October 22, 2020

Church Renewal Remix

future-churchIn the light of Jeff’s passionate post yesterday, let’s take a look at what someone else is saying about the future of the American church (with a focus on Protestant groups).

Over at sowhatfaith.com, the blog of Greg Smith, there is a ten-part series called “The Future Church (v. 2020) – 10 Shifts.”  Smith describes the series as: “the top ten ways I hope the American church of 2020 will differ from the church of 2012.”

According to his biographical information, Greg Smith has had most of his experience in mainline communities. He calls himself “a 30-something progressive, postmodern, postdenominational follower of Jesus who believes that the Christian faith is best understood experientially.” He has served in congregations affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lutheran (ELCA), Presbyterian (PCUSA), and United Church of Christ (UCC) denominations. Currently, Greg serves as Director of Adult Education at Naples United Church of Christ and teaches at Hodges University.

So, here is a perspective on the future of the American church from a younger leader in the mainline Protestant world. I think you will find it not too much different from what many in evangelicalism are saying. Smith suggests ten shifts he would like to see in the church by the year 2010. (You can read more detail at each link.)

Here’s his list:

10. More collaboration and less competition. Citing trends that collaboration between churches is already increasing, Smith hopes for an increase in shared community projects and an increase in interfaith activities of all kinds, including efforts to increase religious literacy, dialogue to promote understanding, shared social justice projects as well as joint worship services and sharing of clergy. There will more of a balance on encouraging people to belong to a congregation rather than to believe in a way that shuts out other congregations.

9. More scalable and fewer fixed costs. Smith suggests several ways that churches will deal with their financial stewardship in the future. Church budgets are heaviest on human resources, so this is the logical place to try and reduce costs. He suggests there may be fewer seminary trained clergy, more shared pastorates or lay pastorates in smaller churches, more staff positions in larger congregations that are open to both lay and clergy participation, more part-time and specialized staff, and more volunteer opportunities with an increased emphasis on training volunteers in churches. As far as property and facility costs, he sees the churches continuing to move away from single-use spaces, owning rather than renting, and moves toward decentralization that make use of virtual technologies.

8. More about following and less about membership. Churches will focus more on encouraging people to follow the way of Jesus rather than being a faithful member of a local church. Rather than membership being the starting point of belonging to a congregation, membership will grow out of belonging and being assimilated into the life of the community. Measuring membership statistics will be less important than determining ways of assessing who have found a vital place in the church’s life. Smith cites Michael Foss’s book, Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing Church, with its contrasts between a membership model and a discipleship model for specific examples of what this will mean.

7. More about questions and less about answers. In the teaching ministry of the church, there will be more of a focus on on the content and style of Jesus’ teaching, especially the parables, which encourage people to question rather than giving them easy answers. Smith sees more “both/and” rather than “either/or” thinking, and less focus on a teacher up front on a stage lecturing and more on walking beside students in a more give and take fashion.

6. More Jesus-centered and less focused on tradition. Smith offers little detail as to what he means by this, other than to say there will be more a focus on the great commandment and more of an emphasis on deeds, not dogma.

5. More begin by belonging and less by believing. This is a point that is important to Smith — when you read the entire series, this idea comes up again and again. Therefore, I will let you hear exactly how he puts it:

Greg-at-NUCCThe current preferred order emerged in the last 500 years and became dominant as a result of many factors, including a preference for rational thinking guided by the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation alongside the perceived need by all denominations and religious groups to clarify its uniqueness.   This model is now so common that many who follow the way of Jesus simply assume it has always been either the preferred or only path.  It begins with belief, requiring would be adherents to affirm a group’s specific beliefs.  Those who embrace believing are then expected to behave in manners that are consistent with such beliefs.  Persons displaying proper beliefs and behaviors are then eligible to belong through formal standing typically referred to as church membership.

The new preferred order is consistent with the nature of Jesus’ own earthly ministry, the practices of the early church, and shared understanding embraced until the shift leading to the current order.  The new (and old) order begins with belonging as people respond to invitation and receive welcome into a community of faith.  This relational starting point provides newcomers the ability to experience what it means for them to be a part of this new community.  As they participate they begin to act like (behave) those around them and those that the group as a whole seek to follow. Only after belonging to and behaving more like this new community do people move on to believing.

4. More connected and less geographically dependent. Churches will continue to find ways to use technology, resulting in congregations that will become a hybrid presence that blends their existing physical presence with a virtual presence. Churches both big and small will try to find ways of building connections between people and offering worship, learning, and service opportunities both in the real world and the virtual world.

3. More innovative and less predictable. Again, Smith is somewhat sketchy as far as detailing how this will work, other than to suggest there will be more less of the “top down” approach when it comes to generating ideas and developing ministries and more involvement by congregation members in pursuing their passions in both existing ministries and new ones.

2. More egalitarian and less hierarchical. An increasing role for technology, along with a greater role for the local congregation rather than larger bodies will lead to a greater exercise of the priesthood of all believers, less division between leaders and congregation members, and perhaps even reforms in church polity and the emergence of new networks of relationships in and between churches.

1. More about deeds and less about creeds. Again, I will let Smith speak for himself on this final point:

  • “Religious” experiences will be valued over “religious” information, especially among younger generations and those of all ages who self-identify as postmodern.
  • Orthopraxy (correct actions) will precede and be viewed as more important than orthodoxy (correct belief).  While not removing orthodoxy as a part of the life of the church, it lessens the likelihood of its use as a primary requirement for entry or a litmus test for faithfulness.  It also allows for a wide diversity of roles for orthodoxy within varying congregations and denominations.  Belief oriented common ground will focus on essentials rather than doctrine or dogma.
  • Local communities of faith will focus on a shared mission while allowing for and even encouraging questions within the egalitarian group.

VibrantFuture_1CM’s Thoughts

Last week in a post I noted that the “church growth movement” is alive and well, adapting their entrepreneurial and marketing mindset to changing circumstances. Well, in this post, it appears that the “future church” and “church renewal” movements are alive and well also, along with the “body life” movement, the “spiritual gifts” movement, the “ecumenical” movement, and the “discipleship” movement.

One advantage to getting a bit older is that you see fads and trends not only emerge but also re-emerge in the church. Greg Smith’s “vision” for the church in 2010 sounds basically the same as things I’ve been hearing in certain circles since the 1970’s:

  • Personal discipleship over institutional life
  • A concern for ecumenism and shared mission between church bodies
  • More lay involvement as people “discover their gifts” and “pursue their passions”
  • Innovation and creativity in the way we do things, along with a less dogmatic and traditional style
  • Less authoritarian structure, teaching, and organization

The only truly new realities Smith factors in are big changes in the way we use technology and the pragmatic realization that churches cannot go on funding ministries in the ways we’ve been doing it for the past couple of generations. Otherwise, I find most of this simply to be recycled church renewal material, repackaged for a new era.

Michael Spencer used to say often: ” I believe the way forward for [the church] is the way back to the roots of the broader, deeper, more ancient, more ecumenical church, not forward into more of what [churches] have been doing the last 50 years.”

Greg Smith is not showing us that way here. While I do believe we need to think carefully about such things as the place of technology in our churches, the challenge of funding ministries in a post-Christian society, and the way we balance individual and institutional life, in my opinion we need less of this “forward” thinking and more faithful incorporation of practices of the church that have stood the test of time. Most of all we need to focus on the present grunt work that needs to happen day in and day out, doing the actual work of the church in the midst of our congregations and out in our communities.

  • That means simply remembering why we as the church gather together and why we scatter into the world, and doing those things prayerfully, thoughtfully, lovingly, and consistently.
  • It means loving God, one another, and our neighbors — really and practically and personally — not as part of some innovative program.
  • It means freeing clergy to be pastors: to share the Word, give the sacraments, hear confessions, visit the congregation and provide pastoral care and spiritual guidance, and equip a few close friends to carry on and multiply the ministry.
  • It means becoming grounded in our neighborhoods and communities as trusted institutions that consistently contribute to the well being of our communities.
  • It means, not abandoning our traditions or thinking we can simply follow Christ without them, but donning them with gratitude and learning how to wear them attractively and in such a way that they will increase our love for Christ and others rather than bog us down or hinder our relationships.
  • It means not becoming enamored of innovation and creativity and new tools, but trying them out and incorporating their use when it makes sense, while never forgetting that the most effective work of ministry has little to do with anything new or better but rather is now what it has always been: people loving God and other people in Christ.


  1. Interesting stuff from Greg Smith. I wonder how long it will take for 9 Marks/Mark Dever to tear this apart since they have all the answers for what a church should be! 😛

  2. ” “Religious” experiences will be valued over “religious” information, especially among younger generations and those of all ages who self-identify as postmodern.

    Orthopraxy (correct actions) will precede and be viewed as more important than orthodoxy (correct belief). While not removing orthodoxy as a part of the life of the church, it lessens the likelihood of its use as a primary requirement for entry or a litmus test for faithfulness. It also allows for a wide diversity of roles for orthodoxy within varying congregations and denominations. Belief oriented common ground will focus on essentials rather than doctrine or dogma.

    Local communities of faith will focus on a shared mission while allowing for and even encouraging questions within the egalitarian group.”


    There it is. The shift back to ‘us’. No thanks. Back on the religious rat-wheel we go.

    When the focus is on the finished work of Christ for REAL sinners…then plenty of ‘work’ will take place. Maybe not the way we’d like it…but it will take place since the Word that inhabits us is Living and Active.

    • Yep, the liberal mainlines and “emerging churches” are every bit as much of a circus as the evangelical circus. Though they’d like to think of themselves as more of a cirque du soleil. Granted.

      This guy focuses on vague warm feelings and questions and communities and works because he really doesn’t believe in the claims of Christ. If he did, he would see that those outdated beliefs and traditions and creeds are all about Christ. Why do we want to get rid of that? That’s the problem. Quit pushing Christ out of the Church!

      If you need to be trendy and emergent, read Kierkegaard. Then, make a leap of faith and just accept Christ’s Word and live your life quietly without all the other BS.

      • I appreciate Chaplain Mike’s piece, and am hopeful it helps continue the conversation. Boaz, my perspective that we are moving away from denominationalism with great growth in unbranded/non-denominational Christianity is primarily a sociological observation. Given that the factors contributing to such continue, it seems reasonable that the trend will as well. I believe, with some strategic changes, most denominations – including those in the mainline – have the opportunity for a bright future. That future will, however, vary significantly from the past especially insofar as what the network itself is and does. I am quite Jesus-centric; rather than pushing Jesus away, I hope more individuals and communities will embrace the person and way of Jesus.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Boaz, my perspective that we are moving away from denominationalism with great growth in unbranded/non-denominational Christianity is primarily a sociological observation.

          Ever heard of the term “Non-Denominational Denomination”?

          Or (from a radio talk-show call-in years ago) “Non-Denominational — you know, Fundamental Baptist with the labels painted over?”

    • I struggle with orthopraxy above orthodoxy. As Jesus told the disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Key to that sentence is the word “disciple”. The disciples learned by doing – a concept lost in current times, especially as fewer vocations still have the concept of apprentices (perhaps except for plummers and electricians). Love has meaning because that is what the disciples found as the essence of God by following Jesus. Perhaps the problem is that we separate knowledge and practice. My resume has separate sections for “education” and “experience”. As a disciple, education and experience are connected.

    • Without orthodoxy (right belief), how can one have orthopraxy (right practice)? The two are hopelessly tied…

      • But which ones comes first? Is a person first convinced by the orthodoxy, then going into orthopraxy or is one first attracted by the orthopraxy and then going deeper into the orthodoxy? I suspect the answer to that is different for each person. Many people of a deeply logical bent may, indeed, be convinced first. Others of a more emotional nature, may be attracted by the practice first. The question to ask yourself, is not how you or your church friends do it, I mean, you’re already there; but how to get the folks that think religion is irrelevant, or who are content merely to slice ‘n dice various traditions to create a DIY religion, to take another look at your church?

        • I think you identified a big part of the problem with your question…”how to get the folks that think religion is irrelevant, or who are content merely to slice ‘n dice various traditions to create a DIY religion, to take another look at your church?”

          We place too much emphasis on attracting people to our individual churches, when we should be focusing on attracting them to Christ. I will concede this….orthopraxy can draw people to the faith…It’s clear from Acts 2 that it can. But orthodoxy can do the same…Think about the Ethiopian eunuch.

          Without orthodoxy, works are just works. Right belief in regard to Christ must be at the root.

          • Without orthodoxy, works are just works. Right belief in regard to Christ must be at the root.

            I guess “works are just works” without orthodoxy, but then again if you’re the one on the receiving end of those works, I don’t think it would matter too much. If I’m on the verge of dying of starvation, I wouldn’t particularly care if the person giving me food was doing so out of the right motivation or not.

          • Joseph (the original) says

            Without orthodoxy, works are just works. Right belief in regard to Christ must be at the root.

            isn’t this the real issue though that is the reason for the different faith traditions/denominations???

            they all have their ‘theologically’ correct version of Jesus as the one being being preached, followed, worshiped, etc.

        • At the risk of simplification, orthodoxy determines orthopraxy. What you do IS based on what you believe is right. Now I’m sure we can teach orthopraxy first, but it has to come from somewhere.

          • I remember watching a documentary about the women’s movement in which the one commentator said, our goal was to change actions, because we believed that people would start believeing what they practiced.

          • That’s interesting. I think what they might mean by that is if they get more people doing their thing, than others will become more convinced of it. Before I start doing something, a part of me believes that it is worth doing. Who makes a practice of going about doing things they don’t believe in? I think you can argue inversely from someone’s practice to demonstrate what they truly believe.

      • Agreed. Orthopraxy without orthodoxy becomes a matter of opinion, mere situational ethics.

        • I would go so far to say that church leaders/marketeers want nothing to do with orthodoxy, because they want the congregation to follow them and do things their way, modern Grand Inquisitors, if you will.

  3. I like # 10

    “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

  4. Matt Purdum says

    Churches that are based on the American corporate model are no more going to cooperate than Coke is going to cooperate with Pepsi. Been there, tried that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Especially with the dueling egos you get between Fundagelical Pastor/Apostles. The Universe cannot have two centers — or two One True Megachurches.

  5. G.K. Chesterton addresses much of this wonderfully–

    In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

    This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. … Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. … If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served.

  6. “More about deeds and less about creeds.”

    Very catchy.

    • Very wrong, also.

      What we believe drives what ‘we do’. The ‘works’ emphasis turns us inward (believe it or not). it is the freedom that Christ has won for us and the Holy Spirit that motivates true love. Not the goading of some law banging preacher.

      • It works the other away around, too, you know…

        What we do drives what we believe a lot of the time, too. And often times we have to force ourselves to do something even if we don’t really believe it. For example, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but most of us don’t really believe things will work out if we actually do that. So we do it as an act of faith even if our faith is sprinkled with a lot of doubt.

        • I tend to agree with Steve Martin. Belief seems always to proceed action. If I love my enemy then it is because I believe that Jesus knows better than me even if I don’t see how it will work out. In every NT example I can think of off the top of my head, action was always motivated by belief. And in every formula I can think of in the epistles, belief or faith is mentioned first.

          • Well, the two are inextricably linked, for sure. But I think it’s more of a western mindset to think that we must fully understand our motivations for doing something before we actually do it. As a for a Biblical example of what I’m talking about, I’d say perhaps John 5:8 & 9 is an example. Jesus heals the man at the Pool at Bethesda, and says ti Him ““Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” I don’t think the man’s belief or faith had much to do with him getting up to walk. He just did because Jesus told Him to.

          • Besides, modern neuroscience is starting to notice that in many cases nerves have revved up to fire before the brain has even cognitively thought through what it’s going to do and why.

          • I think it instructive that the Pauline epistles generally follow the formula, “This is what you should know about God and what He did for you through Jesus. Then, this is how you should act because of it”.

    • Every time I hear that phrase I think of this video:

  7. Okay, here is where I do my “you kids get off my lawn!” performance, because although there are good points in this, I see one or two which could be problematic down the line. As always, this is personal opinion and not meant to be Official Roman Catholic Meddling 🙂

    8. More about following and less about membership
    6. More Jesus-centered and less focused on tradition
    5. More begin by belonging and less by believing
    1. More about deeds and less about creeds.

    So why am I complaining? In particular, how can I object to No. 6 – shouldn’t we all be more Jesus-centred, rather than hung up on particular details of our own denomination or ‘we’ve always done it this way’? Isn’t this the attitude that got the Pharisees into trouble, when they were more concerned about their interpretation of the Law than seeing the very Law-giver standing right in front to them?

    That’s all very true, but my twitchiness comes from this bit: “more of an emphasis on deeds, not dogma”. It’s very easy – or at least, my inclination is to think it is very easy – for this to develop into “religion as social work”; what’s important is running the soup kitchen, or activity in the St. Vincent de Paul society, or the community out-reach efforts, and over time “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” becomes the more important part of the Great Commandment, or indeed the whole – and “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind” gets pushed into the background or even tossed.

    The social justice thread gets picked out of the tapestry of church teaching and made the most important or only element. Christianity becomes a philosophy of being nice, not a faith following the will of God. Jesus becomes an inspiration, a teacher, a very good man – but God made man? Well, are we not all sons and daughters of God in a sense?

    The same goes for “Belonging before believing”. At Pentecost, according to the Book of Acts, when the apostles preached to the assembled crowd from all over the known world, and they were convinced, they said:

    “37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

    It is not recorded that Peter said to them “Well, come along to our next fellowship meeting next Sabbath eve. Stay for the agape meal! Get to know us, see if we meet your felt needs and you feel a sense of community with us. No need to rush into any decisions or commit to anything right away, brothers. Take your time, move at your own comfort.”

    Rather he said: “38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    See, it’s easy when the first generation are full of enthusiasm to make these kinds of lists because everyone is more or less on the same page, in broad agreement, and everyone knows the goals they are aiming for. You don’t need much of a structure or set dogmas because hey, we’re all moving in the Spirit here and Grace has set us free! But when the founders move on to plant another church elsewhere? Or when the thirty-somethings become fifty-somethings and now their kids are the ones in the majority? And the grandkids are coming along now as well? How do you keep it on the tracks?

    It is important to have a personal experience of belief and faith and to develop a relationship with Jesus. But my fears are that making it a personal, private experience where the group is a bonus but not a necessity or in any way more than a guide you can ignore if it contradicts your own sense of what is fit means that, taking it to the logical extreme, all I really need is my Bible and my own Sunday morning (or Friday evening, Tuesday night, whenever I get some free time to go for a hike in the woods or a walk on the beach) time to meditate and simply experience Jesus’n’me. I don’t need to associate with my fellows in a building, even if it’s a very nice building with great coffee. I may turn up if there’s a special event or a great worship set for the emotional high, and I may very well be involved in extra-mural activities such as community outreach or food pantries or the like. But I don’t, in the end, need Greg and whatever structure of ‘church’ he has gathered together, because it’s all about ‘deeds not dogmas’, ‘belonging not believing’ and ‘deeds not creeds’.

    Now, I’ve thrown a lot of cold water on Greg Smith’s proposals, and I want to give him credit – he’s correct in diagnosing a lot of things that need to change or that will change, whether or not we want them to, particularly when new technologies, new patterns of urban and suburban living, new communities and expectations arise.

    But I’ve been in the middle of a discussion on anothersite where, amongst other things, the Catholic Church and the Enlightenment (opposition to same) came up, and I had occasion to reference the 1907 encyclical of Pope St. Pius X about Modernism.

    He was very much in disapproving mode when he wrote this, but I want to pick out one paragraph where he expresses what I think can – not will, but can – go wrong with the notion of a personal piety that trumps all else:

    “8. But we have not yet come to the end of their philosophy, or, to speak more accurately, their folly. For Modernism finds in this sentiment not faith only, but with and in faith, as they understand it, revelation, they say, abides. For what more can one require for revelation? Is not that religious sentiment which is perceptible in the consciousness revelation, or at least the beginning of revelation? Nay, is not God Himself, as He manifests Himself to the soul, indistinctly it is true, in this same religious sense, revelation? And they add: Since God is both the object and the cause of faith, this revelation is at the same time of God and from God; that is, God is both the revealer and the revealed.

    Hence, Venerable Brethren, springs that ridiculous proposition of the Modernists, that every religion, according to the different aspect under which it is viewed, must be considered as both natural and supernatural. Hence it is that they make consciousness and revelation synonymous.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That’s all very true, but my twitchiness comes from this bit: “more of an emphasis on deeds, not dogma”. It’s very easy – or at least, my inclination is to think it is very easy – for this to develop into “religion as social work”; what’s important is running the soup kitchen, or activity in the St. Vincent de Paul society, or the community out-reach efforts, and over time “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” becomes the more important part of the Great Commandment, or indeed the whole – and “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind” gets pushed into the background or even tossed.

      The social justice thread gets picked out of the tapestry of church teaching and made the most important or only element.

      As happened in a lot of Protestant Mainlines in the 19th Century with the Social Gospel. Then Entropy sets in, and you wind up with a “Gospel without Personal Salvation.” (And secular movements — like 19th Century Marxism — going father and more enthusiastically into X-treme Social Justice without pesky religious superstition to get in the way.)

      And then comes the Fundagelical rebellion against it, from a Gospel without Personal Salvation to a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, from Post-Mil Optimism to Pre-Mil Pre-Trib Pessimism, from Involvement to Isolation, from Practical to Pietist, from Worldly to Otherworldly, etc.

      And we wind up at the same place we are now.

      “Oh, the more it changes
      The more it stays the same;
      And the Hand just rearranges
      The players in the game…”
      — Al Stewart, “Nostradamus”, 1973

    • Good stuff to chew on Martha. Thank you.

  8. More questions and less answers, I like that.

    • Me too. One of the things that attracted and still attracts me to my current tradition is that it is not frowned upon to ask the question, Why would the Almighty allow that or where was the Almighty while that was going on. In my tradition, it is a continuous thread that weaves through the writings of our philosophers and thinkers (and poets and artists and …).

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Not sure about Point 10. Zero-sum Competition seems to be in the DNA of Evangelical churches, whether little church plants or Megas. Combination of “We Are The Only True Church”, Church Growth, and the universe cannot have two centers.

    Points 8 & 9 in combination would mean the end of the Megachurches. Point 8 in isolation harks back to Point 10 and “who’s got the biggest Mega” — Church Growth, sheep rustling, etc.

    Thing is, a LOT of Evangelicalism seems to have gotten itself locked in to “Our Way IS The Only Way” and will keep going full speed towards the cliff singing praise choruses as they go over. Anything else would be Apostasy and Lukewarmness.

    • Agreed on #10 HUG.

      • If that’s the perception of evangelicals, that needs to change. We are brothers in Christ and need to come together on essentials and let the non-essentials go.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Tell that to Ken Ham, Hal Lindsay, and their fanboys. There are too many dueling egos in pulpits and One True Wayism where only *I* in *MY* pulpit am right. (“Us four… No more… (and I don’t know about the other three of you), Amen.”)

  10. Bill Metzger says

    More of the same: make it about ME (personal religious experience) and less about CHRIST (Who He is and what He has done and continues to do). Our biggest problem is that we have taken the responsiblity for building the Church away from Jesus (“I will build My Church”) and have made it “up to us”. As a result, the gates of Hades WILL prevail against it! If we simply leave it to Jesus to build His church, then we can rest assured that indeed “the gates of Hades shall NOT prevail against it”.

    • I don’t get it. There are a lot of ideas and trends to get cranky about – I don’t see how this list is one of them. And I’m definitely not seeing the selfishness that is apparent to so many others.

      Maybe #4 is something to be wary of, while #’s 5, 6, & 7 are challenges to welcome others like Christ and exalt Christ above tradition, which may be as simple as emphasizing Christ in the midst of the existing tradition without having to radically change anything.

      • I hear you, Sean.

        As someone coming from a Lutheran (ELCA) background (but with many years spent in Evangelical-Land), what he’s saying makes sense to me – though, as Chaplain Mike said above, it also does sound like a recap of things that have been making the rounds since the late 60s – but that’s *not* a bad thing. We all need reminders and encouragement, after all.

        I can see where many folks whose background is solely evangelical would have a problem with this list, and yet… I think it’s very much worth pondering, because it’s something that requires a bit of a shift in focus, from words/professions of faith to the church as the body of Christ – a community of faith. In most evangelical churches, the emphasis is on professions of faith and (in many cases, sadly) trying to live up to a set of rules and goals. (Hamster-wheel time, for many.) There’s a case for being instead of the relentless focus on perfectionism that so many evangelical churches (though by no means all!) seem to advocate. (Been there, done that – am a revert to the ELCA, and – perhaps not surprisingly – have found far more grace, mercy and LOVE there than I ever did in any evangelical church that I was part of.)

        I know this is a meandering post, and that some of the things I’m expressing might seem a bit odd or even backwards to many of you. All I can say is that Christianity is a *big* umbrella, with room underneath for many different expressions of faith and practice – and that we can all stand to learn a great deal from others who are not from our particular “corner” of the church.

        • All of what you say is (big-tent, etc.) is exactly why the critiques are throwing me off.

          And while this type of thinking may have been around for awhile, remember that each emerging generation needs to figure out for itself and do its own thinking (and no, that doesn’t equate to me as individualism. It equates to a genuine ownership of the faith). So if the same themes come happen to come up for each generation, isn’t that all the more reason to listen?

          • Sean – Agreed. I was trying to say that (perhaps somewhat awkwardly?) at the end of my opening graph.

            As for the discussion in other comments on belief and action, I don’t think they’re separate – nor that it’s wise to separate them in real life. That said, I don’t want to get into a big discussion on orthodoxy and orthopraxy, which is why I’m stating my position in this comment rather than elsewhere. : )

  11. David Cornwell says

    After reading Martha’s analysis, there really isn’t much left to say. She makes excellent points in a positive way.

    However I have noticed that sometimes right practice, i.e. worship and loving one’s neighbor can precede right belief. Sometimes it even comes after a person has been totally burned by correct belief, so called, in a narrow and legalistic church where doctrine, discipline, and judgement seem to be the pillars of church life. I’ve also observed that people will sometimes progress toward right belief, not further away from it. If you are a person who proudly owns right belief, then congratulations. But it isn’t that easy for everyone.

    Getting a kick out of attacking mainlines is seems to provide a easy thrill to those with “correct belief.”

    I other respects I agree with Chaplain Mike, there is little new in what Greg Smith offers. Some of it was the trend of the day when I graduated from seminary.

    • David — You’re right that belief and behavior go both ways, I think. Aristotle certainly felt that the virtues were more a result of practice than of belief — that what you do regularly begins to inform what you are. Then there is the Catholic concept of “lex orandi, lex credendi” — (“the law of praying is the law of believing), in other words, that our religious belief is formed by our religious practices.

      Maybe it’s best to think of the practice-shapes-belief concept as sensible psychology and advice for living, and the complementary understanding of all action as falling short until the heart is renewed as an essential belief for salvation.

      • David Cornwell says

        Damaris, you have a gift for bringing clearness to a discussion. I’ve noticed that worship, for some people, leads to belief. Worship, well done and properly structured can over time bring a person to belief. Of course a lot of what we call “worship” falls short, but joining a congregation which is turning it’s attention toward God is a good thing. Looking to be entertained in church just brings a temporary high, which fades away until the next performance.

        And, of course you are correct, our actions always fall short and cannot save us.

  12. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    One of the principals of AA is if you keep bringing your body to the truth when you’re ready the truth is there waiting for you, but if you stop bringing your body to the truth when you’re ready the truth is no where to be found.

    • David Cornwell says

      Yes, I love that. I had a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest who was involved with AA and addiction counseling tell me exactly the same thing.

  13. “If you are a person who proudly owns right belief, then congratulations.”

    I think I’d re-write that as, “If you are a person who proudly owns right belief, then beware: you’re about to become a Pharisee.”

    I’d rather be around Christians who are a bit unsure of absolute truth and “right belief” than Christians who know they’re right, and I’m guessing most non-Christians would rather be around more doubting believers, too. Then there’s room for discussion and discernment and the Holy Spirit to work. I think it also makes God and Jesus more accessible to those who are really seeking. We’re told not to be stumbling blocks, after all.

    And I guess related to that, I’d rather be around Christians who aren’t all about works, either. They make me feel too darn guilty that I’m not doing enough.

    • David Cornwell says

      Yes, many people approach faith from a heart full of doubt. The doubt always seems to weigh them down as they see the contradictions in what they’ve been taught and how it’s being worked out in the lives around them.

      I like it better the way you have re-written it.

      As always, there’s much to be said on both sides of this argument.

  14. This is a related question I’ve been thinking about recently;

    what is the place of evangelism in the church’s life? Most churches or Christian Organisations I have been involved with, it usually involves putting on ‘events’ (acoustic nights, carol services etc.) which one is encouraged to invite friends to. The event itself, and whatever art or entertainment is being offered, is usually the means to an end: the proclamation of a particular gospel message, and possibly an alter call. Then alongside this, individual congregants are encouraged to do their own, often relational, evangelism, fostering friends with non-believers, in the hope that one might have the opportunity to witness to them at some point. (I’m being a little cynical here. Friendships with ‘non-believers’ ( a term I dislike) were not always painted as evangelistic projects, but the idea is certainly present).

    So what do we envisage our evangelism looking like, in the future-church? how will it differ from today?

    • I’m not sure I like the answer I’m about to give, as it might push me out of my comfort zone, but a quick reflection on Jesus’ ministry leads me to a couple of conclusions:

      1) Most of his interaction with the “church” at the time (in the synagogues and temples) seemed to be an attack on “religiosity” and highlighted the failures of the relgious to “love God and love others.” I’m not sure we see many healthy interactions within the walls of the “church” at the time. (The more I think about it, there is some healing and teaching, but it certainly seems limited in scope and those places don’t seem to be places of “healthy evangelism” to a non-believer.)

      2) Most of his evanglizing seemed to come when he was out and about, AWAY from the religious places of the time.

      Those two things make me wonder if healthy evangelism should be an “away from church” activity, that churches and church-goers are too “religious” for true, Jesus-shaped evangelism.

  15. “Smith sees more “both/and” rather than “either/or” thinking, and less focus on a teacher up front on a stage lecturing and more on walking beside students in a more give and take fashion.”

    Is it just me, or this whole list full of either/or things?

  16. It’s interesting to note that mainstream evangelical churches have already done some of these things, in many cases mistakenly. Doctrines and creeds may be assented to, but they’re more boundary markers than anything that is very important in teaching or practice or talked about much. Membership isn’t very important. The latest and greatest technology is heavily used, including things like streaming multi-campus churches. I think a lot of this is misguided.

  17. I think it’s very interesting that when Jesus talks about how we will finally be judged, it’s *all* about works, and nothing at all about faith. Deeds, not beliefs, count. Indeed, the sheep, those who are judged to be good and worthy, respond in the same way as do the goats, when Jesus tells them “As you have done it to the least of these, you did it to me. The “sheep” don’t say, “Oh, yes, we did those good things because we believed the correct doctrines about You.” The goats don’t say, “We didn’t believe correctly, so that’s why we made a mess of it.” Both of them say, in response to Jesus, “We’re really not sure what You are talking about.”

    Matthew 25: 31But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: 25:32and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; 25:33and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 25:34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 25:35for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; 25:36naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 25:37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? 25:38And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 25:39And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 25:40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me. 25:41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: 25:42for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; 25:43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 25:44Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 25:45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me. 25:46And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.

    • They asked Jesus flat out, “What is it to do the works of the Father?”

      And Jesus replied, “This is what it is to do the works of the Father, believe in the one whom the Father has sent.”


      Those who fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty and visited those in prison didn’t even have ‘works’ on their mind. They just saw a need and met it. No self-consciousness.

  18. I think there are some lessons from the world of missiology that could really help the evangelical culture change and be more effective in reaching those outside it (and those like me who have become disillusioned with it, for that matter), but for the most part it isn’t listening. Here’s the deal. Almost none of the changes listed above alter the fundamental culture of evangelicalism, which is increasingly alien to those outside of it. At best most are changes to form, but not to cultural substance. Those who might become believers in Jesus are mostly required to enter and submit to the evangelical culture, however alien it is to them.

    I read a really good article in Christianity Today (an increasingly rare event) this morning — an interview with a Muslim convert on the need to allow Muslims to come to belief in Jesus in their own cultural context and forms of worship without imposing “Christian” culture. It echoes what those at the forefront of missiology have been saying for a long time, but it is still controversial in large segments of evangelicalism.

    What evangelicals don’t realize is that post-modern western culture presents just as much of a cross-cultural challenge as does Islam. And almost no evangelical churches have the missiological depth to think about and implement truly contextualized ways of sharing the gospel, much less to carry them out.

    This is an incalculably huge loss, because the ability to do this would enable new believers from outside of evangelicalism to “own” their faith in their own cultural context and bring belief in Jesus to their cultures from the inside out, which is incredibly effective, but takes care, knowledge, time, patience and the ability to put one’s own evangelical culture aside for the sake of sharing the gospel in a way that has meaning within a different cultural context.

    Evangelicalism will never get to that point until and unless it matures and changes in ways that most of its adherents right now frankly cannot really fathom.

    • Yes, that was a good article. And I don’t get all the Christianity Today slamming around here. Since I’ve been a subscriber (about a year now), I’ve found it to be full of keeper articles like that one.

      • CT slamming? I like CT and folks like Mark Galli are A-1 in my book.

        Perhaps you are speaking of some of the commenters…?

        • CM…Yes, I’m responding to some statements by others that seem to question the quality and value of CT, something that I haven’t felt in the limited time I’ve been a subscriber. The Muslim article that John mentions in his post was a homerun of an article. I’ve found keepers in almost every issue I’ve gotten.

          • I didn’t say CT has nothing of value; if they did I certainly wouldn’t have cited the article I did. I said that they are rarer than they used to be and I stand by that.

            I’d be interested in comments on the substance of what I said. I think there’s much to be learned from the cross-cultural approach cited in the article that could be applied to the current situation western evangelicalism finds itself in.