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Does What We Sing Matter to the Faith of the Church?

Since the 1970s we have had a raging debate about singing and music in the church. This debate has often come down to “traditional” music, or (old) hymns, versus “modern,” or popular music. The real truth is that the great influence on church music has been a combination of the charismatic influence, much of which is good in directing our hearts to God in personal praise, and the popular songs of television and pop-culture. This “performance” music is not good, at least in my view. Why?

People do not participate in “praying twice” (St. Augustine) as much as they watch and observe and see a professional production of varying quality. On contrast, pietism went right to the heart of people when they sang their faith. What happens if we cease to express our communion in the common faith in deep and thoughtful ways?

The 110th Birthday of One of the Greatest Christians of the Last Century

bdb188d9-723d-438b-99f1-cc9e9d6f603eToday, February 4, is the 110th birthday of the German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I arrived at Wheaton College, as a transfer student in January of 1969, one of the first great joys I experienced was finding the story of Bonhoeffer for the first time. The classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, was my introduction. Later I read his prison papers, a few of his works on ethics and a lot of biography. I did not understand this theology then, and still do not fully understand it now, but I knew greatness and humility when I saw it. Bonhoeffer was truly a great Christian! But here is the point often missed – he was not a “safe” Christian. Anyone who reads him soon realizes that Bonhoeffer was not a typical pastor.

Too few of us have read Bonhoeffer and fewer still have grasped his importance, especially to the modern West. (The popular biography of him a few years ago was helpful in some respects but it also gave some distorted images and caused

“Black Lives Matter” – Michelle Higgins @ Urbana 2015

Many evangelical and conservative Christians, especially older white Christians of conservative persuasion, are weary of the popular slogan: “Black Lives Matter.” Some are even angry at the actual movement that is associated with this name and believe it is harmful to our culture. I’ve heard various responses regarding this negative view of the slogan and the movement but the most common is that this is a bogus notion because Christians should say, and believe, that: “All Lives Matter.” The truth is, as often is the case, much deeper and more socially and personally nuanced.

It is true that “All Lives Matter.” From conception to the grave life matters. This is, at least for the broad tradition of Christian faith and practice, the truth. This is why I believe the death penalty needs to be abolished. It has become a “cruel and unusual punishment” in its present form. (This assumes it was right in the past and I even question this conclusion on ethical grounds as I understand the New Testament and the teaching of our Lord.) I also believe environmental concerns must become the concern of the

National Workshop on Christian Unity

Since 1963 the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) has met in a designated city in the United States. It began when a group of Roman Catholics, in the context of Vatican II, met to equip local leadership for the task of ecumenical ministry. In 1969, they invited leaders of other Christian communions to join, and today the national ecumenical officers of the churches continue their oversight of the workshop, which is planned by national and local committees. There are both denominational and ecumenical sessions during the workshop. The NWCU celebrates the spirit of ecumenism by:

  • providing meeting seminars for all who are concerned with the ministry of Christian unity: laity, clergy, ecumenical officers, theologians, staff of ecumenical organizations;
  • stimulating an exchange of ideas and experiences among people concerned with Christian unity and the bodies they represent;
  • being a resource and balance between national planning and local responsibility, general ecumenical discussions and particular interchurch conversations, and regional leadership efforts and local realities,
  • encouraging denominational networks to develop and serve as a framework within which they can interact;
  • celebrating the unity which already exists among Christians and searching for ways to overcome the divisions that

The Pope’s Appeal for Inter-Religious Unity and Love

In the light of the debates now raging among Christians regarding how to respond to people of other faiths Pope Francis gives us here a short video in which he expresses his heart and personal hope.

Many evangelicals will see this video and conclude something like the following: “Pope Francis believes all people are brothers and sisters and thus he believes all will be saved by God regardless of their life and faith. Therefore, it makes no real difference whether or not the church does evangelization and mission since ALL people who are sincere in their faith will be saved in the end.”

Am I right or am I wrong in the way in the way I state this conclusion?

I think I am right. I know this is how I would have heard this message twenty years ago. So, my next question is this: “Does this make me a pluralist (or liberal) who denies John 14:6 or sees no urgency for sharing the good news and making disciples of Jesus?”

The problem lies in the meaning of all the words and ideas presented here by my comments. The Catholic

Christena Cleveland: A Powerful Message on Unity at Urbana 2015

The recent Urbana 2015 Conference, held in St. Louis, featured a number of great speakers and topics. One of our ACT3 board members, Scott Brill, is on staff with InterVarsity and sent me links to two plenary addresses I found immensely important. I share the first of these two messages in today’s blog post. Scott Brill was also responsible for staffing a Catholic room at Urbana to network with Catholic students who were in attendance. This Catholic presence is new to IVCF and something I wholeheartedly welcome. (Catholic staff have served with IVCF for some years now, though their number is still quite small.) Pray for many evangelical mission agencies who now work openly with Catholics and do not try to “convert” students to evangelicalism but to Christ in humble faith. This is a risky strategy and presents challenges when donors do not like this direction. ACT3 not only openly supports this direction but seeks to serve it, and ministries who are doing this, wherever possible.

Dr. Christena Cleveland, author of a wonderful book titled Disunity in Christ. She is a social psychologist with a hopeful passion for

Pope Francis, the Mercy of God, and the Danger of Fundamentalism

frpoorwertchPope Francis just returned from his first trip to Africa a few days ago. Those of us who watch and pray for him were amazed once again at his courage, faithfulness and continued displays of pastoral mercy. Surely “mercy” does sum up what Francis says and does as pope. Thus it is not surprising really since he has declared the coming year to be a “Year of Mercy.” He recently said that he will make twelve big (“significant”) gestures, one each month.Each is mean to demonstrate God’s mercy. This is what the Catholic Church calls a Jubilee Year. This year was pre-launched last Sunday when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic. One of the admirable features of Catholic Church life is the way this biblical concept of jubilee can be used to capture the minds and hearts of the whole church over a span of time.

In a brief interview in Credere, the official jubilee weekly magazine in Italian, Francis said: “There will be many gestures, but on one Friday each

One of the Most Joyful Weeks in My Remembrance

1024x1024As I sit this evening at my computer I am  amazed. For five days every newscast and commentator has responded the visit of Pope Francis to America with such joy and positive energy. From every perspective, including the most non-religious journalists and broadcasters, people have talked about the pope but in doing so they have talked a great deal about Jesus, the Bible and the joy of the gospel. I have never heard so much public talk about matters of profound truth and faith in my lifetime, except perhaps at the funerals of President Kennedy (1963) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968). We have seen pictures of Pope Francis with prisoners, in a seminary speaking to bishops and students about the two greatest works of a shepherd (prayer and the preaching the gospel), praying at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York with representatives of world religions, speaking before the United Nations, speaking before Congress, meeting with the Speaker of the House, meeting with the President and then this evening leaving our shores after being with

The Third Annual Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

“From September 1st to the 5th, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein Illinois was the site for the Third Annual Evangelical and Catholic Conversation.  Along with the University, the conversation is sponsored by the Archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and ACT-3, a network of relational partnerships between churches, missions and leaders in missional ecumenism.  Father Thomas A. Baima, Dr. John Armstrong, Dr. Craig Higgins and Pastor Norberto Saracco were the principal organizers.  Participants include Catholics and Evangelicals from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Guatemala, England, South Korea and Argentina.  They discussed Pope Francis’ call for dialogue, fraternity and action which he lays out in Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) and heard two presentations.  Fr. Thomas Baima delivered the keynote address on the biblical basis for a common understanding of the Church.  Dr. Craig Higgins presented a response. Additionally, Dr. John Armstrong and Pastor Norberto Saracco led the group in discussing experiences of positive relations between Evangelicals and Catholics in their various countries.”

“This project is part of a larger effort called “missional ecumenism.”  This effort operates alongside of the official dialogues

Michael Lindsay: Do We All Have to Agree?

I cannot tell you how impressed I am by the leadership, courage and clarity of President Michael Lindsay of Gordon College. This is, in my view, the kind of leadership we need in Christian higher education. I will be watching and praying for Michael Lindsay with great hope and joy for Christ and his kingdom, which happens to be the motto of my college, Wheaton.

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