A few years ago a tallish South African pastor and all-round capital chap wrote a book. It’s free on Kindle, and would be worth every penny if it cost a hundred times as much. [note to self: insert clever comment about “product placement” here]
In all seriousness, I read it right away when it came out, but am now re-reading it for a series I am planning to teach in the church I pastor. On this second read, I found a large swath of highlighting where I evidently struck a vein of gold:
So here is the irony and the misunderstanding. I hold that this conservative take on Christianity is not baroque and ornate; it is simply what is required to sustain healthy Christianity. As I look at those who disagree with me, I see a reduced, skeletal Christianity that can barely keep its own head above water, let alone seriously defend or propagate the faith in the challenging years ahead. I think it is abbreviated, inconsistent, and intentionally agnostic where it needn’t be. I see the current state of evangelicalism and fundamentalism as emaciated and spiritually anemic, scarcely holding on to life. Worse, it regards its weak pulse and labored breathing as evidence of its healthy commitment to “core essentials” and thanks God that it is not as other men are: legalists, cultural snobs, elitists, or even as this tax collector.
In my current life as a pastor of a small, lively country church, I couldn’t agree more with this perspective.
I recognize that the kind of Christianity that employs cover bands and stand-up comedians is going to have far more appeal to the average pew-sitter in a church these days. But one problem: three generations ago, the people sitting in the same pews would have been horrified by much that now passes for Christian ministry. A related problem: especially among those raised from nut and acorn in the revivalist soils of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, this all just looks like a normal extension of the spectrum.
Ironically, the most vehement retaliation against a thoroughgoing conservatism comes from those to whom it ought to have the strongest appeal: those who wish to guard the meaning and significance of the gospel. However, embracing a kind of conservatism that opens one’s eyes to change and decay in areas beyond mere points of doctrine, as those vehement retaliators perceive acutely, inevitably means discarding beloved forms. In other words, one finds more to distrust about Ralph Carmichael and the Gaithers than just their wardrobes. Their up-to-date heirs (the Sovereign Gaithers?) are blighted with the same infirmities, only they have the good sense to dress them in skinny jeans.
These are the death-rattles.