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May 23, 2018

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The Church's Identity Crisis

September 13, 2017



“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2).


Jesus is the final revelation of God because He is the complete revelation of God.


Today this is being subtly challenged by certain proponents of “progressive revelation”. This idea means different things to different people, but for some, it means that God is still updating us on His nature and His ways.


For instance, they say, just like God “updated the script” with “new” revelations about slavery and women’s equality[1], the Holy Spirit continues to change the script on issues like same sex marriage, evolution[2], universal salvation, the fallibility of Scripture, and the diminished need for a local church.


In other words, the goal post is moving and God is the One moving it.


As a result, the church in America is facing an identity crisis, whereby “orthodoxy” is being called into question by its former proponents, while those who hold to the ancient faith are the new “heretics”.




There really is such thing as progressive revelation. “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17). Jesus updated the “script”, but the point of the Book of Hebrews is that you can’t “progress” past Jesus. Previous prophets revealed more of God’s nature and God’s ways, each one “de-fogging” the window a little more. But when Jesus came, the window was too clear to improve on.


How do you progress beyond God-in-the-flesh?


Progressive revelation stops with Jesus.




This is not to say that we don’t learn valuable things from science, history, archaeology, and culture. I eat up secular knowledge with the voracity of a shark in bloody water. But these are not my prophets, and they are not my Jesus.


They show me the way the world works, but they don’t show me the way to the Father.


Even if we were to allow that God might reveal something of His nature and His ways that goes beyond what we know of Jesus and the Gospel through Scripture, would we really expect that revelation to come through atheist scientists, Hollywood actors, and swing-vote Supreme Court justices?


The "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tm. 3:15) is not culture, but the church.




First, the church should learn from criticism. Critics say the church is anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Muslim, and anti-science. Why are we known more for what we’re (supposedly) against, than what we are for? The evangelical church’s hyper-religious, dogmatic, over-protectionism is backfiring, and rightly so. I hope that the church will learn from this to become less “religious” and more Gospel-centered.


Second, show grace toward evangelicals who have “left the fold”, because some of them are hurting for very good reasons. Don’t turn this into us-versus-them, and don’t try to force them to change. Be a safe person to dialogue with, sharing your thoughts gracefully, and mostly listening.


Third, recognize that evangelicals don’t have a monopoly on the church. The foundation of Christianity is not what one believes about creation or marriage, but rather, what one believes about Jesus--His life, death, and resurrection. This is not at all to say that other issues are unimportant, but rather, that Jesus is most important. Part of being a Gospel-centered church is placing the emphasis where it needs to be.


Finally, if you are on the fence regarding your own church experience, I’d recommend that you find a safe place to search and dialogue. Don’t just talk to sympathizers who left the church; talk to sympathizers who stuck with the church. Avoid unveiling your heart to toxic people, but also avoid veiling your heart to everyone else. I do hope you won’t give up on church—not only because I believe biblically that you need it, but because I sincerely miss my brothers and sisters in Christ who've lost their faith... in church.


If you’d like to hear me speak more about “church hurt”, it will be my subject this Sunday at Wellspring, 10:30am. Please feel free to check it out in person or on the podcast. Also, please comment! I’d love to learn from you.





[1] On female equality, the Scripture emphatically teaches that male and female were both made in the image of God, equal in essence before Him (Gen. 1:27). On slavery, the Scripture teaches slaves to attain their freedom if they can (1 Cor. 7:21), that it is wrong to kidnap people like Americans did in the trans-Atlantic slave trade (Ex. 21:16), and that racism opposes the Gospel (Gal. 2:11-14). Female inferiority and the trans-Atlantic African slave trade were both anti-Scriptural. This was not progressive revelation, but a correction of regressive interpretation.


[2] Personally, I believe evolution exists, but I do not believe it explains the origin of life or humanity.

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