Thursday, May 01, 2008
Between Three Worlds - History
In his book ‘The Courage To Be Protestant’ author David Wells describes three distinct groups of evangelicals who represent much evangelicalism from the middle of the last century to the dawn of the present one. The first group are the classical evangelicals led by good brothers like John Stott, Carl Henry, J.I. Packer and Billy Graham. These brothers and the movement they nurtured were mainly defined by the crucial biblical truths they held to as the world emerged from the second world war. The second group he calls the marketers. As you might have guessed this group represented by brothers such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren viewed the church differently and focused more on church growth and the means thereof. The third group he calls the emergents. I’m sure many of us are familiar with these brothers who may define themselves as part of the postmodern youth culture in America.
As with his other books brother Wells does a fantastic job in describing the issues and impact these movements have had on the evangelical church and then charts a course for those who wish to promote historic biblical faith in a contemporary context. But this is not a review of the book which by the way I highly recommend and even quoted from last week during a sermon. I did want to use our brother’s categories to provide some historical background to my thought process regarding impacting the black church and community with reformed theology while at the same time striving to maintain the gospel based unity of God’s church across ethnic lines. I’ve entitled this short series of posts ‘Between Three Worlds’ and here’s why.
It seems as though I inhabit three distinct yet intersecting worlds. I am first and foremost a blood bought believer in Jesus Christ. My primary identity therefore is with Him who loved me and freed me from my sins by His blood. Consequently, my identify, mission, agenda and destiny are mainly and intimately tied to my Lord, Shepherd, King and Savior Jesus Christ. I am also a 21st century mono-cultural American. By that I mean that I’m for and promote a representative democratic form of government. I prefer to live in a free enterprise capitalistic economic system and value individual rights with corresponding responsibilities. I also enjoy sophisticated technology, real football and Dunkin Donuts (perhaps too much). And yet with all that I am a black man coming from a people who through God’s providence have developed into a distinct people group with our own history, church and issues that are different from many other Americans.
Ok back to the book. The three groups of evangelicals describe by Dr. Wells roughly correspond to the three groups of people they sought to serve with the gospel. The classical evangelical church mainly served the post WWII builder generation who through government intervention began to move from the central cities into the suburbs. This was the generation that began to build up a great deal of the nation’s wealth and started to grow into the large middle class we have today. They also initiated the American baby boom. And it was the first two generations of that boom who began to grow weary of and eventually checked out of their parents churches. In came brothers like Hybels and Warren who marketed a different kind of church to these boomers. Their techniques caught on and from about the mid seventies to late 90’s the market driven boomer church eclipsed the older evangelical church. The children of the second gen boomers have now emerged from the shadows of their parents churches wanting something different. These are the Seinfeld/Friends folks who like living in central cities and want a different kind of experience than their parents contemporary churches. Many of them now populate the new emergent church movement.
Before I end please let me beg your indulgence as I’m neither a historian nor the son of a historian. I’ve painted with a broad brush and certainly failed to fill in some necessary gaps. I only wanted to show how much of the present day effort of the reformed evangelical camp represented by good brothers like Wells, conferences like T4G and PCRT and church movements like the PCA, Sovereign Grace, Acts 29 and many among the SBC focus on the first two worlds. What about the last? Well that will have to wait until the next post.
To Him Who Loves Us…