Foundations for a shifting world

Posted on 01 April 2008

Evangel 11:1 (Spring 1993)

Foundations for a shifting world

Evangel 11:1 (Spring 1993)

One of the striking features of those New Testament books which were written toward the end of the apostolic era is the increasing sense that the church was about to move into a new era. Peter, Paul and Jude (in particular) reveal a belief that the revelation of God to humankind had found its completion in the Christ-event and in the infallible recall and interpretation of that event that the Spirit had given to the apostolic circle. With the gradual passing of the apostles and in the face of the increasing number of challenges to the truth, emphasis is placed upon the faithful transmission of the apostolic deposit (the New Testament, as we know it).

  Evangelicalism has always, on the basis of this, been a form of religion deeply rooted in the past. This has, of course, been its strength. However, in a society which lives in the present without any interest in ‘roots’, evangelicalism finds itself increasingly challenged; is it any longer relevant, should it not be expressed in a more contemporary dress, should it not respond more to the felt needs of men and women? . . . the challenges are almost endless!
 
  The present issue of Evangel attempts to wrestle with some of these issues.
 
  Prof. Cameron’s article offers us the salutary reminder that in confessing the ‘old ways’ we can be in danger ourselves of forgetting just what those old ways are! How easily our religious language can lose its meaning and the old terminology be trotted out without the reality which once was expressed by such terms being either understood or experienced. Cameron correctly notes that this danger is especially pernicious when the central tenet of the Reformation (and the Bible), the grace of God, is gradually evaporated of its meaning. We need to hear this warning! Sadly, many of the present ills of modern evangelicalism (and its adherents) seem to be traced to a failure to grasp this; not least is this seen in the way so many believers seem oppressed by the guilt of their failure.
 
  So we need to be called back and afresh to the apostolic gospel. At the same time, however, we need to express the truths of that Gospel in a way that addresses modern ‘man’ in terms which are perceived as relevant. Both the article by Prof. Williams and the Baltimore Confession seek to do this. Williams emphasises the need to recognise the felt needs of the contemporary world and modem ‘man’. The Baltimore Confession seeks to address several of the issues high on the agenda of the church today.
 
  Significantly, each attempts to emphasise that relevance cannot become syncretism, conteporaneity cannot be produced at the expense of the eternal truths of the Gospel. Put another way, while we may change the packaging, we cannot do so if it involves altering the product.
 
  Elsewhere in the journal we can see the importance of this. Where the church has lost sight of its roots it has become transformed into something fundamentally alien to itself. Whatever may be said to mitigate Rachel Tingle’s views, it is clear that this has sadly too often been the case when ‘the Church’ has allied itself to revolutionary politics.
 
  Evangelicalism always lives on a knife edge. It needs to look out but not at the expense of looking back and, above all, looking up. It is only by humble trust, allied by a strong sense of the unalterable nature of the Gospel that the evangelical church can go forward, confident and ultimately relevant in the midst of a desperately needy world.

May God give us grace to be relevant but preserve us from the danger of offering a tantalisingly attractive counterfeit.

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