Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Church in New England

I direct your attention to two posts: first, Dane Ortlund, writing at the Gospel Coalition Blog, notes the renaissance that happened in C. S. Lewis' life when he "awakened" to the truth of the gospel of grace. This "grace awakening" is something we are all, in my opinion, at any given time moving toward or away from. We are either waking up, or falling back to sleep. Another way of saying that is, we are inclined, in our nature, to nap on the Gospel. The Lewis quotes in Dane's post are of course eloquent, but I wanted to take note of something Dane says at the very end:
Something of a gospel resurgence is taking place today across various swaths of evangelicalism. All this we happily receive from the hand of the Lord. The need of the hour, however, is neither self-congratulation nor smug diagnosis of who “gets” the gospel of grace. The need of the hour is deeper reverence, new levels of wonder at the grace shown oneself, and a whispered prayer that the good news of God’s free grace in Christ would spread with a continued contagion the effects of which will be felt for generations to come.
Yes, this is very well said. But most of my awareness of this "resurgence" is via the Internet, not local.

You see, I live in New England. The situation here is summarized by the erstwhile Jared Wilson in an article at entitled Why New England is the New American Missional Frontier. Jared speaks of the dearth of "Gospel awakened" churches here:
And where churches are evangelical, the evangel has not yet captured the hearts of many congregations. As the cultural environment became more worldly, conservative churches became more insular, opting to self-protect in their religious “bunkers” instead of engaging their communities in gospel mission. The need for gospel-centered missional churches throughout New England is dire. The good news is that a movement is afoot already, but it needs more workers.
Jared's estimate is accurate. There are plenty of conservative churches who include the Gospel in the "what we believe" page on their website, but the preaching is all us (Christians) vs. them (the world), or else therapeutic deism, or occasionally Todd Bentley-like nonsense. There are also the liberal churches that are all about social justice and gay rights, and put political action first on their agenda.

As I look around my city, I see one church that seems to get it. It's an Acts 29 church pastored by Angel Silva, called Missio Dei. If I was making the decision for myself alone, it would be my choice for a church, but Laurie is not so sure. That's another aspect of the ongoing "thoughts and second thoughts" I wrote about in this recent post.

Another promising item is that there exists a Gospel-driven church-planting organization (called the NETS Institute for Church Planting) which focuses mainly on New England. I note with interest that they're working on starting something in my town. Note also that their vision statement is excellent, and includes this:
According to Dr. David Wells, evangelical Christianity is currently in a free-fall. We agree. Evangelical Christians have largely confused, given up on, or flat out denied the historic gospel. The result is a massive confusion over sin, the person of Jesus Christ, the cross, and the nature of saving faith. At NETS, we desire to recover the biblical gospel through training godly men and sending them out to plant churches to proclaim the gospel to the lost and confused.
Hmmm. Finally, I notice that their board of advisors includes D. A. Carson, Sinclair Furgeson, and Bryan Chapell, all people for whom I have great respect. I'm definitely intrigued!


Glynn said...

Bob -- thanks for the post. For a lot of reasons, this one came as a welcome bit of news (and I live in St. Louis, where the situation is far from what it is in New England).

Josh O. said...

Gospel Renewal is a work that we trust God to do. Working towards Gospel is a work that God has entrusted us to do. Gotta be honest--I'm ridiculously pumped at the glimmers of revival that I'm seeing throughout Maine and New England!!!

The people and churches "that seem to get it" are going to stand out as ordinary people living their ordinary lives for the glory of Jesus and the eternal of their neighbors and even the nations. That is and will be extraordinary!

We seriously need to grab some coffee. ASAP!!!

Josh O. said...

"eternal joy". Never forget the joy.

Anonymous said...

Jared doesn't really know what he's talking about- and admits in his own words that he is neither from New England nor had ever visited this part of the country before landing himself in New England's most rural area.
As well, his article is loaded with insulting assumptions that we're all a bunch of unspiritual zombies that are biblically illiterate and irreverent. That's reducto-ad-absurdum.

Many of us just don't buy into gimmickry. Nothing wrong with that. The pitfalls that go with churches reinventing "church" is that it comes with fads. If any Christian from any Christian assembly wants to make an impression worthy of an evangelist there are plenty of neighbors to honor and respect, plenty of interaction with the real world still to do- be it in New England or anyplace else.

Bob said...

Anonymous, I think you're wrong about Jared's article. He's pointing out some well-known distinctions between New England and other regions (such as the bible belt). No zombie-talk there. I don't know if there's a latin term for the false argument you use--re-stating the other's argument by completely reforming it into something unrecognizably foolish and therefore easily dismissed-- but there should be.

His point is, I think, the dearth of Gospel-centered churches in the region. I think your second paragraph is quite true, as far as it goes. New Englanders are often not into gimmicks and fads. But gimmicks and fads are part of what has replaced the preaching of the gospel in many churches here.

Nate said...

Based on my experience in New England's church fabric(15 years or so), I think I could fairly conclude that her churches are, generally speaking, in love with things like putting on good shows, being cool, being conservative, or in the congregational/UU sphere- being liberal, having magic powers, protesting bad things, using quaint, spiritual-ish sound-byte uplifts, etc...

Forgive my cynicism, and I'm sure there are bands of renegade Gospellers in there, people for whom it isn't an occasional accident that the Gospel crosses their minds and lips. But if finding that group is your goal, it's going to take more than a little work. In my experience.

Be interested to hear about that NETS project!

Nate said...

Oh yeah, and I'm really glad there are people like Jared coming to no-name towns and pastoring flocks of (probably) very uncool people. That's really encouraging. I might try to hit his church a Sunday on the way up!