Posts tagged with: evangelicalism

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
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salt-handsDoes the theological conservatism of a church help or hinder its chances for growth? And what, if any, impact might that have on its social and political witness?

In a new research study, sociologist David Haskell and historian Kevin Flatt explore the first of these questions. Using survey data from 22 mainline Protestant churches across southern Ontario, the study concludes that “the theological conservatism of both attendees and clergy emerged as important factors in predicting church growth.”

“Our data demonstrate that within our sample, theological differences do matter for church growth,” they write. “…These associations hold even when church age, clergy age, congregant age, and the presence of conflict in the congregation are controlled for and other variables related to growth (such as worship style, youth emphasis, and clarity of purpose) are held constant.”

Though Haskell and Flatt plan to develop 5 academic papers from their data, the current study doesn’t seek to uncover an underlying explanation as to why the trend exists, nor does it aim to explore the other ripple effects to social witness. But for those who believe the church bears a distinct social responsibility, there’s a second overlapping and intersecting question that’s well worth asking: How might a church’s theological commitments and priorities impact its public voice and influence?

In his epilogue to The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, Flatt offers a separate set of reflections on this point. Unlike the study on church growth, the essay doesn’t rely on survey data, but it does point us to a strong historical case study from mainline Protestantism. Titled “A Cautionary Tale,” the essay sets its focus on the United Church of Canada, a denomination that has suffered a decline in recent years, not only in church attendance and participation, but also in social influence and political witness. (more…)

church-state-christian-flagWeary and wary from the Religious Right’s checkered history of unhealthy political alliances, many pastors and churches have opted for disengagement altogether.

Or the illusion of disengagement, that is.

As Andrew Walker reminds us, “It is impossible for churches to be apolitical because Jesus is a King. He isn’t a pious emblem to tuck away into our hearts with no earthly effect.”

The Gospel we preach is inherently political. Indeed, as Walker continues, “Jesus is Lord” is “the most political statement ever uttered in the cosmos.” The question, therefore, is whether our churches are honest enough to connect the dots for God’s people:

The church that insists on calling itself “apolitical” or relegates “the gospel” to a message of pious sanctimony unbothered by earthly affairs has a tragic misunderstanding of what “politics” really is, and how the church’s very essence is fervently political in nature…

The early church knew this. Its statement that Jesus is Lord was a direct political assault on the claims of Caesar. Caesar was threatened by the church’s message because the church pledged allegiance to a higher authority, and in doing so, subjected Caesar’s temporal authority to Jesus’ kingly authority…The early church was political, and so must we—but political as the Bible defines political, not as how FOX or MSNBC define political.

It’s one thing to avoid the overt co-opting of the pulpit that we’ve come to behold — to cease with overly simplistic voter guides and cheap endorsements of particular candidates. It’s quite another to ignore or avoid the widespread cultural implications of the Gospel. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
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pearl-and-leavenIn its 2,000-year history, the church has actively integrated evangelism and social action in powerful and transformative ways. Yet for many of today’s Christians, we feel as though we must choose between a life of ministry and cultural engagement, that our vocational paths are inevitably torn between “saving souls” and “serving justice.”

In the Bible, however, we see both calls woven together — “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). They were not meant to be taken separately, pieced apart and divided up among believers based on our individual strengths or giftings.

We are called to a life of holistic discipleship, filled with a faith that’s integrated with cultural witness. We are called to be both “a pearl and a leaven,” as Jessica Driesenga puts it in The Church’s Social Responsibility, a new collection of essays on evangelicalism and social justice.

“When we survey Christians’ posture toward the world, it can seem as though there is an either-or decision to be made: either choose to be a part of the world or separate yourself from it for the sake of the gospel,” Driesenga writes. “But these tasks ought to be seen as necessary counterparts to each other.” (A partial excerpt of Driesenga’s essay is available at Letters to the Exiles blog.)

Pointing to a metaphor used by theologian Herman Bavinck, Driesenga reminds us of Jesus’ parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to a leaven (Matt. 13:33) and a pearl (Matt. 13:45–46). “These two metaphors, mixed as they may seem, are Bavinck’s way of understanding the dual tasks given to humanity: to preserve and preach the good news of Christ and to take the world that has been given to us and make something of it.” (more…)

7figuresPew Research Center recently looked at the data from their 2014 Religious Landscape Study to highlight the affiliations, demographics, religious practices and political beliefs of various religious groups in the United States.

Here are seven figures you should know from the report:

1. The group that leans most heavily toward the Republican Party is Mormons. Seven-in-ten U.S. Mormons identify with the party or say they lean toward the GOP, compared with 19% who identify as or lean Democratic — a difference of 51 percentage points.

2. The group that leans most heavily toward the Democratic Party is the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Almost all (92 percent) identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, while just 4 percent say they favor the Republican Party — a difference of 88 percentage points.
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Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016
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OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
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This week’s Acton Commentary is adapted from an introduction to a forthcoming edited volume, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice. The goal of the collection is to bring some wisdom to principled and prudential aspects of addressing the complex questions related to responsible ecclesial word and deed today.

A point of departure for the volume is the distinction between the church conceived institutionally and organically, perspectives formalized and popularized by the Dutch Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. A recent article in Themelios by Daniel Strange of Oak Hill College in London critically examines the distinction and ultimately finds it wanting: “I do not think that the institute/organism distinction, as Kuyper understood it, is a safe vehicle in which to carry this agenda forward, for it creates a forced distinction in describing the church, separates the ‘organism’ from the ‘institute’, and then stresses the organism to the detriment of the institute, ironically leading to the withering of what the ‘organism’ is meant to represent and achieve.”
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AKSWPTYesterday was Abraham Kuyper’s birthday, and tomorrow is Reformation Day, so it seems appropriate to note once again in this space that we have launched a new 12 volume series of Kuyper’s works. The title of the series is Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology, and the goal is to bring more of the primary source materials from this virtuoso theologian and statesman into circulation in the Anglophone world.

Mel Flikkema and I are serving as general editors of the series, and I am also serving as a volume editor for the three volumes on Common Grace. You can read more details about the origins, contents, and goals of the series in the General Editors’ Introduction that I have posted here. As Mel and I write, “The church today—both locally and globally—needs the tools to construct a compelling and responsible public theology. The aim of this translation project is to provide those tools—we believe that Kuyper’s unique insights can catalyze the development of a winsome and constructive Christian social witness and cultural engagement the world over.”

The first volume to be made available in the series is Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto, translated and edited by Harry Van Dyke. This remarkable text is a commentary and elaboration of the principles and convictions of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Netherlands, of which Kuyper was a key leader.

Kuyper has a powerful legacy that has most often been noted explicitly within the context of the Reformed tradition, and particularly Dutch Reformed churches. But it is my conviction that Kuyper has important lessons, many positive and some negative as well, perhaps, to teach us today and to communicate more broadly to the evangelical and even ecumenically Christian world.

As Tracy Kuperus reflects on just the political aspects of Kuyper’s diverse legacy,
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