Tag Archives: truth

The evangelical abdication of Truth; or, Two out of three is really, really bad


truth on handsWork continues on my book-in-progress, Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. The chapter with the working title “Passion for theology” has been kicking my butt up and down the street for a few days, but I got up at 4 this morning and the introduction finally came together. Here it is:

In the charismatic church where I came to Christ as a young man, we couldn’t wait for Sunday. Week after week we experienced such rich, life-changing ministry in worship and prayer. Night after night, the altar was jammed with eager worshippers seeking a “touch from the Lord.” And it seemed like He was always there to meet us and put his loving arms around us. After the service, we would leave the building with our hearts bursting with gratitude and joy. We even joked that it might not be safe to drive in that condition! And it didn’t take much prodding for us to evangelize, either: who wouldn’t want to share such riches?

I will always be grateful for those days, and for the divine condescension that worked among us with such power. Some folks accuse charismatics of not giving God or Christ his due. “There’s so much ‘me’ language in their songs,” they grump. And sure, our worship could become self-indulgent. But the critics just don’t “get” why charismatics use the first person so much in church. It’s because they live in constant awe that the God of Creation condescends to save and to love even them. What a God, who meets us in our brokenness and wraps his arms around us like the father with the prodigal son! The charismatic experience of God is like every love song on the radio. Try writing one of those without using the first person!

More than all of this, we loved church because we knew that we came away from it changed. Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty of imperfection in our lives. But along with the love-fest came real personal transformation: Sins confessed. Grace experienced. Old wounds healed. Broken relationships restored. Release from addictions. God not only loved us—he made us better people. We experienced not only the Beauty of his presence among us, but also the Goodness that came from the operation of his Spirit in our hearts.

But here’s the thing. As the Greek philosophers knew, humans cannot live on Beauty and Goodness alone. There is a third realm necessary for human flourishing: the realm of Truth. And in that area, I sensed that the charismatic church of my twenties was standing on thin ice. Many of our key teachings came from self-taught celebrity preachers who skewed heavily to the topical—and away from the exegetical—end of the preaching spectrum. Their messages were rousing, to be sure. They got the people standing on their feet and coming up to the altar. But by dint of stringing together out-of-context Bible verses with some homespun wisdom, these teachers took us down some garden paths: The prosperity gospel. Blame-the-victim faith healing. Demon-in-every-doorknob spiritual warfare. We fell over ourselves to get to all that wonderful Beauty and Goodness, and we left Truth in the ditch. Continue reading

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C S Lewis and “medieval morality”


The following are some thoughts on how C S Lewis will figure as a “guide” into the look and feel of the “moral fabric of the Middle Ages,” and how that fabric differs from our own. It’s basically me grinding away at the grist for this Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants book.

My argument in this chapter is not that Christianity—either in the medieval period or any other period—has taught some distinctive morality, or even that it taught that morality in a distinctive way (although it did, from the earliest years of the church, as Robert Louis Wilken persuasively argues in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought). Rather, my argument is that today, Protestants, especially evangelicals, have fallen so in love with Luther’s (Augustine’s) message of grace, and have so spiritualized their faith (I almost said Gnosticized, and sometimes I wonder) that questions of morality have receded from view. So we need to hear again from a time (the Middle Ages) when Christianity structured not only people’s worship, but also their moral lives. Continue reading

History, truth, and evangelicalism


In the life of an academic, some things get written but never see the light of day. I wrote the following while in grad school (at Duke University) as an entry into an essay contest for the InterVarsity conference “Taking Every Thought Captive,” held in Mundelein, Illinois, in Spring, 2000.

It didn’t win, and I moved on to other things. But it represents some of my excitement about the discipline of history, and some of my frustration with the ways evangelical laypeople and evangelical scholars were handling history. I would modify my opinions now about some of the things I say here, but my heart for the discipline of church history remains the same:

History, truth, and evangelicalism

Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom
[Ps. 51]

This paper is a meditation on the uneasy relationship of evangelicals with the discipline of history—in particular, the history of the church.  In it, I will address what historical inquiry and historical honesty can—and should not—mean to evangelicalism.  In the end, I am suggesting that historiography must be pursued, at least by some, as a ministry to the church.

* * *

On April 20th, 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Cassie Bernall was asked by a young man pointing a gun, “Do you believe in God?”  As the book written by Cassie’s mother tells it, “She Said Yes.”  And was shot to death.  During the next few days, as a shocked nation sifted through the psychic rubble of the Columbine massacre, the news of Cassie’s stand for Christ spread swiftly.  Youth groups across the country made the riveting account of her final act the theme of rallies and perorations.  Cassie’s story—not only her martyrdom, but her conversion after a troubled youth marred by drugs, rebellion, and witchcraft—challenged thousands of teen-agers to commit or rededicate their lives to Christ.  Within six months of her death, her mother’s book sold a quarter of a million copies.

Clearly, martyrdom holds a magnetic attraction for evangelicals.  Adrift in modern lifestyles crammed with presumptive comforts and imperative conveniences, evangelicals need martyrs.  And here was one, not only standing at our suburban doorstep, but bearing testimony—as it turned out—of a classic evangelical conversion from a life of visible sin and despair to one of vibrant faith.

Yet, a problem arose. Continue reading