The Younger Evangelicals

So finally . . . I have finished Robert Webber’s The Younger Evangelicals. I have learned what reading with a baby is like. Here a page, there a page, hardly anywhere a page page. But anyway, yesterday I completed this book and thought I would offer my review of it. It has become quite the prominent book for Webber.

Webber sets out on a mission to investigate the new look that new, emerging young leaders in Evangelical churches have. As an evangelical himself, his study is focused exclusively on the emerging groups within Evangelicalism. Churches of Christ probably can be best described as closet evangelicals or maybe even better as noncomformist, fundamentalist evangelicals (at least in our worst cases). That made Webber’s early chapters on the history of evangelicalism particularly interesting to me. It is one of those things where I can see how my tradition both fits and doesn’t fit into what he is talking about.

Essentially Webber falls into the same philosophy as McClaren, Grenz, and the rest of the Christian postmodern theorists in describing the “something that is happening in our churches.” What makes Webber’s study particularly interesting is that his study is largely based on surveys and interviews that he conducted with what he calls younger evangelicals. Often studies in the emerging church and postmodernism can be highly ethereal and disconnected from real life and real church situations. Webber makes a claim, and then illustrates with surveys and interviews he’s conducted with the very people he describes.

Following the introduction, Webber focuses on the different aspects of Christianity that younger evangelicals are taking different approaches to – theoretically and pragmatically. He discusses their approaches to (idealogically) communication, history, theology, apologetics (a particularly well done chapter), ecclesiology (that is church), (and practically) being church, pastors, youth ministers, educators, spiritual formation, worship leaders, artists, evangelists, and activists. He covers alot of different subject matter, and his conclusions fall into the same vein as McClaren’s.

The only negative or cautious feeling I have regarding Webber’s study is that he sometimes seems very quick to generalize the younger evangelical paradigm from one or two surveys or one or two interviews with younger evangelical leaders. On the one hand, it is refreshing to hear the voices of the leaders themselves, but on the other hand the reader (at least me as the reader) is left to wonder how widespread such feelings are. Much of what I read from these emergent authors and theologians strikes a chord with me, but I have to ask the question: is it just because of the training that I’ve had and the situation that I find myself, or is this a more widespread, underlying feeling from people?

There is no way to answer this question, and at the heart of postmodernism is a respect and empathy for one another’s unique situation and circumstances. For that reason, Webber’s book fills a void among evanglicals. Where are “conservative Christians” to go with the current ideology? How are they reacting? That is where Webber strikes his chord.

Particuarly I found his chapters regarding the arts, iconography, worship, and social activism particularly convicting and interesting. Webber is the speaker at the emergent conference I attended last year who answered when asked how evangelicals should respond to postmodernism, “Rethink everything.” That remains a powerful and challenging word to me still today. We do too many things because we’ve always done them that way. We believe too many things because they are what we were told we should believe. Webber notes that the younger evangelical leaders (of which I must include myself) are emerging in churches who are unwilling to rethink everything. [Notice he said “rethink” and not “redo” or “reshape” everything. What is the harm in rethinking? I have seen people leave churches simply because a topic or issue or study on a particular issue has been raised. No conclusions have been made, but they are afraid to even “rethink” because their minds are already made up. Well, the Pharisees already had their minds made up . . . and they killed Jesus. Perhaps rethinking is never a bad option.] The result is that many of these younger evangelicals have moved to church planting as thier ministerial vocation. I have to admit, as we plod through things at Alum Creek like the role of women, spirituality, instrumental music (these, by the way have not happened, but will some day) I think the option of church planter sounds particularly appealing.

Therefore, I have moved on to a little more simpler and shorter book that hopefully can get me back on the reading pathway. My reading comes from one of these younger evangelical church planters (someone who Robert Webber referred to often in The Younger Evangelicals). Mark Driscoll is a popular emergent church speaker and pastor and is a church planter in Seattle (the popular Mars Hill Church). The Radical Reformission is a book that came out last year that struggles with the tension of sharing the Gospel within a culture without selling out to the culture. Hopefully I can get through it in a bit more timely fashion. Blessings.


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