Our recent cross country road trip gave me the opportunity to listen to the radio a lot more than I typically would. One of the interesting things I heard was an interview with Dr. David Wells on the Lutheran oriented Issues, Etc radio show. I embedded the interview in a flash player above or visit www.issuesetc.org and download the mp3 for the session with Dr. Wells on May 27th 2009.
Dr. Wells recently wrote The Courage to be Protestant and the interview with him covered material from the book and was tellingly titled The Decline of American Evangelicalism. This is definitely not a case of agreeing with everything he said. He may be a little unfair to the emergents and (not being Lutheran) I'm not so sure that a re-emphasis of the historic creeds will restore depth and substance to the Church. It was amazing to hear someone from a substantially different perspective articulate the same indictment of the shallowness of American Evangelicalism.
I believe that the Gospel as typically presented by Evangelicalism does not adequately express the truth of the Bible. Coming from an Anabaptist perspective much of evangelical theology and typical evangelical language sounds... sounds not wrong, but lacking somehow. The whole story isn't there. And from an anabaptist perspective it doesn't take a Barna survey to be scandalized by the state of American Christendom.
As a Lutheran Dr. Wells has a different take both on the problems and potential solutions than I might. His analysis of what has happened - that Evangelicalism is defining itself out of existence is spot on. I appreciated the nod to history as well: what happens when the Church actively attempts to preach only the "core" of the Gospel, to present the "most important parts" of the Bible? Just call that core the "kerygma" instead of "the Gospel" and you give the game away - Liberal Protestantism in the west has already trod this path and lost Christianity altogether.
In my Church circles the discussion of the death of evangelicalism draws mostly puzzled looks. Evangelicalism is still the attractive and successful metropolis when compared to the Brethren ghetto of our past (in many people's minds). The emphases of Anabaptist and Brethren/Pietist thought and practice are exactly the remedies for much of what ails contemporary evangelicalism. And yet experience in Churches with a historical background in those streams seems to have inoculated modern day descendants against anabaptist ideas.
Why is no one interested in being Brethren for today? To reconsider what we know about the New Testament Church, to reflect on the successes and errors of our own history and other restorationists and to attempt to build new models today that embody for our time and place the Biblical picture of Community, Cross, and New Creation. I'm disheartened that the only alternatives appear to be a pursuit of contemporary models that lead to the death of New Testament Christianity or an adherance to denominational history and practice that is so scrupulous it manages to miss the heart of the tradition it espouses.
So I'm discouraged and looking for inspiration. Got any good ideas? Drop em in the comments below...
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