Your View of Evangelicals

<Note: this is a longer post than usual due to the importance of this topic.>

Over the past decade or so, the primary segment of growth in churches in North America has been among, so-called, evangelical churches. While this is not to say some churches outside of the evangelical tradition (read: segment) aren’t growing, by and large their denominations and networks are not seeing growth. This means that evangelicals are a focal group in America.

So who are evangelicals?

Well, that is a complicated answer. There plenty of theories about the nature of evangelicals, where they came from, who they are…and those theories have been around for about 100 years. (Seriously, look back historically 100 years and we’re having the same discussions…but I’ll move on.) Evangelicalism arose in the late 1800s out of a revivalist Protestantism that was a response to the growing secularization of Christianity.1 (Obviously there is much more to be said here.)

Since its inception, evangelicalism has always struggled with its own identity.2 After the turn of the 20th century, more conservative elements of evangelicalism began their own offshoot that would be called fundamentalism. In many ways the first third of the 20th century saw a culture war between fundamentalists and modernists3 (what we might call…wait for it…liberals.) Also during this time evangelicalism continued to grow. Yet the movement still lacked a coherent identity, defined leadership, and uniform doctrine.4 The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 is seen as the tipping point where evangelicalism (and fundamentalism) lost their place in the culture and moved on. Over the next five decades they separated and started a sub-culture that grew and thrived. The results of this, kind of, cultural hibernation was a continent wide movement that manifested itself in the 1970s through the 1990s in any number of movements and cultural forms. Yet two distinct streams emerged: evangelicals and fundamentalists.

All of that history is important, because we still face challenges today. Other than the obvious issues, evangelicals are a rather large segment of American society that is transdenominational, accepts basic orthodoxy of the Christian faith, is often expressed in free church forms (though not exclusively), and enjoys rapid adaptation for ecclesial forms and models. If you were to look at the 100 largest churches in America today, it would be almost a list of evangelical churches. Evangelicalism’s numerical and movement success has given it a kind of cultural credibility that is not found in many forms.

However, the challenge remains: Who are evangelicals?

Traditionally in Christianity a group, or movement, is identified by their beliefs, leader(s), and method worship. Evangelicals are an amebic form. Many scholars, usually historians, have developed some helpful definitions of who, or what, makes an evangelical. You can check the books listed above and find their definitions.

One other truth for evangelicals is that too often we forget that fundamentalist wander back in and through our networks, churches, and conversations. Make no mistake, fundamentalists are different evangelicals in degree and definition.5 This doesn’t make fundamentalists bad people, I have some very good friends who are very convinced fundamentalists. However, we need to remember that their views are different and the vociferousness with which they defend their views is extremely different. Fundamentalists can be part of evangelicalism, so long as we patiently remind them that our unity is found in some basic principles and that we should welcome those who affirm them and proclaim the same Gospel that we proclaim.

For evangelicalism, in its history, has struggled with this question. However, in general, evangelicalism has been able to accommodate disparate groups once the foundations of belief are established. These foundational beliefs are what is generally accepted as orthodox Chrisitanity. Now this doesn’t make one evangelical or not (you can be a mainline Episcopalian and hold these.) What makes one evangelical often is about their view of: Scripture, mission, salvation, Jesus, and a few other issues.6

Historically, in evangelicalism we can find room for:

  • egalitarians with complementarians and even patriarchialists
  • young earth creationists with old earthers and even theistic evolutionists
  • creation care advocates with global warming naysayers
  • democrats with republicans and even libertarians
  • dispensationalists with covenant theologians and even progressive dispensationalists
  • premillennialists with postmillennialists and even amillennialists
  • high church with low church and even no church
  • eternal punishment with annihilationists
  • progressive worship with liturgists and even rappers


and even those who view

  • dynamic theory with verbal plenary inspiration and even dictation theory


I can go on and on about this. Too often we are pushed to extremes of these positions by people who earnestly hold the extreme position and don’t realize that, for evangelicalism, it has historically been a big tent held up by several key poles of belief and action. When those with extreme positions attempt to push out others who have a legitimately evangelical view we must say, “stop.”

Too often our desire to remove someone from the larger evangelical conversation has to do with our own misunderstanding of historical evangelical belief than it does with a shortcoming of someone’s position. Now, there are some positions that evangelicals have been nearly unanimous on (universal salvation, denial of miracles, denial of Christ’s divinity, etc.) We can and should say there are things that are outside the realm of evangelical belief. Our tent is not so large that it covers those who blaspheme Christ.

As we confront an increasingly (if not totally) post-Christian America we need to look around and assess our options. Do we really want to spar with Gospel driven, Jesus affirming evangelical Christians over issues which have never defined who is and isn’t evangelical? Or do we want to move the poles in closer and leave many more out of the tent?

For my life and ministry (and perhaps I am too generous) I simply believe that once we staked out the appropriate boundaries, centered on Jesus, and begin becoming more and more devoted to Him, we are stronger together than we are apart.

Because the reality of our situation is that we agree on far more than we disagree on. We are closer theologically than we are apart. We worship the same Jesus Christ who is risen and will come again. As a lost and dying world looks for hope in the midst of the growing darkness we need the light of Christ that will bring them in and not running around blowing out each other’s candles.

Just some thoughts. Apologies for the length.

One more note: On Monday I’ll post up a discussion about views of inspiration to round out the conversation.

  1. 1. See George Marsden Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, James Davison Hunter Evangelicalism, and David Bebbington The Dominance of Evangelicalism for background info that is far better than I can provide here. 

  2. 2. Marsden, Understanding 64-65 

  3. 3. George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture 2nd Ed. 171-175 

  4. 4. Joel Carptener Revive Us Again 13-32 

  5. 5. Marsden, Fundamentalism 4, “Fundamentalists were evangelical Christians, close to the traditions of the dominant American revivalist estbalsihemtn of the nineteenth century, who in the twentieth century militantly opposed both
    modernism in theology and the cultural changes that modernism endorsed…Fundamentalism was a “movement” in the sense of a tendency or development in Christian thought that gradually took on its own identity as a patchwork coalition of representatives or other movements.” Marsden has been criticized for this view, perhaps rightly so for aspects. A larger discussion to have is whether fundamentalism persists today, I believe it does, and how it has changed in the past twenty years. 

  6. 6. George Barna has a helpful list that reflects evangelical attitudes, often better than historians. 


Generational Divides

Growing up in a multi-generational church, I encountered people who had, themselves, grown up attending church in a horse and buggy and other, like myself, who had only know going in the family car. It was a diverse church with a rich love for Christ. Differences in generations did cause some inherent friction.

Robert Webber’s book The Younger Evangelicals was one of the first books I read immediately following graduation from college. As I served as an intern at my home church before heading off to seminary, it was an important text to soak in it contents. We stood, in the summer of 2001, at an important crossroads culturally and spiritually. Unbeknownst to us all, we were about to enter into a social earthquake perpetuated by the acts of September 11, 2001.

Webber’s book speaks to a great many things and is a wonderful read. One of the consistently good things he does in the text is to develop charts about the three unique generations within our churches and how they approach Christianity uniquely. This chart is adapted from his text:

Each of the three generational categories refer to believers who reach adulthood during that particular space. While I’ve adapted some of the dates and descriptions based on my own research, much of this is still Webber’s original thought. It is a good chart detailing how unique generations view different aspects of Christianity. (They are fairly general observations and not definite categories, there are always exceptions and nuance.)

One of the challenges that arises in a multigenerational church is having all three of these perspectives present as we do life together, church together, and spend time together. Notice how the different generations approach even basic things such as worship type or our underlying theological approach.

As a result our churches and church leaders must find ways to bridge the generational divide and appeal to all facets of the church. One way that has developed over the past twenty or so years is having unique worship services that are usually age segmented with different styles. We then must find ways to bring people together outside of that or our churches remain polarized and fail to accomplish some of the basic functions of church life.

There is certainly more to be said about this kind of a chart, but perhaps it is a worthwhile starting point. When we look at how the progression has taken place it is compelling to consider how flexible our churches and ecclesiology can be to minister to so many unique generations.

What are you seeing in your churches when it comes to generational divides? Do generations divide or do they find space together? What are some wins you’ve seen happen in creating effective cross-generational ministry?

May 2013



Snap Judgments: Social Media Challenges

The past several days saw a flare up in the blogosphere over a possible attribution error involving the venerable theologian, N.T. Wright and a book he was purported to have written or at least given a contribution.

This was first posted by Michael Bird who brought up an issue concerning a soon to be released book titled Breaking Beautiful: The Promise of Truth in a Fractured World. Though the item has been pulled from the (thought still up on their UK site) you can go see a page over at Barnes & Noble’s site. According to a loose reconstruction of events, it appears Bird saw this release and contacted Wright who was not familiar with the text. Bird then sent off the later redacted post questioning the reliability of the book in light of his conversation with Wright.

Well, this fired up the social media world and soon we had a number of blogs and twitter discussions going on about this issue. Soon Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus noted the discussion and soon also had its resolution. By the afternoon (US Central Time) Bird had posted a resolution post after Tim Suttle had offered a “confessional” post detailing his side of the situation. Apparently, Suttle had been under contract with a publisher, The House Studio, to provide groups content behind Wright’s videos on the topic.

Soon enough Elizabeth Perry, editor at The House Studio, offered a public statement to Bird’s piece and ChristianityToday’s Liveblog had a chronicle of the situation. It seems the situation arose out of confusing marketing, a quick decision to post a perception of a situation, high level intellectuals were involved, and the pire of fire that is social media was soon ignited. My purpose here is not to assess blame or who is right or wrong. In fact, I think the comments fields of the many posts above will give any reader a better view of this. However, it does serve to remind us of a few lessons:

  • Always proceed with generosity and be willing to fact check before quickly posting. We’ve all seen what happens when news organizations post unfounded stories. Theologians and church leaders have a higher calling and that means we take intentional steps to seek resolution before making assumptions.
  • Publishers are not above reproach and can slide too often towards pushing celebrity over substance in the process. Though I am uncertain if The House Studio did conspire to do anything wrong, they appear to have done the proper thing in removing this initial marketing. We can and should be thankful for their discernment here.
  • We should all be equally vexed and thankful for the power of social media. Though it provides ample opportunities to exacerbating problems, it also can provide quick resolution when cooler heads prevail. This episode, I think we can honestly assess, is a good example of both. Imagine what would have happened 25 or more years ago if this had gone to a major professional journal. It would have taken years to unwind and reputations would have been irreparably sullied. Now, within one day, we have resolution and peace.
  • For my purposes here and elsewhere in my writing, I believe Matthew 18:15-17 mandates that I personally attempt to call, message, or contact a person before I personally question something about their motives and actions. Perception across so great a divide as the internet is dangerous.
  • Along these lines, when it comes to professional discussions I am in agreement with Dr Carson on matters concerning published matter, in personal ministry discussions I am challenged by Scripture to inquire privately first and publish publicly second.


We all must share a burden of openness and generosity. When we do not we fail to uphold the character and calling of Christ. This episode is, hopefully, instructive. I am thankful for theological leaders like Michael Bird who have a passion for truth and academic integrity. Without excellent leaders like him our churches would be worse off. I am also thankful for writers and ministry leaders like Tim Suttle who willingly partner with leaders to bring wonderful resources to our churches to help grow our people and who speak publicly about their own questions on publications. I am also thankful for publishers like The House Studio who are willing to seek out leading edge curriculum to help our people grow.

Ultimately, we can all be thankful for the grace and charity that go before us all and help unite us in our own shortcomings while serving the Kingdom of God.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34

May 2013



Strategic Gaps

“A strategy gap refers to the gap between the current performance of an organisation and its desired performance as expressed in its mission, objectives, goals and the strategy for achieving them.” (source: strategic gap)

“A Forecasting technique in which the difference between the desired performance levels and the extrapolated (see extrapolation) results of the current performance levels is measured and examined. This measurement indicates what needs to be done and what resources are required to achieve the goals of an organization’s strategy.” (source: Business Dictionary)

Maybe as a kid you rode your bike on the sidewalk (because the street is too dangerous.) You’ll remember how the sidewalk would have a seems in the concrete every several feet? Now think of what might happen if you’re riding along and an entire section of concrete is missing. What will you have to do? You’ll have to get off your bike, walk around, or maybe try to pedal your bike through grass on the side. Either way your progress is inhibited and it takes away the smoothness of the ride. Its kinda of frustrating. 

One of the challenges of leading organizations like churches comes as we attempt to move from point a to b to c to … whatever point in our strategic vision only to find our work disrupted by gaps in the process. These gaps come from a variety of places. Imagine, if you will, that strategic gaps are like missing parts of a sidewalk.

This is how strategic gaps are experienced in your church. They mess up a smooth ride.

Strategic gaps stand between an articulated strategic vision and an accomplished that vision. They often arise from shortcomings in leadership competencies and resources for sustainability. Of course that simply means: lack execution.

All too common is an instance where the existing strategic plan is unknown or constantly shifting. In these instances, gaps become gorges that swallow your functionality and inhibit progress as an organization. In churches this happens just like in other organizations (because we really aren’t that different functionally.) The senior tier leader(s) are unable to frame and cast the strategy to the staff so they can go out and accomplish to goals. Along these lines poorly informed subordinates are unable to accomplish goals they know nothing about. This leads to the image of riding your bike at night without a headlight and hitting one of these gaps in the sidewalk. Ouch!

Constant assessment of the vision, strategy, and results helps in both identifying and filling gaps before they are met on the pathway. Doing a consistent strategy review with key team voices will aid in reducing strategic gaps.

Critical to any strategic review is knowing when and who: when to have this check up? and who to invite? Not everyone on your team has a voice that matters equally in this process. Also, it is not entirely essential to have all ministry areas represented. If the results measures indicate that a gap exists in, say, the groups ministry. Then it is important to visit with the groups staff leadership, then possibly involving lay people in the process. This isn’t a singular meeting, but possibly a series of meetings which openly discuss (in a safe environment) reality and end up with results.

Of course one the larger challenges for too many churches is that they lack resources to acquire and hire individuals who have high talent and an ideal gift set. Not having the best individuals occupying the right seats ultimately leads to more of a skills gaps than a strategic gap. However, alignment with the overall strategic vision is central to accomplishing your goals and minimizing gaps.

One final thought: Several studies of significant organizations have looked closely at the issues of strategic gaps and how they impact the final accomplishment of a vision. They all have discovered that 70%-80% of failure in accomplishing a strategic plan comes from execution mistakes and not a faulty plan. We should remember this, it isn’t our plan that is creating a rough ride it is probably is our inattention to strategic gaps that is doing this.

What kind of strategic gaps are common in churches? What do we call them in the real world? How do we bridge the gap?


Weekly Wrap Up

TSA Might Not Be a Bad Idea at Children’s Check-In

7 Critical Areas of Church Security free eBook via church

Happy Pastors are Productive Pastors

Let’s create a happy work culture…especially in church. Here’s a good piece discussing it.

Southern Baptist Futures

Ed Stetzer Wonders about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention…though his thoughts on the unstoppable move towards post-denominationalism are worth reading too.

Sola Scriptura Thoughts

Kevin Vanhoozer on Sola Scriptura via Credo Magazine…if there is a better evangelical philosopher working on hermeneutical issues, I don’t know about them.

On Christian Century Magazine

A good Hufington Post piece about the mainline Protestant magazine Christian Century.

Worst. Sermon. Ever.

Michael Bird has some thoughts on a contender for the worst sermon ever. I’d say worst sermon this decade, but ever seems a bit too far reaching.

Then we get another take

And here’s another take. Just hop down to the Update portion.

You Should Hire a Better Boss for Yourself

Hiring a Better Boss is critical for those in all fields. Notice the questions at the bottom of this post.

Cooperating in Ministry

Chad Brand asks if churches are independent or interdependent in the New Testament. He says both, I’d agree but add…and then some.

Is Myers Briggs a Good Thing?

Are you using Myers-Briggs? It has some shortcomings, but it isn’t that bad of a tool.

The Pope said what?

Here’s a recent piece on the Vatican Radio website which gets into a bit of Pope Francis’ soteriology. I’m not nearly as excited about this as other things the new pontiff has brought. This is concerning.

Makoto Fujimura’s Commencement Address

Before you do anything else, read Makoto Fujimura’s commencement address at Messiah College last week. You’ll be thankful for him and his gracious ministry.

May 2013

Link Dump


Engaging the Post-Christian Now

Last night while I was developing a four week Bible study series on engaging culture, I ran across a wonderful video of Alan Hirsch speaking at Q Austin about “Post-Christian Mission.” Check it out by clicking this image:


I’m glad Alan Hirsch has this kind of prophetic voice among Christian leaders. A couple of his books, particularly The Shaping of Things to Come and The Forgotten Ways, have indelibly shaped my missiology and ecclesiology. His talk at Q talks honestly about some important issues confronting church leaders. Though it was given about four years ago, it is bearing out in our contemporary culture.

Though there is much to talk about in this presentation, one of the central issues which he gets into  is the idea of the missiological distance of people within a post-Christian culture.

Hirsch, who is admittedly drawing influence from Ralph Winter’s piece Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge (go and download the PDF and read it), discussed five point of missiological distance. For a church starting at M0, each step represents at least one major cultural boundary between the church and that person. BTW, I’d say most Millennials are at least M2 to M3 from their local church.

Notice in the first graphic the reach of traditional church programming is limited to that first step. One point which Hirsch helpfully brings up, is that for many of our churches we still require people to come back to us. (Remember his point about attractional being extractional.) He has a good point here and it should provoke us leaders to consider what it is we are calling people to do in mission and in evangelism.

Now, I’m not entirely sold that the attractional model is either bad or ineffective. I’ll probably talk about that more later. Suffice to say, that while I don’t believe numbers define success, it does appear that the wave of church growth which is occurring in North America is primarily happening in larger, progressive methodology churches. That isn’t a bad thing because of the collective sending and missionary culture developed by most of those churches.

Key to this movement is how churches, of any size really, engage in and cast vision for an incarnational missionary culture among their people for those where we live, work, and play. By dedicating ourselves to this kind of incarnational missionary culture (probably best defined in the term missional) we can move more broadly across cultural distance and bring the Gospel to those who are far and allow them to remain far culturally without having to extract them. As a result they become the near cultural missionaries to their spheres of influence.

This kind of thinking is revolutionizing the church in the 21st century. It is also something we should be thankful for and ready to engage in. Though there are aspects of Hirsch’s work that I am reticent about, I think his work here should provoke us to think about how we can shift our culture to motivate people to be missionally minded.

If for no other reason than it appropriately integrates horizontal movement as a proper metric of spiritual maturity. More on all of this later.

So how are you engaging missional movements in your local church? How are you casting vision to your people and motivating them to capture great things for Christ? How are you seeing movement beyond the M1 culture in your area?