Look around and see if you can find one. They used to carry some weight with their notions of redemption and righteous living that they wanted their American neighbors to embrace. It was a few elections ago that their influence carried a President into office. They supported missions, protected the unborn, and rejected liberal thought. The books they read reflected the concerns of their modern Christian lives: books on family, raising strong-willed children, how to honor God with your money, keeping your life pure and clean, finding out your love language, men’s issues, women’s issues, teens issues, how to be happy, how to be happy at your job, how to be happy at home, how to have a happy family, etc. Their Bibles provided a resource for answers, but the questions arose from selfish motives. God’s Word conveniently supported their positions on issues and gave them brief devotional messages to start or end the day. “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” wowed them enough to want to be glad no matter what the day brought.
These were the American evangelicals. They sought refuge with each other in their pursuit of the good things of life yet may have moved away from their purpose, or should I say God’s purpose for them, to evangelize. Some may say this is indicative of the post-modern day we live, however the roots go deeper than we can imagine and may indicate some challenging days ahead for the evangelical churches in America.
Why the alarm? First look at Christian leaders. They seem to be rejecting the label of evangelical in favor of other labels. Probably the most popular label today is “reformed.” We have so much emphasis placed on this particular issue today that even the most earnest pastors and Christian leaders want others to know first and foremost that they are reformed in their thinking and their theology. You don’t have to go far to see this. Just visit the blogs of some of these leaders like Al Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and others to see that being reformed is trumpeted as their prime theological position. It is hard to find these guys talk about being evangelical. They even have conferences to help pastors understand that they are really reformed in their thinking.
Second, biblical literacy is perhaps at an all-time low among average American Christians. Check out Barna on this. Just engage in a conversation about doctrine and you’ll see that the average American Christian can’t tell you about the major doctrines of the faith even in layman’s terms. Their small groups get into certain lifestyle topics and take a Christian slant by basing their discussions on one or two relevant Bible verses, but they have difficulty expressing thoughts about God, man, salvation, Jesus, the church to others.
Third, look at the decline in giving to missions in the mainline church and perhaps even decline in memberships at these churches. This is especially evident if you look at giving over a period of time in constant dollars. There is talk about the inability to send new missionaries to the field. Those missionaries already on the field are concerned.
And what about declines in memberships at mainline churches? Some of this may reflect the de-emphasis of what it means to be a part of the local church. You see this particularly in the venues where pastors are referred to as “great speakers” and where music and worship receives major emphasis. Yes, baptisms are down but we sure do know how to worship! Some of these churches don’t even keep lists of regular attenders.
I hope this is not beginning to sound too cynical, but I do think we are seeing a monumental shift in church life that is moving us away from the old ways of doing church. And with this maybe we are seeing the term “evangelical” being shuffled back into a closet with all the old hymnals and choir robes. One thing is for certain—we can reconcile evangelism and the sovereignty of God, remembering that we as Believers must bear the responsibility of evangelism while understanding God’s sovereign role in the salvation of man.
- The Mystic Way of Evangelism (anamchara.com)
- The Trouble With American Christianity (therelentlesspursuit.com)
- Walk up Evangelism is a waste of time… and 3 other lies! (withoutashepherd.com)
- Keller’s top ten evangelism tips (timchester.wordpress.com)