The Changing World Of Evangelicalism

I have been in this world for several decades now and have observed many changes. Some are good and some not so good. One of the worst changes in my opinion was when the Evangelical Church moved into politics. I have come to believe that it was akin to Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in 313 AD. During the reign of Constantine some would argue the Church went from Silver and Gold have I none, but what I have I give to you, representing the power of God’s Spirit, to having reduced spiritual power while developing stronger political power.

Even Billy Graham learned a lesson about political involvement through his experience with Richard Nixon. Billy Graham said he was crushed by Nixon’s behavior, and after this important lesson never got involved with politics again. He focused on what his job was, winning people to Christ.

Any discussion of the Church’s role in society is always rich. Richard Niebuhr wrote about this tension in his 1951 classic “Christ and Culture.” In this book he explores five possible archetypes for a Christian’s engagement with culture: Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ transforming culture; and Christ and culture in paradox. In light of what Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, has just announced I think this warrants a discussion. “Mr. Moore, a 42-year-old political independent and theologian who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says its time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray.” The reason is a result of the millennial’s “visceral recoil” from the culture wars. The tension between generations, and the tension involving the Church’s role in the world, is nothing new.

Niebuhr eloquently describes the various ways of understanding the Church’s role in society in his 1951 book. Christ against culture, speaks of an antagonistic tension between the Christ (representing the Church) and the world that sees the world as hopelessly fallen. The Christ of culture takes a more homogeneous approach of an absence of tension between Christ and the world, Christ seeks to understand the common good and becomes its champion. The Christ above culture, was advocated by Thomas Aquinas, arguing that all that is good in the world comes from God. However, for optimization to occur there needs to be Spirit revelation and mediation of the Church.

The next Niebuhr position is Christ transforming culture, which may be where the Church needs to retrench. Christ through His Spirit is evangelizing and transforming society. As Christianity Today stated in its definition of this position, “Business, the arts, the professions, family life, education, government – nothing is outside the purview of Christ’s dominion, all must be reclaimed in His name.”

The last option is Christ and culture in paradox. This view declares that although God has established worldly institutions, such as government, and the Church must be in the world, that there is a tension experienced as the Christian tries to figure out the path that God has called them too. Christianity Today argues that this is the most difficult of positions to understand. However, they do a good job of describing this paradox, “Evangelicalism generally eschews paradox. We prefer the clarity of binary opposition, and there are many such pairs in the Bible; light versus darkness, good versus evil; the kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of Satan; the Church versus the world; the flesh versus the spirit.  Yet, we are Bible people, and we must listen also to Scriptures that speak of the kingdom itself as a mixed field (Matthew 13:24-30), full of wheat and tares, and of the Christian life as being in the world and not of it.” I like that, and I embrace that position in my life as a Christian.

I for one am tired of being known for what I am against. I for one am tired of being painted as a bigot, or hate monger, etc. I am speaking generically as the Church. I agree with Mr. Moore, that it is time to move away from the political argument, but not the cultural argument. It is time to repent and turn back to God. It is time to have what Glen Stassen calls a “Thicker Jesus,” a Jesus that can meet the needs of this day and age.

It is time to be a clearer reflection of the One we love to a world that is getting worse and worse. Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, discusses the decades long conflict in Northern Ireland. He discussed the hundred and thousands of people that were killed due to religious differences. As I read that I remembered a song from the 70’s sung by a Christian duo, Malcolm and Alwyn. The song was entitled “The World Needs Jesus” and it was on their album “Fool’s Wisdom:”

In the middle of this crazy world

Heavy with sorrow and grief, oh, what a mess

Like a ship that is sinking to its doom

Carrying its treasure

Oh, where can a young life turn


Oh, Oh the world needs Jesus


There’s Protestants and Catholics

Both having themselves a war

While the world looks on and wonders what for

But my Lord brings His message, its true and its clear

But there’s so much confusion it brings me to tears


Oh, oh the church needs Jesus

There is more to the song and you can listen to it on YouTube, but that is enough now. The world needs Jesus, it doesn’t need Republicanism, and its doesn’t need Capitalism; but it surely needs Jesus. And even more, the Church needs Jesus. And even more than that, I need Jesus.

And that is my thought for the day!




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