Part #1 of my response to Christianity Today
While reading the December 2013 cover story in Christianity Today (CT), I applauded its advocacy of Evangelicalism trending toward a more thorough embrace of social concern and the centrality of authentic relationships within the local church. Those are trends I have encouraged throughout my lifetime. The disappointment was the simplistic and dishonest contrast of New Life Church between the first 22 years and the years since Brady Boyd has been pastor.
John Bolin, our youth pastor for many years while at New Life, and his wife Sarah, wrote and produced a Passion play titled “The Thorn” for Easter. Over 10% of our county’s population came to see it each year. It was a production that communicated the resurrection of Christ so effectively that since its inception, tens of thousands have come to Christ. We would perform the play for the four weeks leading up to Easter, then, on Easter Sunday morning we would use the resurrection scene to communicate the Easter story. It was dramatic. Pastor Brady used the same production after his arrival. Strangely, the CT article gives a disparaging and distorted view of that in its opening.
National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)
I became the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) because I missed an executive committee meeting in Minneapolis, MN. I was asked to speak at a local church’s missions meeting, which I did. When I returned, I discovered I had been elected the new president contingent on later approval of the whole board. That soon happened. I do not believe in self-promotion (thus no radio programs, tv programs, evangelistic ministries or missions ministries named after myself, not even a major donors list, and no capital campaigns). I have a high view of God’s Sovereignity. Thus, when asked by godly people to do something, I typically respond with “yes,” and I try to do the best I can to serve. Consequently, one of my responsibilities as president of the NAE was to explain evangelical positions in sound-bites for media outlets. In my mind, those were opportunities to communicate the Gospel on the other side of the cultural wall–in other words, in secular settings and through secular media to those who wondered why we Christians were doing some of the things we did. The CT article infers that this attempt to be faithful was somehow negative.
During that season, I received requests from media outlets and sometimes federal government officials who were seeking an explanation about Christian stances and activities. I took these as opportunities because they needed to hear from Christians about why we believed, spoke, and acted as we did. George Bush was President at the time, and his evangelical position as a Methodist sometimes needed explanation. For the press, I developed an overly simplistic but useable definition of an evangelical (A person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we must be born-again.) Some in the media did not know the difference between local churches and missional ministries like Focus on the Family, Compassion International, or the Navigators. And when a group of Jewish scholars protested the movie presentation of Christ’s life in theaters, I defended freedom of speech and religion in the public square. I never once called any reporter for coverage, I just said “yes” if their request seemed authentic.
I no longer believe the press is innocent.
I no longer believe the press is innocent. During that season of my life, I sincerely participated in working sessions with Ariel Sharon on Israeli security and Palestinian civil rights concerns, strategy meetings with Tony Blair and his staff on free market approaches to poverty relief in Africa, working sessions with President Bush on how to lower steel tariffs (so the poor worldwide could afford tin sheets for their roofs, and refrigerators and cars at a more reasonable price, without inflaming the steel worker’s unions who had high steel prices propped up by our tariffs to protect their own salaries), ways to provide AIDS relief in Africa, and how to make public school more available to religious groups without violating separation of church and state issues. I did not do photo ops with these guys, nor did I arrive with TV cameras or send out reports in newsletters, but I did tell our church where I had been when their pastor was not available from time to time, because I considered the church my primary focus. I think CT’s negative slant in its portrayal of that time is inaccurate.
Even though the media presented Colorado Springs as having significant influence on the global body of Christ, it was not due to the activities of New Life Church, which operated as a local church serving our city, with no television or radio ministries. This image may have been felt more because of Focus on the Family (#1 radio broadcast in the world at the time), and other global para-church ministries. Some said Colorado Springs had more international evangelical para-church ministries than any other single city in the world. I do not know if that it is true, but the press seemed to think so. And I know that during that era, all of those ministries were growing . . . not necessarily in influence in Colorado Springs, but around the world. Since we were the largest church, we were a picture the press could use that communicated this image. Those pictures were more powerful than endless cubicles of warehouse space at Focus. Thus, we as a church ended up being the poster image.
The power of prayer, worship, and the Word
I did and I do believe in the power of prayer, worship, and the Word. Back then the book, The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, President of Walk Thru The Bible Ministries, was popular. Dick Eastman from Every Home for Christ was promoting the ideas in this book, and other prayer books heavily. New Life also cooperated with Peter Wagner, who had recently resigned from Fuller Seminary and was was leading a massive global prayer effort through Luis Bush’s World Prayer Track. We also built the World Prayer Center as a place for worship and prayer for the nations and ethno-linguistic people groups world-wide. There we served communion 24 hours a day, and promoted prayer and fasting at the World Prayer Center and Praise Mountain, a prayer and fasting center in the mountains. Since Patton Dodd, the author of this article, was a young man at the time, maybe the Prayer of Jabez seemed self-centered and ungodly in his eyes. That is the impression CT gives.
Were there internal and external conflicts during this time? Yes indeed. I think it’s inherant in the fact that God works through people like all of us who are fallen. By placing His divinity within our humanity, and then leaving us on the Earth to try to do what he is doing and say what he is saying, a monumental task develops . . . especially if increased numbers of people keep showing up in our churches.
I think I’ve said enough today to communicate that I respect Patton Dodd and Christianity Today in their attempt to encourage the core imperatives of our faith. I regret that they created an artifical contrast between my values and the wonderful improvements Brady Boyd and his team have made at New Life. Frankly, I think it’s unfair, but it does reveal a core problem in our evangelical culture. Why did Christianity Today present this the way they did? And to use it as their cover story in December, the month we all celebrate God coming to us in human form, seems to communicate an odd priority at CT. Though misrepresented, I know how Christ works through me and others by his grace, and I am confident that in the end, Christ will be glorified, the Bible will be read by an increasing number of people, and as they read, they will respond to His wonderful offer of sins forgiven and eternal life.