Skip to comments.Evangelical editor picks a quarrel with his cohorts (claims they have lost their way)
Posted on 06/12/2009 3:31:04 PM PDT by NYer
Evangelical Protestants – born-again, Bible-believing and ever-ready to spread the Word – make up the country's biggest religious group, with 26 percent of all U.S. adults.
Marching under that banner are some of America's most prominent figures of faith, from Rick Warren to Franklin Graham.
And who is most closely identified with mega-churches, contemporary Christian music, mass-rally evangelism and best-selling, purpose-driven Christian books? That's right: Evangelicals.
Sounds like a golden age for the evangelical church, right?
Wrong, says Warren Cole Smith, an evangelical journalist and longtime editor of The Charlotte World.
In his new book, an insider critique called “A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church” (Authentic Books, $16.99), Smith argues that many, if not most, evangelical churches have lost their way. Instead of sticking with core biblical principles, rich traditions and church-as-community, he says, they promote feel-goodism, technological fads and church-as-entertainment.
During a recent interview, he laid out his criticisms – as well as some of his solutions.
Among his more provocative charges: “For the sake of money and power and status and celebrity … we've made ‘church' easy. We've made being a card-carrying member of the evangelical movement easy. But being a disciple of Jesus in the early 21st century is hard and, for the most part, the evangelical church doesn't teach us how to do that.”
Smith, who attends Presbyterian Church in America-affiliated StoneBridge Church, told me he's not in favor of destroying the evangelical movement, just reforming it. Call him an Orthodox evangelical.
For starters, he's put off by what he calls the sterile look of modern evangelical churches.
“You see PowerPoint presentations, projection systems. You've got to spend an hour looking in the cubbies to find a cross or an altar,” he said. “We have, in the space of 20 years, almost completely discarded the historic symbols of Christianity.”
Smith is also no fan of the latest practice in some churches: Twittering. Typing a mini-message into your BlackBerry may give the pastor feedback on his sermon, Smith said, but it also turns the congregation into an audience. He'd prefer his fellow evangelicals join in the recitation of the Apostles Creed or extend a handshake of peace to a pew-mate.
“The liturgy understands that humans need to actively participate and not be spectators,” Smith said.
Contemporary Christian music?
He'll take the time-tested hymns of yesteryear any day. When evangelical churches sing spiritually shallow “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, Smith said, they are following the lead of today's Christian radio listeners, rather than the theologically astute composers of old.
“Music in church is not meant to make us feel good. It's to bring glory to God and be part of the teaching ministry of the church,” Smith said. “Those (hymns) have been vetted by the best theological minds of the last 200 years.”
OK, I know what you're thinking: Smith sure sounds cranky. What's so bad about feeling good about ourselves?
Plenty, said Smith. He calls it “the triumph of sentimentality,” recasting the world as we would like it to be (humans are basically pretty good) rather than what it really is (we are sinful creatures who need a divine savior).
In our hourlong talk, Smith saved his sharpest jab for smiling televangelist Joel Osteen, a Houston mega-pastor who fills auditoriums, goes on “ LarryKing Live,” and sells millions of books with his upbeat message.
“Joel Osteen has a view of the world that you can have your best life now,” Smith said. “If I were going to rewrite Genesis and put (modern) words into the mouth of Satan … I'd put Joel Osteen's words there: ‘You're not so bad. You're so close to being God now. Just a little tweak, a little tune-up, a little bit better. Just follow these 7 rules.'”
So how would Smith save evangelicalism?
Among his answers: Make pastors accountable to deacon or elder boards. Urge churchgoers to discover the vocation God is calling them to. Recover face-to-face community. Develop a stronger sense of history. Plant new churches. And avoid easy answers.
“I'm not saying that I've got all the answers,” Smith concluded. “But I am saying we have a rich biblical Christian tradition that has given us many, many good answers. We've forgotten them. Let's try to recover them.”
The liturgy understands that humans need to actively participate and not be spectators, Smith said.
The above statement caught my eye. He is, of course, absolutely right.
Our PCA church was slipping into the ‘mega church’ state of mind a few years back... I’ll have to check out Smith’s book.
A friend of mine has been attending a NJ church called “The Water” (or just Water (?) which has a lot of the feel-good stuff,uses big screens, has rock-style music, etc....BUT :
The group is said to be “full Bible” (whatever that means), and goes out of its way to perform good works-year round.
Members actually spend their vacations ministering to the poor, handing out clothing, food, toys, etc.,and generally “acting like Christians”.
They have relatively enormous attendance at their services-which are held in rented premises.
Which is “more Christian” ??
I yearned for the Apostles’ Creed rather than the Mission Statement our church had. A wonderful church it was, and folks there loved the Lord. Maybe there was a cross on the stage, I think. Very simple inside.
We are loving the beauty of the Catholic Church now, and the historicity. (Hate the ditties, tho. I have to go to the early, silent Mass). We learned a lot in the Evangelical Church, left a lot of beloved friends, learned SO MUCH from the preaching. But these things are definitely missing.
LOL! That's what our music director calls them!
Quick, the antidote:
Listen for "blow up the trumpet in the new moon, e'en in the time appointed". A brilliant musical phrase. It almost takes your breath away.
Click on the post above for an anthem that we sang at communion two weeks ago -- Adrian Batten's "O Sing Joyfully". We sing a lot of the early English Renaissance motets and anthems -- Byrd, Tallis, Batten and the anonymous "Rejoice in the Lord Alway" (not the Purcell 'Bell Anthem' - but we sing that too. Both great, but the anonymous setting is a smaller, more intimate work.)
All the English stuff makes me feel very much at home as a former Anglican, but we also sing Palestrina, and Victoria, and Viadana - Exultate Justi
"We Give the Lie to Bad Catholic Music" ought to be our motto.
Sounds like a golden age for the evangelical church, right?
Wrong, says Warren Cole Smith,
In his new book Smith argues that many, if not most, evangelical churches have lost their way. Instead of sticking with core biblical principles, rich traditions and church-as-community, he says, they promote feel-goodism, technological fads and church-as-entertainment.
He's not the only one. There's a whole genre of books lately along the same line, by insiders.
Small correction (due to senior moment): The church is called “Liquid Church of NJ”:
Sorry ‘bout that !
Christianity is a religion that requires study and mental discipline. Paul in 1 Timothy commands diligence in Bible study. But that often does not play well in the anti-intellectual TV age. Too many would rather like to go with the flow, let a preacher do their thinking for them and hope for some message from God while maximizing the emotion and avoiding the mental.
I agree with you. Our church sings worship songs that are anointed and you can feel the presence of God in them (not all but most). They glorify God. We sing hymns as well. Many of our members have outreaches into the community and try to meet needs. They go on short-term missions trips and help orphanages or build needed buildings, send school supplies to Mexico, etc., etc. It grows by the year. We have a Christian School, which is our biggest mission. Our pastors and leadership are Godly men.
Warren is a good friend. He and I used to attend an Episcopal Church together back when that was possible.
Lovely, but it’s a concert choir and most churches don’t sing those beautiful sacred melodies with the kind of ability these choirs do. I do miss the old sacred songs and have tried to sing some of them, or did before I got sick.
I read the first line of your post, and I immediately knew that it was from you...
You are blessed to have a group like that. envy, envy...
You begin with the question: 'Why are we here?' We are here to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next. In order to love God, one must first know Him. In knowing God, we grow in love for Him and with that love comes a desire to serve Him.
Serving God and doing His will on earth. Worship is not "show time"; it's all about reverence. It's good that the community applies christian principles by ministering to the poor.
I agree with a few points. One thing i disagree is the music,
if we are to get young people into the church we must play the music they like.It does not need to be crude there are some great CCM artists out there.
THAT is how it should be!
Thanks for sharing!
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