Thursday, July 19, 2007

Movement, Myth, or Reality?

Robert Webber’s book, Younger Evangelical captures what he calls, “the thinking of the college and seminary student, and in particular, the ‘Twenty-Something’. A major concern of this book is where these movers and shakers are likely to lead the evangelical community in the next 25 years.”
Webber breaks down the major cultural and religious shifts into three categories: 1. Traditional Evangelicals (1950-1975)…Modern Worldview/Industrial Society/Post-WWII, 2. Pragmatic Evangelicals (1975-2000)…Transitional Paradigm/Technological Society/Vietnam War, and 3. Younger Evangelicals (2000-)…Postmodern Worldview/Internet Society/War on Terrorism.
He attempts to present the differences between traditional, pragmatic, and younger evangelicals, and he addresses how each group approaches many aspects of the Church (e.g. theology, apologetics, youth work, evangelism, and so forth). Below are some of Webber’s thoughts on Worship, Theology, and Ecclesiology.
*(make note that Webber states that these declarations are not of ‘absolute accuracy’, but are intended for thought and discussion).

1. Theological Understanding:
-Traditional Evangelical: Mostly affirm the purity of the church
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Great Commission ecclesiology
-Younger Evangelical: Incarnational ecclesiology

2. Theology Commitment:
-Traditional Evangelical: Christianity as a rational worldview
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Christianity as therapy, Answers need
-Younger Evangelical: Christianity as a community of faith, Ancient/Reformation

3. Church Polity:
-Traditional Evangelical: Mostly denominational
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Mostly congregational but creating new fellowships
-Younger Evangelical: Mostly congregational but networking with all Christians

4. Church Eschatology:
-Traditional Evangelical: Has an eschatological view, Mostly pre-millennial
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Indifferent to eschatological views
-Younger Evangelical: Seeks to be an eschatological community living out the future in the present

5. Ecclesial Paradigm:
-Traditional Evangelical: Constantinian church, Civil religion
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Culturally sensitive church, Market driven
-Younger Evangelical: Missional church, Countercultural

6. Leadership Style:
-Traditional Evangelical: Pastor centered
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Managerial model, CEO
-Younger Evangelical: Team ministry, Priesthood of all

7. Worship:
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Contemporary
-Younger Evangelical: Convergence

8. Style
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional program
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Contemporary presentation
-Younger Evangelical: Liturgical, Ancient/Future, Contemporary

9. Content
-Traditional Evangelical: Thematic
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Topical
-Younger Evangelical: Triune

10. Participation:
-Traditional Evangelical: Primarily congregation singing
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Singing choruses
-Younger Evangelical: Highly interactive

11. Seating:
-Traditional Evangelical: Rows
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Theatre seats
-Younger Evangelical: Relational configuration

12. Instruments:
-Traditional Evangelical: Organ and brass
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Bands
-Younger Evangelical: Eclectic use of instruments

13. Music:
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional hymns
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Contemporary choruses
-Younger Evangelical: Eclectic use including ancient forms of singing

14. Choir:
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional choirs, Presentational
-Pragmatic Evangelical: No choir, Worship leader teams
-Younger Evangelical: Singing serves the text, Strong emphasis on congregational leadership

15. Preaching:
-Traditional Evangelical: Didactic
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Therapeutic
-Younger Evangelical: Narrative with an emphasis on obedience and Christian living, Interactive

So, what do you think?

1. Do you agree with Webber’s assessment?

2. What category do you personally fall into [not by age, but by practice :-) ]? Do you personally favor the Traditional, Pragmatic, or Younger Evangelical?

3. What category best represents your local church?

4. How do these findings influence how we ‘do’ church, as well as ‘being’ the church…both now and in the years to come?

(also, check out The Wonder of Worship, by Keith Drury, Worship Old and New, by Robert Webber, and Emerging Worship, by Dan Kimball)


chad said...

hmmm someone else is reading webber...

Keith said...

Interesting categories. I noticed that many of the descriptions of the 'young generation' are somewhat idealistic. I wonder if they reflect more of a hope than reality. They might be based upon what should be, or at least what the younger generation thinks church should be. It'll be interesting to see if the descriptions are ever actualized. From my perspective they have not. But then again, I am not in a church with a younger pastor nor am I in the circles of those churches.

Maybe I'll change my tune someday. For now we'll just have to wait and see.

Marcia said...


Once again, a categorizing system that leaves me "unidentified"! Not that I'm complaning--I enjoy being eclectic! "Eclectic," does that make me a "Younger"? (despite my grandma-hood)

Thought-provoking post, Jeremy. My "to-read list" just keeps getting longer!

Keith Drury said...

Great summary of (the late) Robert Webber's book..thanks! Whet is fun for us boomers is watching the younger generation squirm every time someone labels them... since many consider their label "unlabelable" they will feel compelled to be different than the list... and thus prove all the categories wrong hee hee...

mark said...

Jeremy: Very thought-provoking. My wife and I (30-somethings) are recovering from spending about 13 years at an Evangelical church governed by what I believe Webber would categorize as Pragmatic...We are now at a Lutheran church and shocked at how well it meets the needs/wants of what Webber would call the Younger Evangelicals. Great post. Thanks.

Lawrence W. Wilson said...

What he calls pragmatic evangelicalism was really a reaction against the previous model, which many believed had become irrelevant. It's shocking for many of those pragmatists to hear the same arguments now being made by their own kids!

I will say this about traditionalism: it has staying power (those little congregations are hard to kill).

And for the pragmatists: their model works (which is why so many people keep showing up at those megachurches).

It is a bit too soon to judge the value and impact of the currently evolving model. Is it merely a correction to "Boomer church"? Or will it become a lasting stream within the church?

I don't know, but like Marcia, I don't see myself fitting neatly into either of the three categories ... and like Drury, I'm having fun watching it all play out ;-)

The Swartys said...

hey man, got to say that is was very good to see ya in Orlando, you are keepin it as suave as ever. Adios for now, atleast I'll have the concrete slab in Iowa to remember you by.

Scott Troyer said...

Wow, that's the most concise description of the church of today that I've seen. I'd say Webber's nailed it. His analysis really exposes the neopolitan-like stripes that make up our congregational bodies. No wonder it's so difficult to make it all work together.

Like L. Wilson commented, each movement seems to be a generational reaction to the previous generation. Some might see that as a healthy "making it our own", while others see the unhealthy division it causes.

And like K. Drury pointed out, we've had enough time to see the perverted side of the previous two generational approaches play out. It'll be interesting/sad to see the way our humanity inevitably wrecks the newest approach.

As a self-skeptical younger evangelical, I am excited about many of the things being brought to the table by my contemporaries. However, I fear we may get too caught up in our experiential style of worship (liturgy, antiquity, & artistry). I also think our pride in our eclectic theology, diversse membership, and social activism will eventually overcome us and may cause us to lose our focus on our Lord. Still, with fear and trembling, I move forward in this new direction, asking Christ to guide me and grant me grace.

I guess those are my answers for numbers 1, 2, and 4.

As for number 3...

Since I travel all the time playing at churches, I get to see a lot of different churches from many denominations and would say that most congregations I visit fall into either Traditional or Pragmatic, with most trying (with varying degrees of success) to straddle the line between the two. More congregations are popping up now that embrace the Younger Evangelical mindset as a whole, but they are still fairly rare (1 in 50 or higher maybe?) I think it's still mostly an individual sentiment, not congregational yet, though it will eventually reach the tipping point as it is becomes more defined.

Which brings me back to 4...

Because we're still unsettled with our manifesto, I think we have a tremendous opportunity to avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls that have plagued the church in the past. This will require us to tune in to Christ, listen to each other, and honor others above self, while we move forward in humility and love. I believe the fighting and division between Traditional and Pragmatic camps will be seen as a well-intentioned, but unfortunate dark spots in our church history that could have been avoided. Maybe not, but we would be wise to not add a third log to this divisional fire by callously plowing ahead with self-righteous determination.

Oh Jesus, you are so patient with us!