John Calvin

 Power Religion: The Selling out of the Evangelical Church


Michael Scott Horton, Editor
Chicago: Moody Press (1992)
353 pages, hardcover, $17.95

The increasing variety of theological positions represented in the many denominations in the United States - all flying the "evangelical" flag - suggests that some day the term will mean very little, and more precise terms will need to be invented.
     Beyond this problem, is there the apparent tendency to jump on every bandwagon of popularism without adequately testing the validity of their truth claims in the light of Scriptures?
     In his introduction to Power Religion, Michael Horton says, "This book is not meant to draw lines in the sand between true and false brethren. Rather, its goal is to point out what we believe to be serious distractions from the core mission and message of the Christian faith." It is a compass to correct our wanderings, to fine tune our direction, to get us back on course again.
     In Part 1 Chuck Colson and Kenneth Myers confront the problem of Power Politics. The issue was very relevant in recent election campaigning, when evangelicals tended to base the success of God's cause upon electing enough conservative Christians to office so that the power of bloc voting might be exerted, as though the purposes of God's kingdom are achieved by the power influence of Christians in government rather that by the preaching of the gospel and the witness of the church.
     John Armstrong, Donald A. Carson and James M. Boice explore the area of Power Evangelism in Part 2. Armstrong looks at the "Signs and Wonders" movement and "power evangelism," so-called, while Carson surveys the whole matter of signs and wonders in the New Testament evidence. Boice offers what the editor calls "a better way," and his convictions about biblical evangelism through the proclaimed Word of God are worthy of the consideration of every Christian minister.
     In Part 3 Bill Hull and Tom Nettles warn against accepting what is mostly a sociologically based, pragmatically spawned effort in the modern Church Growth Movement. Nettles pleas for growth through revival and reformation. According to one survey, there are fewer evangelicals today than 25 years ago when the church growth movement began - hardly a support of the pragmatic yardstick of the church growth movement.
     Part 4, which deals with the Power Within phenomenon, challenges the evangelical church's response to the fields of psychology and psychiatry in recent years. David Powlison, lecturer in practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and a practicing pastoral counselor, deals with the way in which the evangelical church has attempted to integrate psychological theories into its message, often without sufficient biblical scrutiny. In many cases, he believes evangelicals have allowed themselves to be indiscriminately inundated by popular psychology.
     Edward Welch, a licensed psychologist, challenges the validity of codependency as a cult of the self. Dysfunctionalism has become a code word excuse for every conceivable problem. He points out that the "good child within," whose needs have not been met because of some dysfunctional association of the past, is an unbiblical concept. The evangelical church has failed to analyze the theological foundations of codependency, and the result has been the idolatry of the self. A person does not need to accept responsibility for his problem because some dysfunctional other person was responsible. That dysfunctional other is not responsible either because of a previous dysfunctional association, traceable ultimately all the way back to Adam. This interaction regarding the "cult of the self" will give a fresh insight into the clash between the church's efforts to meet "felt needs" and Christ's response to man's "real needs." It is a stimulating discussion pleading for a careful biblical scrutiny of the popular psychological theories before we so readily and wholeheartedly adopt them into our practice of faith.
     The next section of the book explores the milieu of present day evangelicalism that creates a vulnerability to power preachers. The evangelical Christian sub-culture of "Christian" television, radio, publishing, music, "idols," etc., has piled its trade with an increasingly undiscerning audience. While being careful not to paint all with the same brush, Alister McGrath focuses upon the problem of certain media preachers who distort their Christology to allow themselves to elevate themselves to "speak as God rather than speaking for God." He names Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn, and illustrates from their teachings that they indeed have relegated Christ to being less than God the Son. He pleads for a return to Luther's Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and points out the vulnerability of every redeemed human being to the original sin of Adam and Eve who were enticed to become like God. The cult of personality has created the danger of people blindly following those who act and talk like a power elite who have a unique connection with God.
     The final section of this stimulating book addresses the prevailing effort of the evangelical church to make God relevant to the contemporary culture. Power switch is the danger of abdicating solid biblical doctrine and theology in favor or relevant methodology. R. C. Sproul comments cogently, "Part of our problem is the disdain for theology that abounds in Christian circles. . . . Perhaps the shift from the character of God and His grace to attempts at relevance is to blame for boredom, as the excitement of last week's meeting wears off by Monday."
     If the church of Jesus Christ is irrelevant today, it is because we have departed from solid preaching and teaching that uphold God and His mighty acts. Says Michael Horton: "The gospel of power is an enemy of the power of the gospel." Let these men challenge us to return to solid theology. As Horton concludes, "The evangelical church must leave power behind: it must speak less self confidently and begin declaring its confidence in God's sovereign grace."
     Power Religion will prove to be a good surgical tool to remove some doctrinal cysts that we evangelicals may have indiscernibly developed. It may also be preventive medicine that will encourage us to be more like the Bereans in analyzing the teachings and traditions which we tend to adopt.

Norman P. Anderson
Elk Grove Village, Illinois

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