No Place for Complacency
In this book you describe the evangelical shift from church to parachurch. How has this shift affected evangelical theology?
What I have argued is that churches, in their functioning, are becoming more and more "para," and in their appearance less and less identifiable as churches. All of this has been done out of the best of motives and with the aim of reaching Boomers, busters, and millennials. However, it has been done with such cultural naïveté, and with so little biblical substance, that only miniscule amounts of Christian faith are surviving.
Willow Creek Community Church recently announced plans to abandon some key tenets of its seeker-sensitive strategy. What is the theological significance of this development?
None. Bill Hybels has, I believe, the very best of motives, but he and his church are sailing rudderless in our cultural waters. Or, to change the image, he is like a CEO who shows up at the shareholders' meeting with very poor bottom-line results. So, what does he do? Instead of carrying out a serious diagnosis of what has gone wrong, he simply rolls out a new business plan that, unfortunately, has many of the same inherent weaknesses in it. The bottom line outcome will be no different five years, or ten years from now, from what it is today.
You decry the cultural captivity of market-driven and Emergent churches. In what ways has culture adversely affected classical evangelicalism's theology?
If the marketers and Emergents, in their different ways, have been rolling over to our culture, I see classical evangelicals as having failed, not so much in compromising with it, as in not engaging it. Biblical preaching and doctrinal thinking alike begin with the Bible but must then enter the worlds people actually inhabit. It is good to know what that biblical truth is; it is even better not to relegate that truth to our private, internal world but to take it into the public world, the world of our workplace, and television, and politics, and wherever we are engaged with others and live out faithfully what we know to be true there.
You suspect that the children of church "marketers" and Emergents will become "full-blown liberals." How do you counsel those leaders from each group who want no such thing?
I would counsel them not to be so naïve about the capacities of postmodern culture to remake all of us in its own image. I would further counsel them to think afresh about what apostolic Christianity looked like. At its heart was the apostolic teaching, which we now have in Scripture, which was the be "guarded," "taught," and passed on to the next generation. That is where the breakdown is happening.
You have written a number of jeremiads against evangelicals over the years. Looking back, which criticism has hit the bull's eye? Have subsequent events eased your concerns on any point?
I am greatly encouraged that I am no longer a lonely voice! I am finding more and more people, especially in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who are fed up with marketed faith, which they see as a massive sellout to consumerism, and with the Emergents, who are making such sorry capitulations to postmodern attitudes. I am seeing more and more people who are turning away from these trendy experiments because they want the real thing. They want a faith that is robust, real, tough, able to withstand the challenges of a modernized culture, and one that is on the same kind of scale as the giant problems that this world raises. They are often finding it in a renewed understanding of what, in fact, is historic Christian believing of a Reformational kind.