"Evangelicals have nothing to say about community." This is what I was told in a seminar on the rise and fall of liberal theology that I attended last week. Evangelicals are so concerned about the atonement, that they have nothing to add to current debates about community. If you were to classify all the great Christian doctrines, they would fit into three categories: 1. The doctrine of God; 2. The doctrine of Salvation; and 3. The doctrine of the church. And I was told that evangelicals, for the sake of being able to get along with each other, neglect the first and third doctrines and concentrate solely on the second category. (With the effect that the first category has become the domain of Romans and Greeks, and the third category is becoming the domain Pentecostals).
Why is this a problem? Well, with the decline of liberalism and modernity (and it's quest for epistemology) post modern concerns are becoming more and more prevalent. These concerns are not so much about authority (as modernism has been), but a desire for justice, authenticity, and community. And evangelicalism, as a cultural and historical product of modernism, has little to say to these postmodern concerns.
Part of our problem, as I see it, as the way we think of church. In reaction against high churchman-ship, and in order to support fellow evangelicals from variant ecclesiology, we are willing to label almost anything as a church if it has more than one person and a bible involved. I can be sitting in a cafe with a friend, one of us pulls out a bible and - BAM - we've turned into church. It is just too reductionist.
I've felt the solid boot to the head from this reductionism this week as debate as swirled around about the up coming CMS Summer School (start here, then go here).* You see, for two nights there will be a speaker with over 30 of mission experience giving talks on the current state of world mission. Although the bible may be refereed to - these aren't bible talks, John Woodhouse will be giving those in he mornings. The problem of course is that the speaker is female, and if you reduce everything to church, then heaven forbid that you should have a women teaching in a mixed congregation.
From what I understand, CMS, Summer School, Eu et al aren't churches in and of themselves. Although they may have the same essence as a Church (presence of our Lord Jesus Christ through the ministry of Word and Spirit), they have a different purpose. And may I add, that it would be a pretty lousy church that met only once a year. no, there is much more that could be said about this. What I want to know is can evangelicalism have something to say about authenticity community and justice? I would have thought that a biblically robust doctrine of the atonement would have something to say ie welcome one another as Christ welcomed you etc. Or is evangelicalism as the cultural and historical movement that has existed for the past two centuries doomed to die with the great beast of modernism. I for one, certainly hope not.**
* These link from Craig's blog are only intended to be an example of the type of debate that is currently happening, and are not a comment on Craig himself, who has received several personal attacks over his views this week.
**Although I have to admit that I would like to see reform in several areas of evangelicalism - hence this post.