Friday, November 23, 2007

Variations on "Situation Hopeless, But Not Serious"

Technically, my son is still a member-in-good-standing of the evangelical church in which he was raised, though he is far down the road towards Orthodoxy. I am fine with this, for the advice I often received was that it was "all in God's own time." He attends, on occasion, a large, downtown congregation, primarily to maintain contact with his peers, and more importantly, to go out to eat afterwards with a herd of young 20-somethings. Invariably, he will return, incredulous at what he had heard that night. For example, the preacher recently related a story about his mentor, who had it seems, restored the church to Thessaloniki, Greece. The minister smugly proclaimed that by his friend's efforts, Christians were once more meeting in that city! (By Christians, he meant adherents of the early 19th-century American frontier primitivist Restoration fellowship who have leaped back across history and restored the church of 1st-century purity--and not, of course, the Holy Orthodox Church, founded in Thessaloniki by the Apostles themselves,and having been in continuous existence for nearly 2,000 years, suffering through, I might add, 500 years of Muslim occupation. This group is very careful to avoid using the word "Christian" in connection with anyone other than themselves.) My son was tempted to walk out in disgust, but decided to sit for the rest of the show.

While the Thessaloniki anecdote is fascinating (in the sense that a train-wreck is fascinating) and fraught with possibilities, it is not where I am going with this story. My son also reports that most sermons and prayers are overtly patriotic in nature, variations on the theme of "getting this country back on track." For as the preacher reminded the audience, "did you know that it is now illegal to read your bible on the school bus?" (This is just abject silliness, obviously taken from "A Thousand and One Preacher's Anecdotes to Scare the Bejeebers out of the Ill-Informed." (Honestly, what kid wants to read their Bible on the school bus, anyway? I do recall, however, sometimes praying that the tough kids at the back of the bus wouldn't beat me up.)

But the persistent refrain, again and again, seems to be "getting this country back on track." What is usually implied by the phrase is not some sort of call for sackcloth-and-ashes repentence and humility, but rather, political action of some sort--to overturn Roe v. Wade, to crack down on illegal immigrants, to legislate against gay marriage, to get tough with the Iranians, to put prayer back in school, etc. This is nothing new, I've heard it all my life. Usually it came from some old fogey (though with another birthday approaching, I'm beginning to warm up to old fogeydom), and usually it referenced the time before the Vietnam War, when society seemed to fit a particularly air-brushed interpretation of American history. Well, over at the excellent Second Terrace, in a post here, the writer (whose name I do not know) gets to the real heart of the matter. In commenting on Harold Bloom and Jacques Barzun, he takes issue with the premise of Bloom's "Closing of the American Mind." ST finds that the American mind has not closed, but rather, it has never been opened, and this for want of knowledge of the Trinity, as we teeter on the lip of the Abyss.

Bloom was dead wrong. The closing of the American mind happened long before his precious Europeans came over and made our universities respectable. It happened even before there was an America.

The true closing of the mind is what initiated the course of decline that now obtains in American/Western society: it is called decadence, and it is the inevitable product of the denial of the Trinity, the deity of the Son, and the possibility of the deification of man.

I tell you that it is the Doctrine of the Trinity, the witness of the Church, that keeps the mind of the West together….I am a Trinitarian because that doctrine is the secret life-giving stream not just for the Church, but for the epistemology of the West. Without this truth, and its meditation, there is no West, for without the Trinity there is no Peaceful thought, and all consciousness is fractured.

So the Second Terrace writer concludes that America has never really been "on track," our present predicament merely the logical result of centuries of digression from Trinitarianism. I find much truth in this. These thoughts were still with me when I read the December issue of Chronicles (whose articles are sadly not online, though their blog is linked.) Aaron D. Wolf, in his "Dobson's Choice: Politics in the Spirit of Martyrdom," makes a number of good points. A few selections follow:

...we have frittered away the Christian convictions that created our civilization, trading our birthright for a pot of politics. We have placed our hopes not in the transforming power of the Gospel but in the edicts of Caesar. In the process, our faith itself has lost all of its sharp edges, becoming so benign that it draws little attention to us. Instead, what garners attention is our insistence that the non believing majority of our fellow citizens submit to our beliefs on abortion and "gay marriage." these two issues have become the faith that we confess before men.

...legislation cannot save, in the ultimate sense, a hellbent people or its offspring.

Thus, if we wish to restore the civilization that has been lost, we have to pay more attention to our Faith and less attention to Republican politics. We have to baptize our children instead of trying to baptize our elections. We have to stay married instead of trying to define marriage.

The myth of Christian America, perpetuated by distorted accounts of American history which insist that any deist President who mention "God" in a speech, from Jefferson to Lincoln, must have been "one of us," has created a false confidence that we are just one election away from returning to our Christian Founding....Such confidence, and the political maneuvering that often accompanies it, undermines the Christian desire to make a bold and clear confession of faith.

In contrast with the faith of the early martyrs, Wolf writes:

Of course, things are different for us: We live in a democracy, and, as citizens of a democracy, we have never been asked to burn incense to the emperor; we just asked ourselves to preserve our Christian civilization by voting for the most pro-life President in U.S. history, even after he burned incense to Allah by declaring that Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike pray to him, then wished us all a happy Ramadan.

So, the Second Terrace interpretation actually offers some solace for all the hand-wringers. There will be no "getting the country back on track," as both train and rails were flawed from the beginning and are not fixable. I think deep down, in their heart of hearts, even the preachers realize this.In other words, the situation is indeed hopeless--but not serious, for there is another way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Add This to Your List...

...Of Reasons To Give Mike Huckabee a Pass

Mike Huckabee is enjoying something of a boomlet these days. He's smart, humorous and likeable enough. And admittedly--with his emphasis on poverty and conservation--he is giving a new twist to current Republican talking points.

In today's Times I read that he has received the endorsement of Tim LaHaye, co-author of the wildly popular and truly awful apocalyptic Left Behind novels. In a letter mailed to his supporters, LaHaye stated that "America and our Judeo-Christian heritage are under attack by a force that is more destructive than any America has faced since Adolf Hitler" and "Defeating the radical jihadists will require renewed resolve and spiritual rearmament by the evangelical pastors of America." In the letter, LaHaye and his wife encourage pastors to attend 2-day conferences to be held across the nation, in which, by teleconference, Mr. Huckabee will be the only speaker.

Giuliani has Pat Robertson, McCain has John Hagee, Romney has Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III, so it is no surprise that Huckabee would garner this endorsement. Nor is it unusual that Huckabee would buy into LaHaye's Flash Gordon eschatology. After all, Huckabee is a Southern Baptist preacher. What bothers me are the words of a campaign spokesman, who stated that Mr. Huckabee had read some of the Left Behind novels and enjoyed them. What this tells me about Mr. Huckabee is that he is not a reader.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Face of Iraqi Christianity

Thanks to James for the link to THIS site.

The persecution of Iraqi's near 2000-year old Christian community is old news by now. They have perhaps suffered more than any. With the destruction of Iraqi civil society, with no one to protect them, these Christians were caught in the middle of the Shiite and Sunni infighting--easy prey for al Qaeda or whatever militia or insurgency happened to be sweeping through a neighborhood. As they were often hard-working and prosperous, they also made prime targets for kidnappings or confiscations. I linked to an excellent story of their plight back in April, 2006, here.

In the Dora district of Baghdad, many churches were fire-bombed and most Christians fled to either Jordan, Syria or northern Iraq. But the story by Michael Yon linked here offers some limited hope for the future. Bishop Shlemon Warduni has returned to St. Peter the Apostle Church in Dora (Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq). Before a recent Mass, Muslim and Christian neighbors worked together to re-install the cross on the church's dome. Yon reports on the service:

Today, Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John’s. Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.”

The sight of Iraqi Muslims filling the pews of a Catholic church, calling for the return of the Christian community does indeed send a powerful message. I try not to read too much into the situation--for this may be a unique, particular circumstance--but hopefully this message will get out, not so much among the expatriate Christian community, but among Muslims themselves. From recent headlines, some Turks, as well as Israelis, could benefit from this lesson. (Thanks to Serge for these links, and check out Michael Yon's site for the rest of the marvelous pictures from the St. John's service.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sweatin' for Jeezus

I am not much of a sports guy. I rarely know who is playing in the Superbowl. A pilot announcing the score on a Boston flight was the only reason I knew who was in the last World Series. Before I read a newspaper, I carefully extract the classified and sports sections, and discard them before ever engaging the paper. I have never held a golf club in my hands. With waterboarding torture being a hot topic these days, I would say that all they would have to do to me is tie me up and set me before a televised golf or baseball game. I would confess to anything. I firmly believe that professional sports is the scalpel by which modernity has lobotomized American popular culture.

I do make a few minor concessions. I enjoyed the Tour de France as long as Lance Armstrong was competing. I take a bit of an interest in the World Cup every few years--where you can root for an actual country. On the weekend after Thanksgiving, I usually have the television or radio on, to periodically check and see how bad my alma mater (The University of Texas at Austin) is whupping-up on the little school down in College Station. Even then, my interest is not such that I would actually sit down and watch the game.

Several years ago, I was walking past our school's ball fields. It was summer, and Little League was in full swing. I heard one of the coaches yelling at his young charges, trying to motivate them, I suppose: "It's not all fun and games out here, you know!" Oh really, that is what I thought it was supposed to be. Therein lies the whole problem, in my view.

The meshing of our sports mania with religion has always baffled me. Years ago, one of my very oldest friends--too clever by half--commented on the mad rush among Southern Protestant churches to build basketball gyms. He called it "sweatin' for Jeezus." I continue to find the remark applicable to so many situations.

Recently, a golf pro won some tournament somewhere, and in his acceptance speech, he said he "gave all the glory to God." That is well and good. But glory is one thing. Hitting a little ball with a stick into a hole for money is something altogether different.

Back in my Protestant days, we were in the habit of closing out Wednesday night services with a devotional message. Indeed, it was almost an unwritten creed that you could not have a Wednesday night service without such. Anyway, one of the leaders of our little church was fond of using inspirational, hut-hut, locker-room motivational stories on these occasions. I remember sitting in the pew, wondering what in the hell any of that had to do with our faith, failing to grasp the least bit of significance any of it had to the real questions of Christian living. I saw it all as just insipid, superficial fluff, a cheesy refashioning of Christianity along the lines of our Southern sports culture.

We once had a preacher who delivered a Sunday night sermon using hunting analogies. He walked up to the front of the auditorium in hunting cap and vest, carrying a rod and reel, shotgun and other hunting props. I remember sitting in the pew, cringing in embarrassment and thinking to myself: "Just don't lay the shotgun on the communion table. Just don't lay the shotgun on the communion table." He did. That preacher didn't last long. But apparently, his only problem was that he was just a little ahead his time.

This Sunday morning, I caught a bit of the televised broadcast of our local Baptist megachurch. Their new auditorium--nicknamed by some cynics as the "Baptidome"--seats 3,400 and it takes 3 back-to-back services to handle the crowds. The church's parking lots have quite literally consumed what was once one of our cities prettier neighborhoods. Buses are needed to taxi worshippers parking in the more remote lots. Membership here carries a lot of weight in this town, and has the reputation of being where you need to be to do business around here.

But I digress--back to this Sunday's service. The church has a full-fledged orchestra to accompany their praise team. They opened with a peppy song of some sort. I don't remember exactly what it was, I just remember there was a lot of clapping and bebopping around. And trumpets. These are not your father's Baptists. Then the preacher came out--dressed head to toe in a full baseball uniform and cap, carrying a bat and a ball. His entry set off lots of laughter and clapping. Who knew worship could be so, well, fun. This get-up was to inaugurate their new series called "GSPN." Get it. Obviously, this is inspired by ESPN, which--I am told--is an all-sports network. The preacher explains that the GSPN stands for God's Spiritual Player Network. He goes on to detail how the purpose of this program is to make every member a "spiritual player." Next week, there will be Bass Pro theme, where the lesson will be on "God's Fishing Tips." The following week will be golf-themed, "Keeping it within the Fairway." After that would come the football sermon, but by this time I couldn't watch anymore. Years ago, I thought our preacher's hunting sermon was sappy and silly. This is much worse. Don't ever think that things can't go any lower.

Larison on Tbilisi

The political turmoil in Georgia has been much in the news this last week. My interest in the nation is not really of a political nature, but as these developments eventually affect all aspects of a society, I have been following events closely. As is often the case, Daniel Larison has one of the best reads on the situation, here.

Run, Ron, Run!

Well, the 2008 Presidential aspirants are beginning to hit their stride. I am not at all sure what I will do come next November. I am quite sure what I will not do. For me, 2008 is an opportunity to do penance for my sins of 2004 and 2000. In the meantime, I am enjoying the spectacle. There hasn't been a race like this since 1952.

I am particularly impressed with the Ron Paul phenomenon. His headline-making fundraising efforts are finally breaking the media barrier. Still, besides Chris Matthews and a few others, he gets little attention. This morning, on George Stephanopolis' talk show, he was discussing the New Hampshire primary with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts and George Will. As they flashed the latest poll numbers on the screen, Stephanopolis noted that the big story in the numbers was the collapse of Fred Thompson's campaign (who, as Cokie Roberts noted, was strolling, rather than running, for the Presidency). "Wait a minute," I thought. The big story was not that Thompson (whose candidacy was all media hype to begin with, in my view) was now #6. The big story was that Paul was #4 in New Hampshire, not far behind McCain.

I first started taking note of Paul in one of the early Republican debates where he had his now-famous interchange with Giuliani. As it sunk in what Paul was saying about our involvement in the Middle East, and its root causes, I jumped up from the sofa, hooping and hollering in support. St. Rudy of 9/11's response was classic demagoguery. He scorned Paul for straying from the script. Paul had the temerity to actually speak truth.

Paul remains one of the longest of long shots. But as Paul Gottfried notes, here, "he is a wonderful embarrassment to our two odious national parties." And in that context, I say "Run, Ron, Run!"

There's a decent story in today's Times, as well.

The Good That Kings Do

Apparently, there is still a place for kings in today's world, as King Juan Carlos of Spain demonstrated this week--telling Hugh Chavez, "Why don't you just shut up." Certainly this is one of the more satisfying headlines of the week.

Mustafa Akyol and the New Islam (part 3)

On November 5th, Mustafa Akyol wrote on Apostacy is a Right, Not a Crime. He begins with the now-familiar story of the Afghan man who was spirited out of the country last year before he could receive the death penalty for becoming Christian. Akyol notes that this "story was only one of the many severe violations of religious freedom in the contemporary Islamic world." You don't say. In Saudi Arabia, Filipino workers are deported if caught having private worship services in their room (see Thomas Friedman's article, here). In Egypt, converts are locked up in insane asylums because, by definition, anyone who leaves Islam for Christ has lost their mind. Throughout Muslim lands, even in Akyol's supposedly enlightened Turkey, Christians must keep a low profile. There is a reason all the churches are hidden behind protective, walled compounds.

And conversion is strictly a one-way street, as it has always been. Akyol admits as much. "Traditional Shariah (Islamic law) considers apostasy a major crime that deserves capital punishment...Ex-Muslims are consistently suppressed, harassed and attacked by their former co-religionists. As a Muslim, I feel ashamed to read such news."

Akyol is to be commended for his honesty. But he also maintains that Islam is not at odds with human rights, that such "elements in the Islamic tradition...should be discarded in the modern era." These calls to bring Islam up to speed with modern sensibilities is not without irony to many of us in the Christian West, where many are ready to jettison any teachings that inconvenience our 21st-century "lifestyle." Islam makes some pretty exclusivist claims about itself. Whatever you think it is, it has never been a way of life that allowed for its adherents to freely move to other faiths; at least not in my readings.

Akyol, incredulously, contends that the Koran doesn't really ban apostasy, and "actually includes many verses, which cherish religious freedom." He cites 2 verses: "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:246) and "It is the truth from your Lord; so let whoever wishes have faith and whoever wishes be unbeliever." (18:29). Well, indeed. I am certainly no Koranic scholar, and am not interested in any prooftexting battles. The Koran says many, often contradictory, things. For those who want to justify persecution of other faiths, there seems to be no shortage of Koranic support for such belief.

Akyol continues: "...a forced belief in anything is a totally absurd concept. If someone becomes or stays a believer because he is forced to do so, then that faith will simply have no meaning." Well yes, and no. It is a simple historical fact that much of the Middle East, and the whole of North Africa, submitted initially to Islam under the sword, and the heavy restrictions placed on those who refused to convert. To the first generation or so, Akyol is probably correct--their faith probably had no meaning other than survival. But give it time. Literally hundreds of millions of devout Muslims today are the descendants of these forced conversions.

Akyol believes ban on apostasy grew out of the particular political situation of early Islamic Arabia. Perhaps so, but the practice soon became the accepted norm through the Muslim world and centuries.

Akyol concludes: "Apostasy cannot be considered as a crime in today's world. It is, indeed, a natural right. People should have the right to believe or disbelieve in Islam." He also believes "that Islamic sources need a serious reconsideration. What most Muslims attach themselves to as divine commandments are actually the political and cultural codes of the early centuries of Islam, which were, to be sure, man-made facts."

These are strong words, coming from a Muslim writer. I wish him well, but I am not particularly hopeful. His reinterpretation of Islam seems like a lot of wishful thinking to me. And I see absolutely no evidence of such a societal shift in attitude in any Muslim country. Nevertheless, these are the voices of reason that we have been straining to hear for so long, and so I encourage Akyol to continue to speak out.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mustafa Akyol and the New Islam (part 2)

On November 2nd, Mustafa Akyol wrote on Ein Volk, Ein Ummah, Ein Muhammad? A recent visit to Prague served as the catalyst for this story. A young lady approached him on the street and asked Mustafa to join her cause. When he inquired as to what that cause was, particularly, she replied "we are standing up against Islam." The irony here is pretty thick. The young Czech nationalist was not able to recognize in her listener to be one of the very people she was protesting against. As he noted, drolly, "I was definitely not the most promising candidate to be inspired by that message."

As it turns out, the lady was a member, unfortunately, of a right-wing Czech nationalist group--the Narodniks. Akyol contends that such groups "fuel fear about and hatred towards Muslims" and are "fueling the global threat called clash of civilizations. [This is a pet peeve of mine--the pejorative misuse of Samuel Huntington's quite legitimate thesis].

Anyway, Akyol's comments are what one would expect. What one does not expect, however, is his main point, as follows:

Much of the responsibility lies in the hands of Muslim leaders and intellectuals. We should see that there is Islamophobia in the world, because there are men who blow up innocents, respond to any criticism with fury, treat their wives as slaves, and do all of these in the name of Islam. The racist and xenophobic tendencies in European societies add a lot to the problem, to be sure, but they are secondary. The primary issue is what some misled Muslims do.
What is really needed is an initiative by Muslims to reject and denounce all the horrible things done in the name of their religion and do this frankly and persuasively. The objections to the West and its policies, on the other hand, should be made calmly and constructively.

My, that is refreshing. Such realism is healthy and sorely needed from the Muslim side of the aisle. But Akyol still does not quite grasp the thrust of the argument. I doubt that European concerns, which he labels as "Islamophobia," are fueled by racism. If they were, restrictive immigration and native opposition would have stopped Muslim migration to Europe long before they reached their current numbers.

While a veneer of cultural Christianity pervades western Europe, the practical observance of the faith is weak, and getting weaker, if most surveys can be believed. But even the thoroughly secular European understands about reciprocity. The religion of the Hare Krishnas who proselytize at the airport are no concern. Nor are the well-scrubbed young Mormon missionaries, or Pentecostal street preachers. Europeans are not afraid to mix it up in the marketplace of ideas. But they know that whenever Islam becomes predominant in a society, the equal playing field vanishes, and everybody else is constricted to the will of the Muslim majority. That is the fear and that is where the opposition comes--not racism.

Mustafa Akyol and the New Islam (part 1)

Mustafa Akyol is an up-and-coming young Turkish writer. A regular contributor to the Turkish Daily News, his articles often find their way into English language journals as well, such as "Turkey's Veiled Democracy" in the current issue of The American Interest. His blog, The White Path is often of interest.

I found his three most recent blogs to be of particular interest. On October 29th, he wrote on God, Gold and Islam. Attending a conference in London, Akyol found himself surrounded by monuments attesting to the might and glory of the British Empire. He muses on the cause of such a phenomenon--and by Anglo-Saxon extension, American progress, as well. What interests Akyol, as a Turk, was the role religion played in the expansion of Anglo-American progress. He cites Walter Russell Mead, Max Weber and Alexis de Tocqueville as sources who, to varying degrees, attribute the advance of the British and American empires to their religiosity. Mead, in fact, notes that 19th-century Britain and the US today were "significantly more religious than most,” arguing that "religion acted as a driving force in the progress of Britain and the United States."

Well, let's not get too carried away, here. Religiosity is hard to quantify, at best. Is Mead saying that Anglo-American Protestantism far outpaced the Catholicism of the Hispanic countries? Or the Orthodox devotion on the Russian steppes? I would not make such a claim. And while the vaunted Protestant work ethic certainly played a key role in what is seen as "progress," other factors were equally important. Britain was an island culture which had the luxury to develop in a unique way, generally free from the threat of invasion (after, of course, those pesky Vikings). America was similarly protected. The role of English common law and the rise of British constitutionalism are equally important and cannot be overestimated. Also, the cynical paleocon might note that the very progress the Protestant work ethic engendered served to ultimately undermine these very same religous underpinnings.

But what interests Akyol, of course, is the application of this scenario to Islam in general, and Turkey in particular. He notes that modernization occurs if the religion is "dynamic" and not "static." He admits that many would argue that Islam does not lend itself to being "dynamic." You can number me among those skeptics. Akyol counters with a reference to medieval Islam's golden age, and the fact that "there are many fine Islamic thinkers who theorize modernist interpretations of Islam." Well, this "golden age" is overblown, as they all are. And I have yet to see any "modernist interpretations of Islam" really taking hold. Akyol rightly references Turkey's "G├╝len Movement,” and its emphasis on "peace and and interfaith dialogue... [and] pro-business and entrepreneurial spirit. Akyol does have a point. They are certainly pro-businesss and entrepreneurial. I am still waiting on evidence of the interfaith dialogue, though.

The problem, I think, with Mr. Akyol's theory is that it was not religion in the abstract, or just any religion that helped power the British and American ascendency. Rather, it was a specific religion, the Protestant slant on Christianity. I'm not at all sure that this translates to the older forms of Christianity, much less other religions, and in particular, Islam. But if Akyol is on to something, it will be proved out in Turkey first. As he concludes: "Alas, if the Islamic world will be able to breed a “dynamic” interpretation of its faith, then Turkey, it seems, will be one of its main architects. So, keep watching."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So You Want to go to Georgia?

Have you ever thought about visiting the Republic of Georgia? If not, why not? I can guarantee that it will be the trip of a lifetime, in which you will come home a changed person. John Graham has organized the Monastery tour for 2008. Five of the fifteen slots have already filled. So, contact John, here, and tell him I sent you.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Touchstone on Evangelicalism Today

Magazine subscriptions come and go, but I have held on to Touchstone Magazine. Some issues are of more interest to me than others, but the November issue justifies my loyalty. Two stories in particular attracted my attention: Byzantium Yet Fallen: The Critical Lessons for Christians in the Long Shadow of 1453, and Evangelicalism Today, A Symposium: Six Evangelicals Assess Their Movement. The magazine is planning future forums on Catholic, Orthodox and mainline churches. The six contributors are:

Russell D. Moore (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
Denny Burk (Criswell College)
John R. Franke (Emergent Village)
Darryl Hart (Orthodox Presbyterian Church)
Michael Horton (editor of Modern Reformation)
David Lyle Jeffrey (Baylor University).

A number of questions were submitted to the participants, from which a few excerpts follow:

How do you define "Evangelical" in a way that distinguishes Evangelicals from other believing Christians?

"...a common confession of faith-one that includes Great Tradition affirmations such as the Deity of Christ and the virgin birth and Reformation distinctives such as justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone. The sermon is central, and concludes with a call for unbelievers to identify publicly with Christ and his church." (Moore)

"Evangelicals trace all of their beliefs to the inspired Scriptures, which they believe to be the sole authority for faith and practice. American Evangelicals have stressed the inerrancy of Scripture as a necessary condition of its authority." (Burk)

"What matters is one's personal relationship with Jesus instead of belonging to the church." (Hart)

"Someone who likes Billy Graham." (Horton)

Has Evangelicalism lost anything in the process of maturing (if it did)?

"...many of us...have become mired in just what the Fundamentalists warned us we would: worldliness. The carnality in many Evangelical churches is astounding, not just at the obvious level of sensuality, but also at the less obvious (to us, anyway) level of covetousness, love of money, and celebrity worship." (Moore)

"In defining itself against liberal Protestants on the one hand and Roman Catholics on the other, much of Evangelicalism has become seriously deficient of ecclesiology and of the Great Tradition in general." (Burk)

"I don't think it has lost anything essential to its nature. If anything, it needs to continue to grow and develop far more than it needs to try to recover some aspect of its past." (Franke)

"What seems to have changed markedly among Evangelicals is a willingness to combat doctrinal error...and the triumph of an impoverished view of tolerance." (Hart)

"...the movement has shown that it is as capable of surrendering its soul to the mall just as mainline Protestantism has largely offered itself to the academy. If Fundamentalism reduced sin to sins (or at least things they considered vices), contemporary Evangelicals seem to have reduced sin to dysfunction. In this context, Jesus is not the savior from the curse of the law, but a life coach who leads us to a better self, better marriage, and happier kids." (Horton)

Are there any fundamental difference within the Evangelical movement today...?

"...while pietism may have enriched the Reformation churches to some extent, the heritage of revivalism represents a counter-Reformation that in many respects went even further than Trent in the direction of Pelagianism...In both faith and practice, Reformation Christianity differs from the sort of Evangelicalism represented, for example, by Charles Finney, more radically than it does with Rome or Orthodoxy....there is the Reformation stream...the revivalist stream...the growing popularity of Anabaptist, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, as well as a fresh appreciation for the heritage of Protestant liberalism...Evangelicalism may increasingly be incapable of theological definition....Evangelicals may show appreciation for a variety of traditions without ever belonging to any one." (Horton)

What does your to see that it ought to see?

"...that Jesus did not die for a "movement" but for a church....that the love of money is the root of all evil." (Moore)

"Evangelicals often fail to see the extent to which they are shaped by their culture." (Burk)

"By and large, Evangelicals have accommodated the gospel and Christianity to the dominant cultural assumptions of our society." (Franke)

"Evangelicals have rarely understood that the lowest-common-denominator Christianity they have used to achieve success...does not do justice to the fullness of biblical truth." (Hart)

"Surveys reveal that a huge percentage (some studies have it as high as 80 percent) of those reared in Evangelical churches drop out of church by their sophomore year in college....I think we have failed to see that emotional summer-camp experiences cannot sustain a robust faith through the trials of real life. So, ironically, while Evangelicalism celebrates reaching the lost, it is losing the reached....when the gospel is reduced to simplistic jargon and is taken for granted in the life of the church, the next generation even forgets the slogans." (Horton)

"We entertain, we preach to the choir, we provide creature comforts and go to great lengths to be altogether use-friendly. Meanwhile, the "one thing most needful" has generally suffered among us in inverse proportion to the scale by while our organization machinery tends to focus on all things bigger and better. Another blind spot is an uncritical identification of radical individualism with the Christ-life, and a corresponding resistance to connecting faithfulness to Christ with love of neighbor and pursuit of the common good." (Jeffrey)

What would you say to an Evangelical tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?

"Most Evangelicals...are going to make quite poor Catholic or Orthodox churchmen...many of them become Catholic or Orthodox because they are tired of dealing with sinful, hypocritical, arrogant, mindless, loveless Evangelicals...[and] seem to think all Catholics are Walker Percy or Richard John Neuhaus or that all Orthodox are Maximos the Confessor." (Moore)

"The current rot within Evangelical subculture does not accurately reflect the richness of its theological heritage. Fundamentally, the Evangelical faith is rooted int he solas of the Reformation, which are themselves rooted in the confessions of the ecumenical creeds, which are themselves rooted in the inscripturated apostolic witness to Christ." (Burk)

"Both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions maintain that the authority and grace of God are mediated through the agency of the historical and institutional church. For Evangelicals, the genuine significance of the church in the economy of God does not in any way imply that the church has been fully entrusted with authority or given control over the dispensation of grace in the world. These belong to God and God alone." (Franke)

"Evangelicals contemplating the other Christian traditions need to think carefully about how they are right with God and the nature of the redeeming work of Christ. The Protestant Reformers answered such questions in decidedly different ways from Catholicism and Orthodoxy. So to switch Christianities may be more of a change than frustrated Evangelicals are prepared to accept." (Hart)

"Starved for mystery, transcendence, maturity, order, theological richness, liturgy, and history, many young Evangelicals are discovering Reformation Christianity. Yet for some, it is only a rest stop on the way to Rome or Orthodoxy. Here’s how I would counsel such a person: Start with the gospel. The gospel creates and sustains the church, not the other way around....That is what the Reformation was all about, and it is why we need another one....Reformation Christianity is catholic and Evangelical." (Horton)

"...institutional infamy for clerical abuse..." (Jeffrey)

What has Evangelicalism to offer the wider world that it will find nowhere else?

"Christ and him crucified." (Moore)

"...the salvation that results from this gospel by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone so that the sinner can have assurance now that God is no longer against him but for him because of Christ." (Burk)

"...this passion for the gospel is our particular gift." (Franke)

"Evangelicalism has more energy, creativity, and zeal than is typically found in other Christian traditions....Even so, Evangelicalism’s best attributes may not be as desirable as commonly assumed. Evangelicals may be at a point where they need sobriety about themselves and the God they serve more than they need enthusiasm." (Hart)


Clearly, I have some differences with these guys, but I really admire their candor and self-criticism. By and large, their comments were startling in their objectivity and freshness. Hardly a triumphalist note was sounded. From my position on the outside, looking in, I do have a few observations, which I hope will be as charitable as theirs.

First, I find the Evangelical allegiance to Scripture to be all-important--but what is really meant is limited to interpretations of scripture since 1500: Reformed, revivalist, pietist, anabaptist, restorationist--it all must begin there. To the extent that Evangelicals buy into the concept of being on a spiritual journey, their trek is along a trail that must twist through Wittenburg, Geneva, Edinburgh, Boston, the American frontier, and for some, even Nashville, Dallas, Los Angeles and Colorado Springs. Non-evangelicals might suggest that there are other paths that are much older and straighter, where the destination is not only always in view ahead, but all around you as you travel.

I found Hart and Horton the most hard-hitting. Horton made an excellent point about how far removed contemporary Evangelicals are from the Reformation leaders. He contends that Luther was infinitely closer to the Pope or the Patriarch than he would be to 19th century Evangelicals, much less those of today (think Joel Osteen). And herein lies the problem, in my book. The whole construct will not hold water, but becomes weaker and weaker over time. Of course, Horton contends that a new Reformation is needed (Lord help us!).

The writers were at their weakest when answering the question as to what Evangelicalism had to offer the world that it could find nowhere else. Their response was "Christ and Him crucified." Of course, this is the right and best answer, but certainly not one unique to Evangelicalism. The good Catholic or Orthodox would answer the same way.

Nor did I think they knew what to do with the question about Protestant converts to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Jeffrey makes a cheap shot about the institutionalized Catholic clergy abuse. Moore is unconvincing in his response and--if indeed he actually believes this--totally misses the attraction that the Apostolic churches hold for Evangelicals. He is a bit dismissive, concluding that church members leave because of the hypocrisy and small-mindedness of their fellow Evangelicals. Leaving Protestantism for Orthodoxy or Catholicism is not the same thing as say, moving your membership from First Baptist to Calvary Fellowship because you were mad at Deacon So-In-So. It's on a different plane altogether. I have yet to run across a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy that left for such a reason, or who had such naive expectations of Orthodox believers. I believe Evangelicals leave because of the thinness of the doctrine, worship and faith expounded--seeking the fullness they can find in liturgical churches, a yearning, if you will, for closer communion with Christ. Often they find this, and much more. The other contributors, by and large, urged caution for those comtemplating swimming the Tiber or the Bosphorus--to hang in there and rediscover their own rich theological heritage.

Again, I commend these Evangelicals, primarily Horton and Hart. Hopefully, the future installments featuring Catholic and Orthodox writers will be equally forthcoming.