Almost 500 years ago this month, a noted theology professor and disaffected monk nailed a piece of paper to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenburg, igniting a movement that changed the world: the Reformation. Five centuries later, some believe it's time for another changeanother Reformation.
Author Nancy A. Almodovar has written a book calling for a discussion of A Modern Ninety-Five: Questions Today's Evangelicals Need to Answer (Resource Publications, Eugene OR, 2008) Luther nailed his 95 theses to a door in protest of the abuses of the dominant church; Almodovar published 175 pages to a confused public, alerting us to the abuses found in the currently dominant church: Evangelicalism.
Just as Luther drew upon his first-hand knowledge and experiences in his church, Almodovar speaks from the pulpit of her encounters with the errant movements within Evangelicalism.
Evangelicalism is difficult to define, and no one voice speaks for it, and no one person oversees it. It is more a mood than an organization, so it is as hard to delineate as the blobs in a lava lamp. The key ingredient in Evangelicalism is the word "evangel," which means "good news" or "gospel." A bottom-line evangelical is someone who believes the gospel and wants to share it. Outside of that, people who call themselves Evangelical can be as diverse as jellybeans.
One characteristic of Evangelicalism is its adaptability. Like baking soda in a refrigerator, it can absorb smells from all around and still look good. Whereas the movement started out clean in the 1920s, it began to sour in the late '40s when it was decided that Evangelicals should be more friendly with the world they were trying to reach with the gospel. Whereas Fundamentalists maintained the primacy of Scripture, the "New" Evangelicals began to discard many of the practices that separated them from the evils of the world. Now, the philosophy is that the church should try to mimic the world's way of doing things in order to attract it. The purity of the baking soda is being contaminated.
This can be seen in varying degrees, ranging from the pastor who reenacts scenes and characters from R-rated movies in order to make church "fun" and "relevant," to Emergent Churches that don't believe in absolute (read "Scripture") truth. Nothing is more relevant than the Word of God but somehow, after thousands of years, we have to dress up the gospel to attract this generation. It's as if Christ in all his glory needs a makeover from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Almodovar invites Christians to examine the movements that have found shelter under the umbrella "Evangelical." Under her microscope can be found modern-day "prophets and apostles," Postmoderns and preachers who deny the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, doomsday date-setters, anointed demagogues, faith healers, Protestant indulgence peddlers, doctrine minimizers, Purpose Seekers, and Trinity tramplers. She recommends a return to discernment, the preeminence of doctrinal truth, and the sovereignty of God.
Almodovar is a well-trained theologian, calling Evangelicalism back to what is sometimes called Reformation theology. Her bottom line is the cry of the Reformers, "Sola Scriptura" ("By Scripture alone"). Just as Martin Luther called the established church back to the Bible, so does Nancy Almodovar call the dominant movement in America back to the Bible.
Jon Johnson, with great insight, wrote in Will Evangelicalism Survive Its Own Popularity? (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1980): "Current evangelical popularity presents powerful pressures to compromise biblical values for the sake of social acceptance" (p.11). And this was over 20 years ago!
It took 500 years, but the time for a new Reformation has come. A true prophet, Jeremiah, said, "Thus says the LORD: 'Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls'" (Jeremiah 6:16, NKJV). Will we change our ways and seek the right ways, or will we answer like the hearers in Jeremiah's day, "But they said, 'We will not walk in it'" (v. 16)?
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