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What The Church Can Learn from Evangelical Dissent

In an extensive, deeply sourced piece called “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism From Itself,”published two weeks ago in The New York Times, award-winning op-ed columnist and recent convert to Christianity David Brooks explores the takeover of the evangelical movement by extremist right-wing forces and the emergence of a budding renewal, led by a host of prominent voices evangelical dissent. Though this is a deep dive into a particular strata of the church, much of what Brooks highlights has traction for all of the church. Here are three takeaways from his piece that are well worth paying attention to…

1. The church is re-organizing around orthodoxy and fidelity to Jesus and His mission, blurring longstanding denominational separations. Brooks writes: “The next stage in the renewal is what you might call the social reorganization of American Christianity. Denominational differences are becoming less important. People who used to be in different silos have been prompted by the turmoil to find one another and seek common cause.”

  • Question to Ponder: In what ways have I been reluctant to venture outside of my denominational bubble, and in what settings could I enter to forge new relationships that serve “common cause”?
  • Something to Do: In his piece Brooks lists some of the more prominent “Evangelical Dissenters”—find and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. They include: Beth Moore (former Southern Baptist Bible study leader and publisher), Russell Moore (former public policy leader in the Southern Baptist Convention), Marvin Olasky (former editor of World Magazine), Tim Dalrymple (editor of Christianity Today), Karen Swallow Prior (professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), David French (senior editor of The Dispatch), and Rachael Denhollander (the first to publicly accuse the U.S.A. Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar of abuse).

2. Racial justice and reconciliation are central to orthodoxy. Brooks writes: “Many of these [evangelical] dissenters have put racial justice and reconciliation activities at the center of what needs to be done. There are reconciliation conferences, trips to Selma and Birmingham, Ala., study groups reading Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman. Evangelicals played important roles in the abolitionist movement; these Christians are trying to connect with that legacy.” And Brooks quotes reconciliation leader David Bailey on the connection between orthodoxy and reconciliation: “We remind people that peacemaking and healing are core to the Christian identity. There is no way to do spiritual formation unless you practice healing and reconciliation.”

  • Question to Ponder: In what ways do I treat reconciliation as central to the gospel message, and in what ways have I “sidelined” it in my ministry?
  • Something to Do: Fred Oduyoye, founder of Reachable Reconciliation, is a close partner of Vibrant Faith. Fred has developed a “5R” process for leading groups into reconciling relationships. Learn more about how Fred could help your congregation pursue reconciling relationships by heading to the Reachable Reconciliation website: https://reachablereconciliation.com
Evangelical Dissent

3. Borrow from pastor and author Tim Keller’s mission of renewal. Brooks spotlights an eight-point plan championed by Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Included in the eight strategies are these imperatives that extend beyond evangelical circles:

  • A renewed church-planting effort. Keller says established churches can reach new believers best by planting new off-shoots that have a missional focus emphasizing “mere Christianity,” free from the religious “barnacles” that have become attached to the gospel message. He believes we need to plant 6,000 new churches a year. Something to Do: Start a dialogue with young adults connected to your church or surrounding community—begin to surface issues, passions, and potential leaders for planting new expressions of church in your area.
  • New campus ministries. Most campus organizations have stagnated and dissipated since their heyday, and new expressions of missional community need to be planted for college students who are disillusioned with the status quo. Something to Do: Publicize a gathering for college students on a nearby campus, inviting those who “love Jesus but not the church” to an intentional dialogue that could lead to a new on-campus ministry.
  • Faith and work. The church needs a renewed focus on calling, broadening it from something relegated to clergy to something all Christians can embrace in their everyday life. Something to Do: Check out Vibrant Faith’s new resource Calling Now, then use it for small groups, retreats, or even embedded in sermons. Go here: https://vibrantfaith.org/welcome-to-callingNOW/
  • Spiritual formation. Keller says: “We need to really redo Christian education. Completely.” The leader-based, one-way communication patterns of Christian education need to give way to participatory, discovery-based forms of “truth pursuit” that involve everyone and are centered on Jesus. Something to Do: I contributed to a short-but-sweet little book that lays out an innovative, revelatory approach to Christian Education. Get a copy of Just Don’t Teach… Reach! right here: https://www.group.com/product/dont-just-teach-reach/9781470760090/

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. He created and hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus https://soundcloud.com/pay-attention-to-jesus

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