Zoom Out: A Brief Review of The Evangelicals by Christopher Catherwood

Reading Christopher Catherwood’s,  The Evangelicals was, for me, much like hitting the “Zoom Out” button on Google Earth, pulling back from the satellite image of my familiar neighborhood, to see my county, my state, my nation and continent.  It was affirming to see again our church’s connection to God’s larger purpose.  As a man reared in a believing home in the Southeastern United States, educated in a Christian climate, surrounded by people who share similar theological convictions, I am well-acquainted with my ecclesiological “neighborhood”, so I was well-served to see the bigger picture.

I found the book to be accessible and well-written, thorough without becoming tedious and verbose.

Given his background as a Brit, married to a Virginian, involved in a poly-ethnic fellowship at Cambridge and recognized as a church historian, Catherwood is in a good position to survey the evangelical landscape.  The author reinforced something I was surprised to learn a couple of years ago from David Wells, author of The Courage to be Protestant, that North Africa is the geographical center of God’s work globally.  This, along with data exposing the advance of the gospel throughout the Asian continent, encouraged me, particularly as a member of a church seeking to serve the nations.  Catherwood challenged the notion of a homogenous snapshot of evangelicalism,  noting that the “average evangelical is an economically poor Nigerian woman with numerous family members suffering with HIV/AIDS.”

I found the early chapters to be the least helpful.  Were I editing the book, I would  have either omitted chapters one and two, or included them as appendices.  So my suggestion is to jump immediately to the helpful chapter three, “Who are Evangelicals?”

This chapter included some surprising statistics:

  • There are more Presbyterians in Korea than in the United States.
  • Half of church attenders in London are of African ancestry.
  • Some statisticians believe that there may be as many as 80 million Christians in the People’s Republic of China
  • It is probable that, within the lifetime of the average reader, Nigeria, Uganda and Brazil will have far more Christians than Europe and the U.S.

I also found the summary of the major eschatalogical positions within Evangelicalism to be beneficial reading.  Catherwood noted the positions of key leaders, both contemporary and historical, which I found interesting.  There are many readers, I’m sure, who are not as politically-ambivalent as me, which explains, I’m sure, the book’s closing focus.  I would have preferred that the book spend more time developing the theological distinctives of believers around the world rather than tracking the political trends within the American church.  But, that’s just me.

The benefit of seeing God’s work on a world-wide scale more than compensates for the few less-than-helpful focuses.   One noteworthy “takeaway” for me was the sobering realization that most Evangelicals globally are suffering.  That, I trust, will motivate me to intercede for and actively serve brothers and sisters who are serving our Master far, far, from my neighborhood.

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Stop asking for Forgiveness!

“One way I reinforce my inveterate functional Pelagianism is by allowing remembrance of a past sin to bring me back into despondency and a renewed plea for forgiveness every time it comes to mind. The trouble is that (normally) I’ve asked the Lord to forgive me in the wake of the sin, yet when it comes to mind again I find myself crumpling internally into yet another anguished prayer for forgiveness. The enemy loves it. He sees I’m not letting a decisive placing of that sin under the blood of Christ settle the issue once and for all. Somehow I allow myself to feel that the more often I ask for forgiveness, and the greater the anguish, the more effectual the blood of Christ on my behalf. Which is itself works-righteousness. It’s a denial that the blood of Christ is enough. It’s thinking: I need to help out Christ’s work by a super intense, repeated, pleading for that blood. The very gospel application is a gospel denial. My mind pleads grace while my heart self-atones. Place it under the blood. Once. Then quit asking for forgiveness.”   Dane Ortlund

‘. . . and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ –Isaiah 53:6

Thanks to Peter Cockrell at Already Not Yet

Surprised by Tchividjian

Three syllables: Chi-vi-jin. 

Practice it.

Enunciate.

Spell it phonetically.

Speak it slowly.  (It rhymes with religion.)

Chi- VI-jan!

I’m practicing my pronunciation because I expect to be quoting Tullian Tchividjian for years to come!  It’s likely that I will refer back to this book frequently when dealing with matters of grace and redemption, particularly from the Old Testament text.

Yesterday morning, when I picked up my new copy of his book, Surprised by Grace:  God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, it had the pleasing rigidity of tight bindings and crisp white printed pages.  When I set it down this afternoon, it looked like an old familiar friend (dog-eared, well-marked, full paragraphs underlined, notes in the margins) what you’d expect from a book you’ll turn to again and again.   Going in, I was concerned that the publishers may have oversold by giving this book such a title.  Then I read it.  And I was, well, surprised.  Surprised by Grace is a Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting examination of the book of Jonah.  The author treats the Old Testament text with the kind of Christocentric hermeneutic that our Lord called for in Luke 24:26-27.  Throughout the book, Tchividijian makes a point of returning to the life-giving, hope-producing work of Christ on the cross.  And that is the strength of this work.  Rather than a Christless morality tale, the author uses the familiar (at least I thought it was familiar) story of Jonah’s flight from Nineveh to expose our need for a Savior.  It’s application is broad and convicting.  He deals with difficult themes.  He addresses seldom-broached issues that can hardly be stressed too much:  pettiness, sinful anger and idolatry.  But Tchividjian is always careful to point us back to the true and better prophet Who extends mercy to heartless pagans (and heartless preachers.)  And in that way, he serves the church — by handling the Old Testament in a way that is hope-producing.  Romans 15:4 give us the reason for Old Testament narrative.  Hope.  These stories were given to us “for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. ”  And only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring hope to the sadistic, cruel Ninevite or the proud, nationalistic prophet whose confidence is in his ethnicity.  D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, the surgeon-turned-preacher whose writings and preaching were so influential in the last century, knew well the preacher’s task.  He said, “I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God…and the magnificence of the Gospel.”  This book (originally a series of sermons) is worthy of recommendation for a number of reasons.  It’s theologically sound.  (I particularly appreciated his treatment of repentance.)  It’s beautifully-packaged.  It’s  well-written and insightful —  pithy and quotable — devotional and thorough.  But the primary reason I will refer back often to this fine work is that it passes the Lloyd-Jones test:  It “gives me a sense of God and the magnificence of the Gospel.”