Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church (review)

Toxic Soil of the Evangelical Garden Builds up over Time,

Tainting Everything

Award-winning Christian journalist exposes

the systemic poisoning of the church and American evangelicalism

Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX—Since World War II, evangelicals have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, as a potent political force and the focus of rapidly expanding retail markets. Megachurches and parachurch organizations like Focus on the Family attract both wealth and publicity, allowing them to reach more people than ever before. But something troubling has happened in spite of this expansion. Overall church attendance is not growing. Political clout has not yielded spiritual renewal. America’s high divorce rate is just one of many melancholy cultural indicators that bigger is not necessarily better. Evangelicalism aims to cure these ills. What if, instead, it is actually preying on the body, like a cancerous tumor growing unchecked?

In his new book, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, awarding-winning journalist Warren Cole Smith offers an insightful and deeply personal critique of the evangelical movement from the perspective of a long-time evangelical insider. Using solid research and original interviews with some of America’s leading Christian thinkers, Smith offers an assessment of what has gone wrong as evangelicalism has grown in power and size and what must be done if the church is to be salt and light in a culture starved for redemption.

“American evangelicalism, for all the good it has done, is in need of a modern reformation,” Smith states. “There is something toxic in the soil of the evangelical garden, and the poison has been building up over time, tainting everything. It is evident in our quick condemnation of homosexuality or alcohol or gambling, but our indulgence of greed and envy in the form of careerism. It’s there in the hypocrisy of religious-right political leaders quick (and right) to condemn big government and its corrupting power, but who think that the big ministries and megachurches they have created are somehow immune to the same corrupting power.”

A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church reveals the lesser-reported events that have shaped every aspect of modern evangelicalism, starting with the Second Great Awakening (hint: it wasn’t so great). As only a great journalist can, Smith delivers some startling facts and raises serious questions about many of the practices and institutions that define modern evangelicalism including:

· The evangelical myth—is the church really growing?

· Body-count evangelism—makes for impressive stats, but at what cost?

· The Christian Industrial complex—examining a Christian retail industry that generates billions

· The Overhead Church—multimedia presentations a must, no hymnals or bibles necessary

Smith wrote the book not as one who is on the outside looking in, but as one who has chosen to remain on the inside for forty years. As he describes the flawed approach of many of modern evangelicalism’s best-known leaders and organizations, Smith is quick to point out the many problematic activities in which he has actively participated. He longs to see a church that embraces her ancestry, values spiritual depth over bragging rights, and is shaped more by the words of Scripture than by the whims of youth culture.

In the end, Smith’s intention is not simply to lob accusations but to restore health to the body of Christ. “I call it a ‘lover’s quarrel’ because I believe it is important to speak the truth with love, as Scripture commands, but also to speak it as two lovers would,” Smith says. “In a marriage, two become one. When a husband cuts his wife, he injures himself. So it is with the church. We are all members of the body of Christ. When one hurts, we all hurt. Therefore, it is not the goal of this book to destroy, but to encourage, sharpen, and build.”

A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church

by Warren Cole Smith

Authentic Publishing May 10, 2009

ISBN 978-1-606570-28-9/softcover/$17.99



I found A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church an absolutely fascinating read. I really appreciated that Smith wrote from the perspective of one who is actively participating in church but still sees the need for change. Smith writes very well and kept my interest throughout the book. He used lots of illustrations to make his points which made the book even more readable. The book contains teaching about a ton of relatively-recent history and I learned a lot. I would recommend this book because whether you agree with Smith's assertions or not it is excellent food for thought.

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