Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Supposed Evangelical Crackup, and New Areas of Focus and Ministry

A recent New York Times article explores the changing public face of the evangelical political and social movement. I don’t agree with all of the article’s points, and I’m not sure evangelicalism is quite as divided and defeated as the author claims, especially because there is yet a good deal of time for Christians to sift out which presidential candidate they like and will support. (Good grief, we’re still a year away!) With the unnecessarily alarmist (and celebratory?) tone of the article pointed out, it does show how some evangelicals are turning to different social causes than those of previous generations. This shift in interest draws my attention because it reveals that Christians are devoting time to less traditional causes, and pouring effort and energy into climate change and the defeat of global poverty.

I have no personal ax to grind on either of these issues–they’re complex, they take time to sort out, and I am quite happy for Christians who know more than me to do so and to inform me as to a suggested course of action. However, I do have an ax to grind when it comes to the shape of the family. A recent book by Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith, published in June 2007 by the Southern Baptist pastor and speaker, re-started a whole line of thinking in my mind about the absolute necessity of evangelizing and discipling our children. Now here is an area that every evangelical can recognize that they need to address. A staggering number of people who profess to believe evangelical Christianity do so because they were raised in a Christian home. The Christian home that holds out the gospel and that does not subcontract with a youth pastor, a Christian summer camp, and an FCA group to lead their children to the Lord is doing the right thing. Baucham, a reformed author, an excellent speaker, and a good writer, makes this case quite convincingly in his book, which I encourage everyone interested in this subject (or not interested) to buy. The Christian faith is meant to be driven by families, not by the parachurch, not by “experts,” and not by strangers.

But I have an even stronger burden than this. I would re-suggest a model of evangelization that is itself focused on the family. I would encourage Christians to befriend young, inner-city boys and girls and evangelize and disciple them. I would encourage whole churches to target troubled areas and to “adopt” children who come from broken homes. There is little hope of reaching troubled youth (who teem in our nation’s cities) without a strong, family-based model. I would in particular suggest that men should target boys and teach them how to be the cornerstone for a family. I was reminded of this need this morning as I spoke to an inner-city FCA group. As I walked through the halls of the school in search of the classroom where I would speak (I do this on a regular basis in the Louisville area–I speak and briefly rap in order to connect with students and share the gospel), I was surrounded by testosterone-filled boys, many of whom have no dad in their home, and many of whom will grow up to vacate the home just like dad did. I’m not sure we grasp the magnitude of this problem. If we do not teach boys to be responsible, godly dads and fathers, the cycle of suffering and death will only continue in the American inner-city. So long as many inner-city children have no evangelistic family structure, they will reject the gospel, and produce more children who will only do the same. If we want to evangelize these youths, then, and if we want to see their children saved, we must reach them through the Bible’s primary evangelistic model, the family. This is a social emphasis that could use great attention from evangelicals.

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How Many Services Should a Church Have, Anyway?

This is a controverted question in the current day. Following from yesterday’s discussion, there are a considerable number of churches today that cut out some of the traditional services–Sunday night and Wednesday night–in order to streamline the church and avoid cluttering the busy calendars of the members. Is this a positive development or a negative one?

Well, let me first say that I personally have no problem with a church that has multiple weekly services, meaning the Sunday night and Wednesday night gatherings. There is much good that comes from such times of worship, and I personally enjoy the Sunday night service at my local church as much as any other service in the week. It’s relaxed and calm and tends nicely to reflective thought and encouragement. I thus can see the benefits of having such a service. In addition, a Wednesday night service can be really nice for those who seek some midweek nourishment from the Word of God. That is only a positive thing, and it is unwise to cast stones at those who really enjoy and benefit from the midweek service. In short, then, I’m not opposed to a church having any kind of service devoted to the edification of the church members.

However, I do think that we can sometimes become a little over-distressed at the loss of traditional services. I guess I could put it like this: I can see the merits of both sides of this discussion. As a married man whose family time regularly consists of a few squeezed-in hours each night, I am quite aware of the lack of time I have with my wife. I want us to worship God as the New Testament calls us to do, and so that means that we must be absolutely committed to the corporate gathering that takes place on Sunday morning. And because our church emphasizes attendance on Sunday night, and because I find that it is rich and nourishing, we go to the Sunday night service. But were I to be a pastor, I cannot say that if my church met only on Sunday morning that we would be violating Scripture. There is no proof that I personally can adduce to make that argument. The same goes for a Wednesday night service. I fully understand if someone wants to fight for the continuing existence of such services, and I think it unwise and ungodly to sneer at them for doing so. However, I do think that this line of argumentation suffers from a lack of clear biblical support. Put plainly, we are not commanded to worship on Wednesday night.

There is much wisdom in observing church history and seeking to learn from Christians who proceeded us in the faith. I want to do this for the rest of my life. I do not presume to think at the present stage of the church’s life, we have reached the apex of wisdom. Far from it. There is so much, so very much, to learn from Christians who proceeded us in the faith. In fact, I naturally hesitate to depart from the traditions of godly Christians who laid down a path of faithfulness for future believers to follow. The confessional traditions especially draw my interest and devotion, for they were so thoughtful, so rooted in Scripture, and the reformers and the Puritans possessed such strong faith and biblical wisdom. With all this said and acknowledged, though, I am yet aware that these traditions are not themselves divine. Their practices and advice do not carry the weight of the Bible. While I see them as godly advisors, then, I do not see them as the normative voice of authority.

Where does all this leave us? With freedom. With freedom to pursue simplicity. We must obey Scripture, and we must seek a vibrant congregational life. We must preach the Word, hear the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word. We must not give these things up. We must do them with joy and freshness. And yet we must also avoid a new law, an addendum to Scripture, that binds our consciences and induces guilt where it is not deserved. Churches have freedom to structure their weekly calendars. They should take into account the busyness of life, the demands upon the family in a society in which the father must often be away from the home for much of the day, the separation of many children from the home due to schooling, and the effects that these modern trends exert upon the family. They must ask whether they are harming the family to help the church. This is a difficult question, and we must wrestle with it today, balancing the scriptural mandate, the goodness of corporate gathering, and the gifts of freedom and simplicity that God has given His local church.

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Compelling Books: Thom Rainer’s Simple Church

This is not a book review of Rainer’s 2005 text, Simple Church, but more a reflection based on the book. I will give you a quick summation before I leave you with my thoughts. Rainer, a church consultant and strategist and current president of the SBC publishing monolith Lifeway Books, writes with Eric Geiger, a pastor in Miami, to encourage pastors and church leaders to transition from a traditional, multi-layered, strictly hierarchical, unfocused style of church to a simple, streamlined model that articulates a simple vision for the church and judges all activity by it. The simple church cuts out unnecessary activities, activities that do not directly enhance the ministry focus of the congregation, and leaves members with a fluid, accessible church experience that is not cluttered by dozens of programs, initiatives, and competing motives and methods.

I would not agree with everything in Simple Church, and I do not typically lean heavily on the church consultant market for ideas, but I think Rainer is onto something here. The simple church model is, in a word, compelling. How many of us have experienced life in a church with little idea of where it’s going and even less formal articulation of how it will get there? How many of us have served in churches filled with unconnected ministries and a lack of a driving vision? How many of us have wearied of multiple weekly commitments that feel more like duties than opportunities? Simple Church has some good things to say to such people. I am not one to encourage people to be disheartened and frustrated by their church, but I would say that a church that possesses a simple vision and takes a few concrete steps to get there is on the right track.

Don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that I want to dumb down doctrine or some such awful thing. But I do think that, in a complex and busy world, there is much to say for simplicity. Historical Christianity, after all, was simple. You went to church all day on Sunday, if you were in a confessional tradition, and then you worked the rest of the week. If you were a good husband and father, you led your family in some form of domestic worship. That was pretty much it. We make the mistake sometimes of assuming that the overcrowded modern church calendar is the historical norm and the very fulfillment of the New Testament ideal for the church. Other than the Sunday service, there is no weekly calendar laid out for the congregation. We have the freedom, then, to be simple. In the midst of church life that seems anything but restful and nourishing, we can claim simplicity for ourselves. We can seek a vibrant, rich, doctrinally driven, joyful church life that focuses on itself on worshipping God as laid out in the Bible–and the biblical plan is very simple–through weekly gathering and through specific engagement in evangelism and discipleship. You and I do not have to gasp for breath in order to be faithful church members. As Dr. Thom Rainer so helpfully reminds us, church life can be simple. No, let’s rephrase that. It not only can be simple, it was meant to be so.

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Compelling Books: Thom Rainer’s Simple Church

This is not a book review of Rainer’s 2005 text, Simple Church, but more a reflection based on the book. I will give you a quick summation before I leave you with my thoughts. Rainer, a church consultant and strategist and current president of the SBC publishing monolith Lifeway Books, writes with Eric Geiger, a pastor in Miami, to encourage pastors and church leaders to transition from a traditional, multi-layered, strictly hierarchical, unfocused style of church to a simple, streamlined model that articulates a simple vision for the church and judges all activity by it. The simple church cuts out unnecessary activities, activities that do not directly enhance the ministry focus of the congregation, and leaves members with a fluid, accessible church experience that is not cluttered by dozens of programs, initiatives, and competing motives and methods.

I would not agree with everything in Simple Church, and I do not typically lean heavily on the church consultant market for ideas, but I think Rainer is onto something here. The simple church model is, in a word, compelling. How many of us have experienced life in a church with little idea of where it’s going and even less formal articulation of how it will get there? How many of us have served in churches filled with unconnected ministries and a lack of a driving vision? How many of us have wearied of multiple weekly commitments that feel more like duties than opportunities? Simple Church has some good things to say to such people. I am not one to encourage people to be disheartened and frustrated by their church, but I would say that a church that possesses a simple vision and takes a few concrete steps to get there is on the right track.

Don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that I want to dumb down doctrine or some such awful thing. But I do think that, in a complex and busy world, there is much to say for simplicity. Historical Christianity, after all, was simple. You went to church all day on Sunday, if you were in a confessional tradition, and then you worked the rest of the week. If you were a good husband and father, you led your family in some form of domestic worship. That was pretty much it. We make the mistake sometimes of assuming that the overcrowded modern church calendar is the historical norm and the very fulfillment of the New Testament ideal for the church. Other than the Sunday service, there is no weekly calendar laid out for the congregation. We have the freedom, then, to be simple. In the midst of church life that seems anything but restful and nourishing, we can claim simplicity for ourselves. We can seek a vibrant, rich, doctrinally driven, joyful church life that focuses on itself on worshipping God as laid out in the Bible–and the biblical plan is very simple–through weekly gathering and through specific engagement in evangelism and discipleship. You and I do not have to gasp for breath in order to be faithful church members. As Dr. Thom Rainer so helpfully reminds us, church life can be simple. No, let’s rephrase that. It not only can be simple, it was meant to be so.

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Compelling Books: Thom Rainer’s Simple Church

This is not a book review of Rainer’s 2005 text, Simple Church, but more a reflection based on the book. I will give you a quick summation before I leave you with my thoughts. Rainer, a church consultant and strategist and current president of the SBC publishing monolith Lifeway Books, writes with Eric Geiger, a pastor in Miami, to encourage pastors and church leaders to transition from a traditional, multi-layered, strictly hierarchical, unfocused style of church to a simple, streamlined model that articulates a simple vision for the church and judges all activity by it. The simple church cuts out unnecessary activities, activities that do not directly enhance the ministry focus of the congregation, and leaves members with a fluid, accessible church experience that is not cluttered by dozens of programs, initiatives, and competing motives and methods.

I would not agree with everything in Simple Church, and I do not typically lean heavily on the church consultant market for ideas, but I think Rainer is onto something here. The simple church model is, in a word, compelling. How many of us have experienced life in a church with little idea of where it’s going and even less formal articulation of how it will get there? How many of us have served in churches filled with unconnected ministries and a lack of a driving vision? How many of us have wearied of multiple weekly commitments that feel more like duties than opportunities? Simple Church has some good things to say to such people. I am not one to encourage people to be disheartened and frustrated by their church, but I would say that a church that possesses a simple vision and takes a few concrete steps to get there is on the right track.

Don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that I want to dumb down doctrine or some such awful thing. But I do think that, in a complex and busy world, there is much to say for simplicity. Historical Christianity, after all, was simple. You went to church all day on Sunday, if you were in a confessional tradition, and then you worked the rest of the week. If you were a good husband and father, you led your family in some form of domestic worship. That was pretty much it. We make the mistake sometimes of assuming that the overcrowded modern church calendar is the historical norm and the very fulfillment of the New Testament ideal for the church. Other than the Sunday service, there is no weekly calendar laid out for the congregation. We have the freedom, then, to be simple. In the midst of church life that seems anything but restful and nourishing, we can claim simplicity for ourselves. We can seek a vibrant, rich, doctrinally driven, joyful church life that focuses on itself on worshipping God as laid out in the Bible–and the biblical plan is very simple–through weekly gathering and through specific engagement in evangelism and discipleship. You and I do not have to gasp for breath in order to be faithful church members. As Dr. Thom Rainer so helpfully reminds us, church life can be simple. No, let’s rephrase that. It not only can be simple, it was meant to be so.

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The Week-est Link

With that title proudly worked out, I can now give you my weekly link roundup.

1. Provocative article by Thomas Sowell on whether prestigious colleges really deliver the education people think they do. There are of courses necessary nuances to Sowell’s argument, but his basic idea sounds right: oftentimes, prestigious institutions of great size offer a subpar education relative to smaller, perhaps less well-known, teaching-oriented universities. A good commentary on the insatiable appetite most of us Americans have for status. We are so obsessed with status that we overlook certain factors in making decisions–like, for example, the education our students will receive (a minor consideration, after all). In our lust for association with prestige, in our haste to drop name after glorious name, we sacrifice quality to the gods of status. This is a ridiculous problem in American society that is only accelerated in a society that is losing its moral framework and its understanding of what is truly important–God, family, church, country.

2. A podcast interview I did with Tony Kummer of Said at Southern. Tony very kindly approached me and asked if he could interview me about my experience at SBTS. After recovering from a startled state due to a keen understanding of how little my my life and work deserves an interview on a well-read blog, I consented. The result is 27 minutes of Kummer and Strachan, and quite possibly the least downloaded podcast of all time–though I must say, I really appreciate Tony’s kindness and interest in me. He does an excellent job with the podcast, and I strongly encourage you to listen to them all.

3. If you like beautiful piano-based soundtracks, and I do, you should buy the soundtrack to the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring. I have not watched the movie and thus cannot vouch for it, though I can say that I love the film’s score, and often listen to it at work. Haunting and continually interesting to listen to.

There you go–have a great weekend.

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When the Bell Fell Silent: The Church, the Parachurch, and Christian Witness to the American University, Pt. 4

Do you have ambition? Do you have energy? Do you have a vision?

If you are a young man, I want to ask you those three questions. You should answer them honestly. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not referring in these question to worldly ambition, energy, and vision. I’m talking about godly ambition, Godward energy, righteous vision. Do you have these qualities? If you don’t, are you developing them in yourself? Or do you simply evaluate yourself, find a lack of ambition and vision, and thereby excuse yourself from ever doing something significant? You have to answer these questions. Only you truly know the state of your heart.

I ask these questions because I sense a need for young men (defined as 20-35) to get a vision for life. Many among my generation did not have a father around to impart a broad-ranging plan for life, to cast a vision for the lives of their sons. As a result, many young men do not simply dream small. Many young men–even godly men, even seminarians!–don’t dream at all. They lope through seminary, continually fighting laziness in their classes, unsure of themselves, uncertain as to what the future holds, afraid to dream, certain that any hint of ambition or zeal is impious. We have, in short, a lack of testosterone. We need to move away from over-realized pietism that views any inkling of ambition as wrong. It is not wrong to be ambitious in a kingdom sense, to cast a vision for one’s life that centers around one’s understanding of one’s gifts and the confirmation of that understanding by the member of one’s local church. It is right to do so. It is essential to do so. It is godly to dream big, to think of all that one could possibly do for the kingdom, to daydream about spending one’s life in totality through the exercise of the gifts God has given us. Though I am thinking of my context here, my seminary setting, this is true for all Christians. So many of us lack a vision for life and assume that all ambition and energy is impious unless directly related to our devotions. This is not true. The apostles were ambitious for the kingdom. They spread the gospel with zeal and energy and vision and life and courage. They were anything but timid and overly pious and hesitant and unsure. They struck out in boldness and ambition, and you know the result. The world turned on its head.

I say all this to close this mini-series on Christian witness to the college campus. I see such an energy and liveliness in the ministry of many parachurch groups to the university. Conversely, I see such a deadness and distractedness in the ministry of many local churches to the university. If things are to be righted here, we need a whole chunk of young men to catch a bold vision for the American college campus, and to gear themselves up to reach it. We need young men not simply to idle their time away in their dorm room, or goof off with their friends, or cry on their wife’s shoulder over their workload, but to rise up, construct an ambitious plan for their lives, and then work diligently to accomplish that plan. Don’t live life weakly. Live it boldly for the Lord. Set your sights on something very difficult to do, and then do all you can to reach that goal. You may find that you can’t reach it, and you’ll need to be realistic and honest as you go, and to listen to counsel and wisdom. But at least you’ll be able to look back on the last day and say, “I tried, Lord–I was zealous for your name. I gave it my all.”

If that’s true, you know what He will say.

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When the Bell Fell Silent: The Church, the Parachurch, and Christian Witness to the American University, Pt. 3

So here we are. We’ve got an overdeveloped parachurch and an underdeveloped local church in relation to the college campus. Where do we go from here?

Well, I’m not the answer-man, but I will take a crack at this. I would suggest that the primary need we have is for a pastoral corps that has been trained to love people, to preach the Word faithfully and powerfully, and to engage the thought and practice of the culture. If our local churches are going to reclaim the college campus as a place of considerable investment, they must be led by men who are equipped to reach out to students and to engage their questions. Though this may not be ideal, college students, often in the flower of youthful hubris and pride, tend to blow off people who they sense don’t really “get” them. Our pastors do not need to be professors. But they do need to reject the anti-intellectualism of the twentieth-century model, and they need to be able to engage sophisticated theological, moral, and philosophical questions. Again, they don’t need to be professorial as they do so. Pastors, when they are gifted in both personality and intellect, are uniquely suited to reach students, because students generally enjoy both a lively, warm personality and a strong, nimble mind. Pastors should seek to love students through their engaging personalities and should couple this love with an awareness of the questions that confront the particular generation to which they are ministering. For example, it is great to know all about Francis Schaeffer and what he said, but the questions Schaeffer confronted in his day, while still quite relevant to ours, are nonetheless not the same as those that our students face. Thus we should take it upon ourselves to read up, to honestly engage the intellectual questions of our day.

Some pastors who read this will think, “But even then, I won’t be able to refute the highest level of intellectual scholarship.” Well, you don’t need to. You will go a long way to connecting with students simply by trying. In addition, if you can be in touch with books and people that do refute anti-Christian thought with considerable facility, then you can refer students to those resources, and they will be stimulated.

Why am I spending so much time on intellectual matters? Because that’s where many students are–figuring out the big questions. Groups like Campus Crusade know this, and that is one reason why they are so successful in reaching students–they ask, and answer, the big questions.

Beyond this, churches must develop strong discipleship programs which they can plug students into. This is huge. We cannot simply hold a meal once in a while if we expect to reclaim the rightful place of the local church in relation to the college campus. We need to plug students into discipling relationships, hold events that they can come to, bring in speakers, integrate students into the family lives of our members, and so much more. Students have–despite what they may think–lots of free time, and parachurch groups know this and plan accordingly. So should we. We must not assume that we will fill the role of the parachurch simply by holding a solitary event once in a while. We will not. This is difficult for seminarians to hear, because we so want to reach out to students, and yet there is so little time to do so. For example, when I was leading college ministry at my church, I was painfully aware of how little I was actually doing to reach students in the ways I’ve just listed.

I very much hope in the future to be able to focus more time and energy in these areas, because unless the local church considerably ramps up its outreach to students, the parachurch will continue to be seen as their primary place of discipleship. This should not be so. We need tons of local churches to commit themselves to considerable investment in the college campuses in their communities. We need young men to get a bold and ambitious vision for the college campus and to attain training and personal development so that they can minister effectively to students. We need our average church member to see the college campus as a mission field, not an enemy training base. We need families to get a heart for students and to invite them into their homes for meals and meaningful fellowship. I do not hold myself out as the exemplar of such activity. But I do think that I am talking about one of the serious deficiencies of the local church in America, and I want in the future to be a part of the solution. I want to be a man who plots strategically, ambitiously, and prayerfully to make a significant impact on a college campus. I hope that some out there will catch the same vision if they have not already.

Perhaps in days to come the bell will ring once more.

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When the Bell Fell Silent: The Church, the Parachurch, and Christian Witness to the American University, Pt. 2

The body of secularist water that washed over the American academy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was no mere wave. It was a tsunami. At one point there were many schools that educated students from a unapologetically Christian perspective; at another those same schools had utterly abandoned all commitments to Christianity and Christian education. For more on the rapidity and scope of this trend, see George Marsden’s excellent text The Soul of the American University.

As I noted yesterday, the American church was, relative to this trend, at a particularly weak point. The heritage of at least the northeast part of the country was Christian commitment of the stoutest brand, reformational puritanism. This tradition, as was true with, among other regional flavors of Christianity, southern Presbyterianism and certain strands of Southern Baptists, was staunchly biblical and credibly intellectual. In all of these traditions, men of strong faith and strong mind had dominated their local culture. Christians in such regions were not afraid of unbelieving thought, for their pastors could engage the thinkers of their day and were in the lifelong process of training the congregants to do the same. Yet the church weakened over time in all regions of the country as pragmatic thought, showy religion, increasingly taxed clergy, and the rapid growth of America all conspired to dilute the intellectual nature of Christianity in America. As the twentieth century dawned, many Christians had retreated from culture and now shied away from intellectual engagement. As I noted yesterday, the college campus was left to itself.

Here’s where we pick up. The parachurch saw this situation and sought to address it. Movements like InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, the Navigators, Baptist Campus Ministry, and others moved onto the college campus in an effort to engage lost students and to disciple saved students. Though these groups had some ties to the local church, they often emphasized more the importance of Christian fellowship on campus than of fellowship off campus in the local church. Christians on colleges formed their own little communities. These were often vibrant and passionately evangelistic, and discipleship was strongly emphasized by many of these groups. Where many (not all) local churches had turned their backs on the colleges, or simply stood by helplessly, unsure of how to reach out to students, the aforementioned parachurch groups sent in zealous young workers to minister to students, often with encouraging results. Students came to trust these ministries and to find their Christian identity in them. The parachurch had moved onto the campus, and a strong witness for Christ once again existed at many American universities.

But though this system accomplished much good, it possessed a significant weakness. The local church was marginalized by the work of these groups. The local church, the only institution founded by Christ, and the only institution perpetuated by His apostles and disciples, was also the only thing missing from the lives of many Christian college students. As health returned to many churches in the latter half of the twentieth century, as reformed theology trickled back into various ecclesiastical traditions, as men like Schaeffer and Henry called Christians back to cultural engagement and witness, the local church gained confidence and courage. Pastors rose up who were ready to speak to the culture and witness for Christ. Christians sought degrees and founded fellowships and programs to minister to college students. Yet many local churches found that it was very difficult to reassert themselves on campus in the face of established parachurch ministries. This is where we are today.

We have strong parachurch ministries who have done very faithful work in the past. These groups ensured that the torch did not go out, that a Christian witness was present on the campus of the American university. And yet many of these groups do not realize that, to put it plainly, the local church is back. In many places, it is healthy and vibrant, and it desires to reach students for Christ. The parachurch needs now to step back, to concentrate, perhaps, on evangelism, and to let churches be responsible for discipleship. The parachurch should, in my humble opinion, exist as an evangelistic supplement to the local church that funnels students to the local church. It should not exist as its own stand-alone organization that feeds students a rich diet and then spits them out at graduation without connection to a local church. I realize that these are strong words, but I believe strongly in two things: one, that the parachurch filled a need in the twentieth century with excellence and faithfulness, and two, that it must now recognize that it must give ground to the local church, and let the local church lead in discipling and evangelizing college students wherever strong local churches are found.

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When the Bell Fell Silent: The Church, the Parachurch, and Christian Witness to the American University

The twentieth century was hard on evangelicals in many ways, despite our rise to some level of cultural prominence as the century wore on. Ecclesiastically, on matters of the local church, we ran up against some rocks. In short, we ceded much ground to the parachurch. Possessing too narrow a vision of church life, many of our local churches retracted from many areas of national life and gave that territory to fledgling organizations and ministries. Many of these entities did (and do) excellent work, and we can thank God for them and their faithful witness in an age when the local church dropped the ball. In the current day, however, when health spreads amongst the local churches of America, we are poised to reexamine the role of the parachurch in evangelical life, and to ask where it is overextending itself, and where the local church must claim back territory that it is responsible for.

In taking on this topic, which I will explore over the next several days, I am not suggesting that the parachurch has no role in evangelical life. Far from it. Parachurch organizations accomplish too much good to chart here. They are a part, and a necessary one, of Christian life. And yet we may say that in their attempt to address the deficiencies of the local church, some organizations have overextended themselves. This is not to say that they have no usefulness or role. That must be understood. But it is to say that in one area of evangelical life, campus ministry, the parachurch often dominates to such an extent that the local church must work around the parachurch. This is not an ideal situation, and it has harmful effects for many students and for the churches who lack any meaningful connection with them.

If you read carefully above, though, you read that the primary blame for this situation rests with the local church. It is fundamentally responsible for this situation. Where did this all begin? To start, many Christians altogether retreated from college campuses in the twentieth century. In the face of a rising tide of secularist thought and pagan practice, many evangelicals simply put out to sea, becoming isolated, lonely communities much like the drifting atolls found in Kevin Costner’s film “Waterworld” (an underrated film, but this is entirely off the point). Possessing an over-realized sense of cultural separation–an instinct we all must have–these Christians and their local churches largely abandoned the college campus. Bewildered at the shocking practices of the younger generation, the rebelliousness of the Woodstock set, the immorality of the rock culture, and the anti-Christian philosophies of the academy, many Christians retreated from the paganism spreading all around them. It is no shock that they did so. Many had little intellectual training by which to engage secular thought and little familiarity with pagan practice. When confronted with these dual evils, believers failed to engage them, or failed to do so with sophistication, winsomeness, wisdom, and a bold, clear and logical apologetic. The result? As colleges turned from their Christian roots (which happened en masse between, roughly, the 1860s and the 1950s), abolishing chapel, embracing humanism, appointing unbelieving chaplains, and distancing themselves from their Christian roots, the American university was, in a Christian sense, all but lost. Where there once existed a vibrant and widespread Christian influence, symbolized by a busy and frequently occupied chapel characterized by a pleasantly resounding bell, now there was only spiritual wasteland. The local church and the university had separated. The divorce was complete.

The bell had fallen silent.

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