by Terry C. Muck

More “Religion,” Less Impact

by Haddon W. Robinson

Rising Expectations Among the World’s Poor

by Robert E. Frykenberg

The Graying of America

by H. Newton Maloney

The Coloring of America

by James Earl Massey

The End of Female Passivity

by Mary Stewart VanLeeuwen

Secular Humanism Within the Church

by George Marsden

Growing Me-ism and Materialism

by Jon Johnston

Shifting Denominational Power

by Norman Shawchuck

Pluralism Gone to Seed

by Myron S. Augsburger

A Tilt Toward the Relational

by Carl F. George

The Gospel for the Rest of Our Century

by Carl F. H. Henry

What We Must Do

by Harold Lindsell

The Priorities of Love

by Kenneth S. Kantzer


A friend told me about a birthday present. His wife bought him a four-hour hot-air balloon ride from a local balloonist club. One recent Saturday he reported at dawn to a nearby cornfield, climbed in a basket with six other passengers, and spent the morning floating silently above the far-western suburbs of Chicago.

“The view was awesome. I saw our small town and the new housing developments stretching the city limits westward. I saw other small towns that were shrinking, and the pattern of the farms with their checkerboard fields divided by highways, fences, and an occasional hill. Although I have lived here all my life, I saw the terrain in a new way.”

In some ways, my friend’s balloon ride models this Christianity Today Institute offering. The following pages give you a balloonist’s view of the American church. The pilots are the fellows and resource scholars of the Christianity Today Institute, who have identified ten of the most prominent features of present-day church geography. We asked them to choose those features that will most influence the course of the church in the remainder of the twentieth century. “What trends and challenges do you see in the church today that will be the keys to the shape the church takes tomorrow?”

They took to the task with vigor. Most supplied more than ten, some as many as twenty. Many expressed frustration they could not explore even more. Like the good “pilots” they are, they can spot the nuances of terrain, foresee their subtle importance, and chafe at the lack of opportunity to describe them in detail to eager passengers. But time and space is limited, and we chose to deal with the ten most frequently mentioned issues, realizing many important ones would be left out. The following list includes ten of the most important challenges, but it is not an all-inclusive list.

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Neither is it a worldwide list. We chose to concentrate on the church in the United States. Again, our reason was space. We have sought for depth of discussion on a manageable list of ten, rather than simply listing many more. Were we to identify worldwide challenges—for example, the growth of Islam and its effect on the church, the new realities of worldwide missions, the phenomenal growth of the church in many parts of the world—as well as local ones, we would end up with a catalog with no reflection.

At the same time, we realized each of the following trends could be dealt with in far more detail. Books could be (in some cases have been) written on each. None of the authors would claim these discussions are the last word, but simply a word on the subject. We asked them to give us an overview of how each issue would affect the Christian church in the next decade and a half.

We did not stop, however, with description. Christianity is not a descriptive science but a call to arms. Correct observation is important, but our faith does not allow passive acceptance. Christianity assigns extraordinary importance to everything that happens. Trends are not ends in themselves but challenges, mini-mandates for action.

Sometimes the action focuses outward and is quantifiable. The first five trends fall in that category. Some challenges, though, come from an inward look at the church. They deal with resolve, moral fiber, and spirit. They cannot always be measured by demographic trends or growth numbers. The last five trends challenge the spirit of the church.

Still, we felt a comprehensive challenge at the end was necessary. So we asked additional scholars to write about it. Since the foundation of our action is the gospel message, Carl Henry restates for us the kernel of that message. The trends of the times change; the call to proclaim the gospel does not.

We asked also for a comment on strategy. Given the enduring quality of the gospel message, given the trends of the times, what should our strategy be? Harold Lindsell writes about the mission of the church in this day and age.

Finally, the dean of the Christianity Today Institute, Kenneth Kantzer, asks us to act. As a church, will we step up to the needs of the day? We have the resources to do so, perhaps now more than ever.

More “Religion,” Less Impact

Haddon Robinson

In political campaigns, incumbents “point with pride” to their record, while challengers, looking at the same record, “view with alarm.” For Christians in the mid-1980s, the record of religion also gets mixed reviews. It is both the best and worst of times.

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The Up Side

As incumbents in the society, evangelicals have high visibility. During the last two decades, their congregations held their own in membership and attendance while mainline churches declined. Several denominations, especially among Pentecostals, have actually registered growth. “Born again,” a term once found mainly on the walls of rescue missions, is now used to describe the last two Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

According to James C. Carper in his book Religious Schooling in America, church-related schools now teach reading, writing, and religion to approximately a million children. In secular education, writers of science texts hedge a bit on evolution because dissatisfied Christian parents have demanded equal time for Creation. Evangelical colleges have bucked declining enrollment trends to attract students whose parents remain willing to pay soaring costs. In U.S. seminaries, evangelicals train more than 40 percent of all those studying for the ministry.

Religious booksellers sell advice with a touch of religion on everything from abortion to weight loss. According to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, the 37 million buyers of Christian books make up one of America’s largest book-buying segments. During a recent 12-month period, more than 20 percent of the adult public purchased a Christian book. Figures compiled for the Book Industry Study Group by John P. Dessauer reveal that in 1984, consumer purchases of Bibles and religious books totaled more than a billion dollars.

Christians, who have been struggling with a poor group image from the past, now find Jerry Falwell on the cover of Time. Evangelicals take to the streets against abortion and pornography. Billy Graham crusades match sports events and rock concerts in setting stadium attendance records. Celebrities in business, entertainment, government, and sports can all be counted on to say a good word for the Lord. Religious artists compete with their secular counterparts in making music and money.

Measured by conventional standards, at least, religion dominates our culture. With more than 40 million Americans admitting to a born-again experience, future historians could look back on the closing years of the twentieth century as an era of evangelical impact on the nation.

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The Down Side

In spite of the prevalence of evangelicals, American society seems as unaffected by Christian values as the National Football League is by Sunday church services.

Technology, not the church, has emerged as the dominating force in our culture. The blue glow is everywhere. Ninety-eight percent of U.S. homes plug in at least one television set. Cable systems and satellite dishes feed the addiction of families who watch six hours or more of TV a day.

In each week’s programs, men and women endure all kinds of tragedy—incest, rape, divorce, bankruptcy, violence, kidnaping—and never bother to call a minister or even to pray. The Carringtons and the Ewings never attend church, and when their problems are solved, circumstances, not moral principles, make the difference. In the magic world of “Dynasty” and “Dallas,” God is irrelevant.

Talk show participants on both radio and television assume people should do what is right in their own eyes. Absolutes are absolutely not allowed. While men and women who affirm fidelity in marriage or reject a homosexual lifestyle for themselves may be tolerated, they come off as bigots should they urge those values on others. Chastity as a solution to AIDS or herpes is dismissed as prudery, while adultery and divorce are regarded as therapeutic.

Television networks ignore media clean-up campaigns instigated by Christians. Donald Wildmon, executive director of the National Federation for Decency, laments, “Despite the fact that nearly 1,000 top Christian leaders in America have signed a ‘Statement of Concern Regarding Network Television,’ it has been ignored by the networks and other major secular media. The networks have decided that news of this concern is something the public should not have.”

In the battle for the consumer dollar, Madison Avenue resorts to music and pictures that transform covetousness into virtue and persuade us that we deserve everything we get, whether hamburgers or automobiles. In such an environment, who could seriously feel the need for grace or respond with sincere thanksgiving to God?

For those bored with television, technology provides VCRS, which allow families to select their entertainment; yet the movies that get the greatest play sit at the end of the alphabet of values rated “R” or “X.” When religious groups campaign against the sale of smut in food stores or the showing of pornography on television, they are attacked as un-American.

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Technology, which once served the faith, now overpowers it. Protestantism has always been “bookish,” rational, ordered, and individualistic. Now, however, Christians seem bewildered by the communications revolution. Television, VCRS, motion pictures, and even computers have moved us from a literate to a visual society. Millions are functional illiterates who read little more than newspaper headlines, the sports page, or the comics.

Traditionally, Christians have believed spiritual growth came through reading and studying the Bible. In a culture that cannot or will not read, the influence of the Bible in printed form will continue to slip.

Philosopher of religion John MacMurray points out that, partly because of technology, science functions as the religious focus of modem Western thought. For example, “scientific/unscientific” warrants more social clout than “godly/ungodly.” That a “scientific world view” or “the scientific method” expresses the ultimate norm strikes MacMurray as strange.

Technology has also created a global village in which East and West not only meet, they marry each other. Eastern and occult philosophies have infiltrated modem medicine, the arts, psychology, and religion. As a result, North Americans of every sort are being conditioned to accept a world view that implicitly rejects the personal God of Scripture, asserts the autonomy and divinity of human beings, and rejects absolute norms in ethics. Thousands of men and women reared in unhappy homes, growing up in insipid churches, and listening to biblical words that lack authentic experience have rejected the unstable relativism offered by a tired Protestantism. These wanderers respond to the seduction of new cults promising to fill the spiritual vacuum in the heart.

In previous generations, Christians subscribed to the adage “Let me write a nation’s songs and you can write her laws.” Hence, they borrowed heavily from secular music to sing their faith. The melodies of drinking songs were lifted from the pub and brought to church. The hymn was the emotional, immediate, repetitive way to communicate the message.

Today Christians are generally puzzled over modern hard-beat music with its offbeat lyrics. Where youngsters in the past memorized the line-ups of major-league baseball teams and the batting averages of their players, modern young people engrossed in heavy metal soak up trivia about rock bands. A new generation for whom music videos have become the national pastime is not likely to be reached by adults who dismiss their music as demonic.

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For better or worse, churches with a significant percentage of members under 30 have baptized modern music into the Christian faith. They seldom sing a hymn written before 1970. Others reject such music as unworthy of the gospel and insist that by pandering to corrupted tastes, we prostitute the message.

Certainly methodologies are not neutral, and the gospel sits in judgment on the means used to proclaim it. Yet, effective communication requires that the cultural background of the hearer must be the starting point for the communicator. Often those most attuned to the views and voices of our times seem most distant from the culture of the churches they represent.

The disagreements will get more pronounced as the culture gets more secular. Unless we produce a theology of method as well as message, we flirt with two dangers: delivering the pure milk in contaminated bottles, or not delivering any milk at all.

America needs a revival of evangelical religion—not necessarily a resurgence of evangelicalism. The late A. W. Tozer cast an unsettling verdict; “It is my considered opinion that under the present circumstances we do not want revival at all. A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years.” Yet in every generation God has a people who are salt and light. When we take God seriously, technology can enable us to bear his witness to the world.

Rising Expectations Among the World’s Poor

R. E. Frykenberg

The problems of mass starvation that beset certain parts of our world are really not connected to lack of natural resources (good soil, water, seed, fertilizer), nor lack of sufficient technology and energy (labor-saving mechanisms and instruments for food distribution). Conversely, the remedies are within the reach of our capacities. If, during the nineteenth century, slavery could be diminished around the world (if not wholly eradicated), and if today the inhuman exploitation of women, children, and manual workers could come under increasing social and political pressure, surely the time has come for harder thinking and clearer vision on practical ways to diminish the specter of mass starvation.

Unfortunately, there is all too little clear vision or hard thinking. To suggest we should all eat less or spend less on ourselves may sound good, even pious. But with many farmers going out of business for lack of decent price incentives, and with many industrial workers being laid off for lack of buyers for the goods they produce, this kind of piety hardly seems practical. One does not provide for the needy by undercutting the very industries and markets they need. Abolition of wealth does not abolish poverty and hunger. It only increases the misery.

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Too Much And Not Enough

A number of ironies bewitch our thinking about hunger. Perhaps most important is the fact that we live in a world now suffering from a food surplus. So rich and abundant are the world’s natural resources that, with the application of proper amounts of investment, knowledge, and labor, there is more than enough food being produced and more than enough in storage to feed every man, woman, and child. With proper incentives for production and distribution in the right places, hunger could be abolished indefinitely.

Even in a country such as India, storage facilities are filled beyond capacity. Warehouses have no more space; food lies rotting in the open.

At one time, wheat surpluses subsidized by American taxpayers were dumped into the ocean. What happened when such surpluses were exported and “dumped” upon the economies of other countries is a question no less vexing.

Why not just give the food to the hungry? This sounds fine enough. But how does this get done? Who gives it? Who receives it? Where and when does the giving take place? What measuring devices can be used to make sure the calories reach their intended targets, and that this happens without inefficiency, loss, and waste? Most tricky of all, how can calories reach the mouths of the hungry without undermining the entire system by which the surplus of calories was produced in the first place?

Even within a given country—America, Australia, Canada, or India—how do we use our surpluses to eliminate scarcities at home? How is “caloric scarcity” defined? Are the standards the same everywhere? How does caloric scarcity differ from “poverty”? And how, then, is poverty defined? Most of India’s elite fall below the United States’ “poverty line,” which includes kitchen appliances, color TVs, cars, central heating, window air conditioners, and enough energy to support all these “necessities.” Yet for all that, many in America still suffer from caloric deficiencies and related diseases.

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Since no society is free from such evils, who may “cast the first stone” at the failures of another society? Dare we ever assess the causes of failure in others without doing the same to ourselves? Are we then absolved of all obligations to apply tools of critical analysis?

In many poor countries, tiny elites do not suffer and, indeed, enjoy plenty in the midst of mass hunger. This indicates a massive breakdown in their culture and public morality. Somewhere along the line, evil has prevailed and become systematized. Normal appetites have exceeded moral and rational bounds, so that the political economy does not meet local needs. As Edmund Burke put it two centuries ago: “Society cannot exist unless control be put upon appetite; and the less of control there is within, the more control must be imposed from without.”

A Vow Of Poverty For All?

How then shall we give without ruining domestic economies and undermining attempts to provide long-term solutions? Does the answer lie in self-renunciation?

Let us suppose for a moment that all Christians renounced earthly belongings and gave all we possessed to the poor and needy so we could take up our crosses to follow Jesus. Let us suppose that, in pursuit of this noble quest, we denied ourselves to the point of being anorexic, permitting our bodies to suffer pains of cold and privation so as better to become like our Master. Would this suffice? Like the Celtic monks of old, should we all retreat to monasteries in order to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless?

If so, perhaps all pleasures and sports should also be renounced (as frivolous wastage of precious resources). In that case, the powers of creativity, art, and pure science might also be seen as frivolous and wasteful. Yet it must be remembered that our modern universities and research institutions arose, after all, from the monasteries.

Complexities multiply the longer the question is examined. On one side we see national treasuries emptied to subsidize food surpluses so large they can neither be sold nor stored—and this, when national debts and deficit spending are out of control. On the other side we see “starving millions” whose governments (either hopelessly corrupt or else incompetent, ignorant, and/or doctrinaire) cannot or will not take elemental steps to allow for more efficient production and equitable distribution of resources—even those provided by relief agencies. The biggest obstacles to relief from outside are the governments of the countries the world attempts to help. Misrule in many countries of Africa has been so acute we doubt their very capacity for self-government and independence.

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From Calories To Conscience

What, then, may we conclude? Simply this: that the problems of hunger and poverty are not material, nor natural, nor physical. They are not lack of technological know-how. They are not due to any lack of either natural or human resources.

The problems are with humanity, or rather with a lack of humanity. The real problems are essentially spiritual, political, and moral. They reside in the darker side of human emotions, where fear lurks and leads to an unrelenting, implacable thirst for power.

But to say it does not solve it. There may be explanations, but there can be no excuses. A combination of fear, greed, incompetence, and much more tangles the webs of government. The nets and snares of local influence, vested interest, and petty pride combine a hundred times over to keep food from reaching the hungry.

Only by an incredible combination of corporate will power with extremely patient diligence can progress be made. Someone and some group must be willing enough, able enough, daring enough to struggle year after year after year. William Wilberforce spent 40 years fighting slavery, and much still remained to be done at the time of his death. We in America—with our penchant for gimmicks, promotional campaigns, and mass mailings—are not a culture that produces this kind of steady determination and undramatic will power. No amount of money alone—nor emotional concern alone, nor even godly piety alone—can solve these problems.

The Graying of America

H. Newton Maloney

Willard Scott, NBC’s weatherman on the “Today” program, routinely honors the hundredth birthday of someone living in Gadsden, Alabama, or Bellingham, Washington. Given the current longevity trends, however, Willard may have trouble handling the traffic by the turn of this century. If he mentions even a portion of the centenarians, he won’t have time for the weather.

In 1900 the population of North America was shaped like a pyramid. There were very few old persons; most of the nation were children and youth. At the middle of the century, the population looked more like a barrel, with a plurality of young and middle-age adults. By the end of the twentieth century the population will resemble a tall hot-air balloon. The largest percentage of citizens will be older adults.

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Mandatory retirement may become a thing of the past. Life expectancy for both men and women already hovers around 80. Whereas 12 workers supported one retiree on social security in the 1940s, soon one worker will be supporting 12 retirees.

What is the import of such trends for the ministry of the church?

Older people are not new to the church, of course. In fact, the church probably has more older members than any other community institution. Yet, it is one thing to minister to the elderly when they are a minority and quite another to recognize them as the majority. The average church’s program today is without question slanted toward the young. To shift toward the old will require a totally new mind-set for the church.

A number of paradoxes will result.

Growing Old

According to Edward Schneider, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, society has, tor too long, “defined the elderly as those older than 65. Today, says Schneider, “people in their 60s are by and large a very healthy group. They are ‘young,’ compared to people in their 80s an d 90s—where most health and other problems of old age occur.”

Americans aged 65 and older totaled 28 million in 1984 (the year of the latest census figures), or 11.9 percent of the U.S. population of (236.2 million. And the number of older citizens increased by 9.7 percent between April 1980, and J u ly 1984—more than twice the 4.2 percent growth rate of the overall population in that same period. U.S. News & World Report, August 19, 1985.

Smaller Sunday Schools—More Education

In an environment approaching zero population growth, the need for Sunday morning classes will diminish at the same time the need for alternative educational experiences for older persons will increase.

Sunday school was originally begun in England to provide education on the one day children were free to come. That tradition has continued to the present. Children go to school five days, play one day, and have Sunday free for church.

But what if there are few, if any, children—and many older, retired adults? Why keep having “school” on Sunday? The elderly are free to come at other times. In fact, they have time on their hands and welcome a variety of educational opportunities.

Many theories of aging have concluded that the post-50 years are times of reflection about the religious issues of life. Carl Jung once said he never counseled a person older than the mid-40s whose problems could not be resolved by the answers of the great religions. Age does, indeed, foster contemplation about the meaning of life. The church must prepare to help the elderly explore these issues. These people will be a ready market for between-Sundays Sunday school.

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Fewer Revivals—More Conversions

All of the academic studies of conversion have labeled it an adolescent phenomenon. Thus, evangelistic efforts have been slanted toward young-adult problems. Faith-development theorist James Fowler has followed this trend by assuming that passionate decisions for Christianity (or any religion) are made early in adulthood and are less mature than the religion of late life. According to Fowler and others, mature faith is more intellectual, reflective, and tolerant.

Such thinking is biased. All the major issues of life are not decided by the time one reaches 50. I believe the church at the turn of the century will need to prepare for many first-time decisions among its predominantly elderly membership.

Strangely enough, longevity will make for more, not less, plasticity in people’s basic approach to life. In earlier days, older people were thought to be set in their ways, rigid, unchanging. This was probably due to the fact they did not live long enough to become reflective and malleable. Erik Erikson correctly noted that later adulthood is a time for introspection and deciding between “integrity” and “despair.” If life had been good and accomplishments many—then a feeling of “integrity” was appropriate and satisfying. If life had been disappointing and accomplishments few—then “despair” was to be expected.

However, he simply left the matter there. Erikson offered no remedy, because there was not enough lifetime in his scheme to do anything about it.

Persons at the turn of the century will have this kind of time. They will live long enough beyond “despair” to find comfort and hope. They will live long enough beyond “integrity” to reconsider the basis of their self-confidence. Many new conversions will occur as the elderly search for meaning and hope.

Although there will be less need for mass revivals (the elderly are less mobile), more gatherings of “seekers” will be needed, where Christian truth can be presented persuasively. There will be an increased need for dialogue that leads to decision. The elderly will need to be challenged as much as comforted.

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Fewer Meetings—More Activity

This sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. Currently, effective churches put great emphasis on “the planning process.” Many elderly persons have spent their lives in planning meetings. They are now ready for actual service.

It has been commonly assumed that aged persons want to sit back and let younger people do all the work. This is an untruth. What the elderly want is release from the busy work of organizational life. But along with longevity comes better health. Whereas our grandparents who lived long were likely to be infirm, those who live long nowadays are enjoying good health.

The church of the future will make a mistake if it assumes that all the elderly want is to travel or be entertained. The church must provide more than bus trips and hobby shows. Along with the search for meaning will be a search for ways to help others. Aging persons will have the ways, the means, and the strength to do almost anything the church asks them to do.

Two major theories of successful aging have been propounded: the activity theory and the withdrawal theory. According to the withdrawal theory, those who successfully age know when to relinquish their responsibilities and turn them over to the young. According to the activity theory, successful aging involves keeping active as long as possible.

My call for fewer meetings but more activity is aligned with the activity theory. It assumes the elderly will of course want to turn over some tasks to the young: breadwinning and child care, for example. But this does not mean all concern for life is dead. New activities will be needed to fill the void. In fact, many elderly persons will become unselfish for the first time in their lives.

It will be tragic if the church of tomorrow assumes the elderly want only to be served and not to be of service.

Fewer Visits—Greater Care

Many writers have cautioned that, because the elderly population will grow in the future, the need for hospital visits will grow, too. This assumes more elderly persons will be sick at the same time. This is only a partial truth.

It is unlikely that we will need more hospital beds at the turn of the century. We will need different kinds of hospital beds, however. Since aging involves more chronic and terminal illnesses, hospitals will increasingly shift their accommodations toward these types of problems. Although the present trend is toward shorter hospital stays, the hospital of the future will have far more services directed toward convalescent, long-term care.

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Whereas the average church “sick list” today may show 10 persons in the hospital for a variety of acute problems and 3 for chronic or terminal illnesses, this ratio will probably be reversed at the turn of the century. With the elderly being hospitalized longer, the list for any given week may mushroom to 20 or 30.

But frequency of visits may not be the issue. In fact, frequent visits may be impossible. However, the quality of care will need to be increased. Short visits will not suffice. Chronic and terminal illnesses evoke a type of reflection often missing in those just in for an appendectomy. These will be optimal opportunities for churches to minister to aging persons.

Much research suggests that health care is dominated by an “acute bias”—care givers like to see people get well. It makes them feel good to discharge patients. The responsible church of the future must counter this bias, labeling it for what it is: an egotistic individualism that can be counterproductive to the religious quest.

In fact, those who are chronically or terminally ill may be most prepared to hear the gospel. The presentation must be done carefully, sensitively, and empathically. Perhaps the church of the future will need to take a page from the hospice movement and learn better how to make fewer visits but care better.

Responsible ministry at the turn of the century will take seriously these possibilities in planning its service to a population that will include more elderly persons than at any other time in history.

The Coloring of America

James Earl Massey

Whether or not one wants to admit it, and however one assesses it, the American church is changing along racial and ethnic lines. As the Hispanic presence continues to burgeon, as Southeast Asian immigrants make their impact, and as black Americans continue to affirm their place in the collective process, new challenges to ministry steadily increase. So do certain conflicts rooted in ethnic factors that must be understood to be appreciated, assessed, and treated.

This is plainly no time to slacken our interest in fellowship and cooperative ministry. But these can deepen only as the promise of ministry is highlighted against the growing problems.

To Melt Or To Stand

Part of our difficulty is the competitiveness that exists between ethnic groups in our land. The sources are partly ethnic and partly political, but the struggle grows increasingly sensitive and stubborn.

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Quite contrary to the concern in the late 1950s and early 1960s to blend us all into the larger cauldron of American stew, the succeeding decades have underscored the point that a true democracy does not demand absorption of differences and distinctives. Ethnic strengths need not be disruptive if group autonomy, proportional representation, and equality within the national system are honored and guaranteed.

In the wake of the civil rights revolution and its concern for “full integration,” the question that most exercised black Americans was how to preserve distinctives while affirming national solidarity. After re-examining their place in the larger picture, blacks reaffirmed their identity with deepened pride in the uniqueness of their group experience.

Other ethnics have done the same thing, and one result has been a welter of treatments of heritages that shape our national history. Social historians are busy reinterpreting the issues of causation and change; some are producing connected histories to show the relationships of ethnic life in America.

Given this fact, the task before us is to share the information and increase the level of interest for the sake of one and all. To accomplish this task can mean that no ethnic part of the church be allowed to retrench itself in defensiveness or overcompensating arrogance without a word of caution from those who know the wisdom of a larger, more reasonable center of purpose.

Times such as ours do tempt persons and groups into self-partitioning. Neither in church nor society have we known how to deal wisely with agitated feelings about competing concerns. Thus neither the future we envisioned as an integrated society nor a unified and renewed church has yet happened. In our country, democratic vision demands that we work out the tensions of multi-party politics; in the church, our call from God to “dwell together in unity” (see Ps. 133:1–3, with Eph. 4:3) bids us work through the problems of pluralism.

The Trouble With Isolation

While a short focus on ethnicity can produce a renewed identity and resourcefulness, a prolonged focus can restrict one’s regard for people as a whole. It is at this point that the church-growth movement’s concern for homogeneous units must make its way cautiously, lest an intended good backfire as a selfish search for one’s own kind. We must never forget that problematic influences have been at work in us all, that selfish customs and a racist culture have wrongly programmed us for distance, for retreat from meaningful engagement, and they have falsely nurtured our minds with a rationale for “understood separateness.”

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To be sure, it is never a small matter when persons of differing social, racial, or ethnic backgrounds meet. Unless some high purpose governs the occasion, reasonably voiced preferences will soon yield to deeper insistent prejudices, blocking trust and needed peace. The tragedy is that the barriers we allow are seldom worthy to exist at all, or for the reasons we assert. There are more urgent reasons to relate to each other than there are reasonable excuses to stay apart. This truth applies equally to personal relations and to groups.

So partitionist attitudes must be identified and challenged in love for the sake of change. Albert Edward Day used to tell about attending a forum on race relations where a prominent churchman hotly declared that Jesus Christ is the Savior of our souls but has nothing to do with our attitudes toward people. Dr. Day challenged that statement, saying that because Jesus is our Savior he has everything to do with everything about our lives.

The attitude of that mistaken churchman was similar in spirit to the lady who said to Charles H. Spurgeon, “I want to know if there are two places in heaven, because I could not bear to hear that Betsy in the kitchen should be in heaven along with me; she is so unrefined.”

While there is not a lot of encouragement in our society for unified, calculated, unrestricted ministry among people, it is nevertheless an action on the side of the future as God wills it. The social setting still poses, postures, and prefers; it cares all too little about how circumstances, history, and preconditioning have blocked our togetherness in mind and spirit and life. The shame is that the problems of distance in our society are also felt in the church.

Actually, we are being convulsed by history; wrong attitudes and delimiting views are in the saddle of our society and our churches. I long for a plain style of relating, a common ground on which to meet all those whom God created, loves, and seeks to redeem. Many in the church do see that instead of one people or point of focus, there are many heritages to respect. If we seek to relate and share ourselves—sometimes ineptly or with too much concern to be accepted—we will be guilty only of doing what love demands.

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There must be those who will take time to immerse themselves in the shared insights and memory of each group with whose members they seek to relate. Such concern cannot wait forever. We need new understandings to be effective: new understandings about ourselves, about the people we open ourselves to meet, about life’s textured meanings and experiences. Evangelism thrives only where there is a passion for people—and a historical consciousness about their worth that is readily inclusive and biblically just.

The Ministry Of Making Insiders

From whence come new understandings? They come from a renewed search of the Scriptures and a clearer focus on the mandate that sends us in search of other humans, interested in their salvation and human security as part of the one lump of life to which we all belong. It was John A. Mackay who first said in print that “the human symbol of our time is the Outsider.” That figure can serve to focus our work, which is reaching humanity with redemptive concern so as to make them insiders with Christ and ourselves.

Given the trend of exclusiveness within society and church, our task will not be easy nor perhaps readily achievable. But it can be faithful, rightly inspired, and reasonably informed to make a difference with the help of God.

Those of us who are committed to unity and cooperative ministry must make common cause, teaching, advising, and loyally modeling with a sincere and courageous patience. The changes taking place along racial and ethnic lines in the American church are at present mixed; they need not be tragic if we but take the lead in again highlighting the promise of ministry over the problems that seem to forbid it. The problems we now see at work on the social and ecclesiastical scene might well force us into new methods of ministry.

Both society and church need an advance guard, a patient but persistent cadre of concerned persons eager to get our proper work done despite the obstacles. English pianist Clifford Curzon once reported a rabid argument between a fellow student and Artur Schnabel, their piano teacher. Schnabel had given some directives to the class that the student loudly and angrily resisted. The teacher nevertheless remained calm during the attack. After the session, some students asked how he had managed to stay calm when he was plainly the one in authority. Schnabel answered, “But it was my duty to remove his wrong ideas as patiently as I could.”

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In both society and the church, we will have to deal much longer with the concern for separateness. It is our duty to challenge and remove selfish behavior and unbalanced judgment as patiently as we can. We can do so more readily if we establish a biblical, social, and personal center of experience out of which we can relate to others—all others. To have such an “established center” means, as Howard Thurman wrote in The Search for Common Ground, that “we have committed to heart and to nervous system a feeling of belonging, and our spirits are no longer isolated and afraid.”

The End of Famale Passivity

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

A friend of mine was trying to find out how much her five- and six-year-old Sunday school charges understood about the structure of the church. She asked if anyone knew what the “church council” was.

As it happened, one boy had recently attended part of a council meeting with his father, an elder. The lad solemnly explained to the other children that the church council was “a bunch of guys who get together once or twice a month to try and figure out ways to keep girls out of their club.”

Depending on one’s experience with women in church office, it could be argued either that the little boy had taken an inadequate sampling or that this was indeed unadorned truth from the mouths of babes. Churches and Parachurch organizations span the range of attitudes on this subject, from hostility to indifference to enthusiastic endorsement. Each group has developed a hermeneutic to support its position.

Women in the ’80s

Working Mothers with Children Under 18


1960—27.6 %



The number of employed mothers whose children are under six was 48.7 percent in 1982, compared with 11.9 in 1950. And of the mothers of school-age children, nearly two-thirds have jobs outside the home today. Of this work force, fully 23 percent are in professions—not only nursing and teaching, but medicine, law, academics, and science—areas that were once felt to be the sole province of men. Ladies Home Journal, May 1985.

Assessing The Revolution

In our roles as ordinary citizens, of course, we are no longer permitted the luxury of such a range of reactions. Like it or not, women are practicing law and medicine, guiding corporations, presiding over school boards and city councils, doing research in universities, training to become military officers and astronauts, and even running as vice-presidential candidates.

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Such examples are only the tip of a much larger iceberg. According to a recent national poll, 50 percent of all American women are gainfully employed, with another 5 percent actively seeking work. Only 21 percent classify as full-time homemakers.

While almost 60 percent of women look for a job purely to balance the family budget, close to 50 percent later report the most important thing about their work is “the sense of accomplishment” it gives them.

Such a stream of women into the salaried work force is little short of dizzying—especially for the church. More women on the job means fewer women in the volunteer work force that used to sustain the church’s activities (as well as raise money for charities, run the local PTA, and promote the city art gallery).

New, Or Just Different?

This shift in role, however, is not as unbiblical or unprecedented as it may seem to many Christians. From Bible times up to the Industrial Revolution, almost all work took place in or around the home. There was a sexual division of labor, to be sure, but men and women labored side by side. Men and their young apprentices handled the barrel making, carpentry, blacksmithing, and stonecutting; women and their young helpers handled equally essential jobs nearby: spinning, weaving, catering, preserving and pickling, curing bacon, and managing estates.

Thus, life in centuries past was more socially organic. The generations and the sexes were less compartmentalized, work activities less atomized. Families were more extended, and children were reared in the context of daily adult industry.

Only in the seventeenth century, when the rhetoric of modern science began to pit mind against nature, reason against feeling, masculine against feminine, and public against private life did all of this start to change. Now, it is true that not many of us would like to turn back the clock to medieval times; most of us—men and women—would rather have our vehicles and at least the bulk of our bread produced on the assembly line. But in Dorothy Sayers’s memorable words, “It is perfectly idiotic to take away a woman’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones.”

Some have argued that by relinquishing traditional roles in the communal economy, women now specialize in the highest task of all—raising children. No Christian will deny the importance of training children in the ways of the Lord. But children, while they do need a lot of individualized attention, also need varied patterns of social and cognitive stimulation from both sexes for optimal development.

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A Strategic Role For The Church

Where has the church been in all of this? At its best, the church has cushioned the worst effects of negative social changes. Good churches have always operated as extended families. They have provided a safety net for widows, orphans, and disabled persons of both sexes, reminding members that worth in God’s sight is not based on social class or earning power. At its best, the church has discouraged men from idolizing their jobs and encouraged them to help nurture their children. It has also encouraged women to minister actively outside the home and to continue their education, however informally.

What is left for the church to do as it enters—or more accurately, re-enters—a new era?

1. Become more creative in ministry and outreach. A recent issue of CT (Aug. 10, 1984) reported on an Illinois church that took notice of the increasing numbers of “latchkey” children in a nearby neighborhood. By providing after-school supervision and Christian activities for these children, the church is extending its diaconal task, relieving many working parents of worry about their children’s whereabouts late in the day, and making potential evangelistic contacts at the same time. My own church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has for several years funneled most of its midweek activities into one evening, starting with a simple, inexpensive meal for all comers. This is a great blessing for working parents and their children, as well as for many single persons.

I have also read that Westminster Chapel—the famous London church D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once served—has an ordained staff person whose chief responsibility is ministering to the sales clerks of nearby department stores. Most of these are women, many of whom are indifferent to more traditional outreaches.

2. Avoid the mistake of labeling any one family lifestyle as the only biblical one. A number of Christian groups have gone on the warpath in defense of the nuclear family and what they perceive as the “traditional” division of labor between men and women. While I sympathize with their motives (most are rightly concerned about divorce rates and indifference to parenting responsibilities), I believe they have their priorities confused. All Christians are first and foremost members of “the family of God”—which includes singles as well as marrieds, poor and rich, educated and uneducated, other peoples’ children as well as our own. Within this common commitment, we need to be better able to affirm individual differences in lifestyles.

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For starters, wage-earning women and full-time homemakers might try to be less defensive around each other, and more attuned to ways each can enhance the other’s vocation. I and many of my professional colleagues would find our careers much less satisfying if other Christian women did not provide day care for our preschool children (as well as after-school care for older ones) along with their own.

These families can of course make good use of the extra income the full-time homemaker earns. Meanwhile, she also has a built-in “mentor” who knows the ropes of the working world if ever she decides to go back to school or re-enter the paid labor force, which is often a scary prospect.

With more and more mothers working outside the home, grandparents and other relatives are reacquiring a role in child rearing. In other words, the family is once again becoming extended and, at the same time, more of a miniature reflection of the church’s organic unity.

3. Encourage and make use of women’s gifts in largely the same range as men’s. I have often wondered about a strange double standard: Somehow, because I had an advanced degree before becoming a Christian, I am considered acceptable in a Christian leadership capacity. Indeed, it is expected of me. At the same time, the covert message often given to young women coming to maturity within the church is that they had better trim their sails and limit their professional aspirations in order not to threaten male egos or trespass on what are seen as biblically based male leadership prerogatives.

Regardless of one’s position on women’s ordination, there is still plenty of room for every church and Christian organization to improve its track record in recruiting women leaders. Surely our day-to-day lives in society should teach us that competent doctors, lawyers, accountants, professors, and managers no longer come packaged in one sex. As a church committed to the needs of men and women alike, we need leadership styles that span the range from masculine to feminine.

I close with another anecdote, this one from the parents of a three-year-old named Jessica. One Sunday morning she seemed quite alert to the fact that every participant in the liturgy was male. Having followed the priest, the servers, the readers, and the deacons each in turn, she finally turned to her parents with an abrupt question: “Does God listen to girls?”

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Churches and Christian organizations can play a central role in making the leadership gifts of women more visible. In so doing, they affirm the most important message of all to Jessica and her peers—that God does indeed “listen to girls.”

Secular Humanism Within the Church

George Marsden

During the past decade, many Christians have become aware of “secular humanism” as a pervasive ideology that is virtually a religion. While the phrase is certainly loose and much abused as a catchall, it does signify some widespread assumptions, beliefs, and commitments that shape much of modern culture.

“Secular” points to the rampant naturalism of most modern thought, while “humanism” refers to the cult of worshiping humanity. Both words can legitimately be used in positive senses, but when combined, they can refer to massive cultural trends that are inimical to traditional Christianity.

This we know.

What has not been sufficiently recognized is the degree to which secular humanism has subtly invaded our churches. Evangelicals, of course, have long accused liberal churches of attempting to fuse Christian tradition with many such modern assumptions and values. Early in this century, fundamentalism built its broad antimodernist coalition by opposing the secular and humanistic assumptions of mainline churches. The great irony today is that, while fundamentalists and their evangelical heirs have erected formidable doctrinal barriers against theological liberalism, more subtle versions of similar sub-Christian values have infiltrated behind their lines.

A Historical Contrast

Such a trend is difficult to perceive when one is in the midst of it. The following historical comparison may jolt us into seeing what has happened.

In The Popular Mood of Pre-Civil War America (Greenwood, 1980), Lewis O. Saum looked at letters and diaries of common people around the midnineteenth century to discover their deeply held beliefs. He did not confine his analysis to churchgoers. Nevertheless, he found Americans’ private expressions were not only remarkably religious but also much closer to the outlook of the Puritans than to those of any major group today.

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Americans then had a strong sense of Providence, but not in the sense currently assumed: that God will see to it that things go all right for us personally. Rather, they took Providence to mean God has his ways beyond our understanding, and they cannot be changed by simple human efforts. Accordingly, one should cultivate a “submissive spirit,” accepting God’s will.

Learning how to die was particularly important. Ordinary nineteenth-century Americans seemed to have a clear sense that humanity was not ultimate. The self was viewed not as a virtual god (as is often the case today) but as a monster that constantly overstepped its bounds and ought to be suppressed. Their most valued victories were not over the world’s frustrations but over the world’s aspirations.

Rarely do we find such attitudes today, even in conservative churches. The revolution has been immense. Christians have amplified the importance of the self, of personal fulfillment, of success. In our humanistic religion, God serves to fulfill human potential and needs. A content analysis of evangelical preaching in the nineteenth century and now would almost certainly reveal an astounding shift from magnifying divine glory and power to magnifying human glory and power—which, we are assured, God will promote. Moreover, I suspect that much of this shift has taken place only in the past 40 years, or even 20.

In earlier times, the characteristic emphasis of evangelism was on one’s terrible sinfulness and the need to give up self and the world for Christ. Many popular evangelists today seem to promise the world if one will accept Christ. Seldom do we hear about human depravity. We hear mostly the positive, what one will get: health, success, self-fulfillment, and even wealth, especially if one supports that particular evangelist.

Some also seem to be preaching not only a gospel of “me first” but also “us first,” or our nation first. Seldom is the Christian life portrayed as one of service and sacrifice.

Why Reversal Will Be Hard

Will the secular-humanist trend inside the church continue? A couple of tendencies make it likely.

One is the American skill in developing technique. Jacques Ellul (although sometimes overstating his case) has correctly pointed out that a driving force in our society is the obsession to find the most rational and efficient way to get things done. Organizational success often depends on scientifically efficient management of resources. In most businesses, careful market analysis is a key to survival and growth.

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While American churches and evangelists have long employed such techniques in limited ways, religious agencies have expanded their use enormously within the past 20 years. “Church growth,” of course, has some very responsible advocates, but the concept can easily deteriorate into allowing market analyses to dictate both the packaging and content of the gospel. The more the standards of scientific analysis are taken for granted by churches, publishers, and the press, the more the offense of the Cross will be toned down. One way to enhance church growth is to tell people what they want to hear. Prophets need not apply.

The second enhancing trait of American culture is democracy. Evangelicalism often has supported the belief that majority opinion should play a large role in setting policy. Lacking strong traditions of ecclesiastical authority, evangelicals have often appealed to the people to settle theological disputes. Advocates of controversial opinions may be pressured to conform not by bishops, but by the authority of popular support, which can be easily withdrawn from their institutions.

These tendencies reinforce the temptation to give people what they want. The leaven of popular American values goes on permeating the churches. In recent decades, for instance, categories borrowed from secular psychology have been immensely influential. Robert Bellah and his colleagues have pointed out in Habits of the Heart (California, 1985) that contemporary Americans base most of their values on “therapeutic” attitudes. The language of therapy—whatever enhances personal development or interpersonal relationships—overrides fixed moral norms.

While conservative churches, both Catholic and Protestant, have long appealed to fixed God-given standards, even they are being infiltrated by therapeutic language. Just ask yourself whether you are more likely to hear sermons about “God’s law” or about “relationships” and “fulfillment.” Compare that with what you would have expected 20 or 40 years ago.

The Search For Correctives

A mere recital of this trend and the pressures favoring it may sound alarming. Probably it should. Every Gallup survey seems to confirm the shallowness of religious knowledge among even churchgoing Americans who profess the most traditional Christian beliefs. Recently a survey showed such persons’ ethical behavior differed very slightly from that of those not active in churches. While the quantity of Americans professing traditional Christian belief is encouraging, the quality suggests the need for a reformation.

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On the other hand, hope can be gained from the fact that many new emphases in churches are not all bad. Techniques to promote church growth need not involve compromise. Some churches may have paid too little attention to God-directed personal fulfillment or interpersonal relationships. Their emphases on God’s law (or church law) may have been too wooden, and their stresses on sin, its punishment, and submissiveness may sometimes have caused psychological damage or driven people away.

Every good thing can be abused, which is why we need correctives. Today, however, it seems as though the correctives themselves are most often abused. It is time to take stock of whether, in the name of gaining better balance, something essential has not been lost.

Especially encouraging are the many renewal movements in churches today. During the past 20 years, conservative churches have been growing, and tradition has been a key at least as often as trendiness. Exciting things have been happening in recovering traditional Christian emphases. God has indeed been put first, thus countering forces in the church that simply enhance human self-regard.

Aside from the often surprising grace of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the infectious dynamic of Christians in whom Christ can be seen, this emphasis on tradition may be our most important foil for the subtle inroads of secular humanism in the churches. Americans habitually suffer from the tyranny of the present. They are quick to adopt current fads of what they should value. Testing what is current against the best of the past may be a crucial way to ensure that we are not compromising something essential to the gospel.

Growing Me-ism and Materialism

Jon Johnston

Carl Sandberg once related a story about a mother who brought her newborn to Gen. Robert E. Lee for his blessing. He tenderly cradled the child in his arms, then looked at the mother and said, “Ma’am, please teach him that he must deny himself.”

Self-denial is the perennial challenge of humanity. A rampant selfishness is omnipresent in every generation, and the church of the eighties is not immune to me-ism. In fact, many declare our Zion has opted for a double dose. Clergy and parishioner alike calculate every move to maximize personal benefit. Sociologists such as Peter Berger refer to this reality as the “privatization of goals.” Biblical writers call it “sin.”

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Fueled By Materialism

Today, our bonfires of selfishness are fueled by the gasoline of affluence. One result is increased mobility, which assumes two forms.

On the one hand, we are driven to move rapidly to pay for our trinkets and hot tubs, which the mass media convince us to buy and which invariably lie just beyond our means. We are made to hustle in order to fulfill unrealistic financial commitments. Such motion is not without its toll. The pressured job pace has caused thousands of males to “outrun their hearts,” making their wives premature widows.

In addition to the “push” factor of employment, affluence has created the “pull” aspect of recreation. We mobilize ourselves toward locations that offer a smorgasbord of pleasures—the seashore, the swap meet, the professional ball game. We feel entitled to this respite from our pressure cooker existence. We sigh deeply and say to ourselves, “Now for that quality time I deserve!”

Unfortunately for the church, “quality time” usually implies a period of personal pleasure—not a time to give or share fulfillment, except perhaps with one’s own family.

The term frequently also means a full weekend of escape, leaving the local church to struggle for a semblance of continuity and community. In the face of exorbitant absenteeism, authentic koinonia is as likely as a January heat stroke in Alaska. Instead, the church becomes a supermarket dispensing spiritual junk food to passers-by. The pastor’s sermon is little more than the “special of the week,” offered to customers at a discount of commitment.

Wanted: Heavenly Vending Machines

A certain baseball superstar received deafening cheers as he walked to the plate. Soon thereafter, he struck out swinging. The crowd’s reaction was immediate: a thunderous round of boos. Said the sportscaster, “The fan asks only one question of his heroes—‘What have you done for me lately?’ ”

Today’s self-centered churchgoer asks the same question of God, coupled with another one: “What will you do for me soon?” God is pictured as the dispenser (and withholder) of life’s prizes—a television game-show host.

In what ways is this attitude manifested?

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First, we possess an acute case of ecclesiastical myopia. Personal needs, activities, and habits monopolize our attention. In the past, Christians maintained strong links with their theological heritage. Today, we construct tailor-made pseudotheologies that satiate and exonerate self.

In contrast to former days, we shun loyalty to denominational policies and programs. Many of us remain within denominational structures but insulate ourselves from their influence. Others choose to avoid such ecclesiastical networks altogether.

Second, we tend to give highest priority to the kind of worship that yields personal comfort. Granted, God’s Word encourages the sorely afflicted to seek solace; however, many of us are content to remain in the comfort zone. The vast majority of the hymns we sing, sermons we hear, and prayers we pray are focused on this solitary goal. We conveniently forget that the church exists, in the words of Tom Dooley, “to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comforted.”

Third, a growing number of us equate God’s favor with personal blessings he bestows. We conclude that such things as good health, fortune, and success are sure indicators of his approval for our lives. This is the Protestant ethic gone to seed. With this conviction, we are driven to ask him for more and more blessings, which confirm our bias.

Is this not a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate the Divine?

Many other evidences of selfishness could be discussed: political maneuvering of clergy; disproportionate expenditure on local-church needs and luxuries (e.g., lavish buildings and supersophisticated equipment rather than giving to missions); church activities that focus on having fun-rather than serving; constant attempts at one-upmanship.

Paul warned Timothy about the days when “people will be lovers of themselves … boastful, proud … having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:2, 5). Could this be a graphic, prophetic statement about our times?

Light On The Horizon

One fact must be kept in mind, however: Trends are not irreversible. Patterns come to the surface but are also submerged again, depending on other influences.

Are there encouraging examples of unselfishness in the church today? Are there significant and effective attempts to reject privatization in favor of weaving “love webs” around others in (and outside) the community of believers? Yes. Consider the following:

1. Widespread response to natural disasters. Without the grinding of axes, great demonstrations of Christian unity have been shown in generous financial and manpower support for the destitute as near as Mexico City and as far away as Ethiopia.

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2. Literature (since the mid-1970s) on the biblical necessity of Christian altruism (e.g., Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a steady flow of similar magazine articles).

3. The virtual explosion of Christian service organizations, forming multinational ministries (e.g., World Vision International; Manna International).

4. Intense concern for internationalizing the gospel rather than superimposing the U.S. model of evangelism on the rest of the world (e.g., Fuller School of World Mission; U.S. Center for World Mission).

5. Visits by church leaders to overseas areas of conflict and distress (e.g., Jesse Jackson’s trip to Lebanon; Jerry Falwell’s journey to South Africa).

6. Significant change of emphasis in seminary curriculum. Thanks to counseling courses and other input, the local-church minister is decreasingly regarded as the “unapproachable prophet.” On another front, missions departments have introduced doctoral programs.

7. Reaganomics (i.e., less government aid to the destitute) has prompted local churches to take Christ’s admonition about helping “the least of these” more seriously. Result: an avalanche of legal aid, medical help, food staples, and clothing lovingly offered along with a positive, Christian witness.

8. Churches losing their paranoia about the inner city. Rather than fleeing to safe, secure (and sterile) suburbs, at least some congregations are choosing to remain downtown. Denominations are making significant attempts to plant new churches in that environment (e.g., the Church of the Nazarene’s “Thrust to the Cities”).

These and other signs are encouraging indeed. As with the sunrise, they cast a glow of hope on the evangelical horizon. Perhaps it will intensify sufficiently to melt the icy intransigence of an introverted, self-centered, materialistic church. Selfishness can yet succumb to servanthood, me-ism to authentic mission, and privatism to compassion for others.

Shifting Denominational Power

Norman Shawchuck and Richard L. Olson

Since the early sixties, massive changes have occurred in the mainline denominations and are continuing today. Normally such organizations do not change unless faced with an external or internal threat. The following pressures are moving large denominations toward restructure as they deal with a sense of decline and anxiety.

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The Stress Factors

Fewer members. Membership decline has undoubtedly caused stress over the past 25 years. In most episcopal and presbyterian systems, church members cannot vote on major issues. They can only “vote” by (1) withholding contributions and (2) exercising “the vote of the empty pew.”

As early as 1960, many denominations began to experience a sustained decline. Some are still declining, while others have leveled off. An examination of current statistics in Constant Jacquet’s Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reveals some interesting insights:

• Congregational-polity churches are growing, while those with episcopal and Presbyterian forms of polity are declining.

• Churches founded in America are growing, while those imported from abroad are declining.

• Churches outside of such ecumenical bodies as NCC and WCC are growing, while those inside are declining.

Population shifts. In their book Positioning: The Battle for the Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout assert that being first in a market is all important. An excellent example of this in American church history is the Methodist circuit riders, who were often the first preachers along the frontier. This helped make Methodism the strongest Protestant denomination in America until the late 1960s, when the Southern Baptists overtook them.

While the Methodist circuit riders covered the entire United States, they concentrated on the states between West Virginia and Illinois. This helped make Methodists the strongest Protestant body in this region. Southern Baptists, however, originated and remained concentrated in the South, thus growing to be number one in that region. Likewise, Catholics, Lutherans, and Latter Day Saints all enjoy positions of dominance in different regions around the country.

Research by Newman and Halvorson shows that for the last 30 years, denominations have been quite stable and maintained their relative pattern of distribution across the nation. However, the United States has experienced massive interregional migrations and has also received large numbers of immigrants from abroad. The Frost-belt-to-Sunbelt migration has helped the southern and western regions grow faster than the North and East, even though all states are generally increasing in population and will continue growing into the year 2000.

Migration does more than merely change the number of residents. If the in-migrants are significantly different from the out-migrants, the resulting mixture has far-reaching effects upon the churches in that region. For example, between 1975 and 1980, one million people migrated into New York State, while 1.7 million left. The implications for the churches of New York go further than simply having fewer people. The population shifts have left New York with a less-educated, lower-income population. New York City in particular had substantial losses of blacks and whites but a sizable gain among those of other races, who tend to have different denominational loyalties.

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As Niebuhr brought to light back in 1929 with his Social Sources of Denominationalism, American churches have drawn membership from certain classes to become and remain rather homogeneous. Any largely middle-class denomination will undoubtedly suffer in a state such as New York.

Seen together with positioning, it is little wonder that churches in the Midwest and Northeast have suffered most while churches in the Southeast and Southwest have grown most.

Denominational culture. Research in business corporations has shown that each company has a unique culture that can make the difference between success or failure. Similarly, each denomination has a unique style, belief system, and attitude that is in part responsible for the behavior of its members and thus its own good or ill fortune.

Denominational culture does not grow in a vacuum. Historically, developing denominations have drawn upon the surrounding culture in determining their own ecclesiastical structure. Churches with episcopal structures (for purposes of this discussion, we view presbyterial structures as a “group episcopacy”) originated during the times of the monarchs. The concept of monarchy, however, is quite foreign in modern America. Thus, churches with hierarchical forms of polity (i.e., Episcopal) are increasingly less synchronized with current society over the passing of time.

A denomination’s response to its unchurched (members who attend church twice or less during a given year) may also be significant. The United Methodist Church has the highest unchurched percentage (35), with the other mainline denominations close behind it. Although perhaps never consciously aware of it, different denominations show different rates of outreach to their inactives and unchurched. One of Dean Kelley’s contributions to the church growth discussion (in his book Why Conservative Churches Are Growing) was that stricter churches demanding greater commitment and loyalty from adherents are growing—others are not.

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Membership decline, population shifts, and denominational culture all exert pressure on the large denominations. Together they have resulted in two major trends.


Many mainline churches give evidence of decentralizing. For example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is proposing to do away with the synod level, replacing the 20 synod offices with 10 regional centers. This will in essence leave a portion of the synod’s responsibility in the hands of more local presbyteries.

A recent paper by White and Willimon on “The Seven Churches of Methodism” argues that regional differences are more significant than they have been given credit for in the past. In another research report, Roger Stump makes a good case that migration actually contributes to regional differences instead of erasing them. Why? Because people moving into an area tend to adapt to its norms. Westerners who move to the South, for example, are likely to increase in church attendance, while Southerners who move West are likely to decrease.

Decentralizing from national structures to regional and local control is a response to these changes in American society. Denominations not moving in this direction will find themselves increasingly out of step with the environment.

Participatory Democracy

Most mainline denominations have already begun evolving toward more representative structures. The new United Methodist Mission Society is one example of the demand for input in decisions about the allocation and training of UM missionaries.

Perhaps this trend will close the thought gap between denominational leadership and their constituencies. In many denominations, the leadership pushes issues of liberation, women, and homosexuality, and the laity do not respond. When such a gap exists, leadership’s ability to define issues, set agendas, and focus priorities deteriorates, and the organization suffers.

Denominations can do almost nothing to impact population shifts, which are shaped by powerful societal factors beyond even the government to control. Churches simply have to make projections in line with the growth and decline of their respective regions.

However, the trends of decentralization and participatory democracy suggest certain courses of action that involve a major shift in denominational power to be more in tune with the needs of the times.

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Pluralism Gone to Seed

Myron S. Augsburger

The Christian church has always had a degree of pluralism. The experience of faith takes on the cultural, intellectual, and emotional characteristics of its bearers. The wonderful thing is that, with human diversity, we are always being called to greater oneness in Christ.

Historically, various preferences have cropped up along the way. One example is “high-church” versus “low-church” worship. We also find a continuum of emphases, from the corporate nature of Christian experience to the more individual. The former tend more toward “life together” and the social implications of faith, while the latter emphasize personal faith and a more privatized experience.

There is also tension between those who seek to share faith by deeds of love and service in the social milieu, where the church is a presence of shalom, and those who stress verbal proclamations of the kerygma. This could call each position away from extremism toward a more wholistic approach. But often we appear simply to become defensive.

The church is also affected by fears and insecurities of the times. The Bomb, our “global village” immediacy, population increase, and an ecology that lacks hope are some of the factors that have contributed to global fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a spirit of the world—whether Islamic, Jewish, secular, or Christian.

Why We Divide But Do Not Conquer

We succumb to this mentality because our God is too small. Many voices in the church world defend fragments of the Christian faith rather than glory in the Sovereign Lord, who purposes to bring all things under the rule of Christ. We stereotype one another for political purposes rather than see each other as team members with different gifts for enrichment. We often pigeonhole one another so we need not relate in the larger mission beyond the segment we “control.” In so doing, we avoid the moral implications of an issue, choosing rather to label it “New Right” or “secular-humanist,” depending on our own stance. This excuses us from responsibility for the issue itself.

Our factional mentality makes it difficult for the thinking non-Christian to identify with any brand of Christianity. The politicizing of the church has created a crusader mentality. Passionately held positions often prevent others from hearing. This stifles the honest interfacing of views, which can challenge each to more adequate understandings of God’s Word.

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Polarization reflects our problems with the authority of the Word. Bibliolatry is not the problem so much as the idolizing of our interpretations, from left to right. Our fragmentation becomes insulation, preventing our Lord from speaking a word for contemporary issues from the Word. The God who has acted in history acts today, not capriciously but consistently. It is for us to hear him rather than a reinforcement of our own prejudgments.

For example, the church in the Western world has presupposed materialism as an appropriate lifestyle. Our privileges often appear to others as arrogance, our verbalizing of the Christian faith as presumption. Exponents of a “success gospel” seem totally unaware of how they appear to be using God rather than serving him. The polarization between the success role and the servant role presents two radically different messages to society. In dialogue, the extremes could help each other discover a new sense of stewardship and management for the common good.

In a similar vein, the church tends to polarize over the biblical teaching on justice/righteousness and ministry to the poor. Some immediately hear in these words not the Word of God through his prophets and his Son, but rather a word of Marxism. Others use socialistic language to interpret the Word through ideologies of the secular orders rather than by biblical perspectives. (Interestingly, discussions of “socialism” in the U.S. church connote Marxist/Leninist images, while in the Canadian church the term connotes images from the Wesleyan revival and the social implications of the Christian presence.)

Our polarization may be most evident when we come to church-state relations. Evangelical aggressiveness in the political sphere has created new tensions, which need to be sorted out before they can be resolved. The “liberal” church tried the same thing earlier, seeking to shape political action by their agenda. Evangelicals were critical of this, but now they are involved themselves.

Some hold that church and state are both under rule of the Sovereign Lord, and so we obey him equally in serving either one, or we are to bring both fully under his lordship. Others are convinced there is one Lord over all, but he relates differently to each. Since government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not by its nature intend to obey Christ, the Christian witness is not to press government to achieve the churches’ agenda but rather to hold government morally accountable before God to live up to its own claims (in our case, the Constitution and Bill of Rights).

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This difference of approach has polarized the church on issues relating to power and the powerless, justice and human rights, nuclear arms and Star Wars. Such a debate engages us in a re-evaluation of our presuppositions. The threat of a holocaust has led us to heated dialogue. Here the lines so easily drawn between the “peace churches” and other denominations have changed, with many people in mainline denominations moving to a nuclear pacifism. The other camp, meanwhile, has become more articulate in advancing holy-war, even nationalistic, propositions. While they at times use “just war” language, the dialogue makes clear that their arguments go beyond “just war” criteria to justify war in a fallen world to preserve our freedom, to fight communism, to save our nation.

We are also polarized through the competitive use of mass media. Highly visible persons reach across the continent to draw funds for their super-programs at the expense of God’s work in smaller, localized programs. The polarization concerns more than finances; it has to do with the fact that the local pastor, who plans a “theological diet” for his congregation, must constantly interact with the other voices. The church does not have a cooperative, responsible way to sort out various theological positions for mutual enrichment. Consequently, we are left to individualistic prophets appearing in a more competitive role.

Polarization over mission continues to express itself, as it has throughout the history of the church. Some pursue evangelism as a personal piety, while others pursue a more social, wholistic ministry. In some settings, cooperation among churches is almost solely evangelistic proclamation. But in many settings, especially in the inner city, churches cooperate for both proclamation and wholistic ministry.

The inner city may well be the arena in which the Spirit of God brings us together. The Lausanne Committee, particularly Ray Bakke’s work in “world cities” (population of one million or more), is now a global expression of a common mission. Relief agencies ministering in countries of famine are relevant expressions of the arms of the church.

Another polarization has to do with the “already” and the “not yet” aspects of the kingdom of God.

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Those who emphasize “already” realize the present rule of Christ and therefore call the church to certain freedoms and responsibilities. They focus on the new community within community, the new people of God who live by the mandate of the Sovereign Lord.

Those who emphasize the “not yet” dimension disassociate the kingdom of God from the present role of the church. They see salvation as rescuing souls off a sinking ship without trying to help the ship. This reinforces a more privatistic view. It rejects the more corporate dimensions of the community of God’s people as a transforming presence in a decadent or violent society. And some who emphasize the “not yet” aspect associate it directly with the re-establishment of national Israel as a base for the Messiah’s future work.

Polarization on this issue is intense, for it involves both a method of interpreting Scripture and an interpretation of justice and human rights. It affects the application of Christian ethics to international relations. (The largest amount of U.S. foreign aid goes to Israel; meanwhile, we seem unable to relate to Palestinians as equally important in the kingdom of God).

Reasons To Unite

In the midst of such polarization, the Sovereign Spirit keeps calling us together in the mission of Christ. The more we become aware of the kingdom mission among the world’s 4.7 billion people, the more we will want to use our energies there rather than fussing with one another. Too often we compliment the defense of our particular view, even when it is quite parochial, as though it is synonymous with God’s view. Instead, we should be willing to place our position under the authority of his Word, along with the views of others. As we draw close to Christ, we express the unity of a body with diverse parts.

A Tilt Toward the Relational

Carl F. George

In American society, two pronounced and somewhat related longings for relationship have become obvious. One is a response to technology, the other to secularism.

High Touch

Secular prophets such as John Naisbitt have noted that as modern life becomes increasingly dominated by technology, we have not been depersonalized as much as some pessimists projected. Instead, a balancing response to high tech has produced intimacy, warmth, and human contact. Naisbitt calls it “high touch.”

We see it many places. Even as hospitals have become increasingly dominated by complex life-support hardware, mothers are provided homelike live-in rooms for birthing. The dying are cared for in hospices that conceal the medical supports to life and permit a far more human and familial existence during a patient’s final months. Banks have installed automated tellers—and warmly upholstered conference areas in their lobbies.

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Naisbitt also points out that while television has reduced communication within the family, group therapy movements have taken up some of the slack. People who do not have the opportunity to “talk back” seem driven to find other ways to express their need for listeners, whether at the therapist’s couch, the singles bar, the night club, or the exercise salon. Younger Americans everywhere seem to be searching for camaraderie and mutual support.

For a time, popular sociologists distracted us from seeing the extent of the high-touch need in our society. They gave much visibility to the yuppies—young upwardly mobile consumerists who focused on success, materialism, and expensive consumption. These people were sometimes identified as loners fast-tracking their way to the top.

Of late, however, another class—perhaps three times larger than the yuppies—has been identified as the “New Collar class.” These young people are said to be the backbone of the post-industrial society, with incomes ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 a year. Although they might well be yuppies if their incomes permitted, they find themselves in far more collegial circumstances. They prize interaction and group life and, although they struggle on an economic edge, place great value on interpersonal relations. As the computer programmers, clerks, and technicians of the realm, they illustrate an appreciation for high touch.

Churches that respond by being open to these people and embracing them find a ready clientele. Recently, Ed Young of Second Baptist Church, Houston, and Adrian Rogers of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis traveled the United States to visit the largest and fastest-growing churches. They found them to be places of ready acceptance. “In each of these congregations there was a warm atmosphere of love and life,” they reported.

Indeed, some observers have attributed the growth of the charismatic movement not so much to doctrine as to atmosphere. In these worship services, there is often such a quality of joy that people stand in line to get in. For his part, John Bisagno, pastor of Houston’s 17,000-member First Baptist Church, tells his congregation, “The world is a hostile place. Seventeen people are shot to death annually on Houston freeways. People need islands of love and joy and acceptance. Our church can be one of these.”

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In the late 1800s a poor little fellow described as “clutching his coat and making his way up a windy Chicago street” passed an open church door. A well-meaning deacon tried to intercept him with an offer of warmth and freedom from the cold wind. The man replied, “Thank you, sir, but I’ll not come in. I’m going up to Mr. Moody’s Sunday school.”

“Son, why would you walk blocks up to Mr. Moody’s Sunday school when you could come here?” the man asked.

“It’s because they love a little fella up there.”

Recently I took my family to visit a small mission congregation. The denomination and order of service were unfamiliar to us, but when we compared notes after the morning, the children were eager to return. “Isn’t it clear how much love the pastor had for each of us?” they said.

A Spiritual Longing

But longing for human compassion and intimacy is only one of two great trends in America today. The other is a search for spiritual experience.

Americans are intensely interested in religion, the supernatural, and the nonmaterial element in human existence. Films, music, popular press, and seminars point to an insatiable hunger for knowledge about life beyond our planet, forces beyond the reach of our physical senses, religion, and mysticism. It is as if the highest standard of living the world has ever seen has resulted in a great emptiness of soul.

To fill this void, a vast “human potential movement” has arisen, starting with group therapy and evolving through various forms of self-help to a current variety of “psychotechniques.” Devotees boast of being on the threshold of a new age and proudly call their movement the “Aquarian Conspiracy.” Ironically, it utilizes all the biblical techniques for communion with the spirit realm plus many others that are clearly occultish and demonic. The tragedy of our time is that contemporary evangelicalism (with few exceptions) has failed to call for a devotional practice that pursues God with the vigor, intensity, and imagination found in the seekers of expanded consciousness.

The Challenge

Thus, one of the most serious challenges to the church in the next two decades will come from those whose cosmology is more akin to Hinduism than Christianity. At a time when large segments of the population are crying for spiritual reality, churches that forthrightly address the supernatural dimensions of Christianity will have the greatest impact. The rapid growth of charismatic churches not only in the United States but worldwide gives clear witness to the ability of some Christian movements to meet the spiritual hunger of the age.

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What will characterize congregations that meet the spiritual needs of the next two decades? They will:

• teach the reality of the Christian supernatural experience;

• seek interaction with the God whose only begotten Son is the risen Jesus of Nazareth;

• respect the Spirit-given gifts of the congregation so that structures do not force the majority of Christians to be only financial contributors and spectators;

• release their parishioners to minister away from the premises of the church, where the greatest hunger is felt in the community;

• include extended periods of prayer and uninterrupted times of song for praise in worship services;

• not become myopic in seeking devotional experiences that result in withdrawal and retreat from Christian responsibility;

• search for a life in God that taps into a wellspring of divine love.

No single formula will insure a growing ministry or a church that works. Many ministries that deal with the supernatural will not grow, because they will become preoccupied with one or another manifestation and will not find the right mix of activities to attract a hearing and facilitate discipling groups to hold new members. On the other hand, many churches that do not encourage the supernatural dimension, but prefer rational teaching, will grow. These will thrive in population segments that are highly rational in world view.

A balance between the two is necessary. Where these two work in concert and support a God-given vision, growth will follow.

The Gospel for the Rest of Our Century

Carl F. H. Henry

The word gospel (euangellion) means good news or good tidings and is used in Scripture, for example, for the cessation of war. The gospel signifies more particularly the announcement of God’s ready forgiveness and provision of new life through personal faith—grounded, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, in Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection on behalf of the penitent. It is essentially an announcement that God offers salvation and copes with the sinner’s whole desperate predicament.

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The gospel is a message about God’s act, not ours. It excludes all human works as a condition of salvation. It embraces rich and poor alike. It makes no racial or cultural distinctions.

The gospel is not a message about redistributing wealth, nor does it connect spiritual well-being with material abundance.

Does The Gospel Include Feeding The Poor?

There is a Christian imperative to feed the poor, but the gospel itself is not such an announcement. It is about God’s work in Christ on behalf of all poor sinners. It addresses those whose life and works are bankrupt; it does not imply that certain works, whether circumcision or feeding the poor, are a condition of divine acceptance.

Jesus characterized his ministry by the Isaiah passage that speaks of Jehovah sending his Anointed One to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18). But it is clear that the primary sense of this passage is spiritual, because (1) only a small number of poor, blind, and imprisoned were actually released during Jesus’ ministry, and (2) he came from a carpenter’s “middle-class” home. The passage is symbolic, anticipating a coming age in which all human miseries are transcended.

The lessons for us from the example of Jesus are:

• Christ gave to the poor but did so unobtrusively; we know this from John 13. The disciples would not have surmised that Jesus instructed Judas to go give something to the poor unless he had a history of telling Judas to do that. But we learn of this habit only incidently in this passage. Unlike modern ideologues and politicians, Jesus gave to the poor without using the plight of the poor to advance his personal eminence as their champion.

• He made the virtue of compassion an evidence of authentic discipleship, although not the exclusive test, as the check list in Matthew 25 reminds us.

• That responsiveness to need extends first and foremost to one’s family and to the household of faith.

• It extends beyond that to all humans in need, as an expression of neighbor love.

• Jesus was not a zealot dedicated to violent overthrow of unjust political powers, nor did he champion a bread-and-butter kingdom of material abundance or economic redistribution.

• Concern for the needy does not devolve solely upon Christians. All human beings are their brother’s keeper. But the Christian’s special motivation is grounded in the truth of divine creation, the universal possession of the imago Dei, and Christ’s love for sinners.

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The New Testament does not look upon wealth as evil but as an opportunity for greater stewardship. It does not look upon poverty as evil but as a greater opportunity to test the providence of God. It does not reject the concept of private property; indeed, it reinforces it. Christian salvation carries no guarantee of economic betterment, although it engenders new virtues of industry and thrift and erodes costly vices, so that genuine faith often leads to economic improvement.

Several years ago, I addressed the Evangelical Conference on Social Responsibility in Madras, India. In preparation I got data about world hunger from the U.S. State Department. I was impressed that, at that point, the four greatest pockets of poverty in the modern world were in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia. These countries have a preponderance of Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist populations.

I began to question the practicality of Christians meeting these vast needs by themselves. I sensed the need to sensitize non-Christian consciences in terms of every man’s responsibility as his brother’s keeper. At that time, Arab sheiks would stop off in London to gamble away their petrol fortunes in the casinos. Now, according to recent figures, Iran is spending half its oil income on the war with Iraq.

Christians and non-Christians alike are too often tempted to rely on government to deal with the problem of poverty, or to serve as government extensions. A few years ago I saw the figures for U.S. AID programs and was astonished to realize how deeply certain churches and voluntary agencies were entangled with government response to the poor. That has happened in part because politically administered funds abroad often did not find their way to the needy. Marxist bureaucrats and militants in Ethiopia benefit themselves from funds intended for the impoverished. My uneasiness, however, concerns the increasing dependence of voluntary agencies on public funding. The categories of justice and charity are being needlessly blurred; justice deals with what is legally due another, charity is a matter of undeserved love.

Many years ago at a conference in New York, Eugene Carson Blake asked, “Why should we begrudge it if government gets so motivated by what are essentially Christian ideals that it wants to respond to the needs of human beings?” I had never thought of it in that context. But the business of government is to provide justice, not charity redefined as wealth redistribution by taxation. That is not to say the meeting of human survival needs by wealthier nations is not to be commended.

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Does The Gospel Include Using Government As An Instrument Of Justice?

Christians bear a special duty in relation to civil government as a divine instrument for justice in fallen society. The risen Lord, in whom God has invested all authority and power, already rules the regenerate church as living Head. He also approves and upholds civil government to contain unrighteousness and chaos and to preserve social justice and public order. Civil authority to act as God’s responsible ministers is entrusted to all duly constituted rulers, not only to kings but also to subordinate officials such as Pilate (John 19:11).

Christians may certainly work through civil authority for the advancement of justice and human good. They may provide critical illumination, personal example, and vocational leadership.

Yet Christians, like everyone else, must also respect the limited purposes for which civil government exists by God’s will. They are not to force spiritual commitment by political pressures; public law requires only outward conformity. In supporting the human good, the people of God must be constantly alert to God’s commandments and the content of his new covenant. Justice and welfare are often politically manipulated and ideologically exploited.

The Bible calls for no one form of civil government, although it definitely excludes some. In fact, all political forms can be perverted. While a responsible republic or democracy at least protects self-determination, it can deteriorate into anarchy. Human dictators tend to be arbitrary and perverse—but Messiah will rule as a benevolent, totalitarian sovereign.

Christ’s disciples thus must guard against two flawed assumptions: first, that the world, by structural changes, can be turned into the kingdom of God; second, that improving sociopolitical structure is rendered unimportant by the distinctive call to proclaim the gospel. Armed with the continuing reminder that the political powers put Jesus Christ to death, the church must repeatedly warn government against using its power to serve the injustices of the status quo instead of promoting the reign of justice, the status to come.

The distinctive biblical use of the word gospel focuses on the history of salvation. The gospel is good news, news of God’s grace to the unworthy, news of a victory of righteousness and love in which the people of God forever share. It is the only news that endures. It refers to the rule of God in the affairs of persons and nations and his decisive end-time purposes. The prophetic good news revolves around Yahweh’s rule of righteousness, salvation, and peace. The prophet’s divine call is to proclaim this good news to desperately needy people.

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Portions condensed and adapted from God, Revelation & Authority, volume 3 (Word, 1970) pp. 69–74.

Law Fulfilled: John Wesley on the Gospel

There is no contrariety at all between the law and the gospel; there is no need for the law to pass away, in order to establish the gospel. Indeed, neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together. Yea, the very same words, considered in different respects, are parts both of the law and of the gospel: If they are considered as commandments, they are parts of the law; if as promises, of the gospel. Thus, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” when considered as a commandment, is a branch of the law; when regarded as a promise, is an essential part of the gospel;—the gospel being no other than the commands of the law, proposed by way of promise. Accordingly, poverty of spirit, purity of heart, and whatever else is enjoined in the holy law of God, are no other, when viewed in a gospel light, than so many great and precious promises.

There is, therefore, the closest connection that can be conceived, between the law and the gospel. On the one hand, the law continually makes way for, and points us to, the gospel; on the other, the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbor, to be meek, humble, or holy: We feel that we are not sufficient for these things; yea, that “with man this is impossible”: But we see a promise of God, to give us that love, and to make us humble, meek, and holy: We lay hold of this gospel, of these glad tidings; it is done unto us according to our faith; and “the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us,” through faith which is in Christ Jesus.…

Every command in holy writ is only a covered promise.… God hath engaged to give whatsoever he commands. Does he command us then to “pray without ceasing”? to “rejoice ever-more?” to be “holy as He is holy”? It is enough: He will work in us this very thing: It shall be unto us according to his word.

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Sermon on the Mount

What We Must Do

Harold Lindsell

The trends of the times, as reviewed in the previous pages, are easier to ascertain than whether the trends are consonant with God’s purposes for the church. Trends come and go. Whether they are good or bad can only be determined when weighed against our biblical mission.

If the mission of the church changes from generation to generation, there is no standard by which to evaluate. If, however, there are Permanent Things that remain true and binding on the church regardless of trends, we have a set of invariables that remain normative whatever changes take place.

The Mission Of The Church

Basically, the church has two functions: one interior, the other exterior. The first treats the inner life of the church and its ministry to its own people. The second concerns ministry in all its ramifications to the world outside the church.

Regarding the first: Every church is a community that meets together for the worship of God. It represents the whole family of God and exists for fellowship (koinonia) in which all believers, whatever their condition, are sisters and brothers who love, aid, and promote each other. In addition, they subject themselves to discipline, rebuke, and tough, demanding love in what is often a spiritual school of hard knocks. All believers are to be built up in the true faith by proper instruction, the use of the ordinances or sacraments, and having for their common goal conformity to the image of Christ. They are to be equipped to live properly and discharge their obligations to the church, their fellow believers, and the exterior mission of the church in the world at large.

Regarding the second function: This consists of both proclamation of the gospel (kerygma) and service (diakonia). The service aspect is subordinate to proclamation and should not be isolated from it. Essentially, the goal is the evangelization of the world, not the perfection of society. Evangelization is nothing less than taking the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to all people everywhere, promising them remission and forgiveness of sins if they repent and receive Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.

Permanent Things Underlying Our Mission

The evangelization of the world does not exist by itself. Rather, it is a consequence of certain presuppositions:

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1. The Bible affirms (and history fully supports) the fact that all people everywhere have been separated from God because they have broken his laws and are estranged from him. In short, all are sinners. The good news is that God loves sinners and has opened the door of heaven to them.

2. The Christian faith is the only true faith, and consequently, all other religions are false. Sinful people cannot find salvation and restoration of fellowship through them. In an age when the notion persists that people in other religions can be saved, we must be clear in our affirmation that this view is contrary to biblical revelation. Jesus is the only way to heaven, and there is no other name.

3. Those who die in their sins are lost forever. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, and the permanent condition of all people is determined by God’s final judgment at the last day. This means any view that all people will be saved at last, whether held by Origen in the early church or some contemporary thinkers, is not in accord with God’s revelation.

All of these things make sense because God has sovereignly chosen to make salvation possible by his grace, which provides everything for nothing to those who deserve the exact opposite. Why God chose to do all this the way he did remains hidden from us, for “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

God’S Command To Evangelize

The mission of the church springs from the mind of God and is binding on the church. Five times the New Testament records what we call the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44–49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). In its simplest and starkest terms, the commission says to go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel to every creature.

This preaching is the chief, but not the only, work the church has to do. It must also equip people to do the work; it must pre-evangelize, exhort, pray, make disciples, and raise money.

Why should the church evangelize the world? Because God has commanded it; the lost condition of mankind requires it; the return of Christ is contingent upon it; and the consummation of history cannot come to pass without it.

The angels cannot preach the gospel. Only regenerated human beings can do it. If the church does not do it, it will not be done. There is no tomorrow for those who die today without the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

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And the evangelization of the world is not progressive. The church cannot fulfill the commission bit by bit, one segment of the world at a time over a long period. Western Europe had the gospel for centuries but has not kept it. It has become a larger and larger mission field. It must now be re-evangelized. Some one generation must do the job of evangelizing the whole world, and any generation can attain the objective if it determines to do so and is willing to pay the price.

But there is a secondary task.

Faith Alone: Martin Luther on the Gospel

The Word [of God] is the Gospel of God concerning His Son, Who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit Who sanctifies. For to preach Christ means to feed the soul, to make it righteous, to set it free and to save it, if it believe the preaching. For faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God, Romans 10, “If thou confess with thy mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe with thy heart that God hath raised Him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved”; and again, “The end of the law is Christ unto righteousness to every one that believeth”; and Romans 1, “The just shall live by his faith.” The Word of God cannot be received and cherished by any works whatever, but only by faith. Hence it is clear that, as the soul needs only the Word for its life and righteousness, so it is justified by faith alone and not by any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word, and therefore it would not need faith. But his faith cannot at all exist in connection with works, that is to say, if you at the same time claim to be justified by works, whatever their character; for that would be to halt between two sides, to worship Baal and to kiss the hand, which, as Job says, is a very great iniquity. Therefore, the moment you begin to believe, you learn that all things in you are altogether blameworthy, sinful, and damnable, as Romans 3 says, “For all have sinned and lack the glory of God”; and again, “There is none just, there is none that doeth good, all have turned out of the way: they are become unprofitable together.” When you have learned this, you will know that you need Christ, Who suffered and rose again for you, that, believing in Him, you may through this faith become a new man, in that all your sins are forgiven, and you are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone.

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Treatise on Christian Liberty

Service To The World

The church through the ages has helped people in ways too numerous to mention. Hospitals have been founded, schools begun, orphanages set up, soup kitchens established. Millions of people are presently being helped in every major city and region of the world.

Emilio Castro, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, argues in his recent book Sent Free: Mission and Unity in the Perspective of the Kingdom that the poor and powerless constitute a “concrete historical concentration point.” He chooses to concentrate on service at the expense of proclamation. He focuses on the physical needs of humanity and wants the church to restructure the socio-political-economic areas of society. He thinks the present structures are oppressive, and the cause of poverty and powerlessness among the downtrodden.

The rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless are all poor and powerless before God as unregenerate sinners. Those who are outside of Christ, whatever their status in society, have first claim to the church’s attention with regard to their spiritual need, which goes beyond this world to the world to come. “What good will it be for a man,” Jesus asked, “if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26, niv).

Surely some missionary objectives are philanthropic, some social, some political. But the missionary enterprise is not directed primarily to these areas of life. Missionaries’ first order of business is not to reform industrial conditions or check social abuses. They do not come to change the politics of nationals or reform them according to Western concepts.

The Far East Broadcasting Company preaches the gospel over the airwaves, instructs new believers in the holy faith, and teaches pastors how to function as leaders of new churches. Nothing is said about the economic, political, and social oppression under which many listeners languish.

One can anticipate that in the future these born-again believers will have something to say and do about those conditions. In the meantime, the best estimates indicate that more than 50 million people have come to Christ through this strategic ministry. Tens of thousands of letters come from behind the Bamboo Curtain to support this figure.

Yet it remains true that the church reaches out to the whole person, and this includes the totality of life. Therefore, an interest in the physical conditions of nationals is imperative. Changing social, economic, and political customs in order to improve life is within the bounds of service. But it leaves open two questions about which there may be sharp differences of opinion.

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The first is whether the church qua church should spend time and energy doing these things or whether this responsibility belongs to individual believers. The church is not a member of two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. All Christians, however, have a dual citizenship.

The second and no less important question is whether social action is a duty of the church only in relation to its own constituency or to the community at large. On mission fields, it is most common for missionaries to confine their social action to the people among whom they minister and not to a nation at large. From the prudential perspective this is desirable, and any actions having national implications should come from the believers and not from the church as such.

Maintaining a balance between proclamation and service is difficult. Today, agencies such as the World Council of Churches major more on social action and less on evangelism than is appropriate. Few, if any, organizations that major on evangelism leave social action out of the picture.

In 1966 the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals) and the Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association sponsored a “Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission.” They adopted a statement about social action that represents evangelical or fundamentalist thinking:


That, we reaffirm unreservedly the primacy of preaching the gospel to every creature, and we will demonstrate anew God’s concern for social justice and human welfare.

That, evangelical social action will include, wherever possible, a verbal witness to Jesus Christ.

That, evangelical social action must avoid wasteful and unnecessary competition.

That, when Christian institutions no longer fulfill their distinctively evangelical functions they should be relinquished.

That, we urge all evangelicals to stand openly and firmly for racial equality, human freedom, and all forms of social justice throughout the world.

Restoration: Thomas Aquinas on the Gospel

The Son of God came into this world to save men from sin and the consequences of sin. The whole life of Christ, therefore, is dominated by this purpose. From the very beginning of His human life, from the moment of His conception in the womb of His Mother, Christ is the Savior of mankind. Moreover, since He was capable of rational acts and therefore of free acts from the first moment of His existence in the womb of Mary, He began even at that very moment to give to God that perfect obedience which is the soul of the sacrifice of Himself whereby He has redeemed mankind. As Adam had destroyed all human nature by his disobedience, so Christ restored human nature by His obedience to God. And that perfect obedience began at the very first instant of His existence in His human nature. It is true that the principle redeeming act of Christ is the shedding of His precious blood on the Cross of Calvary. But, it is also true that from the beginning of His human life, Christ directed all the acts of His will to their final consummation on Calvary. From the very beginning, the will of Christ was perfectly conformed to the will of God.

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Summa Theologica III:36

The How Of Evangelization

As soon as we complete our statement of the Permanent Things, we turn to methodology. This opens a wide door for human ingenuity. The advent of radio and television, for example, has dramatically altered communications of every sort. Satellites and computer technology, still in their infancy, boggle the minds of most people, who find it difficult to imagine what advances will come in the next few decades.

Principally, the church must employ any and all means that are ethically and morally sound to finish the task of reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel. Medicine, education, and literary productions, including the translation of the Bible into every tongue, are methods that, when they are properly related to straight evangelism, have contributed and will contribute to the total task.

The establishment of self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating national churches is a primary objective. As never before, national churches will have to function as missionaries to their own nations and beyond if the task is to be accomplished.

In the early twentieth century, the United States was the chief source of missionary personnel. That is still true today, but the baton of leadership has slipped from the grasp of the major denominations into the hands of smaller churches (except for the Southern Baptist Convention, which has more missionaries than all of the churches connected with the National Council of Churches) and the parachurch organizations.

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Donald McGavran, who was formerly a missionary in India and now is a distinguished, albeit retired missiologist, has written in the International Journal of Frontier Missions, “We must act on our belief that there are at least one million individuals who would pray for and give to frontier missions.… The task is urgent and enormous. Today in 1985 more than three billion are still closed off in unreached groups. They have yet to believe on Christ. They are lost sheep. The Great Shepherd wants them found.”

In the ebb and flow of history, we must never forget the Permanent Things. They are binding on the church, whatever the times and circumstances. This calls for people of great faith, stout hearts, and ready response. The bottom line must never change—faithfulness to the command and to the Commander, whose orders the church must obey.

The Priorities of Love

Kenneth S. Kantzer

The first task of the faithful people of God is to worship their Creator and Redeemer. They receive his instruction, enjoy his fellowship, appropriate the spiritual resources he freely offers, and share with others in common worship, instruction, mutual discipleship, and enjoyment of the communion of all the saints.

This leads in turn to ministry or service. The Christian life is essentially a life of service. Our Lord set the pattern when he said, “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

The second chapter of Philippians portrays the servant role of Jesus Christ as the pattern for every Christian. This is a lesson to be taken to heart by everyone who calls himself a follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord of glory, enjoying all the splendors of heaven, chose not to keep tightly within his grasp what was rightly his. He elected to forgo these privileges to enter our nondescript planet and share our life so he might redeem us.

We, in like sacrificial love, should be willing to serve each other. The greatest service we can do for another being is to share the best of all good news so he, too, may come to know God and find deliverance from sin as well as true meaning and purpose for life. How could any service be greater? No other gift can compare with this. It is the pearl of great price. It is the summum bonum of human existence.

But love shares more than good news of salvation from sin. It seeks every truly good thing for the one it loves. And our Lord placed right along beside the mission of the gospel the mission to serve the needs of life on this earth, including those of the body. We are to care for the wounded, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bring justice to the oppressed, and love our neighbor as Christ has loved us.

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Love does not calculate priorities but rushes in to meet needs. More often than not, our fellow humans are so burdened down by the cares, sorrows, and pains of this life that they cannot hear the good news we would share with them until first their immediate pain is alleviated.

The mission of the church, therefore, is to serve—to serve God. In serving him, we are led necessarily to serve our fellow humans.

We Need To Understand The World To Serve It

In carrying out its mission, the church does not work in a vacuum. We cannot serve effectively without understanding people—what they think, where they are going, the shape of their dreams, what are their values, what are the structures that channel their living and influence their decisions.

It is not that the gospel changes to something different for each person or culture. But how the gospel is heard and understood is greatly affected by culture. We do not present the gospel the same way to our six-year-old daughter and to the philosophy department chairman at a state university.

Of course, it is the Spirit of God who convicts and creates true faith in either case. But the Spirit of God does his delicate obstetrics in and through human culture. We, his servants, are wise to serve as handmaidens and nurse’s aides with a similar respect for human culture.

Across the two millennia of church history, the church has at times notoriously failed to read the signs so as to understand what was happening to it and to the world in which it was ministering. At other times, it has been gloriously successful.

Notorious Failures

In the time of Constantine, the ancient church was almost destroyed by its own success. The half-converted and the unconverted swarmed into the churches because of the sudden popularity of Christianity when it became the faith of the emperor. Instruction of the converts failed to keep pace with the numerical growth of the church. As a result, the church shifted away from its foundation upon the Word of God and soon came to be perverted almost beyond recognition.

Again in the late medieval period, the church became swollen with power and wealth. It ignored our Lord’s warning that his kingdom was “not of this world.” It so far misconceived the servant role demanded by the gospel as to seek its ultimate triumphs in earthly power and wealth.

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In our own time, American fundamentalism of the twenties and thirties failed to understand the culture in which it sought to minister. I say this with care, because present-day evangelicals have much to be grateful for in their fundamentalist heritage. I do not share the popular denigration of fundamentalism. Protestant fundamentalism is evangelicalism as it waged one of the most devastating struggles of all church history. It was a fight for life itself between Christianity and anti-Christianity. But fundamentalism did survive. It kept the essential gospel intact and spawned a more powerful evangelicalism.

Yet it is true that the earlier fundamentalism tended to define itself in terms of its opposition instead of the Word of God. If liberals were for anything, fundamentalists had to be against it. As a result, a generation walled themselves off from the very world their biblical mandate had commanded them to serve.

Glorious Successes

In sharp contrast to these, evangelicalism at other times and places has scored brilliant victories for the kingdom. It has sensed the tenor of the times, grasped its own role as a servant of God and of its fellow men, and by the power of the Spirit has achieved glorious successes.

The Reformation was one such time. True, greedy princes often acted from selfish motives, and due credit must be given to the printing press (during the first two years of the Reformation, more books were published than in the whole preceding century). Still, at the heart of it all lay a renewed study of the Scripture by Martin Luther and his followers, who saw once again with clarity the biblical gospel and had the courage to declare it boldly to a needy world.

A second triumph of evangelicalism came in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the battle against slavery in the British empire. Fighting immense odds, Wilberforce and other evangelicals applied the biblical teaching of man’s creation in the image of God and the unity and equality of all races to the economic structures of the day. As a result, they brought freedom from slavery throughout the British empire. That in turn affected the cause of human freedom throughout the whole of the Western world.

A third triumph may be observed in the modern mission movement spurred on by the Second World War. Evangelical Christians were made vividly aware of the needs of the rest of the world for the gospel and also for medical care and other benefits so freely enjoyed by most Western Christians. They were challenged, too, to make sacrifices for the kingdom of God comparable to those they and others had been called on to make for earthly kingdoms.

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Grace Manifested: John Calvin on the Gospel

Now I take the gospel to be the clear manifestation of the mystery of Christ. I recognize, of course, that since Paul calls the gospel “the doctrine of faith” [1 Tim. 4:6], all those promises of free remission of sins which commonly occur in the law, whereby God reconciles men to himself, are counted as parts of it. For he contrasts faith with the terrors that would trouble and vex the conscience if salvation were to be sought in works. From this it follows that the word “gospel,” taken in the broad sense, includes those testimonies of his mercy and fatherly favor which God gave to the patriarchs of old. In a higher sense, however, the word refers, I say, to the proclamation of the grace manifested in Christ. This is not only accepted as a matter of common usage, but rests upon the authority of Christ and the apostles. Hence, the fact that he preached the gospels of the Kingdom is properly attributed to him. And Mark prefaces his Gospel with: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” [Mark 1:1]. There is no need to heap up passages to prove something so fully known. “By his advent Christ … has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Paul does not mean by these words that the patriarchs were shrouded in the shadows of death until the Son of God took flesh. Rather, he claims this privilege of honor for the gospel, teaching that it is a new and unusual sort of embassy by which God has fulfilled what he had promised: that the truth of his promises would be realized in the person of the Son. Believers have found to be true Paul’s saying that “all the promises of God find their yea and amen in Christ” [2 Cor. 1:20], for these promises had been sealed in their hearts. Nevertheless, because he has in his flesh accomplished the whole of our salvation, this living manifestation of realities has justly won a new and singular commendation. From this derives Christ’s saying: “Afterward you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” [John 1:51]. Although he seems here to allude to the ladder shown in a vision to the patriarch Jacob [Gen. 28:12], how excellent his advent is he has marked through opening by it the gate of heaven, that each one of us may enter there.

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Institutes of the Christian Religion II:9:3

Do We Face Challenges Or Create Them?

Today the church faces all sorts of issues. The Christianity Today Institute’s purpose in this issue is to make evangelicals aware of the significant changes facing Christians in the next decade and a half.

But in a deeper sense, why should evangelicals allow the world to set their agenda? The great danger is that we will continue to define ourselves in terms of the issues forced upon us by the world. We can become known as anti-abortionists, as anti-Communists, as anti-pornographers. God knows Christians must take their stand against these. But the easy way out is to become negative in response to whatever evil happens to be most popular in the public mind at the moment and then define evangelicalism in terms of its opposition.

Biblical Christianity should never become a reactionary movement. Its agenda must be set by the positive truth of the revealed will of God. He alone sets our agenda for us. Guided by the Word of God, evangelical Christians need to create issues, not simply react to those we find.

For example, evangelicals are for peace. It is true that many very conservative evangelicals believe peace can best be advanced in a wicked world through strength. But they are not militarists. They are evangelicals and, therefore, they support peace. In spite of their commitment to diverse paths by which to secure peace, they must learn to concentrate on actions that will foster their goal for the good of humankind.

Likewise, evangelicals are for the poor. They may believe that taxing the rich and giving a dole to the poor only enslaves the poor. The needs must be met in better ways that preserve dignity and in the long run do not enslave. Yet they are essentially for the poor, not against the rich. It is their duty to face poverty honestly with positive solutions that have some hope of being effective.

It may well be that evangelicals cannot solve the terribly complex problem of growing world poverty. But they can demonstrate a biblical concern for the poor and a willingness and commitment to alleviate the worst effects of its toll on human life and dignity. They should be vividly aware that an indifference to the plight of the poor destroys the credibility of a gospel of Christian love.

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Evangelicals are also for freedom of the press. They are opposed, however, to pornography, believing that one person’s freedom ends where the next person’s begins. They wish to preserve society from the evils that accompany pornography. Yet they must structure their opposition in a positive way to show they are still committed to freedom and to the health of the society in which they live.

Several current trends combine to underscore the importance of an evangelism and church ministry that meet the needs of the whole person. While the Bible emphasizes doctrine and the crucial nature of truth, it also emphasizes the emotional nature of humans. It should not surprise us that current trends show the necessity of an appropriate regard for the whole human personality. Redemption is not just of the mind (though some need to be reminded that it includes that) and not just of the emotions (while others forget that at times) but of the entire person as a social being dependent on God and also dependent on fellow humans for growth into maturity and personal wholeness.

The Key: A Christian World-And-Life View

The key to evangelical action in facing all these trends during the next decade is the formulation of a world-and-life view based on Holy Scripture. Here we find divine instruction on how the Christian life of servitude is to be worked out in faithfulness to the gospel.

That is why the growing penetration of secular values into the church is so dangerous. It strikes at the very foundation of our ability to meet all other trends of the day. We need to learn from the post-Constantinian church that evangelism without effective discipleship is self-defeating. In the short term, it weakens evangelism; in the long term, it destroys the church by transforming it into the world.

Perhaps the greatest need of the evangelical church today is a clear articulation of a Christian world-and-life view based on the gospel, structured according to Holy Writ, and applied faithfully and unselfishly to the ever changing but always the same needs of our old world.

Evangelicals represent a large and significant minority. It is true that we are very divided on most social and political issues. Yet we share a common commitment to the authority of the Bible, and therefore to broad and basic guidance that often brings us closer than we realize. With a biblically instructed world-and-life view and a common commitment to biblical values, there is little limit to what evangelicals can do, if we choose, in moving our society toward more humanitarian goals and toward reaching people with the gospel.

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The crucial thing is that evangelicals dare not be shaped by the surrounding society. In themselves, trends do not guide us. They show us where needs are and how the resources of the church should best be allocated to bring maximum good for the gospel and human needs. Our first task is to provide honest instruction in biblical values so evangelicals will know the broad direction in which their efforts are to be channeled. They need to construct a biblically based world-and-life view that will give structure and guidance to all their activity. They need to interact meaningfully with the issues of the day and the trends we have observed.

Only in this way can evangelicals in the next decade serve their generation in faithful obedience to God and with true success.

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