#1 - I was preaching at Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago last Tuesday night… presenting the Gospel from Isaiah 53:4-6 (what an incredible passage!). I was really captured by the text, and anytime you’re talking to anyone about the great need that we have and the unbelievable provision God has for us in His Son – and the unfathomably suffering He endured to deliver that provision, well… there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it. I felt that I had just a glimmer of a vision for that Truth when I stepped up to speak. I did my best, I was focused on the task at hand, and I finished on time. After returning to my seat, a co-worker greeted me with the following statement (or something like this):
“I’m amazed at your concentration – I can’t believe that didn’t phase you.”
I had NO IDEA what he was talking about. It turns out that while I was preaching, a man in the second row of the auditorium (center aisle, almost right under the pulpit) threw up! It caused quite a stir (and a mess), and required someone with a BUCKET AND MOP to clean up.
I understand that people sometimes feel sick when I talk, so I am not surprised that someone finally expressed this thought so graphically. But here's the point: I DIDN'T EVEN SEE IT! When they told me, I smelled it, but I still can’t believe it happened – literally – right under my nose without my notice!
#2 - Reading Phil Johnson’s talk (What Is An Evangelical?) at the Shepherds’ Conference reminded me of this reaction (the “oblivious” part, not the “vomiting”), and this is what I mean: I am amazed that I continue to be shocked at the condition in the Evangelical church these days. I’d recommend Phil’s talk – it merits close attention (part 1 here and part 2), but I think he is accurate in his assessment of the broader Evangelical movement.
What is an "Evangelical" these days? According to Johnson:
"It's frankly one of those questions you can answer almost any way you want and defend your answer as articulately as you like, and most people are still going to tell you you've got it wrong. Because it seems these days everyone has his own personal idea of what constitutes an evangelical. Ask 100 evangelicals to define that they mean by the term and odds are you're probably going to get 100 different answers—some of them so wildly different as to be virtually contradictory.
Evangelicals have been trying hard to be all things to all men for at least two or three generations, and in this regard they have completely succeeded: The evangelical movement is now so broad and diverse that you can define it practically any way you want. In an article celebrating their 50th anniversary a couple of years ago, Christianity Today said they think diversity is in fact the dominant feature of evangelicalism." (emphasis added)
And therein lies the problem. I don't think CT is alone in celebrating "diversity" - even on core doctrines like the nature of man, the work of God and the very definition of the Gospel itself! The problem is, when you question theological diversity in Evangelical circles, you are very quickly labeled as a trouble-maker, opinionated or, even worse, "negative." (There is a FAR worse label being tossed around these days, but that's the next post!)
Johnson says that people accuse him of being "negative" and so, in response:
"… So let me say it this way: I'm positive that the broad evangelical movement today is abominable. The brand of Christianity (or should I say "the assorted brands of Christianity"?) represented by Christianity Today, The National Association of Evangelicals, and the Christian Coalition—the spiritual heirs of Billy Graham, Fuller Seminary, and the Urbana Conferences—that large movement that most of our spiritual parents identified with—that vast movement is now as utterly backslidden and spiritually degenerate as Israel was in her most backslidden state during the times of apostasy described in the book of Judges. We have reached that point where ‘Everyone [does] what [is] right in his own eyes.’ And lots of so-called evangelicals think that's just fine. The current editors of Christianity Today seem to think that's just fine. They never tire of celebrating their constituents' "diversity." (emphasis added)
I frankly don't like to identify with the contemporary evangelical movement. I'm strongly tempted simply to stop calling myself an evangelical altogether, just to keep from being associated with every infamous religious scoundrel from Ted Haggard to Joel Osteen. What does it actually mean to say we're evangelical when the menagerie of heretics and charlatans appearing nightly on TBN all insist they are evangelical, too? Tony Campolo, who has renounced practically everything that's distinctively evangelical, insists on calling himself an evangelical. Lots of Roman Catholics call themselves evangelical. Lately even Mormons have begun arguing that they have a right to the label as well. None of them would agree on what the term means, of course, but they all want to wear it, because it gives them an artificial connection with the rich heritage of evangelical history.”
“I do affirm historic evangelical principles. The original evangelicals are my spiritual ancestors. I believe what they believed, and I'm passionate about the things they were passionate about. We share a common faith, and I happen to believe it is the same faith proclaimed by apostles and the early church. But in the broad sweep of church history, the set of convictions I hold is best known by the name evangelicalism. And I'm not ready yet to concede that label to people who in fact have no spiritual connection—and nothing whatsoever in common—with historic evangelical beliefs.”
But for some of us, we think these guys are on to something that is not only right, but important. I'm not sure I'm understanding how to attribute electrical properties (like negative and positive) to this discussion - but I do think their assessment is accurate.
So here's my big shock: I'm surprised that people hate the truth so much. I'm surprised that people think personal attacks or blind optimism somehow deflect reality. And when I think about the state of things generally (and when I read the mainstream Evangelical thinking in response), I feel a little like the guy in the second row at Pacific Garden Mission. I guess I’m just surprised that I’m still surprised.
Next Time: Who Is the REAL Problem?