We’re still unpacking boxes after our big move over the week-end, but I thought I’d jump back into blogging for a couple of minutes to touch on a couple of thoughts regarding doctrine. In our Christianity “Lite” generation, many of the Emergents have willfully chosen to de-emphasize doctrine — some even going so far as to declare doctrine “transient” and to be examined in light of current cultures and worldviews. This denigration of doctrine comes in the backwash of the 1990’s mantra of avoiding denominationalism. While I don’t believe a church has to have Baptist on its sign to be doctrinally sound, denominational distinctives built on sound doctrine aren’t something to be glibly dismissed.
Today, the Pew Report on Religion in Public Life issued findings that included the disheartening statistic that stated that 57% of “Evangelicals” believe that there is more than one way to get to heaven. The seeker-driven mentality of the modern church growth movement has created a generation of alleged “believers” who don’t know what they claim to believe and why they believe it. Apparently John 14:6 isn’t “friendly” enough to be taught to those who must deny all except Christ for Salvation.
Dr. Charles Wood also offered some additional thoughts a couple of days ago that I found important in his “From the Woodchuck’s Den”. I’ll leave his ruminations with you in closing….
Generally, I read (or more accurately, scan) Christianity Today at Barnes and Noble. This week I actually bought the June, 2008 issue because of a number of items I saw while scanning. When I got it home and went through it carefully, it had even more interesting information than I had realized.
Previously, I mentioned the controversy surrounding the termination of a professor at Wheaton College. That situation involved a procedural issue without any discernable (at least to me) doctrinal overtones. I also mentioned the so-called “situation at Cedarville” which started out centered around a doctrinal/philosophical matter. At the end of the day, however, it was also a procedural matter that brought about the termination of two faculty members. That story made its way into the June issue of CT!
These two stories were absolutely eclipsed by other items in the magazine. A female faculty member at Southwestern Seminary was dismissed by Paige Patterson because he saw the role she was playing (or had arrogated to herself?) as in violation of Biblical teaching regarding the proper role of women in ministry. That is somewhat a question of practice, but it is based on doctrinal concerns. [The woman moved on to Taylor University but filed an unlawful dismissal suit against Southwestern Seminary. The suit was dismissed - as almost all such suits are, at least currently - on the basis that the court has no jurisdiction in matters that involve the doctrine or internal workings of churches or even of church-related organizations.] So maybe Paige Patterson ought to join the rest of us dinosaurs as we sit in that cave and read ancient manuscripts.
But just a minute! Venerable Westminster Seminary in the Philadelphia area (founded by J. Gresham Machen as a partial answer to the departure from the faith of the old Princeton Theological Seminary) has, by a split decision of its Trustees, dismissed two professors over positions they have taken on the doctrine of inspiration. This one is a full-fledged difference over doctrine. The Trustees voted 18-9 for dismissal so I guess we may have to make our cave a little bigger.
And then the bomb was dropped. The “Head Lines” page includes an article titled “Willow Creek’s Huge Shift.” This is only my opinion, but I think the matters reported caught CT a bit by surprise (or may have occurred just before publication deadlines). and I expect a much fuller treatment of the subject in a future issue. The article appeared to me to be a bit “thrown together,” and had a distinctly negative slant toward Willow Creek, but it was literally a bombshell.
For some time it has been public knowledge that Bill Hybels has not been happy with the state of discipleship at the church. It appears now that he has decided to do something about it. The article begins, “After modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, Willow Creek Community Church plans to gear its weekend services toward mature believers seeking to grow in the faith.” The next paragraph may mean that I will get to have fellowship in the cave with Bill. It says, “The change comes on the heels of an ongoing four-year research effort first made public last summer in Reveal: Where Are You?, a book co-authored by executive pastor Greg Hawkins. Hawkins said during an annual student ministries conference in April that Willow Creek would also replace its midweek services with classes on theology and the Bible.” Further on in the article we read, “Greg Pritchard, author of Willow Creek Seeker Services, told CT the church sporadically has recognized it was not teaching a robust enough theology and needed to turn the ship around.”
There is more to the article than I have quoted, but much of it seems to me to belittle the change at Willow and to indicate that it very likely will not work. For those of us, however, who have long been unimpressed by many of the aspects of the “seeker-sensitive” paradigm, this all comes as a striking admission that at least some of our concerns were legitimate. I greatly admire Bill Hybels for recognizing and admitting an area of weakness or failure and for taking steps to correct it. Actually, the “seeker-sensitive” approach of Willow appears to have produced little more depth than the very different. but no less “seeker-sensitive” approach of Jack Hyles and First Baptist of Hammond.
E. F. Hutton is no more, but when they were and spoke, everyone listened. I’m not sure everyone listens to Bill Hybels, but when he speaks and Willow Creek changes, hundreds - if not thousands - of pastors and churches are going to listen (and, in the majority of instances), respond to at least some degree.
In our postmodern world that some of the various manifestations of the emergent churches would reach by down-playing or even elimination any attention to doctrine, it is refreshing to find that one of the largest and most influential ministries in evangelicalism is about to issue by example a call for increasing the importance of and stress on doctrine (just another name for “theology). I rather think that the Apostle Paul would be pleased. After all, he said, “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine, continue in them….”
Hang in there, Bill. You’re going to take some hits and lose some people, but you may be the means of turning the church back once-again to stressing theology for what is was once known as, “The Queen of the sciences.” May God grant us a steady-stream of well-trained men who can “rightly divide the Word of truth” by study of the systematic approach to the content of the Word and also by consulting the history of doctrine, and may they come to stand in the influential pulpits and places of leadership in a day when post-modernism appears not only to dominate in the public square but also to have seriously infiltrated the church. God bless you Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, John Piper, Warren VanHetloo, and now - apparently - Bill Hybels (and others). May your tribe increase until the Word of God rather than the (mis?)perceived needs of people dictates our agenda and our approach!