What is the EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America)? And where did it originate? In order to help us better understand the EFCA heritage, Kirk interviewed Dr. David Gustafson who is currently writing a book on the history of the EFCA.
I was recently asked for advice from someone whose friend is struggling with their faith, and toying with deconstruction-type tendencies, due to failures in the Christian community. I thought I’d share my response below:
One thing that I think is important: don’t downplay or dismiss his sense of disillusionment or angst over the legit problems and failings of those in the church. As someone who very much sympathizes with many of these frustrations myself, I find it incredibly frustrating when folks simply dismiss my concerns with contemporary evangelicalism. It can be very disillusioning. Of course, the “deconstructionist” trend has lots of problems. But many (not all) of the things they are reacting to are real. I’ve met some evangelicals/fundamentalists who simply don’t seem bothered by the things others of us find deeply disturbing and unsettling. And for them to simply blow off our concerns is annoying, to say the least (often because they themselves are more sympathetic to the things we find problematic). But the problems are real. Acting like they aren’t won’t provide this man any solace. He won’t find it satisfying or convincing.
For me though, what’s been really helpful is (1) recognizing a global and historic church that goes deeper and wider than the craziness that unfortunately defines much of contemporary American evangelicalism/fundamentalism. Also, (2) recognizing that the NT predicted false teachers and problems in the church. So their existence doesn’t put in jeopardy the legitimacy of Christianity, as if for Christianity to be real the church mustn’t have issues. (3) Even the early church, which we sometimes hold up as pristine, was anything but. Look at Corinth. Or look at the messages to the churches in Revelation. As Augustine said, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” That quote has been a comfort to me these last few years, as odd as that may seem. (4) Also, online chatter and news reporting can give a skewed sense of reality. It highlights dramatic things, or the most radical voices. Instead (5) I want to focus on the actual flesh and blood community around me, my church. Yes, we’re not perfect, and there are folks that annoy me or are immature and in need of growth (I’m one of them). But focusing on my own community grounds me from ruminating in a downward spiral on some abstract sense of “the evangelical church.” (6) I’ve become okay with not having a particular tribe. From 2015 onward, we’ve seen conservative evangelicalism fracturing. And it was pretty painful for me, as people I thought were “my circle/tribe” clearly weren’t. It felt like betrayal. This caused me to realize how much I had valued having a tribe–but maybe in a way that wasn’t healthy. I feel more over that need now, because of these last few years, in hopefully a place that’s healthier. (7) Don’t give so much stock to evangelical leaders who say stupid stuff. Like yeah, they say stupid stuff. But why should I give them that much weight over how I think about my own faith or defining what Christianity is? Why should I let them have that sort of control over me, over Christianity? And ultimately (8) I’m a Christian because of Jesus. I follow him, not a church. And (9) I’m an evangelical because I believe this theological tradition reflects a right understanding of scripture and its gospel. I’m evangelical for convictional reasons, in other words, not sociological ones (like the state of evangelicalism).
Originally published in 1947, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism provided a manifesto for evangelical Christians who are serious about bringing their Christian faith to bear in contemporary culture. In this classic book, Carl F. H. Henry, the father of the modern evangelical movement, pioneered a path forward that avoids, on the one hand, the error of disengagement and apathy towards today’s social ills, and, on the other hand, the error that is the social gospel. In our current cultural climate, in which evangelicalism is still wrestling with how to engage social matters, this book is as relevant as ever.
Below is a basic denominations & traditions chart I made for the residents while working at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. I’m hesitant to share this here because, admittedly, its overly simplistic and I suspect many will find it unsatisfying or maybe even at times misleading for that reason. Nonetheless, for someone who is less familiar and looking simply to get a basic acquaintance with the general landscape, I hope this can provide a helpful starting place, notwithstanding the understandable short comings of something as brief as this.
I didn’t originally give this book a rating when I marked it “read.” That’s largely because I felt pretty ambivalent about it — things about it drew me towards a high ranking, like 4 or 5-stars; but other things I found more dissatisfactory or more mediocre.
However, given the popularity and influence of this book, I had several folks ask me for my thoughts. So I guess I’ll oblige. And I’ll give the book a balanced 3-starts, which Goodreads describes as “I liked it” [good, above average], to express my general appreciation of the book, its argument, and form, while also taking into consideration my quibbles and hesitancies.
One note: I listened to this book as an audiobook, which always creates a different experience (at least for me) than a more careful read. I’m a visual learner. So when I listen to books I expect I inevitably overlook or don’t absorb some of its details, but nonetheless gain an overall impression of the book. But anyway, that means you should take any critique or quibbles below with a certain grain of salt in case the fault, in this case, lies with the reader (me) and not the book/author.
But allow me to list out some of the thoughts I have in terms of assessment:
(1) I very much agree with and appreciate the overall message of the book. I personally grew up in the orbit of the evangelical world Du Mez is describing. So I know the truth of her thesis not just academically, but also on a personal level from my own experience. I don’t think she uses the term “toxic masculinity.” But (defined in the best possible way) I think this term fits what she’s describing. Her point is that much of evangelicalism is fraught with such a view of masculinity. And that’s very, very true, in my opinion. No push back there.