Confessing Protestants have an uneasy and uncertain relationship with evangelicalism. For many of us, evangelical churches have been part of our past: who hasn't been baptized in a Southern Baptist church? Some of you reading this issue may still be working for reform within evangelical churches. Many others, however, have left evangelicalism looking for something they believe is truer to Scripture and the earlier practices of the church (for more on this, see our interview with Michael Spencer). And yet for each of these groups, evangelicalism is an ever-present reality if for no other reason than that public perception of Christianity in America is pretty much determined by evangelicalism.
Beyond our personal reasons, the temptation for confessing Protestants to identify with evangelicalism is strong: it provides a base set of issues around which we can be identified with Christians outside our particular communions. But over the last three years especially, that basic doctrinal union has begun to fracture. Why? Evangelicals, long tired of being identified so closely with a set of cultural and political issues, have begun looking for new issues about which to feel passionate. Some of this migration is the result of careful thinking about the implications of Jesus' life and teaching (taking "WWJD?" way beyond marketing hype). Some of it emerges from a new generation of evangelicals who didn't fight the same battles as their parents or grandparents, and who are dismayed by the broader culture's stereotype of their faith and practice.
In a significant way, this individual response to evangelicalism is exactly what one expects of a movement that trumps a personal relationship to Jesus over and against churchly forms of piety and faith. Both Editor-in-Chief Michael Horton and regular contributor Darryl Hart take up this issue in their respective articles. We're also pleased to feature Baptist theologian Roger Olson for the first time in the pages of Modern Reformation. Although Dr. Olson's theological positions sometimes differ from those espoused in these pages, he provides a valuable insight into a particular form of evangelicalism that we should all hope fades away: the Prosperity Gospel.
Evangelicalism in its most recognizable form is a uniquely American phenomenon and heavily dependent on the media for its success: both as a partner and as a bogeyman. Journalist, regular contributor, "Between the Times" editor, and Lutheran (not necessarily in that order) Mollie Z. Hemingway helps us to understand evangelicalism's codependent relationship with the media.
Finally, we're honored to include reflections from eleven Christian leaders, whom we have asked to consider evangelicalism's current state and what its future might hold. Not all of them would be comfortable with evangelicalism today, but they have had an opportunity to observe evangelicalism over several decades, and their insights provide the kind of sound wisdom evangelicals need to heed.
With this issue, we're concluding our year-long theme, "Christless Christianity." In 2009, we'll take up the theme, "Christ in a Post-Christian Culture," and work to provide you with the resources for witnessing to our Savior's great work in this time and place.
Eric Landry is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (Murrieta, California) and executive editor of Modern Reformation.
Issue: "Evangelicalism's Winter?" Nov./Dec. 2008 Vol. 17 No. 6 Page number(s): 2
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