The Failure of Evangelicalism: How Evangelicals are Killing Their Own Religion


To anyone who isn’t a stalwart conservative or burying one’s head in the sand, it’s quite clear that the Evangelical community is facing a drastic shift in direction. I would contend that while the shift was inevitable, it’s not a good shift. It’s trending towards a more liberal theology, a more anti-intellectual philosophy masquerading as intellectual, and growing in incredulity towards anything traditional or ancient. I’ve lamented it many times before, but it seems to be a growing problem, specifically for the younger generation.

What really hit me was yesterday when I was looking for books on deep theology concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation. It dawned on me that I couldn’t go to a Lifeway or other typical Christian bookstore (ones that are generally associated with evangelicalism). Instead, in order to find the books I needed I had to go to a store that caters to Eastern Orthodox. Once there, I looked for what I needed and of all the books I looked through, not a single evangelical author was available. This is not due to the bookstore bias against evangelicals (they had plenty of books by evangelicals and even supported some of these books…in the spirituality department), but because in order to find a qualified theologian on the Trinity who isn’t neo-orthodox or liberal you have to turn to the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics. In fact, the last great intellectual thinker for evangelicals who wasn’t neo-orthodox or liberal would be Francis Schaeffer, but even he claimed to be more of an evangelist than an academic (though there’s no denying that he was influential for many in the evangelical tradition). Likewise, this isn’t to say that there are no orthodox evangelical thinkers in the world of theology, merely that the most authoritative voices for the conservative movement tend to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Certainly there are some great minds in the evangelical church, but these minds are usually geared towards apologetics (which tends to be weaker among the Orthodox), and many of these great evangelical philosophers are extremely weak when it comes to theology. Why is this? I would contend that because evangelicals have had either a fearful view of the patristics (or at least an apathetic view of the patristics), so fearful that they’ve avoided reading this essential material. For many evangelicals, Christianity apparently began around the time of the Reformation, thus ignoring a wealth of historical teachings that we need to pay attention to. When we abandon our history and tradition we begin to seek anything that is new; but truth is immortal and ancient, truth is without time, truth is before our existence, so we should never need to find anything new, for whatever is new is not truthful.

But this is merely the intellectual side of the faith. On the existential side of faith (which is a different side of the same coin), all three branches are failing, but evangelicals are failing the hardest (or so it seems). Why is it that evangelicals are trending towards a more watered-down faith? Along with the anti-intellectualism running rampant in evangelical circles (conservative and liberal), there’s an apathetic approach to holiness. Holiness seems to be a list of rules rather than a lifestyle we live. For conservatives, holiness is a matter of avoiding drugs, avoiding sex before marriage, avoided alcohol, avoiding certain types of music, avoiding saying the wrong words, and is purely individualistic and internalized. For the more “progressive” branch of evangelicals, holiness is about avoiding oppressing the poor, avoiding oppressing anyone perceived as oppressed, avoiding making absolute statements (for absolute statements are absolutely wrong), and looks more towards the community and how we act in it to determine how holy we are.

In both cases, both sides are right and wrong. The “emergent ethic of holiness” is really just an overreaction to the conservative ethic that we’ve seen for so many years. While we should be personally holy, which means abstention from certain actions, being holy is also contingent upon how we act towards our fellow humans, specifically those who are economically oppressed or oppressed by their status in life.

The failure of Evangelicalism is two-fold; it is an intellectual crisis and an existential crisis. We cannot reach the minds of a young generation, nor can we reach the hearts of a young generation. We’re still stuck offering simple platitudes of the faith, avoiding the deeper issues of the faith and casting such teachings to seminary (where many seminarians are beginning to fail to understand these essential doctrines). At the same time, we’re holding “prayer drives” thinking that if we pray for someone that it’s enough, even though the Bible says such an attitude is wrong. James 1:22-25 reads:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

He goes on in 2:15-17 to write,

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When our churches raise money for bigger and better sanctuaries (or “worship centers” if your church wants to be cool), when our churches create ministries that cater to members rather than asking members to cater to those in need, when our churches become more concerned with the size of the church rather than the heart of the church, is it any wonder that young people are abandoning the evangelical church in droves? When they see people bicker over how to best fix a broken clock in the sanctuary, do we really expect them to stay? If we aren’t putting our beliefs into practice, then what value do our beliefs really hold to us?

If evangelicalism is to survive, then it must grab hold of the ancient faith that it has abandoned and begin to practice it as well. It must lose its love of numbers, it must abandon all hope of having a megachurch, and instead focus on truly helping people in the neighborhood who need help.

We need pastors to start preaching sermons on the Trinity and how the Trinity applies to our lives. Same with the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and other essential doctrines in the faith. We need churches that tell the members, “We don’t have a ministry to help you, but we have ministries you can help.” Will this cause our numbers to take a nose-dive? Absolutely. But that is what is needed; we need to lose some excess weight. If evangelicalism is to survive, then its adherents must begin to live like Christ, otherwise it will quickly die out. And if it can’t follow Christ both in thought and deed, then it is a death I welcome with open arms.

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Random Thoughts for October 26, 2010


* The problem with liberation theology (of any sort) is that it pits the oppressed against the oppressor. It calls for the liberation of person from person. All the while it ignores the Biblical teaching that all men are oppressed by sin and all need liberation from sin, regardless of skin color, culture, or economic status.

* When it comes to social justice, we must remember that the Gospel is the highest good. While we are called to help people regardless of their beliefs, all our actions should point to Christ.

* If there is no justice in the afterlife, then is God really a God of love? If your eldest son continually punches your younger son and shows no remorse, do you really show love to your younger son by giving your oldest son a new room with an Xbox 360?

* People have lost faith in the government because the government lost faith in morality. A government ruled by pragmatism and not virtue is a government that will inevitably oppress its people.

* God is not an idea, but a Being. It would be appropriate to treat Him as such.

* The Church is failing because we don’t understand the Trinity. If we were to approach the Trinity as the Trinity – and not as a means to a theological end – we would truly begin to understand Christianity and how we should live.

Three in One: The Foundational Paradox of Christianity


This is a chapter from a book I am writing. I am placing it here to get some feedback on the clarity of the writing style and the subject.

 

The debate over the Trinity and what exactly “Trinity” meant consumed the first few centuries of Christianity; so much so that it was the focal point for many writings as well as many councils. The Council of Nicaea and later the Council of Constantinople were called primarily concerning Trinitarian issues (mostly relating to the Incarnation of the Word). It’s hard to believe that the Trinity was such a controversial issue, especially since belief in the Trinity has gone by the wayside in the modern world. In fact, proper teaching on the Trinity has devolved so much in Western Christianity that even those who claim to be Trinitarian often don’t know what they mean by “Trinity.” The Trinity is often misunderstood, sometimes willfully rejected, other times rejected out of ignorance, and even when understood, the Trinity is viewed as a peripheral doctrine, something on the side that ultimately doesn’t matter.

Sadly, the most misunderstood doctrine in Christianity is also the foundational doctrine of the Christian faith. I purposefully leave out the letter “a” when saying the Trinity is a foundational doctrine. In Christianity, the Trinity functions as the foundation; without the Trinity, there is no Christianity. All other doctrines rest upon the precepts of the Trinity. Want to know why Jesus came to die for us? The ultimate reason rests in the Trinity. Want to know why we should have fellowship with each other? Look to the Trinity. Want to know how the Church should function in society? The Trinity is our example. Every aspect of Christian doctrine is touched by the Trinity and if a doctrine isn’t founded in the Trinity or can’t be traced back to Trinitarian thinking then the doctrine is false or so highly unimportant that it’s more opinion than doctrine.

But if the Trinity is so important, why are we so ignorant of what the Trinity is? As indicated earlier, the Trinity gives us a window into the nature of God. Though ultimately mysterious, the Trinity does give us an idea of God’s nature. Being a window, however, is often why the Trinity is neglected, rejected, and misunderstood. Put simply, the Trinity is confusing. To a society that relies on facts and figures and wants everything explained, we don’t like the Trinity because ultimately there is no explanation. We appreciate illusionists because while their tricks might baffle our minds, we know that ultimately someone has an explanation for the trick. Somewhere down the line the trick can be explained. In fact, if we were to study the illusion and put effort into it, we could figure out how the illusion was performed. But with the Trinity, no amount of study or knowledge will ever get us closer to understanding the Trinity. For a rationalistic society, such a mystery is ultimately unsavory and therefore rejected or at least put on the backburner of theology.

Being that the Trinity partially reveals God’s nature, we should not be surprised that the Trinity is beyond our grasp and ultimately is mysterious. Some might argue that since God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and the Trinity is confusing, Trinitarian thinking does not come from God. But there is little warrant to such thinking. Aside from the fact that Paul was writing about having order in a church service so there would be no confusion in the teachings, such a passage hardly applies to the mystery of God. As we discovered in the last chapter, God is ultimately a mystery to us and infinitely beyond us. Since God is beyond us, it only makes sense that the Trinity would be ‘confusing.’ We will never fully understand the Trinity and that should be okay with us; the fact that the Trinity is non-contradictory, but still beyond our rational, would indicate that it is not of human origin, but instead originates from God. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – On the Incarnation


We now come back to the original point of the last objection the critic may have in recognizing both Damascene Cosmology and Christianity to be true, in the Incarnation God changed. Certainly, to say “God became man” is an accepted phrase or that “God dwelt within Jesus” is part of our orthodox beliefs. But does this indicate that God changed in the Incarnation?

It is true that the person of Christ took on a human nature, but this does not mean that the Word changed. In taking on a human nature, the Divine nature did not mold with the human nature. Jesus was not a third type of nature, a Christian version of some Greek myth where he is part human and part God. In the person fo Christ the whole divine nature and the whole human nature existed, not as a composed single substance, but as two natures within one person.

When Christians speak of the mystery of the Incarnation the mystery they refer to is that two natures existed within two people. How such an event can be accomplished is beyond us, but it is necessary to understand that Christ, though one person, had two natures and acted through both natures. Both natures worked together and in perfect harmony, meaning that the person of Christ experienced life as a human without giving up who he was as God.

When the Divine nature, a nature the Word participated in, took on a human nature this did not change the divine nature. Nothing change in the Father, the Word, or the Spirit and they remained as they were prior to the Incarnation. What was true of the Word prior to the Incarnation remained true after the Incarnation. Any new things we could say about the Word we were saying about his human nature and not about his divine nature. When we say that “Jesus suffered,” implicit within such a statement is, “The human nature within the person of Christ suffered while the divine nature did not suffer.” Again, this is a mystery how the person of Christ could both suffer and not suffer, but it is not a contradiction because of the two natures; it would only be a contradiction if one nature existed. Continue reading

Damascene Ontology – How we know God is Trinitarian


We know that God necessarily exists and that the act of creation was a sacrifice. We know that God did not create simply to be a mean child because this would mean he lacked something, but how do we know that he didn’t lack someone to love prior to creation?

It is only in the Trinity that we can explain how God is loving yet unchanging. It goes back to the distinction within the Trinity between the persons of God. If God is love, then God must have someone to love. Since creation took place at a point in time, while creation is indicative of God’s love, it cannot be the point where God began to love. Rather, if God is love, then he must have loved eternally, but this would be impossible if God were singular. In a Trinity, however, such a feat is possible.

The Father, being love, must love someone. In this love he must be sacrificial, hoping to gain nothing, but how can this be done absent of creation? The Father could love the Son and in loving the Son he could share everything he is with the Son, that is, he could make the Son equal to himself. What does the Father gain in making the Son equal? Nothing, but he sacrifices any potential selfishness or vainglory in doing so. The Son, being equal with the Father in all aspects, would willingly love the Father as much as the Father loves the Son. His sacrifice would come in following the will of the Father, though he could form his own will (this would later be demonstrated in the death of Christ).

But what is love between two when it can be shared? If a husband and wife refuse to share their love, then are they not selfish? I do not mean by having an open marriage, but by not having children. Or if they refuse to love anyone else because they are too focused on each other, would this not indicate selfishness? Likewise, with the Father and Son it follows that they would have a third person to love so that they may share in equality with this third person. This person is the Spirit.

The Spirit equally loves the Father and Son as they love him. All three are equals, love each other equally, and share in all attributes, save for being begotten and proceeding. We cannot explain how sacrifice exists within the Trinity, only to say that the Father holds the Son and Spirit as equal and that the Son and Spirit obey the will of the Father. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – On the Trinity



Before we can understand the Incarnation and how God did not change in the Incarnation, we must first understand the Trinity. This is certainly no easy task for quite a few reasons. First, I am writing in a limited space, so even if we could comprehend God, I would not accomplish this in so few pages.

Secondly, we cannot comprehend God, so I cannot really explain the Trinity. What I can explain is what has been revealed, but I cannot explain the Trinity and how the three persons function. Rationalists need not apply in attempting to understand the Trinity or looking at the Trinity; the Trinity is a mystery and therefore cannot be comprehended.

The third reason this is not an easy task is that while what we can know of the Trinity is substantial, space and time are limited. St. Hilary of Poitiers spent the modern equivalent of 300 pages writing about the Trinity. St. Augustine spent the equivalent of nearly 500 pages writing about the Trinity. Yet both men felt that their works were inadequate. I am using only a fraction of space to write about the Trinity as these two great thinkers did, so I am positive that my explanation will be inadequate.

Regardless of the inadequacies, I will attempt to explain the Trinity to the best of my knowledge. It is my hope that in understanding the Trinity we can gain a better understanding of the Incarnation and in so doing we can understand how Christian theology does not contradict the Damascene Cosmological argument. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – The problem of the Incarnation


While the aforementioned problems certainly pose a problem for proving that the Christian God is immutable, it is the act of the Incarnation that is seemingly the nail in the coffin for Christianity. In the act of the Incarnation we have God becoming man, which indicates a drastic change. Likewise, if we say that Jesus was God, then how can it be said that God does not change? After all, Jesus grew older and grew in knowledge, both of which are indicative of change. Thus, if Jesus changed and Jesus is God, then certainly the God of Christianity must be mutable.

While a human being, God grew in knowledge. There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus came out of the womb acting like an adult. In fact, we know from his stay at the Jewish temple that he continued to grow in knowledge. We know that he didn’t come out of Mary’s womb fully grown; he was a baby. This means that he grew into a man, indicating that he changed physical status while growing up. If Jesus was God, then certainly this would indicate that God is capable of change.

Another objection critics could bring up concerning the Incarnation is that we have God changing into another nature. By taking on a human nature, so the critic says, God became something different. God didn’t have a human nature and now he did have a human nature, which indicates a change. This would show God to be mutable.

The critic could point out that no matter how nuanced we are in explaining the Trinity, the change encountered in the Incarnation proves that the Christian God cannot be immutable. For instance, if we say that is true of the part is also true of the whole, then what is true of Jesus is true of the Trinity. If my hand is infected, then it is proper to say that I have an infection. If the person of Christ changes, then it is proper to say that the Father and Spirit change as well. Continue reading