CEO, Shrink, or Man of God? Part 2

Desiring God 1993 Conference for Pastors

CEO? Shrink? Or Man of God?

Ben has just given us a very, very rich session, and I’m sure many of you are relieved to come down from the very abstract, generalized whatever, to things that were very close to your own daily lives. I just wanted to tell you a couple of stories before we plunge into this, based on some of the comments in that sort of direction.

Courage to Stand

One is a story I remember when I went to Australia the first time, a good many years ago. They had just finished an election. The story was going round that at the low point of the election for the Labor Party, which was then in power, the party managers had come to Gough Whitlam. They said (in a secular sense), “Nothing stands between us and defeats except you. You’ve got to do something quite extraordinary for us and this is what we suggest: Announce to all the press that you’re going to walk across the border on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra and they’ll come out and it’ll prove that you are virtually who you hint that you are.”

Well, Gough Whitlam was unabashed by anything like that. As the story went, the whole press and media were invited and he stepped down to the shore, put one foot out, and then another foot out, and he walked across the water on Lake Burley Griffin. It didn’t turn out quite like the party managers hoped, because the next morning, Rupert Murdoch’s paper, The Australian, which was Whitlam’s enemy, had as their headline, “Whitlam Fails to Swim Lake Burley Griffin.”

Now, I begin there, because the press are just sort of one group that everyone finds it easy to blame today. Christians, sadly, are in an appalling blaming mood as much as anyone else. A couple of you said to me afterwards, “It’s all very well to look at the big picture, but I can’t get my people to get out of this whole blaming, victim mentality,” and that’s often true of many of our churches.

The other story is more serious, in response to a comment another couple of men made. One of the most famous stories in sociology, sort of taught to young people starting in sociology, is the story of Max Weber, who’s probably the greatest of all the sociologists.

Weber had as his life passion to understand modernity, modernization, and all the forces which as he saw were putting human beings into what he called an “iron cage.” He had one breakdown. He was so depressed, because of his conclusions of the impact of modernity on human nature, he had a breakdown. He recovered and went on with his work, but towards the end of his life, he was getting more and more depressed again. One day, one of his friends came into his study and saw him just pacing up and down. He said to him, “Max, this is ridiculous. If your studies keep making you more and more depressed, why on earth don’t you give up sociology?” He turned on him fiercely and he said, “I want to see how much I can stand.”

Now, it’s often given to young sociologists as the ideal sort of stoic courage of just daring to face the truth regardless of where it leads, whatever the consequences. It’s not a Christian statement. Yet I think today, a similar courage under the sovereignty of the Lord needs to be ours. To tackle the big questions today is daunting. It is not easy, it’s not easily packaged, it’s not easily understood, and it’s not easily answered, but men and women of faith should have the courage to look modernity, and all the big questions, in the white of the eye and by God’s grace go back to him until we’ve wrestled for answers that are big enough for the problems we face today.

Taking on the Big Questions

Many in our churches will blame others and they’re not apt to look at what we can do. Equally, when we get into the big questions ourselves, make no mistake, it is daunting. I remember when I began the American Hour, realizing the hugeness of the sort of intuition of what the Lord had given me in giving that book, which came as almost a sort of intuitive revelation. There were a couple of weeks I said, “No, Lord, I don’t want to do it.” I was English and it was on America, but more importantly, it was psychologically ridiculous and daunting to try and address an entire nation’s situation. I put it on one side for two weeks and said, “Absolutely not, Lord,” although it was just burning in my mind.

I read the verses in Exodus that say, “Who is it that made man’s speech? . . . Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). I was prepared to say, “If you help me, Lord, I’ll do my best to try and get my mind and my words around a big picture of where a nation really is.” But many of us will have experiences like that in bigger or smaller ways. The big questions today are daunting and people of faith need courage to tackle them and not turn aside.

Evangelicalism in Disarray

In this session though, let’s move to a level somewhere between last night and where Ben was speaking of this morning, and let’s look not at the national picture or at the individual local church picture, but rather, the issue we’ve raised in the book No God But God is the reformation of evangelicalism.

Do we dare to believe that under God, in the next generation, we may see in the deep disarray we face in evangelicalism a genuine renewal and reformation of something that is really true to the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t have time to look at a full picture of the disarray of evangelicalism. I’m conscious on the one hand that when we speak of evangelicalism, or we speak as evangelicals, that we’re speaking of a movement which is the heir of America’s first faith, of a movement, which is the heir of one of the strongest and culturally the most influential movements in American history. In other words, by God’s grace, for all the poor sides and the shabby sides and the dark sides, we’re talking about a great and a glorious movement in American history on behalf of the Church of Christ.

Yet today, surely and unarguably, it is in deep disarray at an extraordinarily low ebb. Now, I’m conscious too, that we’re speaking of millions of believers and we’re speaking of thousands of churches, and many of those believers and many of those churches are magnificent exceptions. What I’m speaking of is the evangelical movement as a whole, the evangelical tradition, the evangelical community. Use what word you like to describe the movement as a whole as opposed to individuals and as opposed to individual local churches who are still magnificent exceptions. But I think there’d be no discussion that evangelicalism as a whole is in deep, deep disarray.

It’s not my interest, but one could begin by looking at the perception of evangelicals by others. Much of the comment after the recent election gives you an entree there. How much of the Republican misfortunes have been blamed on the religious right and on evangelicals? Sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. But there’s just one doorway into the public perception of evangelicalism today and the stereotypes are very easy to conjure up. For example, if you take impressions of evangelicals by American intellectuals on the universities and the press media, evangelicals today are considered a greater threat to American democracy, even than the Ku Klux Klan. Now, that’s very remarkable.

Most of the groups that are a threat to democracy are at the extremes of society or the new rather alien outsiders coming in. But here we are as the heirs of America’s first faith, and yet to many of the intelligentsia today, we are more of a threat to democracy in the future even than an extremist racist group like the Ku Klux Klan.

An Evangelical Crisis of Identity

But let me look at more serious things inside the evangelical community just from two quick angles. One way of analyzing the disarray would be to say this: Criticisms, which a generation ago were the criticisms of defectors from evangelicalism, have become in one generation the commonplace criticisms of scholars who are intellectuals and are now the suspicion of leaders of evangelicalism.”

In other words, books like Tom Howard’s Evangelicalism is Not Enough, are the commonplace criticism of those who have left evangelicalism and gone to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy or whatever, but they’re no longer the criticisms of defectors or dropouts. They are now the commonplace of evangelical scholars.

Many of you must have read books, such as the Intervarsity book, Varieties of Evangelicalism, where at the end of the book, Don Dayton, the editor, says simply, “If it weren’t for the publishers, I would never have used the word evangelical in the title.” It’s a meaningless word today, such is our diversity, such is our disarray, that the word “evangelical” has no longer any usefulness in describing this movement as a whole.

As you know well, that suspicion is now deeply rooted in many of our leaders themselves. John Seel, my co-editor of No God But God, as part of his doctorate last year, did a survey of 25 of the top evangelical leaders from across the board — whether Reformed, charismatic, Anabaptist. They were people right across the board. They were men and women at various positions of leadership. What was remarkable is that they talked off the record — many of them leaders that you would know well, whose books you’ve read, whose institutions you would admire — had deep confidence in their own ministry, their own church, their own para-church organization. But when it came to the identity of evangelicalism as a whole, they could not say what it was.

When it came to the future of evangelicalism as a whole, they did not have any sanguine confidence that it had a future at all. You can see how many of these criticisms and suspicions are no longer merely the criticisms of the defectors, but are now the uncomfortable suspicion of many of our own leaders. This is not unique to America. The Church of England newspaper currently has a series of articles exactly on this point. Is there any usefulness to the term evangelicalism? We’ve outgrown the usefulness of the idea. There’s nothing that unites us and gives cohesion on this level. I gave a talk to a series of about 30 or 40 leaders of the evangelical parachurch ministries in the Colorado area, where, as you know, many of them are concentrated.

Shifting from a Truth-driven Movement

The first question of the discussion was, “Do we really hang ourselves up with the word evangelical” The vote split pretty well down the middle of these para-church leaders from Colorado Springs and other eminent places, many of whom thought the word evangelical was no longer useful. But how to replace it, they had no idea. A second way into the problem, would be to put it differently, and that would be to say that evangelicalism has subtly shifted in one generation as to how evangelicalism itself is defined. This is even more important than the last point. Classically, certainly in England and through a large part of American evangelicalism, evangelicalism was once truth defined.

Now by truth defined, I don’t mean that it was merely cognitive or merely theological, because parts of those truths by which they were defined were deeply spiritual and experiential. For example, a commitment to regeneration and new birth. But classically, evangelicals define themselves by certain cardinal truths over against the nominal or the liberal or the Catholic aspects of the other traditions of Christ. So you could say, “We hold these truths.” There might have been disagreement of which five, or six, or seven, or eight, but there’s no question that in terms of a high view of the Word and a strong view of the atonement and a deep view of regeneration. Evangelicals believed certain things and they were essentially truth driven.

Historians have pointed out though, that by the late 1960s, somewhere in the 1970s, no one can say exactly when, there was a subtle, maybe imperceptible shift. Evangelicals were no longer defined by truth, but rather joined as a fraternity of institutions. It wasn’t that the institutions no longer believed truth, but the accent was put on the fraternity of institutions. People had been to certain seminaries, they read certain magazines, like Christianity Today, and they were members of certain para-church ministries, Young Life or whatever it was. Defining ourselves by this fraternity of institutions, we could say that we were evangelicals.

But then in the 80s, again, a subtle, imperceptible shift, not everywhere, not universally, but by many evangelicals became a coalition of causes. What we were against, supremely abortion, subtly overshadowed what we were for, which was often secondary, and the primary thing was the causes against which we fought. You can see today that there was a shift from the truth defined to the fraternity of institutions to the coalition of causes. Today, with the failure of many of those causes and the founding of many of the movements behind them, evangelicalism, which has grown and been corrupted at the same time, is in deep, deep disarray.

Reviving Revival and Reforming Reformation

I don’t need to describe to you the confusion in leadership, the carelessness about orthodoxy, the corruption of moral obedience, and the failure of many, many of our public initiatives. But my purpose is not to describe the problems of evangelicalism. You could give your own descriptions at many, many levels, either at the anecdotal level or a more serious analytical level. But surely, it leaves all of us with a deep sense that this is a time in need for reformation.

Now obviously as we speak of that, as Ben did in the previous session or I hinted at last night, we’re speaking of this sovereign awakening of God, what the Puritans called “the visitation of God.” When we speak of that, we’re speaking of something that is not ours to engineer or to effect. It is God’s work. All that we bring in many ways as you can see from history is hunger and expectation. This builds up into faith and prayer that looks to the Lord. But I suggest to you even as we recognize that revival and reformation are God’s part, not ours, there is one part we do contribute beyond hunger and expectation and it’s this: We need to revive the understanding of revival and reform the understanding of reformation among the people of God, even as we look to God.

False Terms in Revival

Think of revival for a moment, the evangelical movement is awash with false terms, with false means, and with false content all surrounding the notion of revival. Some of us are increasingly careful to use the word “resurgence” of movements that can be sociologically explained, which have a genuine spiritual significance, but are not revival. So we want to distinguish between revival and resurgence. Much of what I said last night about the 1950s revival could better be used as a suburban resurgence of religion, and that’s certainly in more recent movements. The Boomers went back to church because they wanted values for their children. I would use the word “resurgence” rather than “revival” for that. By that, I don’t mean it was not genuine, but it could be sociologically explained and the movements were there in the trends and developments in our culture.

Now I’m not using that in a reductionist sense as if what the result was was inauthentic. Not at all. There was a genuine sociological resurgence of interest in religion. Part of that was genuinely exploited by churches for the gospel’s sake, so that many of those Baby Boomers, hungry for values for their children, came back to Christ. But I think the movement as a whole was not a revival as such, it was a mere resurgence which had enormous significance for the gospel in the 1980s.

You could say the same thing about the renewal movement on a different level. I’m one of those who is in favor of the best of the renewal movement. The worst is unspeakable, but the best undoubtedly has led to a deep devotion to Jesus Christ, to enormous new freedom in musical expressions, to an enrichment of our liturgical understanding and our forms of worship. One could say many, many good things about the best of the renewal movement. I’m glad to say so and glad to worship in a church which puts them very high. But at the same time, renewal, as it’s practiced even by churches like the one I attend, is not revival. Where is the missing note of the conviction of sin? Where is the note that when hearts and minds are changed, it goes from individuals, to families, to neighborhoods, to communities to cities, and it cannot be stopped as the Spirit is poured out in communities?

Renewal is deeply important, but it is not revival. Resurgence is deeply important, but it is not revival. We need to clean up our terms, so that people hunger and pray for that which is true revival.

False Means in Revival

The same thing can be said about the false means that are awash today, in terms of revival. Classically, we all know much of the attitude towards revival that became instrumental that flowed out of the whole Finney-esque understanding of revival. You can see more modern versions of that. I haven’t read it, I confess, but the very title of the book, The Coming Great Awakening, by one of our leading theologians and college presidents, is typical of this notion that has a false understanding of the means of revival. Incidentally, it’s coming out of a secular understanding of history. As some of the secular historians see it, out of great periods of transition and turbulence and unrest comes an outcome which leads to revival.

Now you can analyze the first and the second great awakenings in that way, but they then turn to modern movements in the same way. But as Christians have picked this up, it’s given almost a necessary deterministic view of revival, that out of periods of turbulence will come the next Great Awakening, as if we can predict and say when God’s sovereign Spirit will come. What if we have offended his holiness and this time he does not visit us in grace?

I know no one that I respect who says they’ve been told by God that the coming Great Awakening is coming. Merely on the basis of historical chaos and turbulence and transition, to predict a coming Great Awakening based on American cycles of history, I think is a form of blasphemy against the sovereignty of the work of the Holy Spirit.

False Content in Revival

You can think, thirdly, of the false content that you have around in evangelicalism today. We can all remember the book that was posted out by its publishers to pastors all around the country by the hundreds of thousands speaking of the recovery of self-esteem as the new reformation.

We can think of church growth advocates today who claim that the only revival we need is a renewal of structures based on modern managerial understanding. Surely again, this is enormous ignorance, or worse, incredible blasphemy against what God wants to bring when he pours out his Spirit and his truth on his church in a time of revival.

Hindering a Real Reformation

We need to revive the understanding of revival, but let’s say too, we need to reform the understanding of reformation. I know I speak for myself and I know for John and many others of you, we come from a deep appreciation of the historic Reformation.

But let’s say today, rarely has the Reformation tradition been so poor as it is today. Here is the great event in Western history, which took place in the 16th century, but is so decisive and historic that few historians say “The 16th Century Reformation,” but they just say “The Reformation.” It’s one of the great events in 2,000 years and yet today its legacy is at an extraordinarily low ebb. Appreciation for it in secular circles is reduced almost to nil by a sense of reductionism. The Reformation can be explained by this economic movement, that sociological movement, or else it’s a disaster as the ecumenicals say, because of its profound divisiveness.

But that’s not our problem. If you look in the church itself, the Reformation cycle has come full circle. Look at the Church of Christ today. Sadly, we must say with tears, it is Protestants who need protesting. The prototype of corruption was once the medieval priest. Today, it is a Protestant evangelical evangelist. The wheel has come full circle. Those of us who love the Reformation, let’s say with sadness, the Reformed tradition today is not serving the Reformation tradition well.

Look at the Reformed tradition, those of us who reformed. It’s dry, it’s antiquarian, it’s ethnic, it’s bloodless. Only rarely, do you have a passion for the deep things of the Holy Spirit as say Calvin and many of the great Reformed thinkers once had. Only rarely do you have a deep emotion as say Jonathan Edwards and many of the great Reformed thinkers had. The Reformed tradition today is one of the primary blocks against a deep evangelical-wide concern for Reformation. We have put people off.

The understanding that revival needs to be revived and the understanding of reformation deeply needs to be reformed. Of course, revival and reformation are God’s part. We bring our sin, our hunger, our expectancy, but at least in our teaching, we can create today a revived understanding of revival and reformed understanding of reformation that men and women may hunger after a movement of God in our time.

Playing Our Part

But let me move to what is our part. We pray for revival, the things that we cannot do that God only can do, but surely there is much that we can do. Let me turn to some of the dimensions that I think really make a difference today. As John said in his introduction, many Christians are swinging between triumphalism and resignation. When it comes to evangelicalism, I find across the country, in most circles, an enormous sense of resignation. There was triumphalism in the early 1980s, say in politics, but that collapsed by the end of the 1980s. When it comes to a strategic confidence in the movement-wide evangelicalism, the predominant mood except for confidence and delight and pride in local initiatives, is one of resignation, even among leaders.

The Crisis and the Opportunity

Let’s discuss some of the things that are dimensions that need to be tackled. First, the recognition that the crisis is the opportunity and the opportunity is the crisis. Americans at large, and evangelical Americans in particular, respond too much either psychologically or sociologically. If they are optimists, they’re optimistic; if they’re pessimistic, they’re negative. Or if the external market is bullish, they’re full of confidence. If it’s bearish, they’re pessimistic. Evangelicals swing around, whether they’re psychologically or sociologically optimistic. At the Gulf War, we’re all standing tall. At the LA riots, we can see all it’s wrong with America. You can see the mood swings are almost violent and have nothing to do with faith.

Now obviously, our primary confidence is in the Lord himself and in his great sovereignty. Under the challenge of modernity, the sovereignty of God is not just an old Reformed faith. It’s surely an indispensable prerequisite for those who are not to be, like Max Weber, looking at modernity in the white of the eye and despairing psychologically. Certainly, as we look at these grand forces against which the church of Christ is arrayed and we know the sovereignty of God towers above modernity, then we can with confidence go out to do our small parts under him with confidence.

But there are other truths that are important, and one of them I think is this, that in the Scripture, no sin, no idol, and no unbelief is ever final. There is an impermanence to all unbelief and idolatry, because it is the truth held in unrighteousness. There’s always an irony to sin. Things always turn out the opposite of what sinners expect. There are unforeseen consequences and those who set out confidently from the father’s house reach the pigsty sooner or later.

Now, translate that into terms of where we are today. If you had been called as a missionary or a prophet to Ancient Egypt, it must have been daunting. Here you have a pagan culture, which has gone on for thousands of years, a massive permanence. How could you make a prick against this huge structure that is Pharaoh’s Egypt, as we know they did? But look at our culture, Marxism, the greatest totalitarian tyranny of our century suddenly collapsed overnight. It lasted a mere 74 years. Here in the West, such as the cataract of choice and change, the shelf life of unbelief is very, very brief.

The shelf life of the crazy idols that people follow one minute with enthusiasm and fanaticism the next minute it seems with disillusion and despair, is so brief because modernity is running through idolatries faster than ever before, but that simply means that every crisis is our opportunity. Prodigal sons are hitting the pigsty moments faster than ever before. If we are there with a gospel, if we are there with hands reached out with compassion, more people are more open that more moments at the individual level, but also at the cultural level.

The Culture Around Us

The individual level is obvious, a hurting culture all around us. But why don’t Christians have confidence as they look out in the culture and see this at the culture wide level too? You could take many examples, I’ll just take one. Has it ever struck you — as you look at the chaos philosophically in our campuses with what’s called the very crisis of the meaning of meaning — that for 400 years the gospel of Christ has faced great optimistic, post-Christian rival philosophies. They have been hostile, skeptical, ridiculing the gospel of Christ? Where are they today? Nowhere.

There are powerful movements in the campuses, but they’re negative, radically nihilistic. If you look at the post-Christian rivals — as I said last night, the pre-Christian rivals are very powerful, such as Paganism, Hinduism and so on — they are in greater disarray than at any time for 400 years. Are we making headway? Are hundreds and soon thousands of young thinkers and intellectuals coming to Christ? Not at all, but that’s because we have no confidence. We have no apologetics. We’re not speaking to them.

But the crisis is the opportunity, and that’s just one example of many where our culture today is one series of pigsty moments after another. Christians who are bewailing the times and lamenting the crisis are missing the fact that theologically, the opportunity is the crisis. The crisis is the opportunity. Under the sovereignty of God, we should be moving out with great heart to address the issues of our times, not only at the individual level, but at the grand cultural level, knowing that in Christ, not as a cliché, only in the gospel, is a profundity of answers for human beings and the dilemmas that human beings are facing in the late 20th century.

The Negative of the Gospel

Second, we need a radical confrontation with the great biblical negative categories. The gospel is the most glorious yes in all history. The gospel is also the most radical no in all history. In other words, in Scripture we find not only the fulfillment of our hopes, but grand biblical negative categories, which cut to the heart the claims of sin in our life. What do I mean? Well, the big five are perhaps sin, heresy, worldliness, idolatry, and judgment. These are the biblical negative categories. But where are they today?

Those categories have lost plausibility in much, if not most, evangelicalism. Many evangelicals have lost a biblical view of sin for a modern notion of low self-esteem. For many evangelicals, heresy as an operational criticism is less stirring than say the charge of being un-American. Sociologists and historians have often pointed that out, ironically. Un-American is defined nowhere. America is defined nowhere. It’s not in the archives, it’s not in the Congress, and it’s not anywhere you can find. But if you charge an American with being un-American, you get them really passionately engaged and the charge of being un-American can mobilize whole forces against groups or individuals.

Heresy is a standing or falling truth on which eternal life depends but is clearly defined in Scripture. But for most modern Christians, the charge of being heretical doesn’t ruffle the surface of their thinking except for a few honorary groups, like say Presbyterians and so on. Most evangelicals don’t have a commitment to truth that would even allow them to be stirred by being heretical today.

Worldliness? Oh, I mean worldliness is the previous generation’s no-nos. People think, “They didn’t dance, and they didn’t go to films, and these sort of funny things that people didn’t do in the 1960s that we’ve all been liberated from.” At a time when the evangelical church is more worldly than ever before, we don’t even have a category of worldliness by which to see it or critique it.

What about idolatry? It’s for the Africans or something at the time in the Old Testament or whatever. It’s about gods of wood and stone. But that misses the biblical point that idolatry is the central category of unbelieving hearts, and the worst idolatry of all is God’s own gifts which are allowed to take his place. One of the most sobering things in the Scripture is that God is most against his own gifts. When they take his place, he destroys them.

Neglecting the Doctrine of Sin

Now, you could apply that to evangelicalism. Take for instance sin. Do you remember Karl Menninger’s book Whatever Happened to Sin?. You’d think that would be picked up by Christians. Not at all. We’re further off from sin now, than when Menninger wrote, or theologians wrote. Being bad has been replaced for many evangelicals by feeling bad about ourselves.

Ben mentioned the deadly vices and the cardinal virtues. I’ve never heard those preached in an evangelical church. The best book I know on those today is by Henry Fairlie who describes himself as a reverend agnostic. He takes the whole sin of envy and he looks at American culture, for instance, the tabloid television, the Geraldo’s and all this sort of stuff, and he sees this nihilistic egalitarianism, this leveling process that strips it down, and he analyzes it brilliantly, ruining the guts of American democracy. What is it? He says, “It’s a rampant form of envy.” But he says, “We haven’t got the category envy.” Without the category, you’ve got no preachers or anyone addressing the social sin of envy in our culture and envy is rampant in America in the gawk shows and so on, but no one addresses it, because it’s been lost as a category for sin.

Or take worldliness. I was first put on the track of this by my professor of Oxford who was an atheist. I’ve said this many times, but back in the early 1970s, he turned to me one day, knowing I was an evangelical. He said, “Guinness, by the end of the 1970s, who will be the worldliest Christians in America?” I knew he was sort of tweaking my tail, only I wasn’t quite sure what. To understand what he was saying, put the clock back to 1974 or so, wipe out everything that’s happened since. He said, “I guarantee it will be evangelicals and fundamentalists.” People listening raise their eyebrows. Why? Fundamentalists used to be world denying, by definition. That’s what a fundamentalist was. They were balled up over against the culture of the world.

But the same fundamentalist, who could smell liberal theology 100 yards away, have plunged into aspects of modernity such as direct mail, television, and all sorts of other things without a question. Today, there is no question by observers that evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the most modernized, worldly, compromised tradition in the church in America. It’s not the liberals. They were in the 60s.

If you follow liberalism, while there’s still a good many crazy movements around, parts of liberalism are intent on what they call retrieval movements, going back to movements in history or back to the scriptures to try and retrieve something to give them something after the chaos of the 1960s. Who are the supreme worldly modernizers today? Who are the true patent disciples of Schleiermacher? It’s the evangelicals and the fundamentalists, living at the growing edge of modernity with barely a question. As sociologists and other members of the church see that they are deeply corrupted by modernity with barely a thought. There needs to be a radical confrontation with sin, heresy, worldliness, idolatry and judgment.

This isn’t by itself of course, because the gospel is a yes as well as a no. But as many theologians and sociologists point out, you can tell the strength of a movement by its ability to say no, as well as by its ability to say yes.

The First Things of the Gospel

The third level is the recovery of some of the forgotten first things of the gospel. As modern people, our natural instinct is that if we’re not doing well, we need to organize better. If we’re not doing well, we need to communicate better. If we’re out of touch institutionally, we’re out of date organizationally, and if we do something better with modern management, we’ll be in touch and all very well.

Surely history shows us that when the church is weak, it’s when she’s not demonstrating and in touch with the first principles of the gospel itself. You could take many examples here, let me just take one. I was mentioning last night worship and we’ve touched on things like preaching and we’ve also touched in passing on notions like calling. But just take one that I think is very critical to evangelical public witness and that’s the biblical place given to persuasion. Use what word you like. It could be persuasion, apologetics, or advocacy, I don’t care. But you can see that communication is at the heart of the biblical understanding of the godhead. Communication and persuasion is at the heart of the very understanding of the church and the gospel.

If you look at the first century, it was deeply pluralistic, but Christians were a persuasive witness in the community. Or if we jump the centuries to the 18th century, we can see how that with a church and state separation and the creation of what is virtually a religious free market in faiths, evangelicals with their commitment to persuasion, were ideally situated to capitalize on the American free market in the pluralistic religious situation.

We have always done well as evangelicals, because we have always been a persuasive community in the culture. But today, look at our witnessing. Much of it’s shaped by the 1940s and 1950s, which wasn’t high on persuasion, because it was unnecessary. There was Christian consensus, Christian worldview, and Christian language. All these things were assumed, so most people could understand the Christian language. Most of our modern witnessing methods grew out of a lack of persuasion and the high emphasis on proclamation, et cetera.

Later, that proclamation without persuasion was transferred to politics. Look at the pro-life movement. It’s been all pronouncements, proclamation, picketing, and protests. Persuasion? None. Where were the arguments — all things to all men, Jew to the Jews, Gentile to the Gentile, liberal to the liberals, atheists to the atheist — making pro-life arguments to these people from within their whole community? It wasn’t there. The lesson of Christian history and the lesson of American history show that such movements are won through persuasion. It wasn’t there. We are virtually a persuasion-less community today.

What’s apologetics? Some sort of dry dusty study shows that some of the heaviest seminaries keep alive. It involves reading heavy books, but we’re in a day where culture grows more secular in the public square, and more pluralistic in the private square. Unless we recover the persuasiveness of the gospel, we’re not going to be true to the gospel in the culture in which we’re living today. As I said, that’s just one very practical but certainly not one of the primary examples of some of the first things of the gospel that are missing today. Without them, we will not be the people of the gospel with the power of the gospel that we need to be.

Revitalizing the Sense of Ministry for All Believers

Fourthly, the revitalization of the laity. Now I know and we all know the talk of unthawing God’s frozen people and putting the spiritually unemployed back to work. We’ve all heard for our generation, but is it happening evangelicalism wide still? No. Let me give some examples of the fallacies that are crippling this. Partly, evangelicals suffer from historical errors when it comes to this. For example, there are books that have the title like The Stealing of America. America was not stolen from evangelicals, America was surrendered by evangelicals.

Historically speaking, evangelicals were not out-thought, say in the press and media or the universities, where we’re not today. Evangelicals were simply out of it when the new thinking took place. We’ve got to drop this blaming, victim language, as if it’s been stolen from us and we are entitled to it based on some period in the past. It’s nonsense. It’s a bad reading of history.

Secondly, other evangelicals suffer from sociological errors. The problem with evangelical lay people is not that they aren’t where they should be. There are a few areas, for example, the universities, and the press and media, where we need many, many more Christians. We are deeply underrepresented, because we quit these areas. But in most areas, the problem is not that we aren’t where we should be, it’s that we’re not what we should be right where we are. If we’re few and far between in the university world, we are thick on the ground in business, but no more potent in business than we are in the university world, because our views of discipleship are deficient.

But then, I think there’s a theological era today. Many of our megachurches, which do stress re-employing God’s unemployed, what do they mean by this? They mean ministries within the church or various agencies and ministries on the periphery of the church, but they do not mean a fully-orbed discipleship, including calling. For the early church and for the Reformation, calling, as Ben said, was God’s call in our life, far wider than occupation. It was every believer, in every era of their life, in everything they did, doing it to the glory of the Lord. It wasn’t just ministries within the church, it wasn’t just social action agencies just outside the church. It was as much the lawyer in his law practice, although outside too, as Ben said, not just the occupation. Vocation is bigger than occupation, but it certainly includes occupation.

A Right View of Calling

I remember the first week I was in Washington. I went to a church which will be nameless. I’m very fond of the pastor, he’s a good friend. But he had what he called a Recognition of Calling Sunday. I thought, “This is great.” I’d never heard an American church speak on callings. He said, “When I name your callings, you stand up and we’ll recognize you, and eventually, you sit down again. At the end, I’ll ask everyone who’s been standing up to stand up together and I will pray for you.” I thought this was magnificent. I looked around this church. There was a magnificent array, a great cross section of Washington society.

They started to stand up. After about five minutes, I thought this was odd. The interesting people in the church from a human point of view professionally and the media and so on, were all on their hands in their seats, because all the so-called “callings” recognized were actually ministries. They were in the church or all things just outside the church. They didn’t touch any of people’s callings in the wider world. You had people in the White House, and they sat still. There were people whose names you’d know, in say the McLaughlin Group and so on, sitting still on their hands in their pews, because this deficient view of callings and discipleships shrunk everything down to spiritual and churchly ministries.

Now let’s be blunt, there’s a simple reason why many pastors don’t see this, and that is that your whole life and work, legitimately and appropriately, is in the private sphere. In other words, if I were to say your life and work is in the private sphere, that is not the same as saying your life is privatized, because your work is supposed to be. Ever since the Reformation, we can say the rise of the modern world means that reform movements cannot just be churchly. You know that and I know that. That’s even more so under the conditions of modernity. The revitalization of the lay people with the full empowerment of their callings is absolutely essential to the revitalization and reformation of evangelicalism.

The Re-exertion of Leadership

Fifthly, we need a re-exertion of leadership. Now, I know that the crisis of leadership is almost a cliche today, like the word “crisis” itself. Many, many reasons can be given as to why there’s an evangelical crisis of leadership as well as a national crisis. Some say, for example, the post-war giants of the faith were so huge that like great oaks, they stifled the light for those who were growing under them — the Billy Grahams, the Carl Henrys, and so on. Others point to the influence of the 1960s. It’s intriguing that those between say 40 and 55 are not a generation with strong leadership in the church at the moment.

There’s no question that the 1960s marked, as you can see in politics, a certain crisis of authority that marks people who went through the 1960s. There are other reasons one could give, sociologically and so on. But there’s no question that evangelicalism today is suffering from poor leadership. We have strong leaders, but many of them are super egotists. We have powerful leaders of strong para-church organizations, but many of them are concerned only for their own turf and their territory. As George Marsden says, as a historian:

Evangelism gives the impression of a series of medieval fiefdoms with all the barons looking after their own baron, paying lip service to some distant king, but much more concerned with their own little fiefdoms and all that that means for themselves.

Where are the evangelical leaders with a vision and a burden for the movement wide evangelicalism. With the passing of the guard of the Billy Grahams and the Carl Henrys, there aren’t many like that. Strong individual leaders in various areas, but a great burden for movement wide evangelicalism, not today.

The Reintegration of Truth

Sixthly, we need the reintegration of truth and theology. There used to be a nickname of evangelicals, we were serious people. One of the marks of that was a commitment to truth and to theology. Now, truth is lacking in American culture at large. It’s almost vaporized by critical theories, obscured by clouds of euphemism and jargon, outpaced by rumor and hype, overlooked for style and image, vitiated by the acceptability of lying, or at least lying without quite lying. In American culture today, truth is anything but marching on. But sadly, the truth rot in evangelicalism is equally profound.

Think of many of the movements of the last generation, which may have been good in many areas but had an over spill, a discounting of truth. Take say relational theology, which has vitiated Washington leadership. At the end of the day, it’s all relational and not theological. Take the charismatic movement as its best. As I said, it is very important in terms of renewal. At its worst, it has such a stress on experience and subjectivism, the truth is missing altogether. Or take the therapeutic movement, so we now all know how we feel and we’re in touch with this, that, and the other and how comfortable we are with this, that, and the other, and so on. Truth is not even the category for those who follow the therapeutic revolution.

And the managerial focus? It’s about what works, what success, what grows, etc. Truth is irrelevant, in a day when we pursue relevance and needs and other such things as those. For many in our generation, the truth rot is so deep that truth is not even a category in their mind. Theology is automatically seen as something academic, cerebral, bloodless, dry, which some of it is and much of it is, but true biblical theology, never for one moment is.

A Solution for Disunity

Of course, this raises the question, if truth and theology is to be reintegrated and restored to evangelicalism, what might be a hope for bringing evangelicals together on the basis of faith and theology and doctrine? We can discuss this later if you like, but my view is that that would be impossible with creeds. The way forward is not through some new theological creed, but rather through a re-understanding of the biblical notion of covenant. Why? Covenant, particularly as you see it working out in New England, is a biblical notion that brings two very important features to our present chaos today.

The notion of covenant had at its heart a stress on unity that respected, recognized, and reinforced diversity. In other words, uniformity today, with creeds, would be impossible. We need a stress on unity that respects diversity that is legitimate because true diversity — differences of gifts, callings, and various things — is a matter of richness and strength. Covenant is a notion which in its heart recognizes unity and diversity.

The second reason is equally important, the notion of covenant addresses not only truth but life, not only belief, but behavior, not only doctrine, but lifestyle. Today, evangelicals need binding not only doctrinally, but in terms of how we live and how we behave, because modernity has broken the link between belief and behavior. Even if you had the most perfect creed in the world given us by the angels and the Apostle Paul himself, it wouldn’t make any difference to most evangelicals, because the problem is not just what we believe, it’s how we behave, and we need binding in behavior as well as in belief.

The Redirection of Evangelicalism

The last point, the redefinition and redirection of evangelicalism. If evangelicals are unsure what evangelicalism is and how it stands over again say Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, we need two simple things to really be a galvanizing point around which evangelicals can again take pride and really see a point of unity.

The lesser one is the recovery of the past. Tie in what Ben was saying about memory. I remember last year talking, having breakfast with one of the leading evangelicals who was deeply disillusioned. At the end of two hours, the two of us are with him, said, “We warn you, you are not only ministering to many of the evangelicals who are disaffiliated, but you are almost in danger of creating a fellowship of a disaffiliated and actually deepening the disaffiliation.” But as we talked further to this man, I asked myself, “What on earth was the evangelicalism against which he was reacting?”

As he talked, I realized he knew almost nothing of movements or leaders or truths prior to 1900, maybe 1850. I thought to myself, “If that’s all I knew, I wouldn’t even be an evangelical.” I mean, if you’re an evangelical because of movement in the 20th century, what a depressing, squalid, superficial, tawdry movement it would be. It’s only by God’s grace. We can go back to the scriptures and to people who’ve had a hunger for the gospel down the centuries that we can thank God over all that it’s become in our time this is not all.

Yet evangelicals, look at the pulp that we read today, which passes for modern books. How many have read classics from the 18th century, the 17th century, the 16th century or whatever, right back to the first century? We are a people who need to recover our past. Memory and gratitude are absolutely indispensable to the people of faith if we want to have a lively faith and a living obedience. Yet today, we’ve almost jumped from Revelation 22 to the 20th century and we are bankrupt, psychologically and historically, because of it, and we need to recover the past.

The Redefinition of Evangelicalism

The second is we need a redefinition of what evangelicalism is. I believe we need to start with a single sentence redefinition. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I believe we need the five, six, seven, or eight points that are the cardinal defining features such as I hinted at earlier, in terms of the Scriptures, the lordship of Christ, the cross, regeneration, and so on. But at the moment, one of our deepest needs growing out of these big truths is a single sentence, simple definition. This is evangelical. Evangelical is not the polyester suit and all the stereotypes that come into people’s minds. It’s this.

When I say a single sentence definition, I mean something you can bring out at a cocktail party or across a coffee table. On the one hand, it simply expresses what the heart of evangelicalism is. On the other hand, it allows us tactically to stand clearly over against Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The way I put it is this, the evangelicals are those who define themselves and their lives by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelical comes from euangelion, which comes from the good news. It goes back to the Gospels themselves.

Jesus arrives and he proclaims that the good news, the kingdom has arrived in him. We are those who define ourselves and are lived by the imperatives of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you see how that is very simple and also stands immediately over the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox? For example, for myself, I would respect the Catholics at their best. The notion of catholicity, universality, and worldwideness is a deeply important truth, but comes no nowhere near so deep as the gospel itself. Orthodoxy, at its best, I also respect. The whole notion of consensual truth of what all Christians everywhere in all times and places have believed in common is a deeply important truth to hold alive, but it comes nowhere near so deep and close as the gospel itself.

While the church is in need of reformation, which is until she sees Christ face to face, while there’s one last sinner in the world who needs salvation, there will always be a place for followers of Christ to define themselves by the gospel of Jesus Christ itself. I think we need today to have a redefinition and redirection of evangelicalism, which both recovers the past and is able to state the great cardinal truths of evangelicalism and then distill it to a single sentence, which is clear and of which we can be proud. This is what we believe, this is where we stand. By God’s grace, there’s a deep purpose to all that we’re about.

Questions and Answers

Now I know that to many people that sounds absolutely moonshine. The reformation of anything, let alone the reformation of evangelicals, is absolute moonshine to many people in our culture. I don’t know what many of you think, but I suggest as one of the wider contexts of your ministry, it is one of the crying needs of the church today, for the church’s sake, for the gospel’s sake, and also for the sake of evangelicals.

How should we relate to sociology and psychology today in terms of plundering the Egyptians?

Well, let’s start with the biblical principle, where you ended. The command to plunder the Egyptians was the Lords. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with plundering the Egyptians. Where they went wrong was using the plunder to set up a golden calf. In that balance, they were free to use but forbidden to idolize. That’s the challenge. What I’m saying here, I hope no one takes as a form of Luddism. When we look at modernity, we are free to plunder modernity — its insights, its technologies. We are free to plunder them, but we must not, by God’s grace, set up a golden calf. Now, that’s the theological principle.

How to do it in practice is a tougher one. Now, when you come to say what Neil Postman has described as the shift from exposition to entertainment, from words to images, or as Jacques Ellul calls “the humiliation of the word,” we have to critique this theologically first. In other words, we have to ask ourselves theologically, as Ellul does, “What for us is our stakes in words?” Is this just a cultural shift that we must adapt to? There’s no question that while much of the megachurch movement just says, “This shift has happened, we must adapt to it, “and so on, there’s no theological critique. This is theologically a disastrous thing, unless we recognize it but also criticize it.

In other words, in Scripture, there are clearly images within words. It’s not that words are image-less, that’s a stereotype. The image is connected with unbelief and idolatry or eschatology — “Blessed are the pure and heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). But by and large, apart from the period when people could see Christ face to face, words and hearing and obedience are tied in with faith. Our stake as Christians and Jews in the primacy of words and speech is enormous.

Stupidly, I can’t remember the title, but there’s a wonderful book out now by a Jewish rabbi called David Wolpe called Speech and Silence. It is an impassioned Jewish argument for words. He puts Christians to shame. It all grows out of a deeply moving experience when his own mother lost her ability to speak because of a stroke. Through that experience, as a rabbi, he went back to understand the biblical view of words and the wonder and majesty of words. I read his book, for instance, his chapter on Moses is absolutely titanic. It was the man who learned to speak, because Moses is a man of action who wasn’t very good at words.

He goes wrong when he takes to action, for instance, striking the rock and so on, rather than speaking to the rock. Moses has to learn that words affect history under God more than his actions. I was deeply moved by the book, because much of our evangelism today has gone the other way to action images, etc. We’ve bought into this aspect of modernity, which is disastrous.

Now, back to your first part. Obviously, our culture doesn’t even understand, let alone appreciate, transcendence. You have generations coming into the church, many of whom — though not all, like in parts of California and other parts — do not appreciate transcendence. The challenge of the pastor is to recognize the spiritual profile of the people coming in. It’s one thing to be all things to all people to reach them. The question is, where are they five years later as disciples? For example, I remember in Manila when I gave the speech on modernity for the first time, I had a whole number of Californians that were wiz-kid, missionary types on my case. We’re in a day of MTV, cartoons, and USA Today. You can’t expect people to read the New York Times type apologetics. That’s exactly right.

I’m not quarreling with that. If people are USA Today readers, or cartoon readers, fine, but all things to all men is in order to win them to Christ. It’s not all things to all men to join them where they are and leave them where they are, but to win them to Christ. If we reach someone through the gospel according to Peanuts, that’s legitimate. Or if we use MTV, that’s legitimate. I’ve made television documentaries. But five years later, if they can’t read the book of Romans, something’s wrong. We have a generation that has not only been sort of won to Christ on this, but weaned to Christ on this, and they’re absolutely incapable of meat.

They’re still stuck on not only the milk but the soda of the gospel. That’s the tragedy. Or put it another way. One of the questions in the pastor’s mind should not simply be transcendence but tension. The first movement of the gospel is identification. We become all things to all people. But the second movement is one of tension. If at the end of good teaching, people are not aware of where the gospel and the world are strongly in tension, we’ve betrayed the gospel. I remember, again — not to criticize some of the Washington preachers — I heard another series on the Beatitudes my first year in DC. Fine stuff, in this case, it was expository preaching.

But what I couldn’t believe was he’d preached these things from the Beatitudes — “Blessed are the poor in spirit” — but he disembodied biblical truth. Here, you have “blessed are the poor in spirit” in a culture which says if you’re poor in spirit, you’re crazy. Rather, blessed are the number ones, blessed are the winners, blessed are those who go for their own whatever. He didn’t bring the two in tension. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” all floated away as a spiritual euphemism when people were going out into Washington, which taught them anything but being poor in spirit. If he taught what the word says and then what the world now does and made the tension so strong, that tension would’ve been the springboard for Christian discipleship.

How does Karl Barth’s theology with his confrontational style relate to how Christian discipleship should exist in modernity?

You’d have to bring on Ben or one of the genuine theologians in the group. I’m a poor sociologist, and I’m not competent to talk on Barth. But obviously Barth’s whole confrontational style of his crisis theology, which put a high place for the no, fits into what I’m saying here. But I would not look so much to Barth or any particular theologian on that, but say the gospel itself does. It’s both a yes and a no. Jesus’ teaching is deeply appealing. He says, “Come unto me . . .” And he says, “If what you’re doing offends you, cut your hand off.” There are parts of the gospel that are yes, and parts that are a very strong no.

Karl Barth, as opposed to liberalism, which was yes, yes, yes to the point of accommodation and compromise, was a heavy no, because he saw that Protestantism was a massive form of surrender to the culture, which had led to the rise of the political problems that he faced in his time, such as Nazism and so on. I think that’s right. I think the evangelicalism of today will be a massive form of cultural surrender, a massive form of cultural adaptation, for good reasons, for good motivation.

In the aim of being all things to all men, we’ve often just joined them where we are rather than going to them and bringing them back and having churches that are distinctively different from the culture at the end of the day. I don’t know enough about Barth to compare those two, but obviously, his movement of standing over against Protestant liberalism was a good movement. But let’s go back to the gospel to root it rather than to Barth.

What are the things that we should be doing in light of what you’ve said today?

At the risk of being sort of in the moonshine category, let me suggest some things that were worth praying about. Do you remember that a generation ago, Billy Graham, Carl Henry, and Harold Ockenga, and all those people, had conferences, like the Beatenberg conference. They got together, prayed, thought, and really under God, wrestled with things that were useful to evangelicals. We thank God for say the founding of CT, the founding of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and many of the things which were the institutional creations of a deeply concerned, strategically-thinking, prayerful evangelical leadership.

One thing would be to call a round table of some of the leading evangelicals and ask them to say, “Where have we come from? Who are we and what are we facing?” We should think about that and come together, Beatenberg style, for a week of prayer and wrestling with each other. It’s not anyone’s best thoughts, but rather people can throw out stuff. Then, let’s get together and wrestle in prayer before the Lord, so a leadership emerges that can say, “This is who we are, this is what got us here, this is where we’re going,” and so on. That could be the beginning of initiatives to suggest practical things.

Now one clear thing is that, by God’s grace, we need some time under God in the next 10 years which amounts to a call for reformation. It would be our equivalent of the 95 thesis. Now you can’t plan that, as it were, to say 11 o’clock we’ll have a press conference and that. Luther didn’t do it that way. Certainly, we can’t in the modern world. But somehow providentially by the Spirit’s leading there will become a group of men and women, an individual or whatever, who will in a book or whatever it is that does it will cry out in for reformation. That’s what we need as one of the first things.

Another of the components we need, I think, is the one I mentioned earlier, a covenant. The third thing I think we need, and I’m just throwing these out without much explanation, is that we need a catechism today. Think of the place that catechisms have meant in the past in terms of initiation. They are twofold, either converts coming into the church so they’re truly initiated and grow as disciples clearly, or young people growing and maturing in their faith so that they know what it is they’re maturing into. We need the covenant that unites evangelicals reduced to a simple catechism so that young evangelicals or new evangelicals really know this is what we believe and we’re clear about it.

Here’s another thing I’ll say. This is even riskier. We need some form of an evangelical council. Now don’t misunderstand me, we’re not Catholics, but while we can critique the magisterium of the Catholic Church for all its corruption and its authoritarianism, we are in such chaos that we lack even what might be its biblical equivalent. In other words, we need a council of leaders, theologically, astute, spiritual immature, etc., who in the light of the agreed covenant can say, “We need to check on this movement or that thing,” and call people to account where they’re wrong. Then there would be an ongoing sense of leadership in the council.

Now you take, say, the NAE Council of Theology. How often does it meet? What does it say? It’s absolutely toothless. Evangelicalism is dying for lack of a biblical equivalent of what the Catholics have distorted in their magisterium. I’ll just call it a council, but something like that is deeply necessary and one could go on down the line. Powerful leadership today could really see certain things that can be done and need to be done, that address the movement as a whole to bring it back to some of its biblical reformation principles.


The things I’m addressing are mostly areas where evangelicals have turned away from the heritage of people like that. Now, Carl Henry’s biography — I actually haven’t read it, though I’ve heard him give it several times — is marked by a number of conscious moves against things which he and the people of his generation called for. Just to take two examples, one was the failure to build an evangelical university and to address evangelical anti-intellectualism when it was possible.

They had, I think in the late 1970s, something like $75 million committed to such a university. Through a number of reasons, it all fell apart. Or you could take, more importantly, I think, the retreat of Christianity Today, the magazine, from Washington to Carol Stream, which culturally was a disaster. It was a retreat, a deliberate retreat, and we no longer have, because of it, an evangelical flagship of ideas.

Now, you could go on down the line and I’m not in the business of critiquing them. I thank God for them as friends and as great leaders and we could make points here and there. Billy Graham makes the point himself that if he had his life to live over again, what would he do? He would study a lot more and pray a lot more. They themselves are critical of themselves, which is magnificent and part of their humility. But the things I’m addressing are actually when evangelicalism thought it was going on beyond them or ignored them quite deliberately went against them. I think it’s in, often, sad ways, but the simple point is they at least thought constructively, strategically, and theologically about evangelicalism. That’s not what’s being done by today’s leaders, by and large.

How should we think about David Wells and his critique of professionalism in ministry?

David Wells is addressing the whole modern notion of professionalization. Sociologically, the modern notion of profession grew out of a Christian understanding of profession and was related to the whole notion of the profession of faith, but the modern notion is much more secularizing.

As sociologists have analyzed it, professions like lawyers and doctors and so on have all gone through the ceilings, stratospherically, in terms of respect, whereas the minister has slumped. There’s no question that the minister today has on the one hand an under-recognized professional status and on the other hand a sort of overburdened expectation of the number of things he or she’s expected to do, which is utterly impossible. Early on, one of the movements was this movement to be compensated by gaining some sort of cultural standing. As David analyzed it and historians of the DMin have analyzed it, the DMin is a degree which gives that compensatory sense of status.

The stress is on the D, not the Min. But as anyone knows who’s got one or has done it or has looked at it from the outside, the Dmin is not the DPhil or the PhD. It is a bogus doctorate. Let’s be blunt, it is a bogus doctorate, and yet many ministers have gone for it as a matter of prestige rather than the content of their courses, because it gives them a certain standing in society, and no one questions whether it came out of an envelope or whether it came from this course or that. It sounds as good as a Harvard PhD, at the end of the day. Incidentally, I would say we had some moving phone calls after David wrote that chapter.

I mean it in a serious way. We had one PCA pastor who gave up his doctorate the week after. He was actually doing a PhD, but he said he was doing it for the wrong reasons, for professional standing and reading David’s chapter about the DMin made him realize although he was doing a PhD, he was doing it for external reasons and he wanted to make a statement his credentials before the Lord, and they weren’t relying on these other things. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either the DMin or the PhD, but we need to examine why we’re doing it and what we’re counting on when we’re doing it. David’s chapter is a good solitary warning on that point. We’ll make this the last, yes?

Who are the evangelicals that you think are primarily at fault in these things? And what are the various “chill factors” that are keeping us out of the public square and keeping us from influencing the culture?

When I say I’m faulting evangelicals, I mean us. I mean me. I’m an evangelical, so everything I’ve said touches me too. The second thing is, of course, there are exceptions. There are as well as the weighty apologetics, which almost nobody reads outside seminaries, there are very good persuasive stuff. Phillip Johnson’s stuff on evolution, that’s presumably what you’re referring to. Thank God for that. But they are by and large, the exception.

Peter Kreeft is a Catholic, and CS Lewis and Schaffer have good stuff. There are the other exceptions, but there aren’t that many living persuasive books today that you can give, say to non-Christians. Now, to pick up your other point though, you are right. In many forums of debate, public schools or television or the national discussion, there are various chill factors which squeeze us out even if we have good arguments. Part of our persuasiveness was to go in and sort of break holes in the ice so the Christian arguments can get through.

This is very much in Washington. The whole Williamsburg Charter effort, if you heard of what was done in religious liberty, was an attempt to open the public square to religious liberty once again. In other words, we were not the sacred public square. We were not the naked public square, which froze out religion, but a civil public square. The Jew was free to enter, the Marxist, the Muslim, the atheist, the humanist, and certainly the Christian. We went in to try and clear away the chill factors.

Sometimes the chill factor is a ridiculous view of the separation of church and state. Sometimes it’s an extreme multiculturalism, which says every diversity can speak except the traditional majorities, and so on. There are various forms of chill factors, which freeze the discussion over so that Christians can’t get in. We need to address these with humor, creativity, and argument to open it up for ourselves, but for everybody. Then when it’s open, we should enter and engage. I’m on one of the talk shows in Washington next week, exactly on this point. It’s about religion in public life, following the inauguration.

But we constantly have not only to make our own specific arguments, but stand for the rights of everybody, which opens up the public square for them, but also for us. That’s what we haven’t done recently. One non-Christian turned to me sharply after the Williamsburg Charter and said, “It’s all very well for you, but most evangelicals don’t do this.” Then she said, “Evangelicals speak of justice, but they sound as if they’re talking of just us.” That’s the problem with many of our witnesses in the public square. We have our own points to make, but we need to open the public square for everybody, recognizing only as we keep it open for them do we keep it open for ourselves.