Art by Julia Meolgrana
If you have about an hour or so, I wanted to plug several articles and a sermon. The sermon is from Matt Chandler. It is a message he gave during a chapel service at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. There is both audio and video available. The message is walking through Hebrews Chapter 11 and into 12 to show what the Christian life is meant to consist of. This message blew me away. It’s about 40 minutes long, and I was almost crying at work by the end. It is a call to see the Fallenness of this world, the Beauty of its Savior, and our need to repent.
The main article I want to push now is an editorial from Patrol Magazine, a frequent subject and inspiration for posts on this blog. These weekly editorials are becoming a highlight of my week. They are always scathing critiques on Christian culture, but are written so intelligently, thoughtfully, and comprehensively, one cannot help but notice the dearth of such quality writing elsewhere in the Christian world. This particular editorial is about how Evangelicalism is dead — not only as a term, but as a movement altogether. Here’s a taste:
The growing collection of post-evangelicals is what the defensive, definitional evangelical fears the most, and could by itself explain the recent obsession with protecting the label. Surely many of the intelligent professors, students, writers and bloggers rushing to its defense have also felt the naggings of cognitive dissonance and the inkling that the world might make more sense if they abandoned some of their cultural presuppositions. But haggling over the details of theology provides a psuedo-intellectual haven from real-world questions, where evangelicals can exercise their minds without coming to any unsettling conclusions. And thus the cycle of definition and redefinition continues, providing endless diversion as it cuts deeper and deeper ruts into what was once known as the Christian dialogue.
The last two articles I want to mention are brief commentaries on Chandler’s message and Patrol’s editorial, both from the always dead-on and refreshing (though sometimes pessimistic) Internet Monk (a.k.a. “the iMonk”, a.k.a. Michael Spencer). Spencer is a teacher at a Christian High School in Southwestern Kentucky. He is a man with very real ministry experience and familiarity with Evangelicalism who talks and feels like many of us “angsty Christian twentysomethings”.
He has given me hope that we’re not crazy. I cannot tell you the encouragement it is to hear an older man with little hair making bad jokes similar to my Father’s who then turns around and puts into words the same emotions, perspectives, and frustrations with the world around us that I do. Knowing we all live in a perpetual historical pendulum going from one extreme to the other, I am constantly reevaluating myself to see if I’m just giving in to youthful arrogance. Spencer lets me see that there is a way to be dissatisfied with the Church as it is now that is tempered and informed by wisdom.
Okay, so what do all of these items have to do with one another? Well, my appreciation for the heart and ministry of Matt Chandler is well-known to those that know me, and there have been times it has gone a bit too far. But at the same time, the past couple of years has brought me to a place in my theology, ecclesiology, philosophy, and basic worldview that stands opposed to many of the “teams” that “claim” Chandler. This message reminded me that Chandler is not a “team” player. He is a pastor at heart that is sensitive to the world and the people around him and is fully capable of responding appropriately. His commitment is to Christ and nothing else.
I believe he has seen these shifts happening in the world, the shifts highlighted by Patrol, and he has begun framing the Gospel and preaching for a post-evangelicalism context. I am very certain that on a good many theological issues, he is far more conservative than I would deem necessary or correct, but his recent emphasis on repentance, holiness, and a faith that actually does something (rather than just “knowing” it) is a much needed succor for a world steeped in confusion.
In the healthy and inevitable Christian theological pluralism and diversity that the near future has to hold, Chandler represents what thoughtful, nuanced men of faith can look like while still holding conservative theological values. Fundamentalists on the brink of a nervous breakdown and those that have left the church altogether because of those aforementioned Fundies need to see men like Chandler. One side can see that theological conservatism can stand in a far less dogmatic, angry, and political way; the other can see that those that still hold to these values don’t have to be hateful, biggotted, or entirely irrelevant to the world around them.
Evangelicalism will fall — it already is. The “coming Evangelical collapse” is a frequent topic of discussion for the Internet Monk. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Evangelicals are on the brink of waking up one day to realize that Jesus contributes nothing unique to their life, leading them to abandon the enterprise altogether. Those of us that have fallen away from Evangelicalism (while still holding to historical Orthodoxy) and those that are still holding on, need men like Chandler and Eugene Peterson (also talked about in the iMonk article) who can show us what the new, thoughtful, tension-filled, and messy Christianity can look like.
They show us that though we are falling, and it is inevitable that it will hurt and we will break bones, it need not kill us. With a little rehab, and a little help from unexpected places forced upon us by necessity, we may yet be able to recover and limp to the finish line on to Glory.