The Present Seismic Shift of the Evangelical Church by Joseph Mattera

The Evangelical church has been in flux the past several decades—going from one extreme to the next—and in many respects losing its center. Thus it is really hard to define what an Evangelical is today except for the very ambiguous definition of a person who believes the Bible is the word of God (there are even varying degrees of this within Evangelicalism) and in salvation through the vicarious death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Truly, the Evangelical church is at a crossroads. We must choose if we will follow a more culturally amenable position or a more orthodox, biblically sound approach to faith and culture.

The following are some trends and developments that will enable us to see where the church is heading in the near future. Truly, the Evangelical church is in the midst of a seismic shift!

(Note: The following is based on my personal opinion, reading, hours of conversations with multi-denominational leaders and theologians, doctoral studies, and personal observations.  Since this is not meant to be a scholarly presentation I have not included footnotes or documented every source.)

1. The continued development and ascendancy of complex apostolic networks in regards to mission, evangelism, and church partnerships

Complex apostolic church networks, as reminiscent of the first-century church movement, will continue to develop and explode especially in the Global South, Latin America and Asia. These networks are also growing (but more slowly) in North America and Canada. These are non-denominational networks or alliances of churches that often include denominations and/or denominational churches that partner for evangelism, community development, prayer, and rallies. Most of the great movements in the Global South, Asia, India and Latin America are headed up by strong apostolic leaders with regional influence who are able to garner support even among mainline Protestant communions and leaders for specific Christian causes.

2. The continued development, acceptance and growth of postmodern churches and theology

Postmodernism is a revolt against dead, empirical modernism that first affected secular universities and in the past decade has infiltrated Evangelical universities and students. As a result, there are now many leaders and movements focusing their church mission with a postmodern mindset (for example, the emergent church movement).

Christian postmodern proponents do not teach there are no universal truths but that there is no way to empirically prove a universal truth. They are against the modern empirical realist approach to verifying truth and believe the Evangelical church has been held captive the past 200 years to a propositional view of truth which espouses the correspondence view of truth (or

realism), in which the defense of Scripture is based on it being the most objectively rational view of life in the same way the scientists approach the verification of truth. Postmoderns say this is foreign to the way the early church functioned and is more akin to the Gnostics who believed that only the mentally “enlightened” who had the true biblical worldview and knowledge of Jesus were chosen or saved.

These postmodernists especially take umbrage with what they call the “Enlightenment trap” that Evangelicals have fallen into regarding defending the Bible’s “inerrancy.” They say the early church knew no such thing as inerrancy in the sense they never tried to scientifically, forensically and empirically defend the faith or the inspiration and authority of Scripture (whether linguistically or scientifically). Even prominent past leaders like Anglican Bishop Lesslie Newbigin taught that biblical inerrancy is not the way we should approach Scripture; God chose the faith and Scripture to come through human beings who were part of the faith community and He continues to spread His truth through error-prone human beings who are also limited in their speech and understanding based on their cultures, education and upbringing.

Postmoderns also claim many Evangelicals are trying to act more like secular philosophers than preachers. This practice was condemned by Tertullian when he sneered “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” (The Next Reformation by Carl Raschke, page 19). The conversions of the masses are subjective—never objective—and the faith is spread by the moving of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of people, not by apologetically proving Jesus was the Messiah with the use of linguistics, archeology, or science. They say the elements of the Christian faith include things that are not rational but based on subjective belief such as the raising of the dead, the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we are saved, the gifts and anointing of the Holy Spirit, and even conversion experiences like that of Paul the Apostle on the road to Damascus (which was not a rational but a supernatural conversion experience).

Whether you agree with the postmoderns or not, they are becoming more of a force to be reckoned with. Many of them even believe the church will eventually do away with theology as we now know it!

(For more on this subject read The Next Reformation by Carl Raschke, which is partially a rebuttal of a book against postmodernism by Douglas Groothuis entitled Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Also read The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin, page 92 for his view on the inspiration of the Bible.)

3. Charismatics will become more Evangelical and Evangelicals more charismatic

There is now more acceptance across the Body of Christ regarding the Pentecostal gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues.  This is mostly because those who embrace Pentecostalism—something theologians and missiologists cannot deny—are involved in the overwhelming majority of the explosive global growth of Christianity!

Another reason is because of culture wars, persecution and the general hardship of being a believer in the world. The church is uniting primarily over the Great Commission and Cultural Commission and not making a major issue of non-essentials regarding redemption such as...

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© Joseph Mattera / http://josephmattera.org/