Viral Blogger Book Review no. 2:
Warren Cole Smith’s “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.”
You are a backslider! You’re the worst kind of “Christian;” a lukewarm, liberal Christian. You probably don’t’ even believe in the Bible!
So I can imagine the 18 year old Steve Heyduck saying, were he to meet the 45 year old Steve Heyduck.
I’m not nearly so sure what that 18 year old might have said to Warren Cole Smith after reading this book.
Smith identifies the problem early; on page 4 he states: “The evangelical church has spawned the megachurch. It had become about power buidling, not power sharing. And it certainly was not about power sacrificing.” But he still identifies himself as evangelical, so continues the book from the perspective of wanting to identify the prolems and issues with the intent of being part of the solution.
Smith’s work is very helpful in identifying a couple of trends within evangelicalism. First, he charts the history of the modern evangelical movement flowing from the Second Great Awakening rather than the first. This is significant because the Second Great Awakening was marked much more by emotional experience of conversion than by actual transformation of individuals and then society around them.
Second, I think Smith is dead-on in characterizing much of evangelicalism as caught up in the “Christian-Industrial Complex.” But are there really any coherent arguments out there today that would disagree that the church as a whole, and the evangelical church included, has drunk too deeply from the waters of consumerism and market capitalism?
I have already posted my concern over Smith’s chapter on “the Great Stereopticon.” Let me summarize it this way. Smith is grieved at the priority given to technology in worship-chiefly the overwhelming move towards the use if electronic image-making in worship. Smith concludes: “Words-and not pictures, drama, or any other medium-seem to be the preferred strategy fo God, of Jesus, and of scripture.” (p.179)
His problem is that the example he gives of the use of words is Jonathan Edwards – lead theologian of the First Great Awakening. Edwards is perhaps most famous for “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
This is not the “word” to which Jesus had access, however. Jesus lived 1500 years before the printing press, Edwards more than a century after. Shane Hipps does a fine job explaining the difference the printing press made in Christendom in his The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture.
To summarize my contention against Smith’s assertion that God’s preferred medium of communication is the word is that the “Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” God’s preferred medium was the Incarnation, not the printed word!
I like Smith’s suggestions for the evangelical church:
- focus on church planting rather than mega-church building
- regain a perspective on vocation
- disciple for depth as opposed to numerical gain.
Read this book. Engage Smith’s arguments. The tone is conciliatory and encouraging.
Much as I wonder hypothetical conversations with an earlier, far less mature version of myself, most of my growth has been connected with the milieu that is Smith’s focus; for this connection and history I am grateful.