The most recent issue of Modern Reformation contains an interesting little piece from my father on “The Future of Evangelicalism”. Here are a couple choice paragraphs:
The reputation that evangelicals-and I count myself as one-have earned as being “intolerant” and “exclusive,” and especially homophobic, seems to have stuck. Many people are convinced that we draw lines and build walls, where they are looking rather for open doors and open minds… I believe that evangelicals have lost the great culture war of the 1990s and early 2000s, and that we are in a shadowy time of defeat and regrouping.
For myself, regrouping means a period of trying to understand what went wrong. We inherited and then took on a “conflict structure” in Christian experience that was ill suited for times when religious conflict is the opposite of what most people want or say they want, especially seekers. Just at a time when the culture was looking for a word of peace and “a little tenderness”-just when just about everybody was asking, “What’s so funny about a little peace, love, and understanding?”-we appeared to give them the opposite. We appeared to give them…we did give them! I gave them, if I may say it personally, the odium theologicum of the Thirty Years War. Our inner divisions, anchored in the passing and extremely contentious issues of the day, paraded to the world the antipode of “what the world needs now.” Notice this use of pop-song “standards”-Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, with Otis Redding. The popular tunes of life call for the opposite of what the church has offered. I am myself convicted by the very songs I love.
I believe the answer to our problems is a return to the core of God’s grace, the “Old, Old Story of Jesus and His Love,” deepened by the Reformation insight of grace in relation to law- though I no longer want to use too much historical language. But Luther especially saw into Paul’s teaching and Christ’s living with diagnostic brilliant freshness. Luther was, to quote Kierkegaard, a “patient of great importance for Europe.” In other words, Luther’s grace/law receptor was finely and highly tuned. It gave him a diagnostic allergy to law in its many forms. I wish he were here today. We need people again who are allergic to law as the preached word and go, rather, to the enabling word of Christ’s grace, and not just to outsiders but especially to the law-burdened Christian communities we have failed to strengthen and sustain. If I have a “recipe” for these times, it is the gospel of Christ’s grace for Christians.
The word “evangelical” is still a good one, if it means justification by grace through faith. It is still a good word if by it is meant the love of God for sinners, or what Jack Kerouac in a poetic vein called “consanguine partiality/ devoid of conditions, free.” I still seek, still seek, to tell the Old, Old Story, which means in practice this: judgment kills, love makes alive. I realize that such a formula is quite “reduced” and could use a lot of enhancement; but we are going to have to begin again, our almost Sisyphean evangelical task now, by putting the core of Christ in simple, simple epigrams. Let’s sponsor an evangelical Haiku contest! The prize?: A complete set of the Weimar Edition of the works of Luther.