At TheologicalStudies.org we have grabbed our binoculars and have surveyed the state of the evangelical church. Nine issues stand out to us as ones that are of special importance:
1. Religious Pluralism (Is Jesus the only Savior?)
Last December, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on the Donahue show on MSNBC. He defended and represented the traditional Christian view that salvation is found only in Jesus. As expected, Donahue vehemently disagreed with Mohler and praised the other guests who espoused religious pluralism-the view that all religions lead to salvation or heaven. The intensity of opposition and the rhetoric directed toward Mohler and the traditional Christian view should be disturbing for those who believe Jesus is the only Savior. The traditional Christian view was often linked with the words "hate" and "narrow-minded." Also disturbing was the continuing assertion that Christians who believe Jesus is the only Savior are in the same category with the Osama bin-Laden's and terrorists of the world.
This trend toward religious pluralism and the labeling of Christian particularists as 'hatemongers' is growing. That is why evangelical Christians need to fasten their seatbelts. With the decreasing influence of Christianity in western society and the proliferation of other religions (Islam, Hinduism, etc...) in the West, opposition to the traditional Christian view and those who hold to it will continue to grow.
2. Open Theism Controversy (Does God have perfect and exhaustive knowledge of the future?)
Within evangelical scholarship this is the big issue right now. Some evangelical scholars, including Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and Gregory Boyd, are asserting that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. These Open Theists emphasize God's self-limitation in dealing with humans. Because God desires free responses from human agents, Open Theists claim that God neither predetermines nor foreknows the moral choices of people. This controversy continues to heat up. Last November, members of the Evangelical Theological Society voted to challenge the legitimacy of the memberships of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders for violating the inerrancy clause of the ETS constitution. Is this issue just a minor intramural squabble among Christians or does it challenge the foundation of historic Christianity and the traditional view of God?
3. TNIV Controversy (Accurate version or intentional perversion?)
Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, declared that the recent flap over Bible translation "has the potential to split significantly the evangelical movement." At the heart of this controversy is the TNIV (Today's New International Version), a new Bible translation published by Zondervan. Proponents of this recent translation of the New Testament the complete Bible including the OT will be released in 2005) hail it as an accurate, gender-neutral translation that "precisely communicates the Scriptures with accuracy and clarity in modern English." Opponents of the TNIV view it as a serious perversion of Scripture. (WorldNetDaily called the TNIV "Today's New International Perversion.") One of the more serious charges against the TNIV is that its translators produced a Bible translation influenced more by political correctness and the feminist agenda than the original meaning of Scripture. TNIV proponents vigorously deny this charge.
This explosive controversy has heavyweights on both sides. Those who have expressed at least some support for the TNIV include D.A. Carson, Craig Blomberg, John R. Kohlenberger, Ronald Youngblood, Kenneth Barker, and Mark Strauss. Those on record opposing the TNIV include Wayne Grudem, Vern Poythress, Paige Patterson, R. C. Sproul, John Frame, George W. Knight III, and R. Albert Mohler Jr.
4. Gender Roles in the Church (Egalitarianism vs. Complementarianism)
This one continues to be a touchy issue. Galatians 3:28 says that in Christ "there is neither male nor female." On the other hand, 1 Timothy 2:12 appears to prohibit women from certain teaching and authority positions in the church. What are the implications of these verses and how should they be harmonized? Evangelical egalitarians argue that equality between the sexes means that there should be no functional distinctions between men and women in the church. Thus, spiritually qualified women should be allowed to function in authority roles such as pastor, teacher, and elder. Evangelical complementarians argue that men and women are equal in essence, but this equality does not cancel God-ordained functional distinctions between men and women. Thus there are certain positions in the church such as pastor and elder that are reserved only for men.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is an organization committed to complementarianism. The egalitarian counterpart is the Council for Biblical Equality. Leaders of the CBMW include Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Leaders of CBE include Rebbeca Groothuis and Linda Belleville.
5. Technological Advances (Ancient answers for modern issues)
Technological advances of the last half-century have raised important ethical issues and questions. As a result, many are looking to Christian leaders for answers. What is the Christian view of cloning, fetal tissue research, genetic engineering, reproductive technologies, and 'just war' in a nuclear age? Does the Bible, an ancient book, offer answers for these 21st century issues? These issues and many others can no longer be ignored by Christians. "The complicated challenges facing Christians at the turn of the millennium call for urgent, thorough reflection, a fleshing out of unchanging biblical principles that speak strongly to specific situations," says Michael McKenzie, Ph.D. University of Southern California.
6. Reaching Postmoderns (How does the church reach people who do not believe in truth?)
The postmodern era is known for the loss of objective truth and the elevation of subjective experience. These factors plus the increasing pluralism in western society has led to a culture that is virtually devoid of any significant knowledge of the Bible or biblical Christianity. How does the church respond to this situation? Does the church continue with business as usual or does it radically change its approach for reaching people saturated with a postmodern worldview?
7. Futurism Vs. Preterism (Jesus' coming-past or future?)
In the past most battles over eschatology were over the nature of the millennium (Pre, Post, or A-millennialism) or the timing of the rapture (Pre, Mid, or Post-tribulationism). With the increasing popularity of Preterism, and its belief that most or all of Bible prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70, new debates are taking place concerning the timing of Bible prophecy. The focal point of this debate concerns the timing of the second coming of Christ. Preterists assert that some or all of the events prophesied in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation were fulfilled in A.D. 70. The traditional view of the church, however, has been that the return of Jesus is a future event from our standpoint. Prominent theologian, R. C. Sproul, has adopted a partial preterist position. Is Jesus' return a past event or future expectation? Is belief that Jesus returned in A.D. 70 consistent with the historic Christian faith? We look for this issue to become the main battleground in eschatology in the early part of the 21st century.
8. Evangelicals Converting to Catholicism (From Wheaton to Rome)
For most of the last century the vast majority of conversions within 'Christendom' were from Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism. Although these conversions are still common, Roman Catholics have fought back. The EWTN network and Catholic apologists such as Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, and Marcus Grodi have targeted evangelicals for conversion. By raising the issues of church history, authority, unity, and certainty, Roman Catholics have seen some success in converting evangelicals to Catholicism. Will this trend continue and how will evangelical leaders respond?
9. Biblical Illiteracy in the Church (Is that really in the Bible?)
"The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy," warns researcher George Barna. "How else can You describe matters when most churchgoing adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?"
Other disturbing findings that document an overall lack of knowledge among churchgoing Christians include the following:
-- The most widely known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves"-which is not actually in the Bible and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.
-- Less than one out of every ten believers possess a biblical worldview as the basis for his or her decision-making or behavior.
-- When given thirteen basic teachings from the Bible, only 1% of adult believers firmly embraced all thirteen as being biblical perspectives. (see www.barna.org)
The evangelical movement has traditionally been based on a strong commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but how can it remain strong when biblical illiteracy is becoming the norm?
Copyright © Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.theologicalstudies.org