From the Introduction:
The thesis of this book is that evangelicalism has “given away” being the church in North America. Simply put, evangelical churches have forfeited the practices that constitute being the church either (a) by portioning them off to various concerns exterior to the church or (b) by compromising them so badly that they are no longer recognizable as being functions of the church. Admittedly, this is a bold contention, and so I hope to explain in this book the various ways I see that this giveaway has occurred. I contend, for instance, that we give away certain functions of the church when we adopt models for doing these functions from American business. I also suggest that we give away certain functions of the church by farming them out to parachurch organizations. I find that in essence we outsource spiritual formation to psychotherapy when we send our parishioners to therapists’ offices in their times of greatest emotional need. I even suggest that we evangelicals have allowed democracy and capitalism to determine the way we do some functions in the church, which in essence constitutes another form of giveaway. In the process, I cringe at considering whether we evangelicals might have quit being the body of Christ in North America.
In this book I will contend that the main culprit in this “giveaway” is evangelicalism’s complicity with modernity. For it is our own modernism that has allowed us to individualize, commodify, and package Christianity so much that the evangelical church is often barely distinguishable from other goods and services providers, self-help groups, and social organizations that make up the landscape of modern American life. In light of these developments, I believe the massive critique of modernity sweeping American cultural institutions affords us the occasion to seriously examine our assumptions as evangelicals in the ways that we are doing church. If my thesis concerning evangelicalism is correct, the academic conversations about the end of modernity, late modernity, and postmodernity could not have come at a better time. Likewise, the appearance of the “emergent church” people and other discontented “younger evangelicals” provides a similar opportunity to seek out a recovery of being the church that is not enslaved to the maladies of modernity.1 For these folk, hopefully this book provides resources for thinking through what an ecclesiology would look like that both maintains an evangelical identity and yet engages the aging of modernity in order to pursue a new faithfulness to being Christ’s body in this postmodern time.