Very few things in life happen quickly. For many of us life goes on for 70 plus years. It is a journey from birth to eternity. During that time we see changes almost every day. Some of these are welcome and others, well, not so much. But we go on and deal with it.
Some of these changes happen naturally. They are part of how we all live. Life and death, birth, pain, suffering, and ease happen to every one of us. “To every thing there is a purpose and a time under heaven” rings true for all of us. We may lack perspective at times, but that does not change the context.
Once in a while a change is contrived. A business may attempt to take advantage of you the customer. A customer may attempt to manipulate a business into giving something not purchased. People around us, even adults, may whine and complain about not getting what they want, expressing their lack of maturity in a public manner. Politicians contrive reasons for wars, extend wars without victory, or surrender when surrender is not called for. These things leave us cynical.
Fear-mongers worry all of us. They take away our perspective and replace it with fear. Listen to the environmentalist crowd and you would think all children would end up with emphysema should coal plants continue to produce power. Listen to Glenn Beck and the world will come to and end with the continued growth of leftist power. In both cases one ends up paralyzed. Not seriously so, but with so much fear in our lives it is easy to either give up or to lose direction and purpose. What good is it, after all, if everything is out of our control.
Real change happens slowly and incrementally. The early church grew over a period of three centuries before reaching a place it became acceptable to the whole of society. What was its method? Charity. We call it ἀγάπη love, but I Corinthians 13 uses that term “charity” to convey the principle that this noun is an inter-personally active term rather than an emotive term.
The rise of the American liberal to its current position has taken about 150 years. The rise of, or perhaps I should say the decline of, American evangelicalism to its current position has also been going on for a good while. Neither happened quickly.
The popularity of the evangelical ethic in government, business, and social life became entrenched with the Great Awakening. The evangelism of Whitfield and Wesley helped form it as integral to our culture. Wesley’s preaching in particular helped stem the social problems of alcohol and drugs, at least to some measurable degree, without the heavy had of government. Changed hearts are changed lives.
For the past few decades the American evangelical has withdrawn from evangelism. It might be easy to blame the fundamental and fundamentalist movement for this situation. They have, after all, retreated from engagement, preferring to preach inside their four walls. It does not matter to them that few enter to hear the message. What matters is that separation principle.
But the rest of evangelism has just as much a burden to bear. Let’s start with a simple question: How do we plant churches? Well we go into an area and gather a core group of believers. Then we advertise, perhaps door-to-door or on radio. Then we start our services and wait for people to come in. If the preaching is good and the Sunday School has something for the children then those people with a felt need will enter. Most are already Christians. A few may become Christians in the process, but probably not directly from the preaching.
We evangelicals have surrendered to the “church growth” methodology of the 60s. A few, to be certain, have not. These few still do evangelism, have prayer meetings where the church gathers together. People commit to serve first the Lord then each other. But these are the minority to be certain.
We begin the process with no evangelism, little prayer, and substitute a concern about budgets, facilities, professionalism, and a decent retirement package. Who, after all, would demand sacrificial service in this era of suburban affluence.
A soft Marxism has infiltrated our theology. We may reject the postmodern and emergent heresies but accept a dialectical view of society. So we confuse serving people with evangelism. Oh, we do not mix the terms. That’s what the liberal does. What we do is mix the virtue. We act like liberals while speaking evangelical language. It is hypocrisy. (That goes for my Anabaptist friends as well as many mainstream evangelicals I know.)
Thabiti Anyabwile has documented the growth of Marxist theology in black churches (The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity). This, it seems, is in mostly those of a Baptist heritage, though not entirely. It looks like, perhaps, the majority of us are all in the same boat.
These things have been happening slowly, almost imperceptibly. They move like molasses on a cold winter day. We might see a little motion but ignore it because we do not look ahead to where the flow will end.
Perhaps, as Jeremiah Wright suggested, our chickens have come home to roost.