May 30, 2020

Respectful Conversation Project Begins

Conversation, by Lavanna Martin

Conversation, by Lavanna Martin

The first series of posts are up in Harold Heie’s Respectful Conversation project about “American Evangelicalism: Present Conditions, Future Possibilities.”

Here are the specific posts:

* * *

I thought I would highlight some quotes from these posts today to whet your appetite while encouraging you to follow this ongoing conversation.

conversation (1)This highlights an element of evangelicalism that is often overlooked and/or disregarded: its inherently ecumenical character. The North American evangelical tradition includes participants from the full spectrum of Protestantism representing many different theologies, hermeneutical trajectories, and ecclesial practices. Further, while the media often depict evangelicalism as a fairly monolithic right-wing movement, it is in fact characterized by considerable ideological diversity. In light of this, no particular group is in a position to define evangelicalism theologically, ideologically, or politically. It is a movement that crosses theological, denominational, confessional, and ideological boundaries. In so doing, it manifests a diversity that has been an inherent part of the North American evangelical movement since its beginnings.

However, while the evangelical movement has been characterized by a rich ecumenical diversity, this does not mean that evangelicals are comfortable with this plurality. For the most part they are not. Instead, they tend to be committed to establishing the one true faith over against other versions. They pursue the one true way to be a Christian, the one right way to read the Bible, the one true system of doctrine, the one right set of practices. In their collective search, different groups have come up with alternative and competing conclusions. This has spawned a seemingly endless series of contentious and ill-tempered debates concerning theology, hermeneutics, ethics, and church practices. These conflicts have produced a divisive and contentious spirit among many evangelicals that has significantly compromised our witness to the gospel. This divisiveness is often justified as a necessary consequence of articulating and defending Christian truth.

…Evangelicals should repent of divisive beliefs and behaviors and embrace the diversity of both the evangelical community as well as the broader Christian church as the blessing and intention of God.

– John R. Franke

26_in_deep_conversationI would suggest that the Evangelicalism of the twenty-first century will be increasingly pentecostalized and charismatized. This will reconfigure, not eliminate, the biblicism, crucicentrism, activism, and conversionism that has long featured in evangelical life. The embodied and affective pietism of renewal spirituality will become more predominant as the center of evangelical gravity continues to shift from the Euro- and Anglo-American West to the global South. The growth and expansion of Asian, African, and Latin American forms of evangelical faith will go hand-in-hand with the pentecostalization and charismatization of Christianity as a whole.

            There will also be trends in the other direction – one might say an evangelicalization of Pentecostalism and of charismatic renewal movements. This is already being seen especially among classical pentecostal churches which are emerging as denominations. Such institutionalizing processes inevitably involve a certain degree of social (not to mention ecclesial) upward mobility and these bring with them a tempering of the charismata and of charismatic sensitivities and priorities. However, the genius of renewal is that whenever things begin to stagnate, and new movements emerge to counter anti-charismatic trends. I would insist that not all evangelicalizing processes are to be understood in negative terms. Oftentimes, pentecostal tendencies involve excesses and the evangelical witness in these cases serve as important correctives.

            My point is to highlight the mutuality at work in the pentecostalization of Evangelicalism and the evangelization of Pentecostalism. This two-way exchange suggests to me that while distinctive in some respects, both are central to the Christian life. Neither is subservient to the other, although each left on its own can tend in unhealthy directions. Therefore, each needs the other in order that their gifts can be mutually complementary for a vigorous and revitalized Christianity for the twenty-first century. In that sense, an Evangelicalism without renewal ceases to be evangelical (i.e., a carrier of the good news) even as a robust evangelical identity always presumes pentecostal and charismatic renewal not as incidental but as essential to the Christian life.

– Amos Yong

As I see it, if evangelicals are people of the book who are willing to listen to Scripture and be open to God’s leading by the Holy Spirit, then more changes could happen than many currently anticipate.  I realize this is a view based on a potential future, yet it is a potential future that always remains a possibility for evangelicalism at its best.  At their best, evangelicals are people willing to be subject to all that Scripture commands, which would include ways of obeying the second greatest commandment that lead to repentance and renewal in ways that would pleasantly surprise those who have decided to move on.  It is this hope for what is possible that compels me to see evangelicalism as an important tradition in the future of God’s mission in the world.  Just imagine what it might look like if the evangelical tradition lives up to its commitment to Scripture: such a state of affairs would probably stun us all.  We are not there yet, but I believe big changes can still happen in future.  So I’ll hold on to the label.

– Vincent Bacote


  1. I would suggest that the Evangelicalism of the twenty-first century will be increasingly pentecostalized and charismatized.

    Reminded me of Michael Spencer’s thoughts in The Coming Evangelical Collapse:

    Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority, responsible leadership, and a reemergence of orthodoxy.

    • Indeed, hasn’t this already happened? Look at all the major labels and publishers of the CCM industry. Aren’t most of them driven by the tenants of Charismatic spirituality? Because even the historically cessationist church bodies have adopted their products hook, line, and sinker, the charismatic theology of worship has become virtually universal in Evangelicalism. Let me write a nations song, and I care not who writes her laws. Let me write a church’s song, and I care not who writes her doctrine.

  2. I’m sorry. I know this is off-topic, but anytime I go to the internetmonk site, the last post showing is April 23 on “adult faith”. I found this post by clicking on the title under Recent Posts at the bottom of the “adult faith” page. Am I doing something wrong? Is there a problem with the site? Is anyone else having this problem? Thanks.

  3. We are at the end of an era. The end of a civilization. There is no point in pretending otherwise.

    All of these books, articles, seminars, conferences, sermons, lectures, blogs and websites about ‘diversity’, ‘bridge building’, ‘unity’, ‘common ground’, ‘inclusiveness’ ‘identity’, ‘reinvention’ and the whole parade of terms and trends are borrowed from the larger culture as we try desperately to stay afloat. We have lost our assurance and our certainty and we wallow in self-pity.

    But it is all nonsense and all of us know it.

    The civilization derived from and based on Christianity and Judaism, is dead and we are now in the void. The Catholic Church and some small remnants of the Protestant churches will survive and that’s it.

    Christians are moving very rapidly back into the wilderness – and we are afraid and trying to pretend we can survive by ridiculing our own heritage and replacing it with the self-absorption, nihilism and desolation of a dying materialism – even to the point of introducing the feminism of 1970 and pathetically trying to stay up to date on homosexuality and ‘gender’ and all the rest of it

    But it is all just a game. We are entering the wilderness. No one cares if the church is up-to-date or not. It is too late for that.

    But in the wilderness we will find God again and – more importantly – He will find us. It will be a terrible time for us in earthly terms. But we will escape the fantasies of a dead civilization.

    • Doom and gloom! I like it.

      • That is the way the Cross works. Doom and gloom from the perspective of this world only. The desperate attempt to pretend that we can avoid the reality of history will make us a lot gloomier over time.

        Ours is not the first civilization to come to an end. Our obsession with self (What will God, people, life, the world, our friends, the government, our families do for ME? If am not happy I have to blame someone) is so ingrained that it will be exceptionally difficult to acknowledge this reality. But the truth never depresses for long.

        • Rick Ro. says

          “Doom and gloom from the perspective of this world only.” Amen.

          I was recently thinking about this, using my usual (for myself) sports analogy. We are told, and I believe, Jesus is victor, regardless of what the scoreboard says. We are winners, regardless of how the game appears to be going, regardless of how poorly I play. But do I truly believe this?

          Let’s say my life is a basketball game. I’ve dribbled the ball off my foot forty times already. I’ve thrown the ball out of bounds three dozen times. I’ve made a few baskets, missed about three hundred shots. The truth of it is that I’ve made a few shots for my opponents, actually, and even handed the ball to them a few times. The scoreboard reads 162-10 in favor of the enemy and it’s only late in the 3rd quarter. The game, though, is basically over. I’m going to lose, no doubt about it, and it’ll be a complete rout.

          The question is, am I able to believe, against all evidence, that Jesus is still the victor? Do I believe that, even though the scoreboard will read 353-16 when the game ends, he will bring me up to the post-game podium and lift my hand high and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Do I truly believe that? And if I truly believe that…how joyful should I be as I play in a game in which I’m getting totally drubbed?

          Ah.. thank you Jesus!!! I am the worst player in this game of life, the scoreboard says I suck…but you love me, you really do. And you will make it all good when the game ends and I’ve lost big-time. Now that’s good news I need to share. There’s joy to be had amidst the doom and gloom, found only in the assurance that Jesus will make me a victor.

        • Civilizations rise and fall, nation states are born and perish. Even religions have changed as new one’s have been born. I’ve noticed and have been thinking a lot to myself of how much Christianity is in a crisis. The inability to teach faith and pass it on to a new generation, while others have re-embraced fundementalism which will only hasten the destruction. This is sad becuase I think there are many in the world seeking, looking and wanting grace, love. etc… And at a time when so many crave it many Christiasn have focused the message of faith on themself. Many Christians are too “me” centered. Maybe its best for parts of Christianity to end up in the trash bin of history.

          • I would say that it is Christendom that is coming to an end. That is, the temporal culture and society built up over twenty centuries, with all of its assumptions about life and death and reality. Christianity itself is not subject to time. It cannot end.

            We have reached the point where we are seriously questioning what Man and Woman are. A culture that has reached that level of decadence has no future. We are ignoring transcendent reality. No civilization in history has reached that level of stupidity and arrogance.

            So the game really is up.

          • Robert F says

            The future is, and always has been, in Jesus’ hands; the rest is grist for the mill.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            So it’s all over but the screaming?

            Just like the Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War of the Cold War days?

            Just like every Apocalyptic Conspiracy Theory du jour?

  4. Last block quote from John Franke might more accurately read “…Evangelicals should repent, not of divisive beliefs, but of the lack of humility with which they hold them.”

    • I agree. The original smacks of postmodern relativism, which is truly a cop out for dealing with doctrinal differences. If group A believes X, and group B believes not X, at least one of them must be wrong. We can’t just repent of having a position on X. But we can learn to agree to disagree with civility, grace, and acceptance. It helps if we can recognize when X is a more trivial issue than merits a separate church body of it’s own.