Tag Archives: evangelicalism

Still Evangelical?

I am the son of two immigrants, my father was Polish and my mother is Guatemalan. I grew up in small Latino churches. I am evangelical. I was on staff at an evangelical megachurch. I am a PhD student at a historically significant evangelical institution. I am also a registered Republican.  It should go without saying that the entire Trump “event,” from his nomination to his presidency today, has been rather complicated for me.

This is not least because so much of what his presidency has brought to light, both in America and the American church, embodies values which are so contrary to me as an evangelical Christian formed by non-Western influences. So, when I saw various 4537evangelicals, like Mark Labberton, wondered aloud whether the term “Evangelical” is still useful or whether the tribe that identifies with that will be left intact I had mixed feelings: “evangelical” is what I am, yet the term has become tainted. Some of these mixed feelings are very well articulated by numerous authors in Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning. There is a lot I resonate with in this book.

Robert Chao Romero, in his essay, “Immigration and the Latina/o Community” describes the experiences of Latino/a Christians in the US in light of the “Latino Threat Narrative.” Basically, this is the idea that Latinos are unwilling to integrate into “American” culture and that they are bent on reconquering land that was formerly theirs. Because many have imbibed this false narrative, many evangelicals voted for a president who espouses this same view. Many Latino evangelicals were left confused as to why their Christian brothers and sisters would think so poorly of them and put nation before Kingdom. [This, I should note, is not a universal experience, I know from conversations that numerous Latino evangelicals were ardent Trump supporters.]

Jim Daly, who leads one of the most significant evangelical organizations, Focus on the Family, writes about the importance of “listening” in this period. He embodies a more conciliatory approach: “Rather than assuming what ‘those people’ are like, we should get to know them.” (180) This practice of listening goes both ways. Evangelicals who can’t fathom why other evangelicals would support Trump inspired political movements and evangelicals who think that those who refused to fall in line with American Evangelicalism both need to speak to and listen to one another. In an age of “yelling” through social media, this call to be slow speak and quick to listen almost seems biblical…

Despite the inclusion of numerous well written chapters, the one that resonated the most with me was InterVarsity President Tom Lin’s chapter. He makes the fantastic point:

Any evaluation of the world evangelical or evangelicalism must be done in the context of the global church. The decision of some American evangelicals to abandon the term is insensitive to our overseas sisters and brothers; it reflects the worst impulses of American exceptionalism and self-absorption. (186)

In my opinion, this global perspective changes everything. I grew up in such a way that my self-understanding of what it means to be an evangelical was more shaped by my Latino and European influences than by institutional Anglo-American evangelicalism. [I didn’t start attending an Anglo-American church until I was 19 years old.] To be an Evangelico was never tied to political parties – it was always tied to evangelical faith and practice. It meant we read and took the Bible seriously, we shared the gospel, we believed in salvation by faith through grace alone, and we believed in the importance of being born again. None of this was tied to a particular political party. Sure, some people in our church were democrats and some were republicans, but that was not what defined you as a “good” or “bad” Christian. Yet, it seems, that in circles just outside the ones I grew up in as a Latino evangelical, one’s political affiliation did define whether one was a “good” or “bad” Christian. Because of my social context, that word, “Evangelical” didn’t carry the same meaning as it does for many of my other Christian brothers and sisters. To me, Evangelical, was never a sociological moniker, it was a theological identity. All this to say, I understand why some evangelicals want to abandon the term, but I simply can’t. To be an evangelical, at least from a Latino perspective, just means that I am a Christ follower. And that is an identification I would never want to abandon.

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How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

No, this is not a blog about how I changed my mind about evolution, however it is a blog about a book containing essays from many well known and well respected evangelicals about how they changed their mind about evolution.

This book, edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump contains a numerous amount of essays from some significant names like:

  • James K.A. Smith
  • Scot McKnight
  • Ken Fong
  • Tremper Longman III
  • Francis Collins
  • Oliver Crisp
  • John Ortberg
  • N.T. Wright
  • Richard Mouw

Any book with a collection of new essays from authors like those – on any subject would already be incredibly fascinating, let alone on such a contentious subject among evangelicals, like evolution.

Most of the essays in this book are extremely personal, they recount the stories of the contributors’ journey toward accepting evolution as a viable Christian belief about creation. Many of the stories are quite typical, which some readers will find encouraging.how-i-changed-my-mind-about-evolution The story typically goes something like this: 1)I was taught evolution was a godless, anti-Christian theory. 2) I became very interested in “creation science” in order to defend Christianity. 3) I actually began to learn about science and evolution. 4) I was able to reconcile my faith and this belief. 5)Conclusion: evolution, contrary to what I was taught early on, is not a threat to the faith.

One essay in particular, that I found helpful (no surprise here) in understanding the logic behind most of these “evolutions” in belief about creation, was Oliver Crisp’s essay. In his essay he outlines three principles which have helped him reflect upon how faith connects to evolution. The first is that notion of faith seeking understanding. From a position of faith we are committed to understanding our faith. The second is that all truth is God’s truth. Because God is the creator, not truth will actually be a threat to who God is, so we shouldn’t be afraid to seek truth ruthlessly.  Also, this means that in principle our understanding of Scripture and since are compatible, even though we may not yet see how they are compatible. The third is that God is mysterious. Who can fathom God’s ways in providence and creation. He can create in any way he deems necessary.

So who should pick up this book? I think there are several people who need to read it. First, I think that people who don’t believe that evolution and Christianity can be compatible. I recommend this to them, not because they should read this and “believe.” Rather It would be helpful for them to see that genuine Jesus loving Christians can hold to evolutionary theory (whether or not they are correct). Second, those who feel tension in holding their belief in evolutionary theory and robust evangelical faith. Such people need exemplars who can show the way forward in how to hold both views together.  Finally, people who’s “last objection” to becoming a Christian is that they need to check their rational-scientific mind at the door when coming to faith in Christ. As Oliver Crisp’s essay so clearly articulates, all truth is God’s truth. If our faith is true, and evolutionary theory is true, then this poses no threat to God whatsoever.

Book Giveaway

Book Giveaway: I would love to give out a copy of this book to whoever believes it would be helpful to their faith. In order to be eligible to win a copy of this book you can do one of several things (each will constitute one entry).

  1. Tweet out this blog post and mention @cwoznicki
  2. Like this post.
  3. Comment below on how this book would benefit you and your faith.

I will choose one winner very soon. The winner must live within the US in order to be eligible to receive the book.

(Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review)

Theology and the Mirror of Scripture

What is an “evangelical?” Is there even such a thing? If one were to look at the vast spectrum of people who call themselves evangelicals, one might be tempted to say that there isn’t. Yet somehow, this moniker can’t simply be shaken off. People keep on calling themselves (and other) evangelicals. It’s a sociological-theological-historical term that I believe should not be abandoned. Even though its definition as a sociological reality is being stretched beyond recognition, there is such a thing as being a “mere” evangelical. And whatever it means to be a “mere” evangelical is defined by God’s word and God’s act.9780830840762

In their most recent book, Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account, Kevin Vanhoozer and Treier (V&T) have attempted to give an account of what such a “mere evangelical” theology might be. By the looks of their endorsers on the back of the book it would seem as though they have given a satisfactory account.

According to V&T mere evangelical theology begins with theological ontology, specifically with the Trinitarian God of the gospel. It begins with the economic Trinity which mirrors the immanent Trinity. However this Trinitarian God who reveals himself in history is not know to us apart from Scripture. So V&T also argue that the biblical testimony yields knowledge of this Triune God because it mirrors who this God is. As V&T say, there is truth and authority in this mirror. Mere Evangelical theology is focused on the God of the Gospel and the Gospel of God. God himself is the light. Scripture is a mirror of that light. Tradition is a mirror who’s light is not from itself but is derivative from the light of God reflected through scripture.

The second part of this book relates V&T’s theological ontology and mirror metaphors to various theological practices – specifically the interpretation of scripture, the role of tradition, and the role of scholarship in the church.

What unites V&T’s proposal for mere evangelical theology is the metaphor of “mirror” which is scattered throughout the book. I believe this is a helpful metaphor which (at least for me) helped me make sense of the ontological priority of God in doing theology and the primacy of scripture. But where it made things most clear for me is in the role of tradition in doing theology. Calling tradition a mirror was a helpful move, for it emphasizes that it still reflects the true light, yet in some derivative way which is not foolproof from distortions.

V&T’s proposal for thinking of theology as a mirror of the God of the Gospel and the Gospel of God is a very useful metaphor, it even has implications for ecclesiology, for one might even say that the Church and local churches are also mirrors of the God of the Gospel/The Gospel of God.

Overall, I highly recommend this book by two able theologians who have devoted much work to theological prolegomena. It fits right alongside Swain and Allen’s Reformed Catholicity as a book which addresses how to be reformed and evangelical while doing theology within the context of “mere” Christianity.

(Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

This Paycheck’s Book Purchases (February 7th)

I am married now and I am still reading books! Its a wonderful surprise that I really didn’t expect. I guess this blog series didn’t die out….

Anyway, here are this paycheck’s book purchases, you might notice there is a little bit of everything (ministry, philosophy, history):

Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth by Hugh Halter

I got this book through NetGalley. Here is Amazon’s description: If we’re honest, no one really cares about theology unless it reveals a gut-level view of God’s presence. According to pastor and ministry leader Hugh Halter, only the incarnational power of Jesus satisfies what we truly crave, and once we taste it, we’re never the same. God understands how hard it is to be human, and the incarnation—God with us—enables us to be fully alive. With refreshing, raw candor, Flesh reveals the faith we all long to experience—one based on the power of Christ in the daily grind of work, home, school, and life. For anyone burned out, disenchanted, or seeking a fresh honest-to-God encounter, Flesh will invigorate your faith.

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief by George Marsden

George Marsden is a great author and a great historian. Here he tackles a very important subject – In the aftermath of World War II, the United States stood at a precipice. The forces of modernity unleashed by the war had led to astonishing advances in daily life, but technology and mass culture also threatened to erode the country’s traditional moral character. As award-winning historian George M. Marsden explains in The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, postwar Americans looked to the country’s secular, liberal elites for guidance in this precarious time, but these intellectuals proved unable to articulate a coherent common cause by which America could chart its course. Their failure lost them the faith of their constituents, paving the way for a Christian revival that offered America a firm new moral vision—one rooted in the Protestant values of the founders.

Preaching?: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer

Every once in a while I feel as though its important to pick up a book on preaching – it will act as a shot of adrenaline to your week-in-week-out preaching. Here is the Amazon description: Like many things in life, the skill of good preaching is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. Alec Motyer gives us a simple guide based on a multitude of sermons over many years of preaching, in many different situations. At its basic level he tells us that preparing a good sermon is like baking a cake. It requires the correct ingredients for each type of cake to be baked, likewise with preaching, know your subject and pull all the pieces together to make up the winning recipe. Preaching is a privilege accorded to few and the fruits thereof welcomed by many – let Alec help you reach out and make the best of the gifts God has given you.

The Severity of God: Religion and Philosophy Reconceived by Paul Moser

I was browsing through the Notre Dame Philosophy Book Reviews and this came up – philosophy has been on my mind a lot lately so I figured I should buy it. Here is the Amazon description – This book explores the role of divine severity in the character and wisdom of God, and the flux and difficulties of human life in relation to divine salvation. Much has been written on problems of evil, but the matter of divine severity has received relatively little attention. Paul K. Moser discusses the function of philosophy, evidence and miracles in approaching God. He argues that if God’s aim is to extend without coercion His lasting life to humans, then commitment to that goal could manifest itself in making human life severe, for the sake of encouraging humans to enter into that cooperative good life. In this scenario, divine agapē is conferred as free gift, but the human reception of it includes stress and struggle in the face of conflicting powers and priorities. Moser’s work will be of great interest to students of the philosophy of religion, and theology.

Matters of the Heart

The head and the heart ought not conflict. Intellectual knowledge ought not conflict with our emotions and sentiments. If Christianity is true then its crazy not to have an emotional response to the truths of our faith.  John Wesley wholeheartedly believed that.

Fred Sanders explains that Wesley was not anti-intellectual, anti-theological, or anti creedal, but he did believe that one could become too focused on these things so that one might use them (intellect, theology, the creeds) as a way to avoid the presence of God. (Wesley on the Christian Life, 82). According to Sanders, Wesley believed that these things were necessary but not sufficient.

Listen to Wesley speak in his own words:

Neither does religion consist in orthodoxy or right opinions; which although they are not properly outward things, are not in the heart, but the understanding. A man may be orthodox in every point…. He may think justly concerning the incarnation of our Lord, concerning the blessed Trinity and every other doctrine… he may assent to all the three creeds…. Yet it is possible he may have no religion at all. He may be almost as orthodox, – as the devil and may all the while be as great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart…

Many have accused modern day evangelicalism of reducing faith to intellectual assent to a certain set of propositions. This may or may not be true, nevertheless at the very heart of modern evangelicalism lies the “heart” religion of revivalists like Whitefield and Wesley as well as pastors like Jonathan Edwards. Lets not forget our roots, true faith is orthodox but it is also a religion of the heart.

What is Evangelical Theology?

I am pre-ordering Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology because it looks really interesting, and because I really think he is on to something. I firmly believe, correct me if I am wrong, all of our systematic theology should begin with God’s ultimate revelation of himself: Jesus Christ. I believe that systematic theology should be Christological. It should begin and end with the person and work of Christ (which are, by the way, inseparable). Christ is the gospel, Christ is the “Evangel.” Having said that I wonder whether Bird’s book will be evangelical in that sense, or whether it will be evangelical in the “gospel-centered” (i.e. a reduction of the gospel to justification by faith + penal substitution) sense.

I have seen several blogs coming from “Gospel-Centered” people claiming that this is a truly gospel centered systematic theology, what I want to know is: “what ‘gospel’ Bird will be using as the lens through which he does theology?”

Note: I have no qualms with “Gospel-Centered” theology, I consider myself “gospel-centered” but I refuse to reduce the gospel to the doctrine of justification by faith or penal substitution, which is what so many people tend to do. Maybe its better to call myself “Person and Work of Christ-Centered.” But then again that doesn’t have a nice ring to it.

Why Didn’t the Church Just Stick with the Bible? (Pt. 2)- The Roots of Evangelical Anti- Intellectualism

Yesterday we began our series on the importance of theology with a question that Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s students often ask at the beginning of his theology classes.

“What is the point of these finely nuanced disputes – what difference do they make at all?” “Why didn’t the church just stick with the Bible?”

These questions reveal something about Evangelical attitudes towards theology

  • Many don’t see theology as being vital to our faith
  • There is an anti-intellectual/anti-thelogical streak that runs through certain segments of Evangelicalism

Today we turn to what I believe is the root of Evangelical anti-intellectualism… these roots run deep.

_____________________________________________

One question that Karkkainen’s quote brings up for me, is

“What is the root of the anti-theological attitudes within certain traditions in the church?”

I believe that Nathan Hatch in The Democratization of American Christianity provides some possible answers to that question. In this book, Nathan Hatch argues that the central force behind evangelicalism has been its democratic or populist orientation. He sees the democratic or populist orientation playing out in various ways. First it is played out in the fact that evangelicals consider individual religious experiences of utmost importance (even more than doctrine). Second there is a lack of a firm distinction between clergy and laity. During the rise of evangelicalism ordinary people began to distrust their established leaders and sought out to shape their own faith according to their own likings and to choose their own leaders. An extreme focus on religious experience and a distrust towards people who were different than the average-joe created a division among Evangelicals (not so much among mainline churches) between the average lay-person and the educated lay-person/minister. Although the democratic impulse in Evangelicalism arose during a time when most people did not go to college and most Christians didn’t even go to High School, think about the 2nd great awakening, the mindset has stuck within our tradition.  I think that these two results of the populist orientation of evangelicalism explain why students ask the questions that Karkkainen mentioned. I also believe that this explains why some people are so skeptical of Christians who desire to pursue higher levels of education.

This is not simply a stereotype… early on in my college years I told several people that I wanted to study philosophy. I repeatedly got warned that no good could come from my study of philosophy. People even used the Bible to warn me not to pursue this major. They told me, “Don’t study philosophy! The Bible says it is evil!” and then they quoted Colossians 2:8:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition…”

Luckily I did not listen to them. I did not listen to them because I believed that thinking hard about tough issues really does matter to our faith. Yet I faced an uphill battle because my own tradition (Evangelicalism) has its roots in populist movements…. and populist movements never trust those who stick out as being “different” than the rest.

For more on the populist tendencies in Evangelicalism check out The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch:

Democratization of American Christianity