Ed Stetzer is a prolific writer on mission, President of LifeWay Research and a frequent conference speaker for a wide variety of churches. He recently spoke at Dwell London. Ed gave a seminar for cross-cultural workers to help them understand the current evangelical movement. Adrian Warnock has helpfully posted some of what Ed said here, including:
“Ed spoke about what he called the pragmatic evangelical movement …Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. Big global influence. Saddleback is probably the most influential church in the world. …Many think pragmatic is a bad word. But it just means determining what works. …
Traditional evangelicals …would have conferences about for example creationism vs evolution. Must prove these things to be true… Rick Warren is a very conservative evangelical on almost all issues but he says “what people really want to know is how God can change their life or marriage”. Many traditional evangelicals rushed into pragmatic evangelicalism as they were so fed up of dry dead theology.
A decade ago, Purpose Driven was the most influential Christian movement in the world. Very broad reaching. In the the USA, these movements are still influential, but not like they were ten years ago…. Willow Creek originally spoke about being seeker driven. Stage driven. Take into account the local expressions of music and drama. Willow Creek was also influential but less globally. The seeker paradigm of ministry has declined in influence, and Willow itself has changed their own paradigm. When they realized they needed to change their way to disciple, and announced that they were changing, many people went after them in a nasty way, especially online.
Younger evangelicals …are building on or charting new directions. Younger evangelicals can be found among a number of different groups: 1. Hyper-contemporary . Desire for “in your face,” eg series on sex with aggressive titles that get complaints. Gets media attention and they like it….The idea is that in the modern world it is harder to get peoples attention. So the desire is to cut through the noise and get people to notice. In an all consuming passion to reach the unchurched they often offend the Christians. In a way they are a continuation of the seeker movement but “louder.”
2. Emerging Church. These should be considered as several different groups:Relevants A lot of this is just about being relevant. Appropriate to the culture. Same understanding of the gospel but engage in a different way. Reconstructionists want to change the way we do church. They believe in the gospel. Believe in conversion. But believe that much of what had been done in church harms the gospel. So we see, House Church, Missional, incarnational models. The reality is indeed that many churches do need to change. Revisionists like Maclaren want to rethink the gospel want a bigger gospel, more societal. Some want to ditch the idea of gospel as a transaction altogether.
3 New reformed. These respond to society by wanting to go deeper. Time magazine thinks that this idea is one of the most influential ideas (including secular ones) in modern America. Different varieties eg charismatic reformed. John Macarthur and Driscoll are very different for example. A lot of younger reformed evangelicals became reformed in response to more vague churches they grew up in. There is much to rejoice about, but much to be anxious about also. There is a level of anger in some that is so concerning that they are nick-named the “TR” =truly reformed. Fortunately there are also the “WR” =winsomely reformed. Many in more traditional forms criticize. Actually the new reformed have something in common with the emerging in that they want to correct the common gospel, in this case they want a bloodier one with more emphasis on cross and resurrection. There is a growing evidence of dissatisfaction with evangelicalism. People feel that they are not seeing the results that they thought they would. There is much experimentation that is going on, and coming up with new expressions of church. Stetzer calls this Evangelical angst.People are seeking a model. Unsure about who they are. There is a drive to reclaim the centre, because the edges are fuzzy. We live in a time of Tumult. Many are dissatisfied with the results so far, unsure what the future holds.”
Are evangelicals more fractured and polarised than any time in history? I’m not sure. 21st century travel and digital communications certainly makes dissemination of new trends, movements, theologies and practices quite different to any prior times. But we are certainly living in an era of what Ed calls ‘evangelical angst’ and struggling with our expression of Jesus’ words in John 17:20-21. That’s why John Armstrong’s call in your church is too small: why unity in Christ’s mission is vital to the future of the Church is so vital – for those both within ‘evangelicalism’ and right across Christ’s Church. We will blog through this book in the near future.