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Evangelicalism

>Entertaining Evangelicalism and Returns to Tradition

>Burnt out on politics? Want us seminarians, et al. to get back to theology, church, and culture? OK, OK. Let’s switch gears.

I was making the rounds through what I’ve missed from the GodBlogs the past couple weeks and became intrigued with two posts: C. Michael Patton’s The Entertainment Driven Church and Michael Spencer’s (iMonk) This is the End…of Evangelicalism, My Friend. Go ahead and take the next five minutes or so to read those two posts…I’ll wait. Reading those two pieces was a melancholy experience for me. First, let me say that I’m not a mega-church basher. I’m not. But my wife and I both reached a point a couple years where we had to get out. We had a final-straw moment one Sunday and never went back. I’ve actually avoided discussing it online very much in order to avoid unfair generalizations in the wake of our departure. It’s sort of like the incubation period that baby Calvinists need to go through before they start discussing Calvinism. Reading these posts by Patton and Spencer took me back to our eight years in Mega Church Land.

The entertainment-driven aspect discussed in these two pieces was a big part of our decision to move on. “Fun” was the dominating concern within the children’s ministry, for instance. Week after week we would ask our kids what they learned about in church during the drive home and time after time they would struggle to come up with much of an answer. They knew what games they played, what songs they sung, and what prizes they came home with but what they learned about the Christian faith was often fuzzy. Don’t get me wrong, we take full responsibility for the moral and spiritual upbringing of our children and have no desire to delegate that responsibility to the church. But they do spend a couple hours a week at church each Sunday and those couple hours need to be spent on more than fun.

As Patton and Spencer mention, everything is geared toward the visitor or seeker. The church we were a part of or attended (still don’t know how to properly refer to the non-membership member status) denied this but there really is no other way to put it. From designated parking spaces to greeters to music to sermon and more, the seeker takes prominence. I remember one campaign where everyone was encouraged to park as far away from the building as possible in order to make space for Grace, the representative seeker who must be allowed to have the prime parking spots. Every sermon series was married to a popular cultural theme from movies to sports and more. Pop songs were performed to keep everyone entertained while the offering was taken. I could go on with many more examples but there’s really no point in going on with a blow by blow account. While it’s worth discussing, critiquing experiences such as mine has been done over and over again. I’ll just state that I can agree with many of the critiques offered in Patton’s and Spencer’s posts. Rather highlighting the negatives, let’s transition to hopeful developments for the future.

A Return to RitualSo where did we go after Mega Church World? Here’s an excerpt from the December 24, 2007 issue of US News & World Report:

“In Richardson, Texas, the congregation of Trinity Fellowship Church participates in something that would have been considered almost heretical in most evangelical Protestant churches five or 10 years ago: a weekly Communion service. An independent, nondenominational church of some 600 members, Trinity Fellowship is not the only evangelical congregation that is offering a weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene or Apostles’ creeds, reading the early Church Fathers, or doing other things that seem downright Roman Catholic or at least high Episcopalian. Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, which trains pastors for interdenominational or nondenominational churches, says there is a growing appetite for something more than ‘worship that is a glorified Bible class in some ways.’

Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith, something that defies easy explanation or quantification. More substantial than a trend but less organized than a movement, it has to do more with how people practice their religion than with what they believe, though people caught up in this change often find that their beliefs are influenced, if not subtly altered, by the changes in their practice.

Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping. But it is not simply a return to the past—at least not in all cases. Even while drawing on deep traditional resources, many participants are creating something new within the old forms. They are engaging in what Penn State sociologist of religion Roger Finke calls ‘innovative returns to tradition.'”

I’ll discuss what drove us from megachurchism (of the seeker church variety) and drew us to a church such as Trinity in another post.

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Discussion

16 thoughts on “>Entertaining Evangelicalism and Returns to Tradition

  1. >I’m with you on Driscoll. He is solidly and unapologetically faithful to Scripture, while maintaining a certain edginess in both style and substance. What I love about Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian is that there is absolutely no edginess about them at all, and yet they are doing an incredible job of reaching hip urbanites. I don’t think that this means that everyone should scrap all things edgy (especially Driscoll, as it works so well for him!), but it does mean that we need to scrap our over-reliance on edginess and hipness to draw people into the church. Let’s cut the fluff and BE the church!

    Posted by Dwight | February 13, 2008, 7:20 pm
  2. >I listened to a message online a year or so ago where he talked about how he preached when he first started out. He experimented with different things based on what he thought people would like best. He finally decided to scrap that approach and just preach the Word. And I agree, he does a good job of giving a solid message contextualized for his community.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 13, 2008, 2:15 am
  3. >I know I might ignite someone here but I listen to the podcasts of Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and I think he usually hits a good balance between more challenging sermons without chasing off the non-churched.

    Posted by Jeff Bailey | February 13, 2008, 1:57 am
  4. >”In regard to Dwight’s earlier post about Tim Keller’s church, I think that too many mega-churches underestimate the hunger out there for deeper, more challenging preaching. Keller’s church seems to prove that point.”Some of megachurch pastors I know of are reacting away from how it was in the church they grew up in. I’ve heard one pastor refer to that many times. I agree, if they would realize that many are actually hungering for depth maybe they would not be afraid to go there.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 13, 2008, 12:11 am
  5. >”So, I see the good. But seeing the good cannot cause me to turn a blind eye to areas where even a great church like I grew up in miss the mark.”I definitely agree. I think I’m just uncomfortable using specifc examples from the churches I’ve been in (like I started to do in this post) due to the hurt feelings that causes for those people who are in those churches. Maybe I’m being hyper-sensitive. That being said, I get very animated about this general subject too and look forward to discussing more.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 13, 2008, 12:07 am
  6. >In regard to Dwight’s earlier post about Tim Keller’s church, I think that too many mega-churches underestimate the hunger out there for deeper, more challenging preaching. Keller’s church seems to prove that point.

    Posted by Jeff Bailey | February 12, 2008, 8:13 pm
  7. >I absolutely agree that all that we see in mega-churches and in Evangelical Christianity in general is not bad or harmful. My heritage is in one of the most prominent mega-churches in the country, and I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am if it were not for that church. It is a church that is involved in some amazing things for the advancement of the Gospel around the world, things that a more introspective congregation would never be doing. So, I see the good. But seeing the good cannot cause me to turn a blind eye to areas where even a great church like I grew up in miss the mark.

    Posted by Dwight | February 12, 2008, 7:26 pm
  8. >I’ve been asked what church(es) I’m referring to in this post. I’ve been a part of (can’t say member!) more than one so don’t try to figure it out! 😉 Seriously though, I am sensitive about needlessly offending the friends, family, and associates from these churches which is why I usually talk about these issues in general rather than my personal experiences. The people have been wonderful in every church we have ever been a part of. The validity of particular ministry practices is certainly fair game for discussion and criticism but I am not trying to bad mouth any particular church as a whole. We have had good, bad, and ugly everywhere we have gone as I am sure each one of you has as well. There has been much good and I’m sure it outweighs the bad. That being said, there are many elements within evangelicalism that are unhealthy and in need of evaluation and critique.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 12, 2008, 4:41 am
  9. >I am slammed between school and work and other things this semester so I don’t really get to develop posts as much as I would like sometimes. I just want to reiterate that I don’t intend to slam megachurches as a whole. I am very critical of some elements of the megachurches I have been a part of. The size of a church isn’t necessarily good or bad in and of itself. Churches have problems whether small or large, seeker or liturgical.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 12, 2008, 1:53 am
  10. >I’m scared to even wade into this. I think any church, whether tradition/litergy-laden, roof-raising African-American or the suburban Mega-Church experience can be abused by man but can be used by God. I attend a mega-church and there are excesses of entertainment that I don’t particulay care for and some of the sermons can be pretty lite but I’ve seen sincere response from people I would have never imagined. Which brings to mind what a professor from a college history of architecture class once told us: “Do you think the grand cathedrals of the middle ages were not constructed to create an effect….just as a art director in a stage play does?” I think I wandered off topic.

    Posted by Jeff Bailey | February 11, 2008, 11:31 pm
  11. >Sorry to monopolize the comments here, but I’m pretty passionate about this issue. Your post reminded me of something that I just read near the end of Latourette’s A History of Christianity, Vol. I regarding the state of the Church in the decades prior to the Reformation. Latourette describes a “ground swell” of spiritual vitality in the midst of the corruption and decay that characterized the Catholic Church of the day. He points out the centrality of these “grass roots” movements to what became the Reformation.It is clear that the dominant form of the Church in our time and place, Evangelicalism, is just as susceptible to decay and corruption as the Catholic Church of the 15th century. The question that this raises to me is: Are we witnessing the ground swell of a “little Reformation” in Evangelicalism?

    Posted by Dwight | February 11, 2008, 7:38 pm
  12. >Right after I read this post, I jumped over to Ed Stetzer’s blog, where he posted about an article in Newsweek about Tim Keller and his Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. The basic gist is that this church is growing like gang-busters, drawing the young and hip crowd, not by being hip, but through “orthodox Christianity and challenging preaching, with an emphasis on social justice and community service”. And this is in Newsweek. In the distance, I’m hearing the staffs of hundreds of trendy churches brainstorm about how they can pull this off…

    Posted by Dwight | February 11, 2008, 6:34 pm
  13. >Good post. Jeff, I emailed you since some of my thoughts deal with a specific church.

    Posted by J.Wizzle | February 11, 2008, 6:32 pm
  14. >Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping. But it is not simply a return to the past—at least not in all cases. Even while drawing on deep traditional resources, many participants are creating something new within the old forms. They are engaging in what Penn State sociologist of religion Roger Finke calls ‘innovative returns to tradition.'”This is a great description of where I am, both personally and in our ministry. As you described, this has not occurred as a result of any desire to be innovative or hip. In fact, we’ve tried to avoid innovation as much as possible. I thought we were succeeding in this, embracing much more traditional and liturgical worship forms than our affiliated churches, until colleagues began to tell me how innovative what we’re doing is! Go figure. My only fear is that this “development” will become just another Evangelical fad. Since it works, i.e, many people – churched and unchurched – are drawn to these new/old forms of worship, then we’re likely to soon see every trendy church in the country start offering a “vintage” style service. It’ll just become another brand or style for the machine to use and abuse.

    Posted by Dwight | February 11, 2008, 6:24 pm
  15. >Wow, I think I’ve been to that mega church C. Michael Patton describes! It’s all true, too! I was visiting Atlanta with my sister and we decided to visit a huge church in Alpharetta. It was a great experience; I’d recommend it to anyone. But I couldn’t recommend that someone regularly attend. It’s all fluff. Fun for one day, sure, but Christians need more than fluff and feel-good messages to grow.

    Posted by mhgood | February 11, 2008, 5:34 pm
  16. >Reformed site TheAmericanView.com

    Posted by John Lofton, Recovering Republican | February 11, 2008, 4:45 pm

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