I attended the last T4G. It marked the end of an era. But something was not quite right. Two of the four original founders were not there: Al Mohler and CJ Mahaney. Yet undoubtedly the conference and the theological culture it helped cultivate changed the evangelical landscape. Baptists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans fellowshipped at T4G. At one level, T4G 2022 evinced its success. We were there. All together.
But its success, significant as it is, does not match the larger evangelical scene. The Southern Baptist Convention—my former convention—has recently entered into a crisis. Russell Moore goes further and calls it an apocalypse. I am too far away from the SBC today to really understand what’s happening. But if Peter Wehner’s piece in the Atlantic is accurate, then apocalypse may very well be the right word.
The Presbyterian Church in America also has shown a certain unease in its unity. Tim Keller narrates how the PCA decided against the approach of the Revoice Conference. While this may only represent a small blip in the PCA’s overall unity, it is at least a blip.
Older pillars of unity that existed in the 2000s have begun to fade. R.C. Sproul died in 2017. John MacArthur’s influence on younger North Americans seems to be waning. Tim Keller now struggles with ill health.
In the wider evangelical world, figures like Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald have come and gone in controversy. Christianity Today even created a podcast dedicated to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast feels like an explosive example of what is happening in many places.
And yet I emphasize the word “feels” since the age of the Internet makes every event local. I can note the above stresses among denominations, yet I have no deep personal knowledge of them. When I look locally, however, I continue to see split seams.
The COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario divided Christians and some churches. And yet for all the fire and vigour, now that pandemic restrictions have ended, the majority of Christians seem to have moved past this. Now, we are all worrying about inflation and house prices.
I note that a few pastors whose ministry centred on being against everything still tweet out their views, but fewer and fewer are listening. People are fickle.
The theological disagreements, however, remain real and should be addressed. Theonomy played an indirect role through the popularization of some of its component ideas: libertarianism, a direct application of the civil laws of Moses, and anti-statism.
Those ideas remain and partially match up with the zeitgeist of young conservatives fed up with Blue Tories who are basically Liberal-lite. The answer seems to be libertarianism. And the just distrust of the medical establishment feeds into anti-statism
We all heard the confident statements of the medical establishment in 2020 and 2021. And now we know that their confidence was an illusion. Data changes. And we barely understand long-covid. It might take years for us to figure this out. Why in the world should we trust the medical establishment when it fakes confidence? They are smart, I agree. But just tell us the truth: this is what we know with the limited knowledge we have.
In any case, the theological disagreements that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic may remain with us for a while. And so we shall see how denominations and associations can manage these sometimes fiery disagreements.
Outside of Ontario, the same sort of tensions exist although in different measure. I suspect Albertans differ from BC churchgoers in their distaste for governmental restrictions. Atlantic Canadians seemed to generally be more positive towards restrictions than other Provinces. Quebec has had what appears to be the harshest restrictions—Christians there have had to sacrifice much in terms of energy to hold everything together.
Criticisms are aplenty. Pastors are exhausted.
Have the seams torn? Are we unwoven?
I think so. But I want to briefly argue that this is not a bad thing
There will be a great re-weaving. I know of churches joining the FEB of late in Ontario, as one example. Others might leave. Evangelicals might find that their denomination no longer accepts them, and some churches might opt to move into associations rather than a denomination. Christian institutions might get built, and the rewoven fabric of Canadian evangelism might not mark so much a decline but a more realistic appraisal of how things are. We might have been too comfortable—less aware of our fragile unity.
The thing is. Christ is building his church by his Spirit. He promised. Our unity is objectively based on the Spirit’s bond of all believers from all places, expressed locally in congregations of believers.
We mustn’t doubt these promises. I suspect we might be tempted to doubt as the unravelling of things around us occurs, but perhaps we should see this as the Holy Spirit weaving a tapestry of Christian devotion in Canada in new ways.
In the end, Christ rose from the dead. We’ve won. Now, we just do the work of faithful ministry. And I suspect—optimist I am—that we will see days of God’s glory ahead—of conversions and lasting ministry.