DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Clarity Can Be a Blessing

Written by: on January 25, 2019

All Chevys may be automobiles, but that does not make all automobiles a Chevy. I remember a math teacher that once used this same reasoning for an equation; it was a frustrating day in Math when I learned that.

Well, I must admit, this is probably the “Global Evangelism” book I have been waiting to see for this program. It provides numerous methods for clarity in regard to some of the views that have been depicted in various other readings. Primarily, I have personally always struggled with two specific terms: Protestant and Evangelical. These are tough words to struggle with when you are a minister for a church that various members have associated themselves with; and yet, as the minister, you are not sure you apply. For this reason, I was very anxious to finally see these two defined…at least in some regard. However, my delight was somewhat short-lived…well, at least at first.

I knew I was in trouble when the introduction revealed this unnerving detail; “while many evangelicals are to be found within ‘mainline’ denominations that are not self-consciously evangelical[1].” I did not know if I should celebrate that I was not ignorant alone or be scared that I have often been linked to a movement that was steeped in such mysterious foundations. The reading further linked itself to a potential tie to that of the Lausanne Movement; a movement that I had personally been taught about while working through my M.Div. I celebrated as I knew I had a book on my bookshelf that would bring clarity…or not. As I worked through the final pages of my “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” book, I found a final section titled, “The Lausanne Covenant.” Within these few pages was a list of 15 characteristics of the movement; would this also serve as 15 defining characteristics for evangelicalism as well?

I must pause for a moment to interject what I hoped to find in this reading: First, I wanted to find something that actually delivered clarity in regard to classifications placed on modern Christian churches. Second, I wanted to know if the topic of my dissertation, baptism, was considered a fundamental of evangelicals, or as the author put it, one of the “nonessentials” that most “evangelicals are often flexible about[2].” I was pleased to find where Hawthorne wrote, “Jesus gave two simple specifics about discipling the peoples: baptizing and teaching[3].” This week’s reading further stated, “Most also practice water baptism as an initiation rite…[4]” Well…STRIKE ONE! It was not the fact that it I have realized that “initiation rite” has different meaning to different churches; but rather the fact that this phrase began with “MOST.” Though my desire is that this would say “ALL,” the reality is that this helps point to the problem I am identifying in my dissertation.

Now, back to my assessment. The reading stipulated a handful of areas that evangelical beliefs seem to resonate[5]:

  1. Christians affirm that ultimate meaning is found in Christ.
  2. They turn to sacred writings found in Bible for guidance.
  3. Consider themselves linked to all believers back to the time of Christ.
  4. Practice water baptism as an initiation rite.
  5. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
  6. Affirm God as Trinity; Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
  7. All are devoted to sharing the “good news.”

 

Well, so far so good; I might just be an evangelical.

 

However, then the description became broader. The discussion moved to the topics of Protestants; who by the “four key ingredients,” would actually exclude some from other evangelicals. For instance; the third ingredient was Activism; which included the need to give, “above all to the work of spreading the message of salvation in Christ[6].” How does this exclude? How many churches today will fight against the principle of “works” as a necessity of Christianity. Furthermore, the discussion continued regarding those ‘nonessentials” I mentioned earlier. Perhaps it is those “nonessentials” that are the product of why it is so difficult for so many Christian religions to define what evangelicalism truly is; how you do make any determinations if one person sees an issue as essential (as I do with baptism), while others see them as negotiable or nonessential? As the conversation moved to “Fundamentalism”, the same question must be asked; how do we manage to fly our churches under the same flags if we are divided on issues like the “infallibility of the Bible[7],” and whether or not Jesus really was born of a virgin?

STRIKE TWO!

My third strike came from another reading; in fact, one of our future readings, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” I am sure these two readings are intended to reflect the good, bad and ugly perspectives for us to mull over as we read; however, it was when Noll wrote, “And you can see that most evangelicals simply don’t think[8].” As I seek to determine if I am an “evangelical” or not, do I really want to be associated with a group that does not “think,” in regard to spiritual growth? Can I possibly be an evangelical if half of what other evangelicals believe in is contrary to my own beliefs? Apparently, I can…but do I want to be?

I have always struggled with defining or classifying my belief system. In Acts 11:26, it reads, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Growing up in the church of Christ, we were always classified as the “conservatives;” furthermore comparing ourselves to those “liberals” across the street. There was division and corruption all in the name of Christ. On one hand, I see grace in the scriptures; giving us room for some freedom in worship and Christian expression (as some of you saw in our worship service in Hong Kong…I may not be from an instrumental church, but I can still worship with others who are). However, I also never forget that Christ Himself taught, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it[9].” Don’t mistake my message here…Clarity can be a blessing, and I am truly happy to finally understand the classifications of “Evangelicalism;” however, my real question is…why we are separated in the first place. What are we as Christians doing wrong that we have to write numerous books on what separates us? How did we reconcile this with Ephesians 4:4-6?

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

And yet…we are all embracing our divisions rather than the things that should be unifying us. I just don’t understand that.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Lewis, Donald M. & Richard V. Pierard. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective.Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014.

Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Winter, Ralph D. & Steven C. Hawthorne. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.Pasadena : William Carey Library, 2009.

 

 

[1]Lewis, Donald M. & Richard V. Pierard. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective.Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014. P 12.

[2]Ibid, p 21.

[3]Winter, Ralph D. & Steven C. Hawthorne. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.Pasadena : William Carey Library, 2009.

[4]Lewis, Donald M. & Richard V. Pierard. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective.Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014. P 19.

[5]Ibid, p. 18-19.

[6]Ibid, p. 20.

[7]Ibid, p. 21.

[8]Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

 

[9]Matthew 7:13-14.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

19 responses to “Clarity Can Be a Blessing”

  1. Good insight, Shawn!

    Evangelicalism is multifaceted. “Efforts to define evangelicalism will always remain somewhat imprecise because the phenomenon designated by the word represents a set of beliefs and practices rather than a single organization” (Pierard & Lewis, 24). On one hand, evangelicalism is universal in tenets. However, on the other hand, those tenets can be misrepresented by many.

    I found it interesting that one of the tenets of evangelicalism was activism; however, I haven’t personally witnessed this in most evangelical churches. After Moody, there seems to have been a shift towards separatism in regard to social justice and Kingdom-driven gospel. Therefore, activism became more popular with liberation theologians and more liberal congregations.

    You ask, “How many churches today will fight against the principle of “works” as a necessity of Christianity?” Do you find that churches who ascribe to a grace-filled theology dismiss social theology because they see it as works-driven? Why do you think that Premillennialism changed the face of evangelicalism?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I do Colleen. I have seen and heard way too many doctrines lately that seem scared to encourage “works” because of the implication it may bring. There seems to be this fear that if they admit we are supposed to be working for the cause of Christ, it will somehow remove the grace of Christ from the cross. Sadly, in all of our churches, I believe we are seeing more and more people who believe you don’t have to do anything to be a Christian. I cling to James belief that “Faith without works is dead.”

      Your second question: Frankly, I won’t blow smoke here. I have no idea what the pre-millennialism has brought to evangelicalism; however, I do believe the teaching provides another chance at redemption even after the return of Christ. That mentality has led many to ignore the need for immediate life-change in Christ; instead of answering the call…they are putting God on hold until they are ready.

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,
    Chevy-Socratic logic in your introduction, I love it! I am more Ford than Chevy person but have enjoyed both over the years. Ford, Freightliner, and International are the primary delivery models in our marketplace ministry.
    Excellent discussion and personal analysis being an evangelical or not. The Lausanne conference, with Billy Graham, was a good thing for the Christian movement, the advance of the Gospel, and action on fulfilling the Great Commission. You notice I did not classify anything here as evangelical. So, to your closing argument; do we need to? I do believe we are either for or against Christ in our lives. Someone wiser than me, and I can’t remember who right now, said when you want to know where someone really stands is to investigate where they line up regarding Christ. What some call negotiable, I might call extending grace and love while holding to my own theological position.
    I approach the churchy challenges from a missional mindset, which seems to always point towards Christ over any denominational differences or plain false doctrines.
    Stand firm, you are doing a great job discerning what you need to lead in your uniquely designed and divinely important context.
    M. Webb

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Mike, thanks for the feedback and encouragement. I find myself always on guard as a minister; desiring to warn the flock of the dangers of false teaching and false doctrines. I know there is grace in scripture; but I also know that the Devil is the king of lies. For this reason, we cannot afford to be so laid back in our attempt to be righteous. Armor of God placed in a closet is useless if you are on the battlefield.

  3. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Shawn!

    Glad you liked the reading, and thank you for highlighting the 7 evangelical beliefs.

    In my critical thinking of this week’s book, I wondered where transformation fit in. To me, evangelicalism should include transformation. If Jesus loves us enough to accept us as we are (He does!), but also loves us enough to not let us stay as we were, then transformation should be a key of evangelicalism.

    The problem is, Christians don’t look much different than the rest of the world. We talk like them, spend our money like them, and think like them. What a shame, in my opinion.

    Loved your closing Scripture!!

    • Shawn Hart says:

      AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! Jay you hit the nail on the head! We are supposed to be a unique and special people…the people of God. When people see us in public, they should be saying; “You know…there is just something different about them.” Instead, we are conforming more and more to societies standards for Christianity instead of God’s.

  4. Hey Shawn, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I believe that unity as the body of Christ is beautifully diverse. I love that the Aposotle’s Creed describes the Church as ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, and APOSTOLIC. The Church extends to all places and all times, and I’m pretty sure we won’t be divided by denominational titles in eternity. The names and categories we create say a lot about us, but I don’t think they say much about God.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Jennifer, Colossians 1:10 reads, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there are no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” This is not the unity that I see in the church today; in fact, I see the exact opposite projected by all of those who profess to be God’s people. We may be united in our own little groups; but as a whole…we are failing.

  5. Hi Shawn,

    Jenn says it well, above. (Note that ‘catholic’ in the creed means universal not strictly Roman Catholic.)

    I think one of the emphases of this DMin program is to broaden our definitions, and be willing to let go of more restrictive terminology that often divides. We have seen how the term ‘evangelical’ has taken a beating, so much so that it’s almost useless to use it as an identifier in the public sphere because the media has misused the term so greatly.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Mark, I actually agree with that statement. I am all for broadening my understanding, provided it is drawing me closer to the real church that God has drawn out and commanded. I fear we have too much preference in our churches today; and as a result…too much division.

  6. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Shawn,

    Perhaps we should all be less concerned with the label applied to us and more concerned with the one we apply to others. You continue to demonstrate to me a desire to be stretched in this program and a reticence to put other people in a box. That shows how truly evangelical you are!

    Your church came out of the restoration movement which was a desire to unify the Protestant church again. Unfortunately, that did not succeed and even the restoration movement ended up fracturing into 3 different groups. It is in some ways sad that there is separation but perhaps that also encourages growth and maybe even part of God’s plan. Imagine our cohort if we all came from the same tradition and shared a universal theology. I know all of us have learned from our various Christian heritages and grown to appreciate the differences. It truly has become an experience of iron sharpening iron. Would you agree?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I absolutely agree Dan. And I hope that my comment did not come out as a “better than thou” statement; as my father used to say, “for every finger pointing out at someone else, there are four pointing back at me.” Believe me when I say that I was raised in a VERY CONSERVATIVE household by a preacher father that had no problem telling people they were going to hell if they disagreed with him. That is not Christianity either.

      What I am saying though Dan, is the point of iron sharpening iron is to produce a perfect blade. I learned a long time ago that unless I learn to use the sharpening stone accurately, all I do is ruin the blade. What is the point of all of this iron learning from one another if we end up being the same people we were when we came in? We have to be willing to grown and improve to be the leaders we desire to be for Christ.

  7. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Shawn,
    Great post on your journey of discovery and who you seen yourself and how we are seen. I have often argued that our attempts to separate ourselves in our denominations usually results in ugly spats that do not bring glory to the name of God. On the other hand we have to hold onto what we believe and what we perceive as our interpretations but be willing to hear the Holy Spirits guidance.

    Jason

  8. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Shawn! Great job trying to break down the different narratives and how they apply to your denomination and personal belief system. I caught that you were also trying to tie this back to your research topic of baptism! I’m curious how you define the things that unify us? I agree that we are focused on our differences but I would love to hear your perspective on how we can be unified!?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Jean, as the “conservative” guy, I recognize that the Church of Christ is far more limiting in appearance to others than we actually seem. Some of our practices are conservative out of Christian love rather than a belief that it is a sin. For instance: over 100 years ago, the churches of Christ and the Christian churches were one and the same. If you study the restoration movement, you will see that one primary issue divided the two and has kept that division in place ever since; the musical instrument. Now, I was raised believing it was wrong, and even sinful…as were most members of the church of Christ. However, in college I did a huge study for myself and found that over all, I have no biblical arguments whatsoever with musical instruments themself. However, if I brought one into the church where I worship; over half…if not more of the congregation would be offended and leave. So how do you solve the situation…I believe I can have it…but I also believe in not being a stumbling block. So I weigh what is most important to…not me…but to God. Law #1…Love the Lord you’re God. Law #2…Love your neighbor as yourself. The solution was easy; we left the piano behind and embraced brotherhood. How many people have rejected brotherhood for something they wanted, rather than give God what He wanted? Unity will only come when we some quibbling over the desires of our hearts, and instead fight for the desires of God’s heart.

  9. Chris Pritchett says:

    I’m with you on all the different ways in which we define ourselves apart from others in the body of Christ. We are to be one tribe, but we are many and tribal at that.

  10. Shawn Hart says:

    Many gifts; many moving parts; but one body.

  11. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    good thoughts shawn. Yeah i do also struggle with creating the exact statements of beliefs and drawing lines. However with so many options and deception happening, we both know its crucial. I like your example of the chevy, but also I think that analogy may also reveal some more about our culture. There are many machines/products built today that you may ask, “is that an automobile”. What about the City Bikes that are kind of powered, and the segways and mopeds and powered scooters. Granted IDK if Chevy makes any of those products, but it is certainly true that the line of what is an automobile is a little more blurry than it was when Chevy first came out.

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