Saturday, July 20, 2013

Go to Rehab: A Response to "Young Evangelicals Are Getting High"

You have probably read the article floating around the Internet, titled, "Young Evangelicals Are Getting High" (which can be read here). I have some serious criticisms to offer against this piece. Perhaps this results from my somewhat cantankerous nature or perhaps because I was one of these "high" evangelicals, at one point. This article does do a good job of pointing out that there is an underlying problem with "mainstream" evangelicalism but, unfortunately, the article doesn't really address that issue. Following suit with the author of the original piece, I don't recommend young evangelicals get high, but if they have, they should go to rehab.

First, considering the underlying problem of contemporary evangelicalism, which I referenced above, the author offers a thought on what this problem is:
The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.
Now, drinking coffee in church is most assuredly a problem, of sorts, and the things the author lists as positive to the "liturgical" tradition(s) are certainly good things. For instance, who can argue against a church that offers a sense of "historic rootedness"? In our postmodern world, it's nice to connect with something that's older than you are. I think these things are all good reasons for reconsidering the nature of contemporary evangelicalism. And if these folks are finding some sort of fulfillment in Anglicanism or Lutheranism, good for them.

However, I don't think the author really comes anywhere close to the actual problem plaguing contemporary evangelicalism (and Protestantism in general). The real problem, in my view (and based off personal experience), is the complete lack of any ecclesiology in most of contemporary evangelicalism. When you go about asking contemporary evangelicals, what is the Church? They might say the "stage" where the pastor talks or something ridiculous like that. The lack of a coherent ecclesiology (and perhaps a misunderstanding of traditional, Protestant doctrines, such as sola scriptura), send young evangelicals on a quest to find something which will answer these sorts of questions. After all, you have to have a reason to listen to your minister other than he has really cool jeans. The question isn't really one of liturgics but one of ecclesiological substance. Most evangelicals have no idea what the Church is. Luckily for us Anglicans, it's spelled out, quite clearly, in Article XIX what the Church is. In my own summary, the (visible) Church is the congregation of faithful men where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments administered rightly. The word "congregation" causes some confusion as it seems to imply congregationalism. However, the word was used in a broader context in the sixteenth century than now. The word implies the whole gathering of Christians, universally, as the "congregation of Christ". Evangelicals are never taught this definition of the Church in such precision, sometimes they are exposed to some watered down version but the full substance of the matter needs to be presented. Likewise, it needs to be reinforced that the Reformation was not an exercise of relinquishing the Church's authority. The Church has authority in matters of faith and ceremony but it is limited by the Word of God (contrary to the Roman system), meaning it cannot declare something contrary to the Scriptures to be truth or necessary for salvation. This limited authority of the Church is important, a concept which is equally not taught in evangelical circles. These are the issues which need to be dealt with in my mind not how much our worship lines up with scholars' conjectures about early church worship (why does our worship need to look like the early church anyway? It was a different context then...).

Other than missing the mark on the underlying problem, the author also makes some common, yet not inexcusable mistakes. The first is the lumping together of disparate theological systems. Roman Catholicism and "Anglicanism/Lutheranism" (as referred to in the article) are different religions. They teach different things regarding how man is saved. This might be more of a comment on the simplemindedness of the common man but the failure to grasp these essential differences is crucial. Secondly, Anglicanism and Lutheranism are historically very different theological systems, albeit related in some ways. This is really preaching to the choir but Lutheranism teaches that Christ is present in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine while Anglicanism does not, teaching instead that Christ is received by faith. Although these are not monumental differences, they are important. The author then juxtaposes Anglicanism and Lutheranism with those congregations that teach "robust, historic Protestant theology" as if the former didn't (well, most Anglicans don't believe Anglicanism anyway, so they might be on to something there...). The Reformed and Presbyterian Churches are liturgical too (at least historically), but I suppose they aren't flashy enough for the author of "Young Evangelicals Are Getting High", I guess Presbyterianism is comparable to tobacco in this "high" analogy, not quite illegal, less appealing to youngsters.

Anyway, it's good we're seeing an influx of evangelicals in our pews but I really question their motivation for being here and likewise that the gap in their theology has sufficiently been addressed.

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