Month: March 2011

“JC and the Cool Gang”

Every couple of years newspapers will run a feature article on hip young Christians and the rise of megachurches. Alas, today’s story, "JC and the Cool Gang", in the Weekend Australian Magazine, doesn’t break much new ground. It stays at the level of amazement or amusement that there are Christians who have combined mainstream youth culture with pentecostalism/ evangelicalism. The focus of the story is a young couple, Erica and Jim Bartle, he an extreme sports evangelist (‘extreme sports are an excellent way of capturing kids’ attention’) and she a former fashion journalist for a ‘glossy young women magazine’.

Some critiques of a ‘cool’ gospel are briefly offered, but I would have liked to have seen more. The public might be interested by an exploration of some of the challenges facing the evangelical church today – the tension between faithfulness and contextualisation; the polarisation between three broad factions: conservatives who reject postmodernism and doctrinal shifts to the ‘left’; the postconservatives who are theologically left; and the ‘mainstream’ who are theologically pragmatic and culturally corporate.

One could read the story and come away thinking that evangelicalism was a new phenomenon of the last twenty years, and that before that there were only old-fashioned Anglican and Catholic churches. The transformation of Baptists and Assemblies of God (to name just two) from old-fashioned evangelical to a mix of the factions I mentioned is a more nuanced and interested story. And Anglicans and Catholics have never been uniform. A discussion of the strength of Sydney Anglicanism would have complicated her story in a good way.

But I’m hoping for too much – journalists have to try to get on top of a new topic each story and they’re never going to please people on the ‘inside’ of those stories.

‘Love Wins’ – the start of an evangelical debate about universalism? (1119 comments and counting!)

Bell’s book isn’t out till the end of the month, but already it’s generating buzz. ‘Love wins’ – everyone ends up reconciled with God. Hell is emptied. Apparently that’s the substance of his book.

I understand why conservative, moderate and even many progressive evangelicals find this disturbing or dangerous. At stake for them is motivation for evangelism and the integrity of the Bible.

Universalism has not been on the radar enough to register as a serious option for evangelicals. I wonder if this book will bring it onto the radar as one (to the chagrin of opponents) or whether it will widen the gulf between postmodern (post)evangelicals and the rest. A new test of orthodoxy? ‘Do you deny the heresy of an empty hell?’  “Gregory Macdonald” put forward a biblical case for universalism several years ago, and recently followed it up with a collection of writings from univeralist theologians over the years, called All Shall Be Well.

I don’t see much chance of this debate being irenic. There is much at stake on both sides. May there be an irenic converation in the middle and may all of us be ready to be wrong, be ready for God to speak truth through someone we least expect.