The contemporary church appears to be at a crossroads. The legendary figures of the World War II generation are passing off of the scene. These figures, the greatest of whom was Billy Graham, anchored the church for more than half a century. Raised in the fundamentalist context of a long gone time, and baptized into the post WWII revival, they were strong defenders of an evangelistic and strongly orthodox conception of reality. It was in their generation that fundamentalism became evangelicalism and began to retake America from the modernist church which had nearly overcome it. Today we see a resurgent evangelicalism which is feared by the world more than it is mocked, and we find evangelicals under every rock, including the White House. Now, however, the Baby Boom generation is at the helm of the church, but without the philosophical moorings of the parents’ generation. The church, apart from a shift, seems to be slowly shifting away from the citadels of its former glory. Here are what I consider to be 9 distinct movements the church faces. Some are on the rise, and some are at peak, and some are losing steam.
Openness — The only redeeming feature of this movement is that it seems to be yesterday’s heresy. It has nevertheless caused problems. It promotes, within the guise of orthodoxy, an anthropomorphic god who does not know the future. Needless to say the Mormon’s have found comfort in this theology, and the Calvinists have found fuel for the anti-Arminian fire, although the movement is a perversion of Arminianism.
The New Perspective on Paul – The New Perspective on Paul and its sister strand, Auburn Avenue Theology, are both dangerous movements which undermine the very foundation of the protestant faith – our understanding of justification by faith. Auburn Avenue Theology is a movement among hard line Calvinists which replaces a theology of conversion, with a theology of covenant, ultimately undermining the foundation upon which our salvation stands. Calvinist Guardians of orthodoxy have taken up defense of salvation by faith, but this movement is a true heresy, shockingly appearing among evangelicals.
Neo-Calvinism — I do not want to overstate the case against Calvinism, since is almost all respects Calvinism is an orthodox position, and all of the Calvinists I have met, I consider to be brothers in the Lord. However, it is important not to ignore the growing trend and its effects. A resurgent version of Calvinism is sweeping the seminaries, especially impacting the coming generation of young men. This version of Calvinism is different from the Calvinism of the Puritans and many of the early Reformers. Their version of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty was baptized in the fire of persecution, and focused on preaching a converting gospel to a lost world. The new version has the same problems, but not the same fire. At its root Calvinism strikes at the passion for souls, and the passion for holiness which are at the heart of pure Christianity.
The Emergent Church – Not all of the Ememrgent Church elements are not bad, however I believe it ultimately represents a removal of the barriers which have protected the church for generations. Some doctrines which the Emergents are willing to open for discussion are non-negotiable and we will see a slow erosion of truth in this movement, until we can hesistate to call it evangelical any longer.
The Gospel of Wealth – The Word of Faith doctrine, although it has led to some positive developments, has also led to some notable excesses, this being the glaring one. Because of this theology leading ministers are justified in their own consciences in collecting, sometimes extracting, huge sums from their congregations and spending it on themselves because they are “blessed.” And if you give enough, you might be “blessed” too. God does love a cheerful giver, but the Scriptures should teach us to fear what we do with the offering given from the cheerful heart.
The Gospel of Self – Earth was not supposed to be filled with misery and failure just because we are Christian, however, this seems to have grown out of proportion so that with each passing year, it appears that among Charismatics the gospel of death to self is replaced with the gospel of self-fulfillment. At first, it was confined to material success but it has gone deeper. We used to be focused on getting other people saved and into the Kingdom, now we are becoming too concerned about our own well being to be worried about others. Our pursuit of holiness has become an obsession with a better Christian life. We’re talking about personal destiny, and preaching this to unbelievers as the essence of the gospel. No doubt Jesus did offer his disciples an awesome destiny, but it was glory mixed with gall. All sugar and no salt is no gospel at all.
Authoritarianism – Ever since the advent of the Shepherding movement, various authority movements have plagued the church, especially among Charismatics. While the Shepherding movement had some insights, it also had some poisonous fruit. Its doctrines of obedience to authority have created a sort of new medieval church, with an unaccountable clergy and an honest laity is too afraid to call them into question. What’s worse is that this system seduces well meaning believers who then become victims of less well meaning believers who buy into the system of abuse. Not every incarnation is the same or as bad as another, but make no mistake, the unaccountable leadership structures in the Charismatic church, and the theologies which justify them, are dangerous.
Feminism – Egalitarian views not only of humanity but also of the Godhead have become increasingly prevalent. In the former times, women were kept unfortunately and needlessly on the sidelines of church ministry and activity. With the advent of modern feminism, however, the tables have turned. Now it is the men, who although they still hold most of the pulpits, are otherwise absent and disengaged from church. The women for their part, are drawn into every kind of pursuit except for the nurture and growth of children, which even among Godly women is often delayed and viewed as a distraction from the true fulfillment that must be waiting just beyond the front door. We really do not realize how broad and negative the undermining of Godly marriage and ministry roles in our society has been. Vital to the success of the future church is demonstrating again the great virtue of motherhood and family life. Equally vital is maintaining male leadership in the church, while at the same time inviting and opening ministry doors to women.
The Gospel of Appearance — It comes under different names in different places, but it is the same thing — emphasizing what is on the outside more than what is on the inside. In some circles this is “seeker friendly,” and the danger there is not preaching a converting or meaty gospel, but in other places it is called “excellence” The excellence doctrine states that anything we do for God should be done with excellence since he is God. Stated this way, it seems a self-describing truth which is hard to counter. It seems harmless enough, except that the excellence which is talked about is always outward, not inward. And by following this theory my observation is that you will slowly move from anointed to good looking.