January 2, 2007
C.J. and Mark:
It’s a busy week for you, C.J. and Mark, you are in South Africa, right? But Happy New Year to you both dear friends! It was great to be with you in Louisville in December. I’m still laughing about the comedy video C.J.
I just got off the phone with Al and Mary. Al is hurting but healing. We thank God for the excellent medical care he’s received and we pray the Lord’s blessing on his recovery – it may take awhile. Meanwhile, since Al was supposed to get the conversation started, I’ll step in and try to shuffle along in his large and nigh-unto-unfillable shoes.
All four of us long to see churches that are faithful to the following: biblical expository preaching, biblical worship (both in all of life and in gathered praise), biblical doctrine, a biblical pursuit of godliness, a biblical approach to family life, a biblical understanding of the Gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of discipleship, a biblical understanding of church membership, a biblical understanding of church leadership, and a biblical view of how the church relates to the world. We are agreed, in the main, as to what this ought to look like. But what in our context militates against these things?
Here’s my question: what are the key factors afoot in the culture and in the evangelical churches that compromise the churches’ faithfulness in the practice of these things? Mark, you bravely touched on this in your post on "relevance or faithfulness" — but perhaps it would be helpful to ministers and members alike to reflect on the cultural and ecclesial trends and tendencies that are obstacles to biblical faithfulness.
Phil Ryken (in City on a Hill) suggests that narcissism and relativism share much of the blame. Mark, you have also made some suggestions on this issue in you Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. David Wells has offered a number of thoughts on these matters in the series that began with No Place for Truth. I recently started a topical-expository series called "Biblical Priorities for a Healthy Church" and suggested that individualism, relativism and consumerism have shaped our context and often influenced the churches unhelpfully (both in the expectations of members and the methods of ministers). However, there are certainly less high-flying but just as important factors that we could point to: ministerial professionalism, congregational affluence, the general cultural moral downgrade, etc.
I realize I’m swimming upstream by even posing such a question. Many will recoil from assuming a negative posture towards the culture, asserting that we ought to be more culture-affirming and less critical. However, in my experience, many who advocate the study of the culture in the pursuit of ministry end up confusing is with ought, and basically suggesting that the churches generally aim to sail with the prevailing winds.
I know you three brothers to be both astute observers and critics of culture, as well as faithful to biblical priorities for church life and Gospel ministry, so I value your insights. Feel free to take my question in other directions if you think another approach or angle would be more constructive for those attempting to be both faithful and relevant today. Or just suggest some reading to us.