Thursday, May 29, 2014

Theology Thursday: The Church and Changing Leadership Structures

There was a time, not too long ago, when "Southern Baptist" didn't just indicate a particular brand of evangelical theology, but also a rather uniform approach to leadership structure.

Those days are gone.

Our network includes 62 churches spread throughout the Baltimore-Washington, D.C.corridor, and each of them have their own approaches to everything from church governance to how leaders are chosen.  Though they generally share the same congregational base (procedures for choosing leaders, and leader authority is approved by the body at large), the "day to day" operations take on a different form, depending on which church you are looking at.

In recent years, many new churches have established an elder-led model of church governance, and even many of our established churches have transitioned to an elder-led approach to leading their congregations forward.  At the national level of our denomination, there is sometimes the mistaken notion that having elders means the church has "gone Presbyterian."  While those suspicions are thankfully not present in our network, I have, over the years, received several questions regarding how Baptists can reinstate a plurality of pastoral leadership in a way that honors our own history and theology.

Each time I have this conversation, I recommend four books.  The first two are written by an old seminary classmate.  Dr. Ben Merkle, after teaching for many years in southeast Asia, joined the faculty of Southeastern Seminary a few years back, and soon after published two books:  Why Elders?  and 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons.  Both of these are not only Biblically sound, but practical, and written on a level easily understood by leaders in your church who haven't been to seminary

The third is an acquisition work edited by Paul Engle and Steven Cowan entitled  Who Runs the Church?  Controbutions from Peter Toon, L. Roy Taylor, Paige Patterson and Samuel Waldron allow readers to see the context in which these questions sometimes arise in churches.  Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist perspectives are laid side by side in a way that allows church leaders to move forward in the most informed way.

The fourth is a book that, in all likelihood, saved the first church I ever planted from my own stupidity.  Many years ago, Larry Osborne wrote the first edition of The Unity Factor, which speaks about the necessity of healthy leadership teams.  Even if your structure is Biblically sound and contextually appropriate for your church, that doesn't guarantee a smooth working relationship among the leadership that will serve the people well.

Church leadership is a subject of paramount importance, and its not only crucial to get the structure right, but to create an environment with that structure that prevents needless division, disunity, and disloyalty. If you are a church leader who is rethinking your approach, or if you simply want to be better informed of how to lead, and do it together with others, you should pick up these resources.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Kissing Cousins of Divorce and Heresy

Last month, the Christian music community was shocked to hear of the pending divorce between musicians Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken.  After 13 years of marriage, the couple announce the dissolution of their union due to Derek's infidelity.

As a pastor of more than 20 years, my heart breaks every time I hear of a couple splitting up.  I've been in those counseling rooms, and the visceral emotions and long-term damage done to both spouses and their kids (if kids are involved) is enough to convince anyone that, regardless of the reasons or circumstances, divorce is ALWAYS a tragedy.  Sometimes, as in this case where adultery was committed, the Scriptures allow the betrayed spouse the option of leaving, but even in that situation, the process is indescribably painful.  Each time I encounter a situation like this as a pastor, I understand better and better why God bluntly says "I hate divorce!" (Malachi 2:16)

It would appear from the accounts surrounding the Webb/McCracken separation that each is under both the discipline and pastoral care of other  believers.  Webb specifically has submitted himself to the authority of brothers in Christ, and accounts like this make me as thankful for the church as I am sorrowful over divorce. So this post isn't about Webb and McCracken.  Nothing redemptive can come from seeking to dissect this situation in public, and the best thing we can do is pray for this couple as they face unspeakably difficult days ahead.

But I draw attention to Webb and McCracken primarily because of a Huffington Post article that appeared last week, in which this divorce was compared with prior situations, and held up against modern Christian assumptions about divorce.  The stats cited by the Post are troubling to say the least, and two figures in particular should catch the attention of every Bible-preaching pastor.  First, the article states that Christian couples have a 30% divorce rate today, compared to 19% in 1988.  Second, and more troubling still, "10 percent of white evangelicals [in 1988] said divorce should be easier for couples to get, according to the General Social Survey data.  By 2012, that figure had doubled, to more than 21%."

In short, the number of American Christians who think our society should make it easier to split up has more than doubled.  One of two things is happening here: either pastors aren't faithfully preaching what God's Word teaches in regard to the permanency of marriage, or people in the seats on Sunday just haven't been listening.

From the opening chapters of Genesis, the Scriptures not only commend, but command that the marriage covenant be permanent.  The language invoked describes a "joining together" of husband and wife in a way that makes them "one."  Though the Mosaic covenant would later prescribe specific case law to govern divorce, such rules weren't given to encourage the practice so much as to protect the most vulnerable in the relationship if a divorce occurred.  In short, Old Testament law recognized divorce as a reality in a sinful world, but never, ever commends it as a preferred path out of marital discord.

Jesus affirms this as well when he confronts the religious leaders of His own day, saying "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been this way."  Later in the New Testament, Paul expounds on the reason why permanent monogamy should remain not only the ideal, but the norm in any Christian environment when in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, he draws a close parallel between the husband-wife relationship, and that which exists between Jesus and His church.

The bottom line is this:  Marriage is a picture of the Gospel, which means that to divorce for unBiblical reasons is to preach with your actions a false Gospel.  In this way, to divorce is to do with actions what a false teacher might do with his words.  I recognize that the ubiquity of divorce in our churches makes this seem like a very harsh statement, but faithfulness to the Biblical text means when we see stats that demonstrate Christians think we should "make divorce easier," we speak back with Christ-centered conviction and compassion that will hopefully keep this heretical attitude from growing within the body of Christ.

With rare exception, we should not permit divorce in our churches, because functionally, it is no different than permitting the denial of Jesus' own faithfulness to His people.  Each and every time a Christian couple have their marriage declared legally dead, they purposefully break the picture of Jesus and the church that God intends people see when they look at a married couple.  In cases of infidelity or clear abandonment by an unbelieving spouse, sometimes it is necessary to declare what already is. (Matthew 19:9)  But "Irreconcilable differences" is not a sufficient reason for a follower of Jesus to break God's picture, and from the statistics above, it would appear we need to say this more in our churches.

Divorce can be forgiven, and I also happen to believe that God still uses divorced people, even as leaders in the church, but it would be best for the family, the church, and for all of society, if we could create an environment where said forgiveness isn't needed, because we have prevented the perversion of the Gospel.  Maybe a good way to get started is to reaffirm in pulpits everywhere that when you refuse to divorce and make up your mind to obey God, even in bad circumstances, you aren't just trying to keep your mate, and you aren't just fighting for your marriage.  You are fighting for the Gospel itself!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Missions Monday: Why are You Afraid?

My wife will tell you that I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, especially when it comes to quickly picking up on things.  But a trend is afoot in the American church that is so obvious, you'd have to be asleep to miss it.

And the trend is this:  Followers of Jesus in the west are increasingly filled with fear.

This fear is manifest in several ways, but mostly, I see it coming out in a paranoid way through people--and sometimes entire ministries--dedicated to criticizing any attempt to engage culture.  Sure, we can cross the line and compromise Biblical principles, but between the guy who occasionally goes too far and has to repent, and the guy who does nothing because he fears going to far, put that first guy on my team!

Our world is changing, and doing so more rapidly than at any other time in human history.  For a church that was so sure of itself just decades ago because of the relatively prominent place we held in western society, these changes feel threatening, principally because they make us UNsure.  But as frightening as it may be to think of engaging the world in new and fresh ways, there is something we should fear even more.

The more I observe the modern paralysis in the western church, the more I'm reminded of a well-known parable of Jesus.  In Matthew 25, a landowner entrusts three of his servants with varying degrees of oversight--five talents to one, two to another, and one to the last. The first two went to work using the resources that had been given to them, and doubled their investment by their master's return, but the third buried his talent.

So when the master returns, he rewards the first two servants with more opportunity and responsibility, but took particular exception to the third, who told him "I know you.  Your'e a difficult man, reaping where you haven't sown and gathering where you haven't scattered seed.  So I was afraid, and went off and hid your talent in the ground."  (25:24-25, HCSB)

The thing about Mason jars is that while they protect money and keep it from getting dirty, they don't earn anything either.  And, this Master apparently didn't care if his money got a little dirty.  He wanted a return on his investment!

Keep in mind that this is one of three stories linked together to teach us about the Kingdom.  The point?  Our Master expects us to engage, and He expects us to produce.  And what is the one thing that kept the last servant from doing what his Master expected?  

Three words:  "I was afraid."

People driven by fear are actually pretty easy to spot:

1. They dismiss any expectations beyond "faithfulness."  "We aren't responsible for the results.  We are just supposed to be faithful."  Sounds great doesn't it?  Problem is, it just ain't true! Now, if by "results" you mean sheer numbers, then you may have a point.  God doesn't call every pastor to lead a mega-church, we are all gifted in different ways, and sometimes the results of our labors will look very different.  But a casual perusal of any parable about the Kingdom, or just reading the Sermon on the Mount, reveals quickly that Jesus expects results.  Salt can't help but preserve. Light naturally illuminates.  And when we are granted stewardship of the most powerful and effective story in history, you'd better believe Jesus expects us to do something with it that results in transformation.  Dismissing those demands by surface level appeals to 1 Corinthians 3:6 or other similar texts is the mental equivalent of putting the gifts God has given you 6 feet under for safe keeping. There is no "increase" without planting and watering, but the latter ALWAYS leads to the former in some form.

2. They see "compromise" in every attempt to engage.  In 1790, there was virtually no Christian presence that existed in the world that was further than 100 miles from the north Atlantic Ocean.  It was in that environment that a young William Carey realized the need for alternative means to reach people with the message of Jesus, and in spite of his hyper-Calvinist detractors, his efforts launched the modern missions movement.  Over the next century, the world would know of Jesus through rapid evangelism and church planting efforts that would eventually mean a Christian presence in most nations.  

Nearly 300 years later, the modern era has come to an end, and we are witnessing a massive and rapid shift  and collision of cultures like never before.  Where is the next William Carey?  My guess is he will emerge from one of the many being currently flayed by critics too afraid to join him in his efforts to engage the postmodern world.  Historically unprecedented global migration patterns, which came as a result of now inexpensive global travel and rapid technological advance, has "reset" boundaries of every sort and kind in this new world.  The modern world, which was marked by hard national, tribal, linguistic, religious and even ethic and racial lines is gone.  Everyone now lives everywhere, and thus the way we interact with the world has to reflect this new reality.  But those too anxious to hunch and feel their way through this new global arrangement tend to see compromise rather than effective engagement

3. They have little confidence in the efficacy of the Gospel.  Paul put it this way:  The Gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."  I still believe this.  The grand story of God's redemptive mission by sending Jesus into the world has no equal in the universe!  No other vain, empty philosophy even comes close!  So if its really true, and it its really that powerful, why is there such fear among Christ followers just because the world has changed?

The only conclusion I can reach is one of tragic irony:  Too many followers of Jesus are actually afraid of the world He died to save!

Maybe its because we want the "old days" back when we sat in comfort atop the mountain of cultural superiority.  Maybe we long for the days when all the non-Christians were "over there," and even those who were "over here" didn't have that much influence.  

In this present world, when my neighbor is as likely to be a Hindu as a Presbyterian, its harder to be trite, simplistic, and distant from those who don't follow Jesus. "Sunday School" answers to their questions just won't cut it.  I'm actually going to have to use my head, and in the process, build a relationship with someone with a radically different worldview.

Yep, I can understand why we would prefer the old world.  But you and I live right here, right now, and Jesus has given us the world we have.  One day, He is coming back.  On that day, will you have your shovel in one hand, and a dirty Mason Jar in the other?  Or, will you have found ways to invest the Gospel in this brave new world in a way that will cause Him to say "well done, good and faithful servant."?

Jesus is Lord over the whole earth, and every part of it, and His is the most wonderful, and powerful story in all of human history, and He has given it to you.  What on earth are you afraid of?

*This post originally appeared December 2, 2013

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Theology Thursday: Agreement on Atonement

"Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."  -Hebrews 9:22, ESV

This week's "Theology Thursday" takes on the light-weight issue of the atonement of Christ.  :)  Rarely among pastors--let alone laity in our churches--is the subject of atonement theories raised.  But when it is, the discussion seems to evoke strong emotions on both sides which can very easily escalate into a vitriolic debate that dishonors both Jesus, and the price He paid for sinners.

In our Association, our pastors hail from Reformed and non-Reformed schools of thought where this issue is concerned.  Thankfully, both sides have understood that what we agree on is greater than what we disagree on, since for most all of our churches, there is a common understanding of penal substitution as the "heart" of the atonement--the belief that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners, bearing the wrath of God in our place so that those who repent and turn to Him in faith have eternal life.

But as recent as last week, a national debate regarding the "extent" of the atonement ignited again.  On one side, Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to a question about "limited atonement" in a May 3 podcast, arguing that Calvinists and Arminians aren't as far apart as it might seem, while at the same time defending his own understanding that Christ died for the elect.  Four days later, Truett Seminary theologian Roger Olsen issued a written response to Mohler's statements from the Arminian viewpoint.  The online responses to these public words substantiates my claim above that it is hard to separate this discussion from strong emotion.

I'm a two-time alumnus of Southern, and overall, I admire Dr. Mohler, and to a large degree share his theological convictions, so its difficult for me to critique this discussion.  Also, I freely admit that both Mohler and Olsen are way smarter than I am on a number of issues.  Still, as I heard these two men speak, I heard nothing particularly new from either position, which concerns me, given the fact that I believe both sides of this debate have talked past each other for many decades now--principally by asking the wrong question.

By "wrong question" what I mean is this:  Asking "who did Jesus die for?" is, in my view, an over-simplified way to begin this discussion.  For one thing, how one answers this question, regardless of which "side" one takes, will carry some degree of nuance.  As a seminary student, I studied historical theology under Tom Nettles, who held to what has been pejoratively called  a "commercial view" of limited atonement.  That is, Dr. Nettles claimed that Jesus died for the elect, and the elect alone.  He believed that there is no sense in which Jesus' death on the cross benefited in any way those who reject the message of the Gospel.  I don't believe this, which is why when I stand in a room that includes non-Christians, I have no problems telling them "Jesus died as an expression of God's love for you, so that you can have eternal life."  And in that sense, I'm not only comfortable, but confident to tell unbelievers "I believe Jesus died for you."  At the same time, when I'm asked what I believe actually took place on the cross, my understanding of texts such as Colossians 2:13-15 cause me to answer that question in a way that sounds a lot like someone who believes in particular redemption.

So where does that leave a guy like me?  Honestly, I don't know.  And honestly, I'm OK with that ambiguity, because I think focus on "extent" is, to a large degree, problematic, and ultimately solves very little.  A better question to ask is, again, "What took place on the cross?"  Because the crux of the difference between the Calvinist and Arminian positions lies here.  One believes that Jesus made debt payment possible for all people, while not actually paying a debt for anyone until they repent and believe.  The other side believes that Jesus actually paid a debt.  This is, in my view, the appropriate question to ask, because its the question the text actually answers.

As I ponder these deep questions with the work of our network of churches in view, I'm deeply thankful for the men in our pulpits who, while on different sides of an issue like this, have not allowed it to interfere with their cooperation with others.  After all, regardless of what you believe about the extent of the atonement, if it keeps you from sharing the death of Christ with an unbelieving world--even alongside people who may reach a different conclusion than you regarding the minutae of what took place there--you ultimately help no one.  Truth is, Mohler is right to state that preachers on both sides of this debate are much closer than it might appear.  Perhaps what makes the distance between these two positions seem further apart are the questions we are asking.

You can find Mohler's podcast here:

Roger Olsen's response on his patheos site is here:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Missions Monday: Church Planter Perceptions of Financial Support

I've been involved in church planting for 15 years, and during that time I've both received funding for my own calling to plant, and allocated funding for others.  Financial support for new churches is essential, if for no other reason than the amount of money we invest in something is often a reflection of how much we truly value the thing we say we value.  By the end of this year, my organization will have allocated more than $175,000 of its budget to the planting of churches in our region, and in different areas around the world.  We believe in planting new churches.  And, we believe strongly in church planters.

At the same time, financial support is also a very tricky business.  Unhealthy dependencies are easily established.  Exponential growth is sometimes unintentionally inhibited.  Indigeneity can be threatened by a "big giver" whose organizational culture clashes with that of the receptor culture targeted by the new church.  So when decisions are made regarding financial support, all of these factors have to be weighed.  I've written more thoroughly on these issues here, but this morning, I want to focus on the perception of funding, and funding decisions, by church planters that I have encountered over the years.

I've had the honor of being involved to varying degrees in the planting of more than 100 new churches, and the overwhelming majority of those who have planted these churches have been a joy to work with and a privilege to serve.  But sometimes, misunderstandings--particularly when it comes to the rationale and intent of financial support--can cause hard feelings toward denominations, sending churches, and other supporting entities.  So if you are a church planter, let me offer the following suggestions as to how you should view the financial support you receive.

1. View it as a Gift.  If you are a planter--especially if you are a planter in the middle of raising your support--this may be the hardest paragraph to read, but you need to hear this clearly.  No one--not the denomination, not the church, nor any individual--owes you anything.

Go ahead, take some time to get over the shock.  Breathe deeply and in a few minutes, you should be totally over the gut-shot you just took from reading that statement.  I'll wait.......

You ok now?  Good.  Because I want you to know this for your own good.  A few times over the last 10 years or so, I've had a few established church pastors tell me stories of young men walking into their office with an entitlement mentality.  When you give off that kind of attitude, you are confirming a stereotype that will hurt you, hurt your fellow church planters, hurt our efforts to convince pastors and potential supporting churches that "most planters aren't like that," and ultimately, you hurt the mission.  Don't be the proverbial bull in the china chop.  Be direct.  Tell potential supporters what God has called you to do.  Cast an irresistible vision and allow that Gospel-driven passion to sell itself.  And in the midst of telling your story, don't be too timid to tell people what it is going to cost, and the various ways they can be involved in helping pay for it.  But above all, be grateful for every opportunity to share, and be thankful when others decide to invest in your vision, no matter the amount.

2. View it as an Investment.  Sometimes I get questions from potential planters as to why our system is so complicated, and has so many requirements.  These questions are particularly acute when aimed at our assessment process, and I freely admit that in Maryland/Delaware, our assessment system is a bear! Navigating it is not easy, and much of this is by design, because if you can't navigate the coordination of personal and professional references while submitting to online analysis of your personality and leadership traits, piecing together an overall strategy plan, writing a sermon, and preparing yourself to sit in front of three people to explain why they should give you money, you probably aren't going to be successful in starting a church.  All of those skills must be exercised simultaneously in order to plant a church, and we really aren't about giving away free money simply because someone wants it, or even because they need it.

Each year, the churches of my Association give generously to support our work, and through their votes at our annual meeting, they authorize me to steward resources for various purposes, including church planting. Our churches don't view church planting as a charity effort.  They view it as a Kingdom investment, and they expect their Director to see it that way too, and act accordingly.  When someone agrees to support you, be thankful that they believe your ministry is worth the investment.

3.  View it as Affirmation. Have I mentioned yet that we value church planting, and love church planters in this network?  From the moment we begin assessment, to deployment, launch, the first baptism, the celebration of self-sufficiency, and the planting of the first daughter church, we make an incredible investment, not only of money, but lots of time and effort as well.  Our supporting churches likewise invest lots of time and money, and they do it because they believe in you, and value your ministry.  I have shared before that churches, Associations, state conventions, and other partners should give generously, intelligently, and strategically.  So if you are receiving support from us, or any of our partners, it is because we affirm your call to this work, and want to see you succeed.

We love church planters and church planting, and we have more than a decade of behavior that proves this to be the case.  So when you encounter something you don't quite understand, or even something you disagree with, keep in mind that our entire support system--while far from perfect--is designed by those who have gone before you, who love you, and who want to see you succeed!

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Necessary Identity Crisis of Evangelicalism

Over the past few weeks, Evangelical Christians have been struggling with their identity--but in a good way. First, there was righteous indignation expressed toward one who claims to be one of us.  While speaking at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin made ignorant, heretical and unnecessarily provocative comments comparing Christian baptism to the practice of waterboarding, thereby blaspheming the Biblical picture of conversion, and giving Muslims in particular a false, militaristic view of Christian faith.  Many prominent evangelical leaders were quick to condemn her words, thereby separating themselves, and evangelicals as a whole from Mrs. Palin's very unChristian words.  

Then just last week, it was reported widely that Steve Chalke and his organization Oasis Trust, were removed from membership in the Evangelical Alliance of Great Brittain.  

One on the far-right, the other on the far-left.  But what they held in common should be obvious: both are more committed to their ideology than to Jesus.  

As a servant to more than 60 churches, all of which would call themselves "evangelical," I was encouraged by both of these developments. Often evangelical Christians are pigeon-holed into one particular cultural, political, or societal sector, when the truth is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most globally inclusive message in the worlld!  

At the same time, any movement with a center also has a boundary line.  Over the past few years, a number of prominent writers, pastors, musicians, and others who identify as Christian have struggled with whether they should continue to wear the term "Evangelical," or if they should seek to reform the meaning of the term by re-drawing those aforementioned boundaries.  In short, Evangelicalism in the west has been in an identity crisis.  And given the subject matter we have been discussing that has led us to this point, count me among those who think this is a good thing. .

Sometime ago, I wrote an article aimed at non-Christians outlining a more precise, and ironically, a more global view of Evangelical Christian identity.  The article was picked up by, and an edited  version can be found here.  But my original draft appears below.  My hope is that those seeking more information about Evangelicalism will hear in the following words who we really are, and what our common and central passions are.  Who are Evangelicals?  Keep reading!

“Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate.”  -Henry Louis Mencken

“To be Evangelical is to be faithful to the freedom, justice, peace, and well-being that are at the heart of the Good News of Jesus.”  -An Evangelical Manifesto 

“Truly truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  -Jesus, John 3:3

For some, no group in North America is easier to hate, or more difficult to understand, than evangelical Christians.  Admittedly, some who wear this label often fit the negative stereotype that has come to be associated with the term, and too often, loud voices claiming to speak for all evangelicals spread a message that is less like Jesus Christ, and more like a political agenda or a cultural crusade.  Reactions to the term “evangelical” can be quite strong.  “Isn’t that the group who hates women and gay people?”  or  “Aren’t these the people who are afraid of science and societal advance?”   These assumptions understandably make some people nervous, and leave many wondering “exactly what do these people believe?”

But at its core, the evangelical message is not captive to any political philosophy or particular social agenda.  The core of the evangelical message, in fact, transcends political party, ethnicity, socio-economic class, and culture, and points ultimately to a God who loves all and desires for all to know Him.

Where did they come from?

Historically, Evangelical movements in the west emerged in the 17th century.  At that time in the United States, the movement was primarily forwarded in churches led by men such as Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts pastor who also served for a brief time as President of Princeton University.  The movement continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and stressed virtue and personal devotion to God.

A great number of our nations hospitals (such as Vanderbilt) and institutions of higher learning (such as Princeton University and Brown University) were started by evangelicals. In fact, every educational institution started in the United States up until 1789—with the single exception of the University of Pennsylvania—was started by a Christian denomination. The men and women who founded these institutions applied the message of Jesus to the enlightenment mindset that was prevalent at the time.  Their goal was to affect society as a whole in a positive way through the tangible expression of their Christian faith.  Literary works of this time period were also produced in this environment.  Today, students come to the United States from all over the world in order to attend western universities.  All of the top ten MBA programs in the world are in the west (8 in the United States, 1 in Canada and 1 in Great Brittain).  This reality is due in large part to the contribution of evangelical Christians who, centuries ago, implemented a vision for the betterment of culture through top quality and accessible education.

Additionally the “scientific revolution” was started in large part by Christians, who introduced an inductive “scientific method” to the world.  Christians believed then, as they do today, that God has revealed Himself in nature, as well as in the human psyche.  The 17th century chemist Robert Boyle stated that nature “is nothing else but God acting according to certain laws he himself fixed.”  Assumptions such as these provided an environment for the study and extension of mathematics and science in the west.  Though there were certainly those within Christian circles who opposed scientific advance, the truth is that these objections never represented the consensus of the Christian community

Evangelical thought has affected virtually every part of modern western society.  It was Christians who gave the world of art such notable painters and sculptors as Botticelli and Raphael.  Western classical music likewise, continues to be informed and inspired by Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” and Handel’s “Messiah.”  Sociologist Rodney Stark admits that “the modern world arose only in Christian societies…..all the modernization that has since occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, often brought by colonizers and missionaries.”

What do they want?

Though evangelicals are often portrayed as being “against” culture, the aim of this group of Christians is to see culture redeemed and restored to God’s original intention.   Complementary evangelical beliefs in original sin and the hope of redemption in Jesus Christ have fueled attempts to create the kind of ideal environments in which this redemption can truly take place. 

Such were the convictions that led England's William Wilberforce to champion the cause of the abolition of slavery, eventually putting it to an end throughout the United Kingdom by the early part of the 19th century. The history of this group of Jesus’ followers demonstrates their strong contribution to uniquely western ideals.  

Freedom of religion is based on the evangelical belief that only personal faith in Jesus saves and therefore, the state should not dictate religious belief to the masses.   Principled pluralism rests on the evangelical conviction that “forced conversion” is in fact no conversion at all.  It is rooted also in the conviction that adherents to all faiths should learn to live peaceably with each other, and that each should be free in mind to pursue the truth. Belief in universal human rights and just warfare are grounded in the conviction that human beings are created in God’s own image and likeness, and that therefore, each is worthy of dignity and respect.  Even the idea of separation of church and state owes its existence to a group of Baptist evangelicals who  were concerned about the encroachment of the state’s power into the life of the church. 

Throughout history, evangelicals have sought to advance civilization through principles that they believed were found within God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture and in nature.  That same spirit permeates the evangelical mindset today.  Evangelicals’ interaction with science, education, sociology, and culture at large is for the purpose of utilizing all those domains to better society, and communicate the Christian message in the process. 

What do they really believe?

These aspirations are motivated by the core beliefs of evangelical Christianity—belief in the Bible as the ultimate source of truth, the role of the church in society, and the urgency of global missions and humanitarian work.  Most importantly, evangelical action is based on the conviction that God has fully and finally revealed Himself to all humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. 

So to truly understand what it means to be “Evangelical,” one must unplug this term from its occasional ties to American politics and culture wars.  Evangelicals can be found in “red states” as well as “blue states.”  Members in good standing of Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Green Parties include devoted followers of Jesus, and all believe that the great unifier is not political affiliation, race, gender, or societal status, but the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  At heart, evangelicals are simply bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ, who Himself loved humanity enough to enter our world and do what was necessary to bring healing, understanding, and deliverance from ourselves into a genuine relationship with Him.  Evangelicals don’t always follow Him perfectly, but more than anything, their desire is that the world would see who Jesus is through their words and actions.