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Wednesday
Sep252013

No, Christianity Is NOT Dying (A Review & Reflection)

I promise that I don't hate Mark Driscoll. I don't hate the neo-reformed movement. And I really am trying not to be cynical or bitter towards the movement I resonated with deeply for a number of years. I am so grateful for what Mark Driscoll and his ACTS29 Counterparts have taught me over the past 8 years of my Christian faith. I still listen to Mark Driscoll occasionally and despite his yelling, he is a really solid Bible teacher. So I am not writing this post to take yet another cheap shot at Mark Driscoll. I promise.

But coming in November 2013, Mark will be releasing another book, this one called "A Call To Resurgence: Will Christianity Have A Funeral or A Future?" The general message of this book is summarized on the book website as:

"Christians are ostracized. Gay marriage is celebrated. Abortion is literally destroying an entire generation. The bandwagon has stopped carrying us and has started running over us. The church is dying, and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing.  
 
This isn’t the time to wait or debate. Hell is hot, and forever is a long time. Lost people need to be reached, churches need to be planted, and nations need to be evangelized. Let’s have some amazing, Jesus-empowered stories to tell our grandkids"

Now at first glance, many Evangelicals will give this description a hearty "Amen!" But as I have read the book (courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers) and as we look deeper into the message that Driscoll is trying to communicate, I think that his perspective is incredibly short-sighted. The phenomenon that Mark Driscoll is describing is not the death of Christianity, but rather the death of a particular kind of Christianity. The essential Christian narrative by which we shape our reality tells us that anytime something new is to be birthed, something has to die. This is the death and resurrection pattern. And what the reality seems to be is that the version of Christianity that Mark is describing is certainly dying. But the Church of Christ as a whole is actually flourishing globally.

Notice how Driscoll describes the crisis:

  • "Christians are ostracized" which is Evangelical lingo for "Evangelicals have lost political and public positions of influence and power."

  • "Gay marriage is celebrated. Abortion is literally destroying an entire generation." This is simply the lingo of the now fading "Religious Right" movement. Driscoll is not commenting on the theological problem here, but rather saying once again that Evangelicals have lost our power to legislate our version of Biblical morality.

  • "The bandwagon has stopped carrying us and has started running over us. The church is dying, and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing." I wholeheartedly agree with most of this statement but for very different reasons. My friend Jonathan Merrit recently pointed out the irony of the statement "we’re wasting time criticizing rather than evangelizing." Criticism and heresy hunting has been one of the chief characteristics of the fading version of Evangelicalism. Driscoll above all has spent countless sermons criticising everything from the Emergent Church, to the movie Avatar, to the book The Shack.
Virtually no one would disagree with Driscoll's sentiment that a major reformation is in order for Evangelical Christianity. No one would disagree with Driscoll's call to preach the Gospel to the nations. But I do think that Millennial Evangelicals in particular fundamentally disagree with what Mark Driscoll is proposing as the answer to these "problems". Because what Driscoll seems to be calling for is not a reformation but a return to religious right, reformed, modernistic, Evangelicalism. And the hopeful reality is that those days are long behind us. The Church doesn't need to return to politically manipulated, fundamentalistic, overly reformed versions of Evangelical Christianity but instead needs a total reimagining of what it means to be an Evangelical and a Christian in the world today.

And I am not saying this because this just happens to be "my thing".

A brief glimpse at the state of global Christianity will reveal that in fact, the Church is flourishing worldwide. There is currently a resurgence of interest and membership in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions of Christianity. Global Pentecostalism is rapidly dominating most third-world countries. And in Europe and the United States, though Mainline and Old-Line Evangelical churches are dying, new (or renewed) expressions of Christian faith are popping up everywhere. These expressions are robustly orthodox. But these traditions do not at all resemble what I am calling the "Evangelical Protestant Renaissance" version of Christianity that has been dominant for the past three to five decades of Western Church history. But this is a good thing! Not at all something to be seen as "death" but rather new life.

Some Thoughts On The Book


Driscoll and many of those who champion the "old" Evangelicalism just cannot see that this way. Instead, they feel they must call the Church to "repent" which literally means "turn back" to the old ways of over-politicized, overly-dogmatic, overly-reformed, overly-exclusive, fundamentalist Evangelicalism or else there is "no hope". In the opening chapter of Driscoll's book entitled Christendom is Dead: Welcome to the United States of Seattle, Driscoll goes out of his way to critique our President, Barack Obama because he is not a "born-again" Christian (or a Christian at all):

 

"On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama placed his hand on a Bible he may not entirely believe to take an oath to a God he may not entirely know. Jesus alone will judge his soul one day, but in the mean time we are free to be confused by a man who says he's a Christian while ending his speech to America's largest abortion provider with, "Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you." Anyway, with a hand on the Bible, he swore to faithfully executed the office of President of the United states... "So help me God"...He then made a speech that invoked God's name five times...Barack Obama then took his place as a leader of a nation whose money says "In God We Trust" without even the courtesy of a punch line to let us know it's a joke. At the very least the photos of the dead presidents on our currency should show them smirking to clue us in on the ruse." (pg. 13)

I am not even going to comment about the accusations against President Obama in this section. We are all free to believe whatever we want about him and his policies. The real problem with the direction Driscoll is pointing us to is one where Christianity is once again lost in politics. Where the health of the faith is determined by the amount of secular and government power we have. Driscoll's title is right, Christendom is dead in the West. And in the words of my friend Phyllis Tickle, "Praise God!" I have said before and will say again, Christianity is at its best when it has the least power. Christianity is meant to be a grassroots movement of subversive resurrection hope that changes the world from the bottom up. But Driscoll, in the tradition of the Jerry Fallwell's and Pat Robertson's rejected that notion for the belief that Jesus really wanted us to establish his Kingdom through gaining positions of power and legislating our doctrine... Sharia law of the Christian sort.

This thinking is highly problematic.

First and foremost, Millennials have become increasingly sick and tired of the idea that one's theological beliefs necessarily determine which political party you align with. I am a Democrat. I generally like President Obama's policies. But I am also a committed and orthodox Evangelical Christian. And I don't find any incongruence between the two. Gone are the days in which to be a Christian meant that we had any certain political orientation. That doesn't make any sense to Millennials who are shedding labels in favor of finding God and Truth wherever it springs up. But here we have Mark Driscoll calling us to return to the old days where Christianity was hijacked by political agendas. Praise God that our country no longer views "Christian" as a necessary credential for being a leader. (Driscoll points to this trend as further evidence of the death of Christianity on Page 12) Christ followers lead by serving, not from the highest positions of power on earth. But Driscoll makes sure to point out "This is not a political book...It's a prophetic book." (pg. 29)

Driscoll then laments that less than 8% of Americans are "true Evangelical Christians".(pg 18) His definition of Evangelical is the typical Bebbington definition, although Driscoll is clearly defining true "Evangelical" more in line with the doctrinal statement of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals that is so distinct and reformed that most "Evangelical leaders" in the world couldn't sign it. But even if Evangelicalism is dying, I am not sure why this is always lamented by so many. I love this tribe, but I am also always excited and open to God moving to do something new. While it is true that Driscoll's Evangelicalism is dying, Christianity itself is alive and well. This isn't something to lament, it's something to praise God for.

Throughout the book, Driscoll also tackles some of the hot topics that are popular in inter-evangelical debates today from Pornography to Homosexuality to Tolerance to Fatherhood. There is no real point in summarizing what Driscoll says on these topics because his perspective on all of these topics has been well stated through the entire course of his public ministry.

Driscoll also devotes an entire chapter to figure out which "tribe" the individual reader is a part of. He runs us through a series of theological tests to help us determine weather we are Calvinist or Arminian, Completementarian or Egalitarian, Continuationist or Cessationalist, Missional or Fundamental. By identifying yourself with these categories, Driscoll then assigns you a tribe. The only problem is that his tribal options are very limited. They don't at all accurately represent (even generally) the tribal diversity amongst Evangelicals, Protestants, and Christians as a whole. Instead, Driscoll gives a few categories to chose from that I don't think most Millennials would at all be comfortable identifying with.

The climax of the book is Chapter six which is titled Repentance: A Biblical Response. In other words, Driscolls whole intention in writing this book seems to be to call Millennials to repentance. To return to the faith tribe that he finds himself to be a part of or at least one of the ones he approves of. The problem is that the reformation taking place in Christianity today is not sinful and does not at all require anyone to repent. Just because my generation is a lot less certain about theology, a lot more open politically, and a lot more relational evangelistically does not mean that we are selling out, deceived, or abandoning the Truth. To the contrary, we are actually more concerned with the truth, the Gospel, and seeing the Kingdom of God expand in real and tangible ways on earth as it is in heaven. But Driscoll insists that what is happening in our generation is an embracing of "New Paganism" which is characterized by our increased belief in:


  • evolution

  • that spirituality exists in nature

  • extra terrestrials (??)


Just to name a few. Now truth be told, I actually am inclined to believe in all of those things. (okay, maybe not aliens...) But I am not pagan nor are any of those things opposed to Orthodox (or even reformed!) Christian faith. But it is for these various beliefs that Driscoll is calling us to repent of. To return to the hip-fundamentalist version of Evangelicalism that Driscoll seems to be the spokesman for that denies both modern science and the most ancient versions of Christian faith . His book concludes with Seven Principles for Resurgence. His ideas here are actually my favorite part of this book and I agree wholeheartedly that these principles are essential for the Church broadly to embrace in order to be at our best. The difference between Driscoll and myself is exactly what these points look like when fleshed out.

  1. Preach the Word

  2. Love the Church

  3. Contend and Contextualize

  4. Be Attractional and Missional

  5. Receive, Reject, Redeem

  6. Consider the Common Good

  7. Evangelize Through Suffering


All of those a pretty good goals, but not what I think it will take to reform the Church of Jesus for a new generation. No, that will take an even more radical reformation in the way Christian faith is practiced, expressed, and lived out. (perhaps Stephen Mattsons article can help point us in the right direction) But Driscoll is not calling for a reformation at all, but instead calling for repentance or a return to an old version of Evangelicalism. In the words of Paul- "the old is gone, the new has come."

 

All of this points to one very hard reality to swallow- Mark Driscoll and the celebrity preacher crew of the hip 90's and early 2000 era reformed Evangelicalism are no longer in touch with the "next" generation. They are refusing to acknowledge the new thing that God is doing in the world in hope that they're movement will remain dominant. Everything that Driscoll is arguing for in his new book is simply a return to a version of Evangelicalism that he knew and loved twenty years ago. But those days are gone. And the truth is, Christianity is not dying at all. It's flourshing. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

But Mark Driscoll's movement on the other hand is dying.

Just one Evangelical's thoughts.

What do you think?


Grace and Peace-

 

Brandan

Mark Driscoll's new book A Call To Resurgence: Will Christianity Have A Funeral or A Future? will be published in November 2013 by Tyndale House Publishers.

NOTE: We have a tenative interview scheduled with Mark. Stay tuned for more details!

 

Reader Comments (5)

I love this review. Though I haven't read the book, it does sound a lot like his other works. I'm frankly a bit tired of the alarmist approach evangelicals have been using for decades. Every generation of evangelical demonizes a new generation and says that the church is dying. It's irksome.

September 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersam tsang

**slow clap**

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJ.Stahl

At the risk of being cynic, I am not sure that even MD believes all he writes. But what he does know for sure is that there is a lucrative market out there for people who espouse these views. If you go to his church or to the church's website, you can't escape all the products of his that are for sale. I am sure he is a rich man.

September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim

The Western Church is definitely changing, undergoing a long overdue cultural shift, but the church isn't dying. I once had to deal regularly with a guy who constantly distracted group discussions by talking at length about the latest political stars. I had to hold the line hard saying often that we didn't gather to discuss politics, but the Lord. Finally I challenged my friend to read the beatitudes. He did, then left the church, saying he realized Jesus was a flaming liberal. I reminded him that Jesus wasn't a democrat nor a republican, but a first century Israeli, and that God's world seems to revolve around Jerusalem, not Washington. He then left the State and moved to Florida where, "The real Repulblicans live." The last three decades of decline in the church do match up with the church's grab for political power. Proof that "Christianity is at its best when it has the least power." But most recently she has been "hijacked by politics." Amen brother.

October 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason Reynolds

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