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The Future of Evangelicalism 3

posted by Scot McKnight

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Alternatives and Elements

Hence, the rise of alternatives: the ancient-future movement spearheaded by Robert Webber, the emergent/emerging movement spearheaded by young thinkers and leaders, like Brian McLaren, who knew fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism’s coalition wasn’t listening to the youth culture, and the revival of Calvinism among the NeoReformed, spearheaded – almost singlehandedly I think – by John Piper and those who came to his side. Within this NeoReformed movement is the massive influx of Southern Baptists, who were formerly neither as vocal in their Calvinism nor as concerned with the older neo-evangelical coalition but are now undoubtedly a (if not “the”) major voice in the NeoReformed and fundamentalist awakening among some evangelicals.

If these three movements are genuine alternatives to the older neo-evangelical coalition, there remain yet other elements in contemporary American evangelicalism: classic denominations, like the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Evangelical Free Church; megachurch ministries, which aren’t likely to go away anytime soon; and parachurch organizations that are the vanguard of multicultural evangelicalism as well as the keeper of much of what sustained the neo-evangelical coalition.

Throbbing through all of this are more narrowly-focused segments, like the spiritual formation movement, mapped by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, like individual charismatic leaders such as John Eldredge and George Barna, like the house church movement or gatherings like The Q Conference and Catalyst and The Origins Conference, and like the Christian music and concert scene. Other elements include virtual reality,
and one dare not minimize the strength (or nonsense) of the internet
world of contemporary evangelicalism, and the very sophisticated forms
of cultural engagement and intellectual rigor, as one finds in John Wilson’s Books & Culture. I suppose one could plot elements all day long.

Fifty
years ago the average evangelical Christian knew his or her pastor,
subscribed to a Christian magazine or two, listened to a Christian radio
station and its preachers and teachers, and read a few good authors
published by trustworthy evangelical publishers. Today the average
evangelical is spread across a global array of influences and resources.
The average evangelical today is a bricoleur, one who cobbles together his or her theology from a variety of sources.

Put
together, the neo-evangelical coalition, what I originally sketched as
the third sense of “evangelicalism” today, has fallen apart into a
variety of alternatives and elements. Some of these are vying for the
only true form of evangelicalism while others simply don’t even care
about the term anymore.



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Tim

posted August 13, 2010 at 8:36 am


Scot,
My old church is actually of the Evangelical Free Church denomination, while I know that North Park University is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church. After my criticism of Evangelicalism on your first part of the series, I tried to do some fact-checking to make sure I was being fair, and it seems that the Evangelical Covenant Church isn’t really guilty of many of the things I was asserting – so I feel rather bad about that.
However, I do come from Evangelical Free, and their statement of faith (as well as their actual practice in my experience) is actually, well, rather fundamentalist. They do expect each one of their churches to adopt a strict inerrancy position, whereas Covenant does not.
Concerning the Emerging Church movement, I have read a little bit on that on your website and Wikipedia, but I don’t really have that great of an understanding. Just how “Evangelical” is it? It seems, well, almost more mainline than anything else – but I wouldn’t really know – hence my asking the question. Thanks!



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Taylor George

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:06 am


When I was a part of IVCF at Minnesota State (Mankato) in the early 90′s we had people from all over the spectrum; Piperites, charismatics, tons of low church evangelicals, and even, gasp, Catholics. All of us wide ranging orthodox trinitarian theologies. It was the most spiritualy renewing time of my life.
What I loved about this huge 140 or so group of people is that we put our differences aside and grew together in small groups. The Piper guys didn’t have fit over using promise keepers material, and I think the biggest argument we ever had was over signs and gifts. We had the argument and decided we still wanted to be together and moved on. Bliss. Absolute spiritual bliss as I reflect on it. I long for, and miss those days like you would not believe.
Leaving college was a complete Christian culture shock. My wife and I who met in IVCF looked for churches but nothing resembled the coalition we experienced in IVCF. Everything was segmented, and the spiritual mentors from my high school days steered me away from mega-churches. So there we were welcomed to current non-coalition church of reality and it’s a funk we haven’t fully ever grown beyond…YET.



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Jason Lee

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:13 am


Forgive me if this has already been brought up, but what about the Pentecostals? Pentecostals are growing much faster than any of these evangelical groups mentioned (some of which aren’t growing at all such as the Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists are arguably in numerical decline if not simply at replacement level). Aren’t many Pentecostals becoming evangelicalized or are already evangelical in the broad sense of the term. Is Pentecostalism the future influential group within evangelicalism, while these others mentioned decline.



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Taylor

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:33 am


@JASON – I don’t know that pentecostals need to be “evangelicalized.” I know a lot of charismatics and evangelicals and they offer much of the same (more AND less conservative) theology that low church evangelicals do with the exception they believe signs and gifts are still active for today i.e. speaking in tongues, and healings. To me, it’s a minor theological issue to move beyond. Despite my not being charismatic I find a lot of harmony with them. I even married one! But, yes, you are right to say they are growing and indeed are one of the most vibrant and growing aspects of evangelicalism IMO.



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Ben Wheaton

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:43 am


Scot, I’m confused.
In your original post outlining the group whom you choose to label the “neoreformed,” you said this:
“The NeoReformed, for a variety of reasons, some of them good, don’t recognize that evangelicalism as a village green. Instead, they want to build a gate at the gate-less village green and require Reformed confessions and credentials to enter onto the village green. Put differently, they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed. Really Reformed. In other words, they are “confessing” evangelicals. The only true evangelical is a Reformed evangelical. They are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination.”
At that time Justin Taylor responded as follows:
“…[Mcknight says that] if you are NeoReformed/Fundamentalists, then you believe that the only true evangelicals are those that believe in double predestination and you have a win-at-all-costs mentality that seeks to demonize your opponents! This simply doesn?t follow. John Piper, Don Carson, Al Mohler, David Wells, etc. certainly don?t think this sort of thing. Even if you disagree with their theology and their methodology, McKnight?s description is still a pretty stunning caricature. None of them believes that if you reject double predestination that you are not an evangelical and must be kicked off the village green. Some marginal folks believe this, but not these men.”
Now, many defended your initial posts with the statement that you were not referring to specific leaders but rather a subset of the Young Calvinists who were too harsh. Yet of late you (and others–Brett McCracken being one of them), seem to feel free to label the entire Young Calvinist movement as “neoreformed.” So, if you stand by your early statement describing the “neoreformed,” do you now claim (as is implied in this post) that John Piper, Al Mohler, D.A. Carson, etc., believe that if you don’t hold to double predestination you are a heretic or at the least, not an evangelical? Are you prepared to make this charge publicly? Is Justin Taylor wrong? Is HE “neoreformed?”



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Tim

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:46 am


On the Pentecostal issue, I have to disagree with Taylor as I don’t see the widespread speaking in tongues as a “minor theological issue.” What I see is an allowing of your emotions to get the better of you and following that to absurdity. Is this the kind of “authentic” religion any denomination wants under their tent?
I mean, even in the passages that discuss speaking in tongues in the Bible, it is usually presented as one of many possible spiritual gifts. But many pentecostal churches have congregations that somehow all seem to have this gift, and express it regularly. I attended one such service once at the invitation of one of my cousins, and it scared the everlasting begeeses out of me. I am even aware of linguistic studies on Pentecostalist church members who profess to speak in tongues, and the conclusion came back that all they were doing was making repetitive babbling sounds.
Again, does one want to pursue God through allowing their emotions to hijack them and letting their intellect take a back seat, or pursue their spiritual development responsibly and with honest? If the latter sounds more appealing, I would steer clear of Pentecostalism.



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Jayflm

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:51 am


What Taylor described in (2) above sounds like the way church is meant to be. But the sad reality, at least in my experience of watching the Southern Baptist Convention go through its internal struggles of the last 30 years, is that the diversity produced by God-given spiritual gifts is intolerable to many. Everyone wants what they are passionate about to be the paramount emphasis in their church and even denomination.
At the local level we see it when a community is left with a multitude of churches who (almost) all have particular emphases (evangelism, prophecy, sign gifts, compassion ministries, deeper life, etc.). I watched my denomination do the same thing, using the language of inerrancy, but really dividing (IMHO) between those ministers whose gift/calling is evangelistic and those whose gift/calling is pastoral. As one who falls on the pastoral side, I endured way too many conventions and conferences where my passion for the people God had entrusted to me was belittled by those who declared that anyone who wasn’t aggressively knocking on doors was unworthy of the title ‘pastor’.



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Tim

posted August 13, 2010 at 9:57 am


Jayflm,
I’m not sure if your comment was meant to in part address my post to Taylor, but if so I just wanted to provide the clarification that I wasn’t advocating that Pentecostalists not be welcomed as “fellow travelers”, just that incorporating them into a movement that is looking (presumably) for authenticity might not be the absolute best move one might make.



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Taylor

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:05 am


@Jayflm Excellent points, and what’s sad is that we need eachother. We need eachothers strengths.



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Taylor

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:17 am


@Ben If I were Scot I would ignore your question in #5. You (and Justin) twisted what Scot was saying to ratchet up the pressure. How on earth do you believe in single predestination without suggesting double predestination?



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Robin

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:23 am


A word about the neo-reformed movement…I think that saying that Piper is almost solely responsible for the movement and that it is now dominated by Southern Baptists is only taking a very shallow view. I came to Christ in college, and I came to Christ first and foremost (out of a Catholic background) after a year or so of study, influenced by my campus ministers, I came to agree with a calvinistic understanding of scripture. When I graduated college I didn’t know what else I wanted to do so I decided on seminary. Since I was pretty thoroughly a calvinist I had only a couple of options – Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, or one of the PCA seminaries (Covenant, Knox, RTS, Westminster). I looked at covenant and Southern and chose Southern.
I would say that my story is nearly identical to most of the people I met at Southern. They became Christians first, then agreed with Calvinism, then started looking for other believers they agreed with on those 2 points. Almost all of the people I met in seminary (and at the 2 seminary churches I attended)were not raised as Southern Baptists but came to Christ either in their late teens or college years and ended up as Baptists because of their calvinistic convictions and the fact that Southern was friendly toward that.
The story was the same in my college church. Most people came to Christ in college, became calvinists, and then went to seminary or ministry. About 2/3 of the campus ministry leaders went to PCA seminary or directly into campus ministry. Only 1/3 chose the southern Baptist route.
So, from my perspective, the real credit for the calivnist resurgence belongs to groups like Campus Crusade for Christ, Campus Outreach, the Navigators, etc. for converting college age persons who happen to drift toward calvinism. Southern Baptists and John Piper only get to come along and educate and edify those pushed their way by campus ministries.



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EricG

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:26 am


Ben -
I haven’t seen anyone claim that Piper or anyone else says that double predestination views specifically are required. I think that is not an accurate depiction of what people are saying.
But Piper has written, for example, that there is “serious question mark” over the salvation of anyone who agrees with N.T. Wright on the point of New Perspectives on Paul.
And he excludes non-reformed from his association, I understand.
A number of evangelical reformed schools have been kicking out profs who believe in some version of theistic evolution.
Also, chech out all the attacks made by Driscoll, e.g., against Rob Bell.
These are just some examples, but it is hard not to get the sense that the conservative Reformed are on the attack, and do not like bug tents.



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kevin s.

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:29 am


I disagree that Calvinism was spearheaded exclusively by Piper. There are a number of voices, not least of whom Josh Harris, who were extremely influential in motivating younger theologians.
Re: Pentecostalism
While it is true that spiritual gifts are a secondary theological concern, they become primary when a church makes the grave error of assigning salvation status to their practice. I know a lot of charismatic churches are distancing themselves from this position, but they need to make that distance much more pronounced.



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EricG

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:30 am


Ug – excuse the typos, I’m typing on an iPhone



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Robin

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:34 am


EricG,
There is a difference between kicking out professors who refuse to toe the line theologically and saying that they aren’t Christians or aren’t evangelicals. Westminster is a PCA school and professors are required to teach in line with the Westminster standards. There is a group that investigates when they feel that some professor strays from that mark. Let’s put this another way, if I am teaching at an Anglican seminary and begin to teach that the archibishop of Canterbury is not a legitimate authority in the church and that all congregations should be completely autonomous or elder led, I will expect to be removed from my teaching post. It doesn’t mean they think I am not a Christian, it means they think I am teaching things in conflict with their denominational doctrine. If people want to teach the new perspective on Paul or theistic evolution, they should either find a seminary which is friendly to those beliefs or find a divinity school or religious studies department, not teach them in opposition to the institution’s doctrinal standards and then whine about the academic freedom.



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Robin

posted August 13, 2010 at 10:40 am


To reinforce my point – Al Mohler is part of the together with the gospel coalition. That group includes prominent paedobaptists. It is clearly demonstrable that he considers men like R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, and Ligon Duncan to be part of the evangelical camp.
How many professors at Al Mohler’s seminary actively teach the infant baptism or presbyterian church government? I can confidently say it is zero. Does that mean he thinks paedo-baptists and Presbyterians aren’t evangelicals or aren’t Christians? No, it means he thinks they aren’t baptists, and he is running a baptist seminary. He will do conferences with them, I believe he will even bring them into chapel to preach, but he won’t let them teach things which conflict with the doctrinal standards of his seminary.



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Kenny Johnson

posted August 13, 2010 at 12:10 pm


I just wanted to make a couple of point about the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. Thanks Tim for pointing out that the ECC’s faith statement isn’t “fundamentalist.” It’s actually rather generous. They essentially affirm the ancients creeds and the centrality of Bible.
My church in particular is a young (mostly people in their 20s and 30s) church is both orthodoxed and generous about their theology. Our church belief statement even includes the Augustine quote, ?In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.?
Our church and the ECC are also big into church planting. Our church is only about 6 years old and has already planted 2 churches with plans on another within the next year. Our 2 church plants and our church are probably as big (or even smaller) than some churches. We probably have 150-200 regular attenders, with about 100-150 on any given Sunday.
Captcha are getting harder and harder to read these days. I keep finding myself having to refresh to get a new one.



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Alan K

posted August 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm


To what degree is “evangelical” a theology and to what degree is it a culture? There are millions of mainliners like myself who are evangelical in their theology who believe that evangelical culture is, simply put, a constraint on the gospel going out into the entire world. The word evangelical is a great word and needs to be kept as meaning “believing the good news”.
When the Gospel Coalition makes an invitation to Anne Lamott to join their leadership, when Driscoll comes to see that perhaps calling out Bell doesn’t do God very much good, when the Neo-Reformed get over their apoplexy regarding NT Wright, and when emergent comes up with some theological parameters, then I might reconsider evangelical culture.



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ELCA

posted August 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm


@Alan K I think ‘evangelical’ is a theology of conversion that produces a culture of like minded Christians. Like you I’m trying my hand in a mainline church and while the big tent feel is there I sometimes feel myself missing the robust call for conversion.



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Ben Wheaton

posted August 13, 2010 at 12:44 pm


I would still like a response from Scot himself.
And yes, Taylor, I do think that Scot should respond to me; I was not saying that Piper et al. do not believe in double predestination, but that they do not think it necessary to be part of the evangelical movement (not to mention orthodox Christianity). Don’t yourself caricature your theological enemies or twist our words.
EricG,
Piper does not equate his movement with evangelicalism; Desiring God is Calvinistic, but it is a movement within the larger tent of evangelicalism; thus your critique is unjustified. Also, given that he does not question the salvation of N.T. Wright himself, your statement that he questions the salvation of those who agree with Wright makes no sense; you must have misunderstood Piper.
My question to Scot remains: do you believe that your use of “neoreformed” to refer to the whole Young Calvinist movement means that your statement of their beliefs I quoted above applies to them?



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EricG

posted August 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm


Ben –
My reference to what Piper said is almost a direct quote; I am not misreading him. The quote is from his book in response to Wright on Justification (if I had the book with me I would give you a specific reference — maybe when I’m home later tonight).
I also think that you and Robin are missing the point with your responses to me, which is this: Piper and folks like him do not seem to be interested in *working with* other evangelicals in a big tent sort of association. Robin’s response merely reinforces this point. (Robin — you can argue about whether this approach is justified, but that isn’t the point).
Anyway, I’m not interested in getting into a debate about the neo-Reformed movement, since I don’t want to detract from the point of the post, which seems to be: With all of the diversity out there, and people running in different directions, where is there room for people to work together in a broad coalition, and what mechanisms are there to make it happen? That’s a serious question; I don’t know the answer.



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Robin

posted August 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm


Eric (21),
Not sure exactly what was intended, but my point is not that cooperation cannot or should not occur in a variety of settings. I think the together for the gospel coalition is one such setting. My point is that we shouldn’t expect it in specifically denominational seminaries. If you want academic freedom and unity go to some place like Harvard or Duke Divinity School or other seminaries that don’t emphasize doctrinal distinctives. When an institution advertises itself as Southern Baptist (or Anglican, or Lutheran, or Catholic, etc.) and claims to prepare ministers for work in that denomination, and raises funds from members of that denomination for the specific task of denominational advancement…then I am not going to be surprised when they don’t hire (or fire) professors that stray from the denominational boundaries.
There are lots of groups that I support fully that give very little credence to denominational distinctives like Campus Crusade, YWAM, Compassion International, Heartcry, etc., but at the same time I don’t fault NAMB or IMB for requiring that their missionaries be southern baptists.
Maybe we need more non-denominational seminaries, but let’s not take to complaining because specifically denominational seminaries don’t offer the same academic freedom as laxer institutions.



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Nathan

posted August 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm


@Robin:
actually, Canterbury isn’t a pope and really doesn’t have any authority over the anglican communion…he’s even bound by the voting structures of the Synod of the Church of England…he has primacy of place, but, again, he’s not a pope.
just fyi…
that being said, i get your point about institutions, their agreed upon identity and their right to maintain that identity.
peace.



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Ben Wheaton

posted August 13, 2010 at 2:58 pm


EricG,
My apologies. You indeed were not saying what I thought you had written.
However, I know for a fact that Piper does not put a question mark next to N.T. Wright’s salvation, so how could he do so for all of those who hold to his theology? You must have gotten Piper wrong.



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Rick

posted August 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm


What about the Wesleyan traditions? I come from a Reformed background, but just spent a week at a Wesleyan seminary. We read Webber’s book and discussed at length Evangelicalism. Nearly everyone I came into contact with would self-identify as Evangelical (and yet I’ve never seen them mentioned here).
However, I would echo Harold Lindsell when in 1979 he wrote “The term Evangelical has been so debased that it has lost its usefulness.”



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Scot McKnight

posted August 13, 2010 at 5:45 pm


I stand by my statement: the “revival” of Calvinism among American evangelicals has been dramatically influenced (spearheaded) by Piper. His book “Desiring God” made for a powerful, pious case for a Calvinistic framing.
The Southern Baptists overwhelm in numbers all others these days. There’s nothing controversial about that.



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DRT

posted August 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm


re: Scot #26
“The Southern Baptists overwhelm in numbers all others these days. There’s nothing controversial about that.”
ahem……perhaps there is nothing controversial about the statistic at least.
I owe it to them to be clear. I think they are mistaken in condemning other cults than their own.



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