Balancing Models

I read with interest Robert Brow’s essay, “Evangelical Megashift” [Feb. 19]. I was surprised to discover I am becoming a “new-model” evangelical. I thought I was making progress in understanding God’s revelation of himself in his Word! It seems I might be led astray.

The real problem is in fact linguistic—the use of analogies: No single analogy can explain all of God’s dealings with us in this world. Therefore, God inspired the use of many analogies. The prevailing analogy is the model of the law court. It is biblical and explains something of the nature of sin and salvation that no other model can illustrate.

But there are other biblical models. Paul used other analogies—family, body, building, field, marriage, bride—to name a few.

I choose to risk the dangers of trying to balance several models, rather than the danger of continuing to emphasize solely the legal analogy. I see no reason that balancing models leads toward liberalism—I am far more deeply committed to the Word now than I was 20 years ago. But the danger of continuing the old-model emphasis is that we perpetuate a distortion of the gospel in an age when the church is facing spiritual disaster if we don’t learn to communicate a radical gospel in a secular culture.

William W. Dean

Forest City, N.C.

I recognize both of Brow’s models as having their roots in Scripture. In my own spiritual pilgrimage I have been trying to reconcile the two, to bring them together somehow into a neat box labeled “God.” But isn’t this what we will forever be unable to do? Our God is infinite; he is far beyond our finite minds (and models). I believe there needs to be a balance. The old model is not necessarily bad. Let us remain humble disciples, recognizing the Holy Spirit’s work through each person.

Lynn Brown

Columbus, Ind.

Clark Pinnock does the evangelical community a tremendous service by stating that God is dynamic; acting and reacting, rejoicing or hurting. That our Creator allows such freedom is evidence of his greatness.

If we take Pinnock’s views to their logical conclusion, the “new” thinking may unhinge some “old” presuppositions regarding prayer, salvation, and moral freedom. While this biblically based “progressive” thinking may unnerve some Calvinists, it’s bound to produce greater results in our battle for men’s souls.

Don S. Otis

High Adventure Ministries

Van Nuys, Calif.

Brow and his critics completely missed the true alternative to understanding our relation to God. They should consider a return to the teaching of the ancient church, away from which Roman Catholicism became a schism church. Justification has never been the focus. Rather, rebirth, sanctification, re-creation, and Spirit-directed transformation of man and, indeed, the whole universe, have been at the center. God loves mankind and is not possessed by primarily judicial impulses. Confidence in God’s grace and prayer for continuing mercy has been the emphasis of the (Eastern) Orthodox Catholic faith since the apostolic era. In short, the West has gone to an avoidable extreme and needs to return to the apostolic faith that is the true legacy of all Christians.

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Craig R. Roseland

Fargo, N.D.

Admitting we have a touch of theological schizophrenia may be the first step in recovering our identity. But I was saddened to note that rather than confronting liberalism with a united front, we are now trying to set our own house in order. Webber’s joyous embrace of noncognitive religion in a manner that would have done credit to Schleiermacher is a sign that the task may be long and most difficult!

Rev. Phil Janowsky

Sargent Community Church

Monte Vista, Colo.

Cleaning Up the Coat Rack

It happens every year about this time. Wendy Wright-Moore, who’s on our town’s Earth Day planning committee, is given ten minutes in the Sunday evening service to talk about ecology.

This started seven years ago, and I’m proud to report measurable progress. We’re not the most environmentally hip church in the cosmos, but our list of sins is getting shorter. We’ve organized car pools to save gas, paper collections to recycle newsprint (and send the teens to a youth retreat), and petition drives to save the whales. There are no styrofoam cups in our kitchen, but you will find bricks in the commodes (saves water). And weeds among the landscaping (no herbicides or eager weeders at our church).

Unfortunately, you will also find about three furs hanging on the coat rack, which no doubt inspired this year’s project: “Say No to Fur!” Only this time, Wendy may have met her match. One of those fur coats belongs to Ida McClanahan, 83 years old and not about to forget her days on the farm. “Where was this Wendy girl when foxes would come out of the woods every night and kill chickens?” she muttered as she eyed the poster hanging in the foyer.

No one is sure what happened during the week, but the next Sunday the poster was gone. In its place was another one asking volunteers to help clean up a stretch of the river south of town. Ida was at the church entrance, smiling as she handed out flyers about water pollution. “If God wanted old tires in streams, he’d have put ’em there in the first place,” she said to three teenagers on their way out to the parking lot.

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And the fur coat? “Still got it,” Ida said with just a touch of defiance in her voice. “But it was a little old, and wool seems to make more sense anyway.”

So now there are only two furs on the coat rack. They say the river has never been cleaner, and the young people have begun studying the first three chapters of Genesis.

What a country!


Why can’t we see Christ’s motivation, actions, and results? Would it not be orthodox to say, “God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for the redemption of our sins?” I would say this model is the oldest.

Rev. Alan J. Hardy

Newton, N.H.

It appears to me that the most important word was not only not defined, but ignored by all but one of the authors: holiness. The old model tends to emphasize holiness, which concentrates on the ways that God and man are different. By emphasizing the gulf between man and God, it becomes apparent that only a sacrificial payment can fill the gap. New-model thinkers, by contrast, tend to concentrate on the similarities between man and God. Although there are similarities, God’s level of perfection makes even our similarities weak by comparison. By relying on human analogies, such as parent/child, this new-model thinking runs the risk, in extremes, of lowering God to mere humanity or raising mankind to deity.

Gerald Nanninga

New Hope, Minn.

In the various responses to Robert Brow’s analysis of evangelicals’ recent paradigm shift, Carson was punchy, Pinnock disappointing, Wells predictable, Webber salutary, and Bloesch constructive. All in all, a fair portrayal of the American evangelical identity crisis. But it leaves one wondering if our identity is actually derived from the “evangel” or from the favored constructions we place upon it.

The Rev. Tory K. Baucum

Trinity Cathedral

Little Rock, Ark.


Stop Rejecting Fiction!

“I am sorry. What little fiction we do publish must have an overt Christian message. And we prefer that it be set in the last century. That’s what sells.”

I’ve heard this comment over and over again from Christian publishers. But where does that leave writers whose most prized gift is the ability to write stories with a subtle Christian message and a contemporary flavor? And what about readers? Who benefits from this “overt message” if only the already saved are buying these books? Those who most need to hear the good news are being left out.

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As a new Christian at the age of 33, I was zealous to expose the vanities and contradictions of the secular world I had recently been a part of. My husband and I had graduated in the sixties from the ultimate secular university, the University of California, Berkeley. As a hippie, I attended sit-ins and was active in the antiwar movement, so I felt I could understand and reach people in “the world” with my creative gifts. I could speak the language of the secular world and present religious ideas without scaring off my audience. All I had to do was find a publisher.

Years later, I am still frustrated. Not that I have remained unpublished: I have made a good career writing plays and skits for church and church-school productions. I could continue writing Christian drama for the rest of my life; but I want to reach out to my old friends in the secular world.

I am not surprised when much of what I submit to the secular market is rejected because of its religious content. But I am surprised at the response of Christian publishers. They say my stories are “not religious enough.” This means they are set in the present, deal with controversial issues, and lack an explicit Christian message.

I am not the only Christian writer to run into this wall. A friend of mine, whose best-selling books are properly overt and old-fashioned, cannot convince anyone to look at his more up-to-date novel, even though the theology is impeccable and the writing first-rate.

Granted, the publishers face a dilemma. Publishing, even Christian publishing, is a business. If contemporary settings and controversies frighten away buyers, why take risks? Besides, as readers we have sometimes acted as though every story must cover every aspect of the gospel and call for a decision for Christ on the last page. We think that somewhere souls are being won.

But that is not the case if unbelievers never read such fiction. I am glad that Frank Peretti’s novel This Present Darkness has done well in the Christian market. But its religious jargon makes it a long shot at truly capturing the imagination of the non-Christian, even if secular moviemakers are eyeing the entertainment value of its demonic activity.

Christian fiction could be a powerful tool. I have friends who beg me to show them my latest script when they wouldn’t be caught dead reading the Bible. Christian writing can gently bring our secular friends to what Francis Schaeffer calls “the ultimate conclusions of their presuppositions.”

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But it cannot happen when manuscripts that can speak both to the believer and the secular seeker are ignored. Nor will it happen as long as Christian publishers are content to cater to the already saved.

And Christian readers can help. They can stop rejecting fiction and drama as too frivolous or worldly. They can support—not the least by their purchases—writers who are trying to share the faith in contemporary dress.

If there are not more of us Christian writers, and if we are not terribly successful, it may be because we have been unable to find a place for ourselves in Christian ministry. Publishers, and Christian readers, should take note and make room for those trying to present the good news creatively to those who need to hear it—and read it.

Pamela Urfer is a writer living in Santa Cruz, California.

Speaking Out offers responsible Christians a forum for their views on contemporary issues. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Mercy As Business

I would like to respond to Everett L. Wilson’s essay, “When Mercy Becomes a Business” [Feb. 19]. While I appreciate his thoughtful critique of medicine and mercy in the United States, I believe he has unfairly singled out care for the sick as the only issue in our nation that pits the motives of ministry and business against one another. Admittedly, medicine in our country is a business—but so are food and housing.

I agree medicine is unique in that, unlike food and housing, it began in Western civilization as a ministry. While the ability of the patient to pay for medical care may be “irrelevant to Christian ethics,” the ability of someone to pay for it certainly is relevant, even when that care is part of ministry. “Who can pay?” has everything to do with neighbors, for it was an individual Samaritan in the parable who footed the bill for the victim’s care.

The broader fundamental question is whether or not any basic human need can be treated by Christians as merely a business opportunity and not an opportunity for mercy and ministry. Does any of us have the right to make a living by providing services that we owe our neighbor simply because he is our neighbor? Does business always exclude mercy?

Dr. John A. K. Boyd

Mercy Medical Center

Durango, Colo.

Don’T Support Cults—Ever

Ruth Tucker’s article, “In Search of Respectability” (Feb. 5), was insightful and very important—especially in these days when so many religious groups fool the gullible and unsuspecting with a thin veneer of morality and token elements of orthodoxy, all the while concealing a deeper core theology that amounts to heresy when compared to the Bible. As one who has spent much time researching the groups Tucker discussed, as well as others, I appreciated the update on various changes in doctrine. I also appreciated her sober warning to be cautious about how we view these groups that appear to be moving toward mainline Christianity but still espouse a core of heretical teaching. I do disagree with her concluding statement on support for these groups in legal battles over their constitutional rights. My response is No! The Word of God is clear and adamant on this point. Would Jesus have aligned himself in any way with a group founded on heresy?

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David R. Lapp

Schaumburg, Ill.

Reforming The “Cleric Complex”

In “The Pedestal Complex” (Feb. 5), Charles Colson very properly affirms: “We evangelicals mindlessly elevate our own superstars.” But we need to probe deeper. For centuries, mainline Christian groups have perpetuated the unbiblical practice of investing virtually sole spiritual authority in a single individual, to whom the faithful look up. Yet, in the New Testament prescription, the Holy Spirit appoints elders in every local assembly—his wisdom is that there is power in the harmony and plurality of the spiritually mature. The Old Testament/Catholic model of the high priest prevails. We witness how often a pastor falls from his pinnacle and how parish tension thrives when parishioners walk more spiritually than does their clerical head who, after all, sets the norm. Set against the Lord’s design, such a pastor has been ecclesiastically entrusted with more power (exousia and/or dunamis) and influence (doxa) than he could ever wield in a godly way. It is late, but not too late, to radically reform “the Cleric Complex.”

John Schwane

Broken Arrow, Okla.

Don’T Blame The Minority

I believe your editorial “They’d Rather Switch than Fight” [Feb. 5] oversimplifies the problem faced by legislators who are being forced to make decisions on the abortion issue. In talking personally with those who have disappointed us by their apparent “flip-flopping,” I have found that many have not changed their position at all. Instead, they have come to realize that if they, as a minority, take the adamant stand to defend the rights of the unborn at the expense of their political jobs, they will not be around to continue the fight to protect the unborn in the future.

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Gayle Marquette

Faith Baptist Church

Nokomis, Fla.

English Evangelicalism Is Alive And Well

As an Episcopal priest who identifies closely with the evangelical stream of the English church, I was pleased and informed by “The Remaking of English Evangelicalism” [CT Institute, Feb. 5].

As for “younger leaders, committed to classical evangelicalism, to a high view of Scripture, to a thinking orthodoxy,” which John Stott is hard pressed to name, I would suggest looking into Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. To raise up such leaders was precisely the purpose for the formation of this school—not to mention biblical preaching and teaching. Their dean and faculty are fully committed to these principles in the midst of a very liberal church.

I believe you will find that the English evangelical tradition is alive and well in the U.S. today.

The Rev. David L. Duprey

St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church

Big Piney, Wyo.

Are Sda’S More Evangelical?

I appreciate the thoughtful tone of Kenneth Samples’s article [“The Recent Truth About Seventh-day Adventism,” Feb. 5]. However, if tests of being evangelical mentioned in the article are correct, my church, in certain respects, is more evangelical than those not so questioned.

One test was the complete authority of Scripture. We agree—which is why we observe the seventh day of the week as holy, rather than the first.

As to our having a modern-day prophet, why not? Did not the Lord himself warn us against false prophets? Why would such a warning be necessary if there were no genuine prophets?

As to the immortality of the soul, 1 Timothy 6:16 tells us that only God has immortality, and 1 Corinthians 15:53 tells us that this mortal nature must put on immortality. I defy you to find a statement in Scripture that says our souls are immortal.

There is more to being saved than forgiveness. We must be changed so that we are no longer the sinful, selfish, proud, irritable people so often found even among Christians. We are born again to be loving, kind, meek, grateful for the many blessings we have received, fit for association with the One who left heaven to live and die for us.

Kenneth Harvey Hopp

Yucaipa, Calif.

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