Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is There a Crisis in Evangelicalism?

A few years ago, Dr. David Wells wrote a chapter in the book The Compromised Church entitled, “The Present Evangelical Crisis: The Word in the World.” I have been thinking about one of his warnings. He said that one of the greatest dangers from this crisis is the fact that there does not seem to be a crisis at all. There are so many signs pointing to evangelical victory that the idea that there is a crisis seems like foolishness to many. This concept is fleshed out more in Dr. Well's book, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (I could have used Francis Schaeffer's The Great Evangelical Disaster, but that's really going back a while).

In the years since this book was written (almost ten), many more people have responded to what is wrong with evangelicalism. Some of this response has been good and some has been bad. As a pastor, I've been struggling with the implications of True Evangelicalism (if I can put it that way) for many years. Even in our relatively conservative, Bible-loving, Reformation theology teaching church, purity in doctrine and life can be a tough thing to pursue. Gospel holiness has implications for worship, Sunday School Curriculum, counseling - everything! Making Gospel connections to every area of life is the work of the church. The lure of compromise for the sake of avoiding conflict and increasing numbers is ever-present, as is the remaining sin of all our members (myself included).

This is what concerns me with the vision of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada. There is no talk of a crisis - no real sense of urgency for reform. Yes, there is a lot of talk of a needed turn-around to get churches on side with plans for growing. However, there appears to be a reductionistic attitude about the Great Commission, as if getting more people into our churches fulfills our Lord's mandate. The most frightening aspect of the crisis in evangelical churches is the false sense of security that many people feel in their decision for Christ when they may not be genuinely converted. This is a legacy of 19th Century revivialism that is a plague in Western evangelicalism (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, check out this article).

As an example that could be multipled thousands of times, let me share a story that I recently heard from a man who grew up in an evangelical church with a big youth group. He said that after youth on Friday, they would head out to the bush parties. He also said that the senior pastor's son was a key source for pot at their high school. Again, it looked big and dynamic on the outside, but inside there was death. This comes from a lack of the fear of God. I am afraid that the fear of God and a biblical understanding of sin are foreign concepts in many churches.

Who am I to say if people are real Christians or not? Don't I just have to take their confession at face value? "Judge not that you be not judged" is probably the best known verse in the Bible today, even though people do not know the reference (Matthew 7:1). This is same chapter where Jesus says:
  • "Do not give to dogs what is holy, and do not cast your pearls before swine." Who are the dogs and the pigs? How can we tell?
  • "Beware of false prophets" - Doesn't this require making some judgments?
  • "By their fruit you will know them" - Isn't this life inspection?
  • "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven" - Wouldn't it be better to warn people in the church with God's judgment before they get to the real thing?

I wholly affirm the perseverance of the saints. However, the warning passages in Scripture regarding false Christians are there for a reason. We can't just dismiss Hebrews 6, 10 and 12 or 1 John, or James or the many other warnings to those whom the Puritans called "false professors."

It is hard to confront people when they are bearing bad fruit or gushing forth bitter water. It takes tremendous courage to stand up to people in the church when they promote bad theology or endorse non-biblical practices by their words or deeds. I've often failed here, but if we pastors continue to fail on this front, we've failed in our greatest responsibility. We are under-shepherds and if we don't take care of the sheep, who will? Wolves wear the clothing of sheep, and they rise up from within the church (see Acts 20). We need to warn people with tears (like Paul), but we still need to warn them.

If we are going to cultivate healthy churches, fulfil the Great Commission and reform the Fellowship, we are going to have to make the main things the main things. We can't assume the Gospel - and that includes concepts like God's righteous wrath, sin, eternal hell and the presence of imposters and false teachers in our midst. If we gloss over these things, we will lose the Gospel. This loss might not occur in this generation, but in will happen.

If we see a turnaround in the Fellowship and 70% of our churches are growing by at least 5% in 10 years (as opposed to 30% today), who will be the watchmen that are dilligent to promote sound doctrine and moral purity? If we have big churches without integrity in life and doctrine, we will go the same path as the United Church of Canada in the 60s. I will be branded as an extremist because of that last comment, but we need to think about it. We need to sound the alarm regarding new persepectives on justification, emergent churches, open theism and gender confusion. These doctrinal issues must be confronted and refuted. We must also urgently appeal for reform regarding the moral compromise that is becoming commonplace among professing evangelicals.

I believe we do need to help churches turn around, plant new churches (particularly in our cities), and rally together to see this generation won for the Lord. However, we need to talk about the dangers all around us and flee to the cross. We must have uncompromised Gospel theology as our absolute centre; otherwise, we will be the blind leading the blind and we will all fall into the pit of the current evangelical crisis.


JohnF said...

Agreed! Growth in numbers should be the fruit of inner spiritual growth, and not a replacement for it. I think contemporary evangelicalism is living a dichotomy between Christian "doctrine" and Christian living. As a result, many believers are finding it difficult to understand the importance of sound doctrine,as it doesn't seem to be affecting the way people live.
Either we fight over our doctrines like pagans, or we throw up our hands, saying "Doctrine isn't that important, let's not argue about it."
If we were able to relate doctrine to living, doctrines of truth to the practice of holiness, doctrines of grace to the practice of mercy and love, perhaps we would know what was worth "fighting" for, and we would "fight" in a way that is not dishonouring to the Lord.
John F

Ken Davis said...

Several years ago I read a book put out by Banner of Truth entitled "Come Down Lord" based on Isaiah 64:1. I don't remember the author's name but I do remember a comment he made about the judgement of God.

He said that many are saying today that if we do not get our act together soon, God is going to judge the evangelical church. But what they do not realize is that the church's apathy toward spirituality IS the judgement of God upon us. This is what frightens me. Perhaps our obsession with growth over God's glory, our hope in our plans as the solution to our problems, our confidence that if we do everything right we are guaranteed revival ... are signs that God is already judging the North American church.

But if we really believe in the immense mercy of our sovereign God then we must believe that He keeps His word and forgives those who repent. I pray with great hope that God will rend the heavens and come down that we may tremble before Him. I have precious little of it in my life and I point a finger at no one. But we are in a mess and only God can get us out.

stauf46 said...

Welcome to my blog, John! Making the connection between doctrine and life is so critical. I hesitate to write as I do because I don't have it all together.

Ken, thanks for that. That's a sobering thiought, but I think it is true. How else can we explain why Christian people are so easily satisfied with "that which is not bread"?

mamazee said...

wow - i love that you, as a leader in the Church, are taking responsibility to think through these things. I will pray that God blesses you and makes you fruitful (and if you are going to plant any churches, Hinton is a good place to start :)...)

Michael Dewalt said...

hey, was trying to find your email, but its not on here so ill write here. my name is michael dewalt and if you coudl email me at about blogs that woudl be great. i maintain two blogs and would like to talk to you about them. thanks!

Jason said...

I just finished the book by C.Vaughn Doner called "The Late Great Evangelical Church" The review at is a good source to see what the book is about.