Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Others’ Thoughts on Missional and Unrelated Thoughts on History

In conjunction with my previous posts on what it means to be missional (and more posts to come shortly), here are some thoughts that I think are helpful, at least for those trying to understand the issues.

Perhaps I think it’s helpful because it repeats what I have already said, namely that missional means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and when someone uses it, we need to ask what they mean by it.

Here’s one drawback to the article:

Read the work of George Marsden, especially Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, which chronicles the missteps of both fundamentalism and left-wing evangelicalism in the last century. Surely we don’t think our generation or our camp is so sharp, so vigilant that we are above repeating such mistakes.

What about the missteps of “right-wing evangelicalism”? There seems a historical naivetĂ© at work here that puts all the problems in “them” and “them.”

The disclaimer that we should be careful not to repeat such mistakes misses the fact that you (like all of us to some degree) are the recipients of mistakes made by our forefathers. In fact, I think in some ways, they continue the mistakes; they simply do not recognize that they are mistakes.

Now perhaps this author intends no such notion and I don’t want to read too much into this. However, I want to use it to make a point, namely, that implying that there were groups or segments without blame or “missteps” is historically incorrect. It is not helpful to further progress.

Implying that some of those missteps were less serious is hardly more helpful. The “legalism” of fundamentalism that confused the gospel for some is hardly worse than some of the philosophies of the then new evangelicalism that confused the gospel in others ways.

In fact, I suggest a case can be made that the steps of the “right-wing evangelicals” were the worst of them all precisely because of the confusing message that it sent. While fundamentalism may have been legalistic on some tangential matters (and they should not have been), no one in fundamentalism was confused about whether theological liberalism was a viable option or whether the Roman Catholic gospel was the true gospel. Yet because of well-meaning but unbiblical “right-wing evangelicalism,” some were confused by that, and still are.

No one mistook where the fundamentalists were (whether they were right or wrong). And no one mistook where the left-wing evangelicals were (whether they were right or wrong). But the so-called “right-wing evangelicals” created a fair amount of confusion that, in some regards, continues to this day in their descendants. One only needs to read the Marsden mentioned above to see that.

I, for one, applaud the firm stance on the gospel that seems renewed in this younger generation. I do not applaud what seems a lack of thoughtful discernment about some of the issues that, at least on the surface, appear tangential to the gospel. This generation, having received a renewed clarity on the gospel, now needs to examine carefully the implications of the gospel for all of life, not just the parts of life that may be convenient or popular.

In a conversation with a friend recently I remarked that this younger generation is going to have to be convinced that anything more than the gospel matters in terms of Christian fellowship.

I think such convincing is made more difficult by historical revisionism. I further think that the unwillingness to critically view the “right-wing evangelicals” of the middle-to-late twentieth church will only compound the problem.

Just because someone is a Christian does not mean that they are okay. We loudly proclaim that about fundamentalists (and we should). Let us not neglect to do so for others as well.

There is a reason that the Bible contains teaching on more than the gospel. It is because more than the gospel is important. We are instructed by the Bible about much more than the gospel. We should do no less than to seek it out and live it.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Hi Larry:

Appreciate your thoughts on missional and the balanced perspective. You are right, that you need to know what someone means by missional (or Christian, evangelical, conservative, etc). In its simplicity missional captures the idea that God is on a mission and invites us to labor with and for Him in His mission, not oue own agendas. Keep writing.

Steve Davis