American “Evangelicals” and Heresy

Christianity Today is reporting on a new poll that shows that many self-described “evangelicals” say that they believe doctrines varying, sometimes wildly, from orthodox theology.

A friend who worships in a rather high Episcopalian church wrote to me to ask, “What’s going on? Don’t evangelicals recite the Apostles Creed in each service?”

I’m on the road just now, returning from lectures at the University of Calgary. But here’s what I was able to rap out to her in the airport lounge:

The finding that many evangelicals believe a lot of unorthodox things is, at least in the American case, about as shocking as finding that many Jews or Roman Catholics believe a lot of unorthodox things. The terminological confusion that I’ve written about here and there over the years continues: “evangelical” can mean “someone who believes and practices Christianity in a way of which John Wesley and Billy Graham would approve” or it can mean “some American who likes the term ‘evangelical’ for some reason as a self-descriptor but may or may not believe or practice even basic elements of the Christian faith.” If observant evangelicals were dropping orthodox doctrines right and left, that would be alarming indeed. But I know of no evidence that that is the case.

As for reciting creeds, well, no: evangelicals normally do not recite creeds in our services. Evangelicals that are not part of liturgical traditions—and that’s most of us—instead tend to worship in “hymn sandwich” services: lots of singing, with maybe a greeting and some announcements in the interstices, then a longish sermon, then more singing—with perhaps a collection and a closing prayer. There might be Scripture read sometime before the sermon, and it might be the text for the sermon, but maybe not.
But what there generally isn’t is anything else liturgical: no call to worship, no confession and absolution of sin, no series of Scripture readings (OT, Gospel, Epistles), no congregational prayers, no “Our Father,” no Creed…and so on. It’s pretty bad—and it’s actually regressing, I think. When Robert Webber and others chided and educated evangelicals about liturgy in the 1970s and 1980s, some responded by adding (back) elements to their services, but nowadays the trend-setting churches seem to have fallen back into two halves—singing and preaching—which, among other bad consequences, has put a very heavy burden on worship leaders and preachers to perform at a high standard, since that’s pretty much all there is to the service. Much better, instead, to let Thomas Cranmer’s brilliant liturgy in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, or something similar, shoulder some of the responsibility to orient and inspire the congregation in worship.
And we might start, indeed, by reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds regularly…

Why I Should Study Slower

In preparing for a lecture I am to give later this week at the University of Calgary on “Putting God in His Place: Does Theology Belong at the University?” I have reviewed a lot of writings I have found provocative on the nature of theology, the university, and the humanities. Here is a passage that slowed me down to re-read and re-think, from an internationally renowned Christian diplomat whose own academic training was in philosophy (he studied with, among others, Whitehead and Heidegger):

Stillness…belongs to the essence of the humanities…. The deadline must be met, the manuscript must be completed, the dissertation must be revised, the meeting must be attended, the appointment must be kept, the news must be followed, the developments must be watched, the latest literature must be mastered, their anxieties about their position and their future must be allayed–and therefore they can give you only five minutes! And even in these five minutes their mind is not on you. There is no stillness, no quiet, no rest, no living in the presence of eternity, no overcoming of time and its pressures, no unfreezing patience, no resting in being just yourself….

But the humanities mean peace, grace, patience, communion with others, the joys of fellowship and sharing, the art of relaxed, creative conversation, abiding friendship, love—love of the subject matter and love of your friends—the suspension of time, forgetting even yourself, that incredible inner freedom which creates on the spot.

Charles Habib Malik, A Christian Critique of the University (IVP, 1982), 80-81.

Walt Whitman on Ecclesiastes…and Philippians 3

Hast never come to thee an hour,
A sudden gleam divine, precipitating, bursting all these bubbles, fashions, wealth?
These eager business aims—books, politics, art, amours,
To utter nothingness?

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, #272.

 

[Entire book of Ecclesiastes]

 

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Philippians 3:7-8

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