The Coming Evangelical Crisis, edited by John H. Armstrong, Chicago: Moody Press (1996); 269 pages; $12.99. Reviewed by Douglas R. Shivers
Please accept my nomination of the word “crisis” for chronic overuse. There’s a bewildering array of crises in economics, politics, culture, racial interaction, families, communities, ad infinitum. Purchasing this volume was an effort simply because I am weary of crises. So many of them appear to be merely reactionary or a marketing ploy. Besides, after seeing words like “earthquake” and “disaster” in evangelical titles, “crisis” seems a bit tame. But there is nothing imaginary about this “crisis” for evangelicals. In fact, “emergency,” better captures the seriousness of the issues. John Armstrong, editor, sounds the alarm in the introduction:
The shape that modern evangelicalism has taken over the last few decades makes it increasingly less Protestant. This is certainly true theologically. It is increasingly true practically in how the church conducts ministry. As the church acts upon its theology, or lack of theology, trends follow. Some are inclined to regard this as a positive turn of events. The contributors to this present volume of essays believe that this new direction presents the church with a crisis that looms with serious consequences on the ecclesiastical horizon (p. 17).
The contributors, fourteen in all, include: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., R. C. Sproul, John D. Hannah, John MacArthur, Jr., and Michael Horton. They address an array of issues upon which there’s little agreement today: the meaning of “evangelical,” the place of theology, the nature of revelation, approaches to worship and spiritual warfare.
This is an uncommonly good book. Each article is engaging. I especially appreciated “`Evangelical': What’s in a Name?” by Al Mohler, “How Shall We Sing to God?” by Leonard Payton and “Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible?” by R. Fowler White. David Powlison’s, “How Shall We Cure Troubled Souls?,” presents a thoughtful view of pastoral counseling:
Idolatrous cravings hijack the human heart. Both the Christian life and Christian ministry are by definition about the business of accomplishing a transformation in what people want. Such transformations lie at the very center of the Holy Spirit’s purposes in working His Word into our lives (p. 223).
Since pragmatism, rather than theology, drives and defines most ministries today, theology isn’t even considered. Current ministry models, so afflicted with modernity, treat theology as an embarrassment. Michael Horton’s concluding article includes this perceptive appraisal:
If theology is not guiding the church, then the Bible is not guiding the church, for theology is the systematic study of the Bible and its relation to our beliefs. . . [W]hen we downplay theology . . . before long we lose the content of Scripture. And not long after our loss of biblical content follows the loss of the authority of Scripture altogether” (pp. 258-259).
The worth of this volume can hardly be overestimated. It is popularly written without being trite. It assesses the problems without being panicky. It is candid without being caustic. This is more than someone merely crying “Wolf!” The authors include positive input, not just critique.