. This is a word that cuts right to the heart. If a person is being slanderous, this implies a sort of willful attempt to harm a person or a group by misrepresenting beliefs, values, practices, ideas, and other cultural aspects. Far too often have I been guilty of this sin
(see Ps 15:3, Prov 10:18, Mark 7:22, Eph 4:31, Col 3:8; NASB).
Often times, I am guilty of what I like to call "ignorant slander." Ignorant slander is a term that describes a person who speaks about a person or group or belief system when he or she really hasn't studied the issue at hand. But rather than admit ignorance, this person commits slander by speaking negatively (often times passionately) about something that he or she is relatively ignorant. Lately, I have felt an abnormal amount of guilt in my own life with regard to being slanderous. I don't think that I often commit willful slander, as I try to be as honest as possible. But far too often I am guilty of speaking out of ignorance. And this is one of the [many] things that I really would like to improve upon.
So, how does one guard his or her heart against slander? Read. Study. Ask questions. Listen to interviews. Etc. And this is the key: don't
always rely upon secondary sources
. Go right to the source. So many times I have been in a discussion and I have heard a person tell me facts about my pastor, my religion, my city, my friends, even myself that are completely off-base. When I attempt to correct the person, he or she will look at me like I'm an idiot. I'm the idiot because this person has received "reliable information" from a "reliable source." Man! This really peeves me! Can you relate? Isn't this a frustrating occurrence? Well, this is exactly
what we do as Christians when we speak about others out of ignorance or bad scholarship (exclusively researching secondary sources).
What I hope to do in this post is to set forth a few facts that I have learned about Evangelicalism in today's world (primarily in the west, since this is what I have been studying). My hope is that I might be able to add some clarity in areas that are relatively fuzzy, and that a discussion might ensue, whereby we might learn more accurate information about each other and Christianity today, resulting in clarity for all - myself included - and to help guard us from future slander (if nothing else, this will be a good reminder for myself). Of course, this will not be a comprehensive essay. Unfortunately, I'm not as informed as I would like to be. But I do hope that I, as well as any reader, may grow in some degree through this rudimentary analysis.
First of all, I will try to describe the three major constituencies (not denominations) in the Evangelical world: Traditional, Seeker, and Emerging, followed by a few notes and random thoughts. Also, as I continue try to keep in mind that it is important to understand why
something is believed, not just what
the belief is - both are essential if we are to guard ourselves from slander. Traditional
This group is generally what we could call reformational. They are, for the most part, reformed (not necessarily Calvinist); some Lutherans and also others groups that are fairly conservative with regard to doctrine and practice (Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc.).
However, this designation isn't so much a denominational
term as it is an ideological
term that can vary within a given denomination. For example, it is possible to have a Baptist church in a particular city that might fit this mold, and then two miles down the road a Baptist church might exist that would not be considered traditional. What gives a church this designation is an alignment with the older/traditional views of the Evangelical world. Some people might call this constituency "fundamentalist", generally following after the thoughts and beliefs of Carl Henry and others that would fit that theological mold. Seeker
This constituency is the one for whom Bill Hybels and Willow Creek was the original standard bearer (although they have since changed); and now we know of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church, among many others. Originally, this group aimed for the boomers. But since then, other seeker sensitive churches that followed have aimed at other generational niches (Gen x, Millenial).
This constituency is very market oriented
. They use a lot of consumerism and pragmatism to draw "seekers" into the church and make them feel welcome. They tend to be low on doctrine and Biblical preaching. And often times, the main criticism from the Traditional side is that the Seeker Movement is more of a "moralistic therapy" than true Biblical Christianity. But if you ask a Seeker Sensitive pastor, he or she will most likely tell you that the goal of this movement is to draw in individuals who have been turned off by traditional Evangelicalism and expose them to the Gospel in a pragmatic, "friendlier" way.Emerging
This movement, which prefers to be called a "conversation" or a "community of friends", is a very difficult movement to nail down. There are many facets of this movement that are liquid and ever-changing - progressional. The idea behind this conversation seems to have begun in the late '90s as Christian leaders were trying to figure out how to act as missionaries and churches in a postmodern context. They aimed and still aim primarily at younger persons, whose lives have been shaped dramatically by the postmodern shift; but no person is directly
excluded, in theory. The postmodern person thinks and acts in ways that are very contrary to that of the modernistic individual.
The Emerging Church has distinguished itself from both of the groups mentioned above. They sort of see themselves as the mean between two extremes. The Emerging Church sees the traditional constituency as "dead orthodoxy." They (the traditional churches) are too certain about the truth that they have; and often times very exclusionary, intolerant, and oppressive.
On the other hand, the Seeker Sensitive movement it too empty. There is nothing that grips anybody. There is no depth. So in an attempt to regain the life-changing power of Christianity, the Emerging Church has tried to increase the existential aspect of religious praxis.
Most of us know about the movement's views on relativistic idealism, the denial of meta-narrative, and the emphasis on praxis as opposed to scientific doctrine. While these things are true, they are generalizations. And what I hope to do, through study and interaction, is eliminate my tendency to generalize, and instead become more specific in my critiques and commendations. As we shall see, not all Emerging churches fit the general mold.
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle, explains that there are actually four groups/teams within the broader heading of the Emerging Church.1. Emergent
According to Driscoll, this group tends to be a little bit more liberal theologically (with regards to Substitutionary Atonement, exclusivity of Christ, Original Sin, Authority of Scripture, etc.) - a bit more progressive and open. As I have been able to listen to the Emergent Podcast over the past few weeks, I too have noticed the sweeping liberalism (mainly I have listened to Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, but others as well).
Another thing I have noticed is that these individuals seem to be very hostile (albeit passive-aggressive) toward modernity and conservative Evangelicalism (which they see as corollary terms). And the constant accusation of intolerance, against the "Christian right", really seems to be more of a smoke-shield for their own intolerance of Christian conservatism. But this is always the case with blanket neutrality, it ends up refuting itself. While the hearts of these men and women are often in the right place, it seems that their conclusions
Christianity is an all-encompassing belief: praxis follows doctrine, both of which ought to reflect an internal disposition of the heart that is immersed in the love and glory of our Triune God; all are necessary and interrelated, which is something that seems to be lacking in this group.
This is the group (of the four) that tends to get the most attention and criticism. 2. House Churches - "New Monastic Communities"
This group is for the most part theologically moderate, seeking to devise new church forms. Not easy to describe, as they tend to be fairly low-key.3. Church 2.0
This group is, for the most part, conservative, Evangelical. They are basically trying to upgrade the style of the church service to make it more appealing to the younger generation (many of the once named "Seeker churches" would fit this mold as they have progressed over the past few years): power point displays, hip music, etc. seem to be norms in the services.4. New Reformed Stream
This group is theologically reformed (Calvinistic). They hold to very conservative views, but they are themselves young, postmodern X'ers and have hearts for the young postmodern culture. One of their main goals is to function as a "Missional" church in the postmodern age, reaching the youth of their surrounding areas. They are "closed" theologically, but flexible with regard to practice.
Now, I realize that I haven't even given justice to the complexity of thought that is swirling around in today's Christianity. And if you believe that I have in any way misrepresented a particular group that you might know about, please let me know. My desire is to grow, to learn. And I welcome any correction or other dialogue that this post may cause. Again, the main reason that I am posting this is because I have been studying these issues and am very interested in them. Please help me become a better student, and person, for Jesus' sake.