Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

I was worried after reading the first two chapters of this book. It begins with an avalanche of statistics revealing how hypocritical the behavior of North American Christians is – divorce rate is the same or worse as the general population, the co-habitation rate is the same, etc. The second chapter contrasts this with the New Testament scriptures, book by book. I was worried – the tone had me thinking an angry football-coach-Jesus was about to show up with a patented feel-guilty-and-try-harder pep talk. Luckily, I was wrong. The third chapter points to our modern, reductionist, incomplete understanding of the gospel, and three other doctrines, as the root cause of western evangelicals’ disobedience.

Chapter 3 identifies 4 doctrines which have lost their whole-ness through the influence of reductionist thinking – the gospel, salvation, sin, and persons. I won’t go into great detail, but I agree in each case that recovering a full understanding of these doctrines is a step in the right direction.

In chapter 4 the author identifies six points to “recovering the New Testament understanding and practice of the church”. Of the six, three are given the most thorough treatment: the church must return to being a community, the church must be countercultural, and we must reestablish mutual accountability and responsibility in the church. I appreciated the first two – nothing new there – but the piece on accountability, and specifically church discipline, got me thinking. I hadn’t thought about church discipline in the context of a postmodern christian community – what should it look like?

Where this book disappointed me was the section on how to practically implement the steps to recovery above. After diagnosing a major problem in christendom – a huge problem – the solution according to the author is more of the same. Apparently, we need strong small groups. Needless to say, I believe the solution needs to match the depth and severity of the problem – I believe we need a much more radical shift in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the western world.

I will also say that I disagreed with the method of quoting scripture in this book. It is very common in modern Christian writing to pull verses out of the books to which they belong, inserting them as proof or evidence of general points discussed. I think that scripture was intended to be read and interpreted thematically – that is to say that the basic unit of the bible is the book rather than the chapter or verse (because the chapters and verses were added later, and are therefore not inspired). So the correct way to read and understand scripture is to read an entire book and understand its themes and the way they fit with the themes of other books. When people support they’re arguments by quoting individual verses we must make the assumption that they are taking the verse in the correct context and in alignment with the themes of the book from which the quoted verses come. As has been well documented, single verses taken out of their context can be used to support all kinds of ludicrous and heretical arguments.

All in all, this book was worth my time and energy.

No comments: