In the aforementioned Christianity Today interview with Billy Graham (see here) the evangelist was asked, “What are the most important issues facing evangelicals today?” He gave two answers: (1) the danger of being victims of our own success and (2) the risk of critically focusing inwardly toward one another rather than evangelically outwardly toward the world. In other words, we may find ourselves imploding as a global movement.
These share a common flaw. If we become victims of our success, or if we become overly concerned with shaping the future of evangelicalism around our own idiosyncrasies, we have made ourselves the center. Graham points out this danger saying,
“Will we reach our world for Christ? In other words, will we give priority to Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Or will we turn increasingly inward, caught up in our own internal affairs or controversies, or simply becoming more and more comfortable with the status quo? Will we become inner-directed or outer-directed? The central issues of our time aren’t economic or political or social, important as these are. The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature, and our calling is to declare Christ’s forgiveness and hope and transforming power to a world that does not know him or follow him. May we never forget this.”
These are important and timely words. Evangelicals have often crossed denominational boundaries. According to Larry Eskridge we were shaped around the common beliefs that (1) everyone needs personal conversion (i.e. being baptized into the empire is not baptism into Christ); (2) we should actively declare and share the gospel with others; (3) we have a high-regard for biblical authority (traditionally inerrancy, but other approaches have found a home amongst evangelicals); and (4) and emphasis on the death, burial, and resurrection (see this study). Modern groups like The Gospel Coalition have attempted to recover this core, but it seems allusive. Rather, as Graham notes, we tend to be caught in a lot of infighting. We don’t have a unified identity and this vacuum has resulted in many groups stepping forward attempting to provide one (e.g. the Neo-Reformed, the E/emerging church, Big Tent Christianity). Meanwhile, we must ask ourselves whether or not evangelicalism has been defined primarily by dictionary style definitions or action. If it is action—the intentional spreading of the gospel message to the nations—then definition is secondary. That being said, if we don’t even know what our gospel is to proclaim, it seems action is improbable.
What do you think of Graham’s warning? Are we becoming too inward focused while forsaking outward mission? Can outward mission succeed if we do not do some inward tinkering?