Written by: Don Matzat
Os Guinness, a leading Evangelical apologist and Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum in Burke, Virginia, shares his thoughts on the sad conditions within the Evangelical Churches.
“In many ways, the evangelical churches are much more reflecting our modern culture that they are really being shaped by the Gospel.” Os Guinness
What is an “Evangelical”?
Today the word “evangelical” creates incredible confusion. Evangelicalism is diverse, confused and has lost a sense of doctrine and truth, but I believe the word is worth keeping. I am one of those who say that it is worth fighting for. An “Evangelical” is a person who defines his life by the first things of the Gospel of Christ. It is a truth-defined thing and keeps driving us back to the Lordship of Christ and the arrival of the Kingdom. Many say “Evangelicalism” is not enough, and they want to go beyond it to something new.
When I was a boy, Evangelicals were those who believed something, you know – one, two, three, four, five . . . truths. They actually believed something! In the 70’s, it slowly became people who were institutionally driven. You know, you read the right magazines, usually Christianity Today, graduated from the right seminaries; you’ve been through the right youth movements, and you were an Evangelical. What you believed was no longer the primary thing.
In the 80’s, Evangelicalism became a coalition of causes what you were particularly against, rather than what you were for. Abortion defined us.
We have come a long way from anything that is truth defined and confessionally driven.
How did these changes evolve?
The starting point came after the 60’s with the thoughts, “We are irrelevant. We can’t be stick-in-the-muds. We’ve got to get in touch.” And what are the ways? So we discovered psychology, or we dove into political activism, or we began to trust the latest marketing techniques. There are things we need to use, many Evangelicals feel, because we need to regain relevance and assert our power again.
Why have Evangelicals become so deeply involved in politics?
In the early Reagan years, Evangelicals were opened to the seduction. They felt a proximity to the President and to the White House. They thought they had influence. But the deepest things in this country can not be done by political action – by passing legislation or by voting people into office. Evangelicals have trusted politics to do more than it can do and thus they have turned it into an idol. Abortion is an important issue, but as William Wilberforce said, “we do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.” Means either serve our ends or subvert our ends. I often hear the little phrase, “Whatever it takes . . .” The pragmatic comes before the principled and that is always counter-productive. Principled ways of doing things are more effective in the long run. They are not only right. They are wise.
What is wrong with using modern insights and methods as long as they are effective?
All of the tools and insights of modernity are dangerous, but not when they are overtly hostile to Christianity, because people say, “That’s hostile! That’s against us. I don’t like that.” And we resist it. They are the most insidious when they are beneficial.
I often use the little illustration: One hundred years ago if you wanted to start a new church, you would have consulted with others in the fellowship, and you would have prayed and asked the Lord to guide. Today, you can just run your demographic statistics through, use your telemarketing, and within three months you can have a booming church. Without realizing it, there is no need for God, and that’s the danger. If the church is not growing, we will use marketing. If we are not helping people, we will use psychology.
Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ a sufficient solution to the ills of society?
By the preaching of the Gospel, we are not talking about an individualistic, narrow, subjective, pietistic thing. The Gospel affects the heart and the whole of life. It touches a heart, changes a family, changes a neighborhood, changes a workplace and eventually touches the whole of life as a salt and light penetrating influence. There is nothing more powerful for taking on evil and unbelief than the Gospel itself.
But we’ve shrunk the Gospel. Take even something like being born-again. It’s unquestionably biblical. But in the past, conversion was the deepest, most lasting, radical change the world had ever known. Today, it becomes a rather shallow suburban experience that does not change much at all . . . A generation ago, Fundamentalists were caricatured for their hellfire and brimstone preaching. We’d almost be happy to hear that today. There is such a soft, seductive, commercial gospel that has nothing of any toughness at all, let alone hell.
Is there anything wrong with “marketing” the church or developing a Mission Statement?
Not unless we sell out the Gospel. One famous Church Growth advocate said that the audience, not the message is sovereign – a good marketing maxim. But it is absolute heresy theologically. Scripturally speaking, the Word is always sovereign, not the audience. Some churches have created a “boomer gospel”, or a “suburban gospel” and sold out the true Gospel.
A lot of churches have a passion for the Mission Statement. I think many of them are orienting themselves around tasks and putting the focus on doing and working and so on rather than on being. We don’t have to work at something all the time. We are the people of God – worshipping, loving, fellowshipping . . .