use it outside of Canada and expect people to understand. 

A classic slogan in the Vineyard is: “Evangelical in theology, charismatic in practice.” We usually define this jargon as, “the best of both worlds: the solid preaching of the evangelicals and the openness to the Spirit of the charismatics.” 

Of course, even though we intended the phrase as a compliment to both groups, it sometimes backfires. 

Evangelicals: “What do you mean by that? Are you insinuating we don’t have the Spirit?”

Pentecostals and charismatics: “What are you suggesting? That we’ve got lousy preaching?”

The phrase got me thinking about the “radical middle” between evangelical and charismatic, and specifically, what I appreciate about my conservative evangelical roots. On one hand, it’s pretty basic. But on the other, I’m always running into Christians who’ve just recently discovered (or searching for) the same things. A few examples: 

1. God loves me. Period.

There is nothing I can say or do that will make Jesus love me more.

There is nothing I can say or do that will make Jesus love me less.

2. There is no condemnation.

I’m amazed by the numbers of Christians who walk around feeling condemned. Every generation seems to  wrestle with it. I’m thankful to have learned that the story of St. Paul’s struggle with sin in Romans 7 is answered immediately in Romans 8.

3. God isnt one-dimensional.

Hes quite capable of loving us and yet also despising our sin and its effects.

God can be angry at injustice and yet show mercy to the perps.

He is the Holy King, Lord, God Almighty, and yet Jesus calls us friends.

God is a righteous Judge, and God is a loving Father.

These are just a few, but I’m grateful to my evangelical upbringing for teaching them to me.

“Evangelical” has become a favorite scapegoat for anyone with a bone to pick or an axe to grind. But Id like to suggest that if some believers have never learned that (e.g.) theres no condemnation, the problem isn’t evangelicalism.

If anything, it might mean some churches haven’t been evangelical enough.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Awkward Continuationist: Family Feud

When youre a continuationist, a bizarre reality you’ll wrestle with is that some of your harshest critics are other believers. 

You know, your extended spiritual family. And as the saying goes: “You can pick your friends, but you’re stuck with your relatives.”  

And one of our crazy cousins—the unpredictable one you’d think twice about inviting to the annual family BBQ—is John F. MacArthur. He’s written three (count ’em, three) books attacking all things Pentecostal and charismatic, each one progressively meaner and more volatile. 

The first book was 1978’s The Charismatics, which you wouldn’t exactly call complimentary. But at least it closed with the chapter: “What We Can Learn From Charismatics.”

By the time Charismatic Chaos was published in 1992—largely a rehash of the first book—the closing chapter was MIA. Apparently, there was nothing to learn from charismatics, after all. 

I read The Charismatics while still in high school, via the three-month installments made available in Moody Monthly magazine. And I purchased a copy (hardcover, even!) of Charismatic Chaos when it first came out. I read it, front to back, several times. My reasons, at the time, were two-fold:

  1. It was the best-selling book of the year in our local Christian bookstore, and I knew Id better be aware of what Cousin John was saying. Sort of a continuationist application of “always be ready to give a reason (1 Peter 3:15-16).
  2. I thought there might be some helpful critique we continuationists needed to hear.
Boy, was I disappointed with item #2. Multiple misrepresentations, exaggerations, caricatures, and generally sloppy research robbed the book of any redemptive value. Plus, Cousin John’s shrill and hysterical tone made it sound like he was cussing out his enemies, not addressing brothers and sisters in Christ.
Rich Nathan wrote an excellent response to Cousin John’s section on the Vineyard, which you can download for free here.
But, never one to leave well-enough alone, Cousin John did it again with 2013’s Strange Fire. This time around, I knew better than to waste my meager book budget on it. But through the modern miracle of Amazon’s Look Inside preview, I was able to verify the following quote from the book’s preface:
“Charismatics now number more than half a billion worldwide. Yet the gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.
“This is the hour for the true church to respond… There must be a collective war against the pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God. This book is a call to join the cause for His honor.”
(John F. MacArthur, Strange Fire?, page xvii)
Um, yeah. You really want to go there, Cousin John?
  • A false gospel?
  • As dangerous as any cult or heresy?
  • It’s time to declare war on continuationists?

I think Cousin John is conflating “gospel” with “secondary teachings.” For example: Believing in the gift of tongues (or not) has absolutely zero effect on the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Believing God still heals and performs miracles today (or not) has no impact on Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the Life and the only way to the Father (John 14:6). You’d be hard-pressed to find any difference in the gospel being preached by MacArthur and the overwhelming majority of continuationists.

Cousin John has gone beyond the bare facts of the gospel and added cessationism to the mix. The irony is glaring: Cousin Johns upset at some secondary doctrines in the continationist camp (e.g., Word Faith, NAR), and yet his secondary doctrine of cessationism is just as biblically indefensible (you could call it a false teaching without exaggerating). 

Cousin John is rightly concerned about the wacky secondary teachings in certain continuationist circles. I wouldn’t have taken the time and effort to write Post-Charismatic (and the resulting flak) if I didn’t agree. The bathwater needs cleaning. But that’s a far cry from words like false gospel, cult, heresy, or war. 

It’s tempting to write off Cousin John as a grumpy, axe-grinding curmudgeon. But then I remember something John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, once said:

“Your brother is never your enemy, even when he acts like it.”

So, Cousin John, we may never have a BBQ together this side of eternity, and it would appear a snowball in hell has a greater chance of survival than you and I agreeing on everything. But despite our differences, and our disagreements, you are my brother. 

Yes, that’s right. You’re stuck with me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What Happens on the Road, Stays on the Road

Nothing says “you’re in a band” louder than the proverbial road trip. This past weekend, the five members of Feet First piled into our respective gear-laden vehicles, and drove to the town of Nakusp, in British Columbia’s Kootenay Mountains, for a wild and woolly weekend of rock ’n’ roll and assorted shenanigans.

Well, not exactly …

Yes, we drove to Nakusp and played two packed-out gigs at the Leland Hotel, British Columbia’s longest-running pub – since 1892. The road trip was awesome all by itself. We live in a province of jaw-dropping natural beauty.

And yes, the shows rocked – people were calling their friends during our first set and the word spread. Our second show turned into a four-hour onstage marathon to a boisterously enthusiastic (and decidedly intoxicated) audience.

But keep in mind … this is a middle-aged classic rock band.

No, those weren’t “groupies” in the front row – our wives came along for the weekend. We’ve all been married 30+ years.

Overheard at supper on Saturday: “Hey, we don’t hit the stage for another three hours. We could squeeze a nap in!”

Yes, there were drugs involved. All prescribed by our family physicians.

Spinal Tap moment: Dave, our lead guitarist, got lost in the hotel while trying to find the bar, and we were forced to start the show without him. His wife tracked him down and escorted him, sheepishly toting his Fender Strat, to the stage during our third song. The crowd cheered for him.

There were lots of jokes about “living the rock ’n’ roll dream” throughout the weekend. It’s a treat to be in a band that takes their music seriously and themselves lightly.

But seriously, folks …

A weekend away with Wendy, in the Kootenay mountains, playing in a band of this calibre, relaxing with bandmates and wives in a local coffeeshop, and with a stunning view of Arrow Lake just outside Wendy’s and my hotel window … 

Wow. I’ve a lot to be grateful for.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Awkward Continuationist: Revival ≠ Circus

Revival. Now, there’s a word pre-loaded with all manner of mental images, assumptions, and expectations.

Objectively speaking, to be “revived” means that what was once alive, and then died, has been brought to life again. A drowning victim, for example, revived after a lifeguard’s intervention. 

Or when a patient’s heart stops on the operating table, followed by the terse command: “Clear!” Kah-CHUNK! Beep, beep, beep ... “We’ve got a pulse.” 

In popular usage, revive can also refer to any number of things.

A Shakespearean play can be revived following years of non-performance. An interest in a personal hobby can be revived once the demands of our schedules have become better balanced.

Among Christians, “revival” can refer to anything ranging from a pre-planned series of meetings with celebrity evangelists, to a sovereign and unexpected move of the Holy Spirit.

But even in these cases, to be revived presupposes that you were once alive, but later became spiritually dull, dismissive, or embraced deliberate denial. Revival and evangelism arent the same. When people first become Christians, theyre not brought back to life; theyre entering spiritual life for the first time (Ephesians 2:1-6).

Revival is for believers.

You see it in the Old Testament, when the Israelites – God’s chosen people – have a collective wake-up call over their spiritually destitute state. They respond by renewing their commitment to the Covenant with their heavenly Father. It was typically a time of sombre reflection, repentance, and “coming back.”

Examples include Nehemiah reading the Covenant to the people (who apparently hadn’t heard it in a long, long time); they responded with tears and repentance (Nehemiah 8:1-12). Likewise, when King Josiah heard the Book of the Covenant for the first time, he responded with deep repentance and “came back,” and led the whole nation in corporate repentance as well (2 Kings 22, 23:1-25).

The message of the OT prophets could also be summed up as calling people to “come back” (repent) and follow God with all of their hearts.

Even Jesus’ last words in the New Testament – the letters to the seven churches in Revelation– echo this same sense of “turn back” (Revelation 2 & 3).

Revival has always had a connection to repentance (turning back) and following God wholeheartedly.

In the 21st century, however, we’ve made revival look more like a three-ring circus than a genuine move of the Spirit. As soon as anyone gets a whiff that God is stirring people, its only a matter of time before the Traveling Revival Roadshow arrives.

And – sadly but inevitably – celebrity leaders attach themselves to this latest “move,” CD’s are recorded, video DVD’s are packaged, claims of miracles and healings are exaggerated (or invented), anyone who exercises discernment is buried alive under a deluge of charis-slogans, and eventually something causes it all to fall apart (again).

And then people divide into two groups: (a) the disillusioned who give up, and (b) the die-hards who will just wait for the next circus sideshow anointed event, and do it all over again.

Im praying for a Holy Spirit revival. We desperately need the Real Thing, not another three-ring charismania circus.

We need – I need – a Holy Spirit-inspired revival that rocks our world and leads us back to Jesus.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Awkward Continuationist

I was there when this album was recorded, oh-so-many years ago. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to something “Vineyard,” but it was the first extended (four day) time of enjoying worship and workshops.

It was a high water mark in my spiritual journey up to that point. And it was also directly connected to getting fired by my church shortly after. But that’s a story best left in the past, where it belongs.

Ironically, my termination confirmed a corollary to something John Wimber had written a few years earlier:

Many [people] were not offended by the theory of divine healing; it was the practice of healing prayer that offended them (Power Healing, pg 49, emphasis in original).”

The corollary, in this case, was the difference between believing the gifts of the Spirit are available today (which they did), and the practice of them (which they rejected). Long story short: attending the Worship Festival will always be a fond memory in my spiritual life. 

When Wendy and I were dating/engaged, we attended a charismatic church near our Bible college. The preaching made us cringe at times (too much out-of-context proof-texting), but we enjoyed the worship and our newfound friends’ joyful zeal. We spent hours with them in local coffeeshops and pizzerias, discussing what we loved about the worship and debating the sermon content.

And at some point, Wendy and I gave voice to The Dream: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a church with the evangelicals’ exegetical teaching and an openness to the charismata of the Spirit?”

Required reading at our Bible college included George Mallones Furnace of Renewal and Those Controversial Gifts, as well as Michael Green’s To Corinth, With Love and I Believe in the Holy Spirit. Mallone and Green’s writings gave us hope that it was possible to be evangelical in belief and charismatic in practice, without compromising sound theology or quenching the Spirit.

So in retrospect, the Worship Festival hosted by the Langley Vineyard was just another step in a journey that had begun years earlier.

Continuationist gets “awkward” because the radical middle – evangelical + charismatic – is a hard balance to find, and harder still to maintain. And 100% worth pursuing.

So, call me an “awkward continuationist.” All of the charismata are alive and well and needed today — and theology and sound doctrine matters, big time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What's In A Name?

image credit: CredoHouse

The word “evangelical” seems to have been co-opted and caricatured to the point where its become meaningless, if not outright detrimental. My compadres at Think Theology and I meet monthly via Zoom, and we’ve had an ongoing debate over it’s continued usefulness.

Doctrinal tongue planted firmly in cheek, one of us wondered aloud, “Can ‘evangelical’ be saved?”

Perhaps its time – we sighed in weary resignation – to dump the term altogether. Its been rendered obsolete. Irredeemable. Beyond hope. Deep-six that sucker. Ghost the term.

I chafe at the idea that media caricatures and post-evangelical podcasters can get away with misrepresenting and vilifying evangelicals. I get far more upset when some of our evangelical kin – its a big tent containing a lot of denominational groupings and sub-groupings – says or does stupid stuff in the name of evangelicalism.

(Gah! Youre not helping!)

And therein lies one of our biggest challenges: recognizing the difference between evangelicalism as a theological framework versus evangelicalism as a cultural subset that appears – frankly – more like old-fashioned Fightin' Fundies.

So, at its theological core, just what is evangelicalism?

The graphic pictured above is a good summary. I like providing solid explanations in a visual arts medium. At the same time, its full of a lot of insider-jargon that would take time to unpack.

A more basic introduction: start with the four key descriptors of evangelicalism as compiled by David Bebbington, in whats become known as the Bebbington QuadrilateralThere’s a range of opinion and nuances under each of these four items, but as a broad description, it works:

Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority

Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross making salvation possible

Conversionism: the belief that each person must choose to follow Jesus (oldskewl: born again)

Activism: the gospel is a marketplace faith and societal impact is the fruit (missions, ministry among the poor and marginalized)

Put into your own words as much as possible; no need to sound like an encyclopedial parrot. For starters, you dont have to call it a quadrilateral or provide a biographical sketch of David Bebbington.

Just sum up Bebbington’s Quad in your own personal-speak:

The Bible is a Big Deal. When its teachings and my life dont match up, guess who needs to change? 

Jesus was crucified so we can have life. Yes, He loves us so much that He voluntarily went to that extreme. 

Nobody is “born a Christian. You have to make a choice to surrender to Jesus. And keep surrendering (aka “discipleship”). 

Faith in Jesus is a private decision that is expressed in the public square. By serving, not by being obnoxious. 

However you decide to put it into words, I think its time for those of us who are evangelical to stop playing possum when people misrepresent who we are and what we believe.

So when you hear someone make a comment about typical evangelicals, and you suspect they dont know what the term means, why not invite them into a conversation about it? Offer to pay for their coffee.

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear (1 Peter 3:15 NLT). 

Hindsight is 20/20 Update (2023)

Upon further reflection, I had an epiphany of sorts.

Don’t bother defending “evangelical” – just share your version of the Quad to explain what you believe. No label to defend. No emotionally-charged caricature to diffuse.

When Jesus sent His disciples out to share the good news of the Kingdom, He gave them an admonition that applies perfectly to us today.

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16 NLT).”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reclaiming the Co-opted Label

“Historically, fundamentalism was a theological position; only gradually did the movement come to signify a mood and disposition as well. In its early [years], leadership reflected ballast, and less of bombast and battle ... 

“If [liberalism] stands discredited as a perversion of the scriptural theology, certainly fundamentalism in this contemporary expression stands discredited as a perversion of the Biblical spirit.” (Carl F.H. Henry, Christianity Today, 1957) 

The above quote was originally published, almost 60 years ago, in an article delineating the differences between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. Both groups shared some key beliefs – primarily the need for conversion by faith in Jesus – but there are significant cultural differences. Fightin Fundies railed against liberals, culture in general, and each other, while evangelicals were firm in their theological beliefs but more culture-neutral.

My friends and I at Think Theology are having an ongoing and spirited debate over whether or not the label evangelical can be rescued from the caricatures and misrepresentations circulating mass and social media of late. Ive been an advocate for keeping the term, but after watching the presidential spectacle south of the 49th parallel (USofA), Im less optimistic.

There used to be a recognizable difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, as recently as the 1980s and 1990s. Todaysomehow – fightinfundies have been conflated with evangelicals, and right-wing extremism is now labelled evangelical.

The Wittenburg Door issue (pictured above) poked fun at Liberty University and Jerry Falwell, its founder. They also included a satirical application form for Legalism Bible College. The Door (and their readers) knew what a fundamentalist was. They also knew evangelicalism wasnt the same thing. 

Yet recently, Jerry Falwell Jr. and fundamentalist Liberty University have been held forth by the media as a representative example of evangelicalism. Somebody erased the distinction and lumped all of us under one handy label. 

Even some of the pejorative phrases that people love to employ online – e.g, bible-thumping– which one would normally associate with fundamentalism, are now applied to evangelicalism as if they were one and the same. 

Its difficult to redeem a word when its meaning has been co-opted and brought into disrepute.

"Charismatic" is another term suffering a similar fate. An example: I was recently invited to lead worship at an event dedicated to the promotion of theological education. I was asked, and a Bible college and seminary graduate, to share a brief testimonial about the value of higher theological education. 

Everything went well, from my perspective. As the meeting adjourned, the guest speaker – seminary president from my alma mater – shook my hand and thanked me. He was all smiles and friendliness. Until that fateful moment when I handed him copies of The Genesis Cafe (eighteen months' worth of research and writing) and Post-Charismatic (two years in the making), while saying something to the effect of I thought he might be interested in one of his former students theological writings. 

Ill never forget his reaction. Smile frozen in place, he stopped shaking my hand. So, you would consider yourself ... charismatic, then? 

I told him I prefer continuationist,” and Post-Charismatic would explain what I meant and why I thought it was important. Based on his reaction, I have my doubts that  he read either book. Id been labelled, categorized, and deep-sixed before the words escaped his lips.

I’ll admit continuationist is an awkward term. Its unfamiliar to many and may take some time to catch on. At the very least, its a potential way of explaining – positively – what I believe about the charismata, as an alternative to the emotional and theological baggage associated with “charismatic.”

But the term/label “evangelical” ... What to do, what to do?