Today I direct your attention to a piece by Skye Jethani in which he notes a disturbing trend: There is a growing divide between evangelical leaders and ordinary rank-and-file evangelicals. This is clear in the political sphere, in which the views of Tim Keller, Mark Galli, Russell Moore and other respected evangelical leaders are diametrically opposed to the 81 percent of American evangelicals who put Donald Trump in the White House.
But it isn’t just politics. It is also in matters of theology and doctrine. A vast majority of rank-and-file evangelicals have a dispensational, Left-Behind-esque view of the end times while a very minuscule percentage of elite evangelicals believes similarly. Many rank-and-file evangelicals, despite the best efforts of their pastors, hold beliefs on a wide array of subjects that are unorthodox, even heretical. It has come to a point where if you’re curious about the Bible and/or the Christian faith you’re better off asking a random stranger on the street than an average churchgoing evangelical.
Of course some disparity between leaders and followers is to be expected; otherwise there would be nowhere for the leaders to lead. But what is happening in evangelicalism is different: The followers are not following where the leaders are trying to lead. Eventually it is going to come to a point where the leaders are going to have to choose between falling in line behind those whom they are supposed to be leading in order to maintain their positions, or remaining true to their orthodox beliefs while having no one to follow them.
Read: Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? Hint: It’s Not the Shepherds by Skye Jethani
Today I direct your attention to a piece by Stephanie Paulsell at Christian Century entitled “Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive“.
The rise of the #metoo movement over the past year has brought to light numerous examples of men who professed to be pro-woman yet whose actions toward individual women revealed them to be anything but. The moral is clear: It is not enough to say that you are something, you also have to back it up with your actions. Which means that in the present political climate, it is not enough to think our way out of it or profess our way out of it, we also have to practice our way out of it, deliberately and with intentionality.
There are many ways to do this in the public sphere. But there is much to do in our private, day-to-day existence. Paulsell gives several practical examples: Make eye contact, say hi, and make small talk with people who are different from yourself. Acknowledge these people and show them respect. When you do that, they feel safe and experience belonging and connection. When you do the opposite, when you avert your eyes or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid them, then they feel isolated and fearful, and with very good reason in the present political climate.
Other things you can do: Don’t rely on the internet and social media so much; get out there in the real world and meet people face-to-face. Go to places you haven’t been and meet new people. Resist the urge to express yourself via the same old slogans and catchphrases everyone else is using, even those with whom you agree, but instead find new and fresh ways of expressing yourself. Surround yourself with books and read vociferously: read fiction, read the Bible, read history, and think deeply about how these things relate to the world in which we currently live.
These practices will help to transform not just our political culture but our faith communities as well. Listening to sermons is all well and good but when we gather to be the Church by feeding the hungry and otherwise caring for the vulnerable among us, then we have the opportunity to practice being the people and communities that we are called to be. Then our faith communities and our society will be transformed.
ICYMI: Anthony Bourdain committed suicide earlier this month.
This article by Mike Cosper at TGC offers insight into the plight of one who chooses suicide: It is similar to the plight of one who leaps to certain death out of a burning high-rise building from which there is no escape. For them, the terror of falling from that height is just as great as it would be for you or me looking down and enjoying the view under normal circumstances. But in that situation, with the inescapable prospect of being burned alive and the flames growing ever closer, the fall begins to look less worse.
It is a similar situation for a suicide victim: It isn’t driven by hopelessness or by death suddenly seeming more appealing. Such a person feels the same fear of death as you or I, but also feels some inner terror that overwhelms the fear of death and causes it to seem less worse, similar to the plight of one who must choose between leaping out of a burning high-rise and being burned alive.
Read: Anthony Bourdain and Reckoning with Depression by Mike Cosper at TGC
ICYMI: The SBC now has a new president. J. D. Greear, a 45-year-old pastor from North Carolina, was elected a couple of weeks back. Greear becomes the youngest president to head the SBC in 37 years.
Greear’s election is a strong signal that change is potentially afoot in the SBC. He was elected on the strength of younger voters who are weary of the SBC’s intense involvement in the culture war and Republican politics, and has made clear his intentions to lead the SBC down a different path.
Greear has promised to lead the denomination down a different path, which, he has said, must include efforts both to repent of a “failure to listen to and honor women and racial minorities” and “to include them in proportionate measures in top leadership roles.” If the meeting in Dallas is any indication, his vision is resonating with a large number of the next wave of Baptist leaders.
Some interesting points about Greear which are not mentioned in the writeup: Greear hails from a church which does not identify as Baptist (not publicly, at least). So when the announcement came that Greear was seeking the office of president of the SBC, it was a shock to many in his church. I wouldn’t make too big a deal over this, as it has long been fashionable for churches to downplay denominational affiliations. (How many people at Rick Warren’s church do you think realize they’re Baptist?)
The other piece of this is that Greear is part of a growing movement of Calvinists in the SBC. The most influential members of this wing include Al Mohler and Owen Strachan, among others. Theologically, this movement is excruciatingly conservative and complementarian, though they are not nearly as wedded to Donald Trump as the old guard so at least they have that going for them. In the final analysis, we’ll just have to see.
Those of you who grew up in the world of evangelical youth camp probably had the experience (multiple times for at least some of you) of the youth pastor describing the last judgment as an event where God takes a highlight reel of your life and shows all your secret sins, lusts, etc. to all your closest friends and everyone else in the world. Doubtless the effect of this was to use this mortifying prospect as a motivator to keep you on the straight and narrow during those tumultuous adolescent years.
But Slacktivist turns this on its head and turns it into a means of grace. You see, it won’t be just you having your secret sins broadcast on the heavenly jumbotron for all the world to see. You will also be watching everyone else’s secret sin highlight reel on the heavenly jumbotron. After a few of these, some patterns will emerge. Well before you reach the halfway point, you will have seen so much that you won’t be shocked by anything. You will come to the realization that all these sins are basically the same at the core, the only differences are superficial matters of time and place and circumstance, that there is nothing in your own secret sin highlight reel that is essentially different from anyone else’s. You will be overwhelmed by the sheer revulsion of it all and the resulting need for grace; you will begin to get a picture of how God sees us. With everyone knowing everything there is to know about you and you knowing everything there is to know about everyone else, you will be in a much better position to freely extend grace to others even as grace is being extended to you.
Read: Heaven as Secret Sins Film Festival by Slacktivist
Today I give you a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman. Freeman is one of the most influential Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.
His post is entitled “The Wisdom to Know the Difference” and the big idea is that change is a constant in our culture but we always assume that all change is good without ever thinking about whether that is really the case. For every change there are unintended consequences that we cannot predict or manage. He looks at some places where this spills over into church life, such as the discussion surrounding the ordination of female deacons and changes to the liturgy. His idea is that these things are part of the tradition that is handed down to us and we should proceed with caution when talking about changing them–merely because a practice is inconsistent with the spirit of our age may be the poorest reason for changing it.
Read: The Wisdom to Know the Difference by Fr. Stephen Freeman
We are living in very strange times indeed. It is not very often that I find myself in agreement with Al Mohler. This is one of those times.
Mohler writes an excruciatingly agonized reflection about the state of the SBC in the wake of the Paige Patterson scandal. Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, was shepherded into retirement a couple of weeks back when a pattern of wrongheaded counsel given to women in abusive marriages emerged and made him too toxic to keep around.
I remain opposed to Mohler’s theological commitments of inerrancy and complementarianism. Mohler takes excruciating pains to show that these commitments can’t possibly be to blame for the crisis facing the SBC, which I find hard to believe. But at least he is willing to admit that there is a problem and that change is needed. The #metoo movement has come to American evangelicalism, and the day of reckoning is coming.
In Romans 1:18 we are told: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
This is just a foretaste of the wrath of God poured out. This moment requires the very best of us. The Southern Baptist Convention is on trial and our public credibility is at stake. May God have mercy on us all.