I had some time this morning, cleaning up my desk after a busy two weeks, to sort through some new book catalogs from several mainstream evangelical publishers. Included in my stack were also two brochures inviting me to two national pastors’ events for early 2008. My feelings about evangelicalism in America run deep as my readers know. I am an evangelical, if Mark Noll’s simple definition is used. Yet I have confessed many times over that I do not much like the term in the public arena. I much prefer to call myself a classical Christian. By this I mean that I receive the Holy Scripture as the fully authoritative and divinely inspired Word and the earliest ecumenical creeds as the best witness to what the Church ought to believe at its core, or center. I believe in holy tradition and I am an heir of the Reformation, as a minister in the Reformed Church (RCA). I am also happy to work widely with mainline Christians and evangelicals who are non-Reformed. But then I also work with Catholic and Orthodox Christians who join me in seeking unity in Christ alone.
What I found so distressing about these brochures this morning were the titles and promises about these books and events. The books dealt with topics like how to live with addictions, how to break the fat habit for good, how to slow down your life, how Jesus would vote (apparently the last book written by the late D. James Kennedy), how to love better and how to find your place in life, And then there were a host of new novels. The catalogs found the trash can within two minutes or less. I just find this whole business of evangelical publishing a bit depressing overall. The reason these books are published is that they are bought. The reason they are bought is that we are so shallow that we have little or no interest in the really eternal issues that impact our world view and life eternal.
Then there were the two brochures on church life and pastoring. One told me about a "True Church Conference." The subtitle was, "Discipline: The Missing Key to True Church Growth." Don’t get me wrong. I believe we desperately need to restore church discipline to the Church. I have been teaching this for twenty-five plus years and practiced it as a local church pastor. The brochure is correct in saying that we should stop trying to build great churches and strive for true churches. Again, I have to agree. But then I read the brochure. It sounds like the same kind of neo-Puritan packaged deal that I was part of in the 1980s. Very good men saying some good things that will surely help some people but in the end I seriously doubt this is the real solution to our local church problems. There is even a call for a new association of "truth driven churches" to be undertaken at this event. This has been tried, and is being tried, by various leaders all around the country. It creates one more new group, one more group that has found the true way and thus one more new division in the larger church. The danger is also that it creates one more "truth driven" fellowship that can show why it is not like other "non-truth-driven" groups. It could be me but I long for so much more than this.
On the other end of the great evangelical spectrum is the National Pastors Convention in San Diego, February 26-29. It looks like a superb event. There are some outstanding speakers at this one for sure. Zondervan, my own publisher, is behind this event big time, along with Inter Varsity, a name I also respect deeply. This is clearly not a conference for those who want to rest. It is crowded, busy and full. The "less is more" philosophy does not drive this event. You name the topic and it is likely on the docket. And the breadth of speakers is wide-ranging and very interesting. But this is precisely what gnaws at me. There is a huge buffet of material at this event all tossed into a glitzy form. The subtitle says: "Nourish your soul. Engage your mind. Connect in meaningful conversation." Truthfully, I went to these kinds of events for thirty years and most of this never happened. I am not a total cynic but my goals in attending an event are far less grandiose these days. I would take one of the three promises so long as it was authentic, apostolic and catholic.