1997 Inman Forum

"Churches of Christ: Heritage and Destiny"

Lecture 4


by Dr. Douglas Foster

I. Four interlaced factors shaping the Christian World at the End of the Twentieth Century

*Each is in an inextricably complex relationship with the others!

II. Implications for Churches of Christ in the Twenty-first Century?

F - E - D - C - B - A
Intellectuals - Moderates - Pragmatists - Moderates - Neo- Fundamentalists - Conservatives

A. Fundamentalists are aggressive and sometimes abrasive traditionalists, unswervingly loyal to the traditional conclusions of the group and to the methods used to reach those conclusions. They fervently believe that their conclusions constitute the truth of scripture. They reject any method of study that might arrive at alternate conclusions. Thoroughly rational in their approach to scripture and truth. Often label all other positions "liberal."

B. Reactionaries fearful of irrational or a-rational tendencies they perceive among pietists and postmoderns, often without distinguishing the positions. Generally highly educated with little use for fundamentalists. Yet can be quite aggressive in condemnations of departures from a traditional theology and set of stances characteristic of the more educated of the "older" generation of leaders. Often are still denounced as liberals by the fundamentalists.

C. Modern Conservative Moderates also fear moves toward apostasy by pietists and postmodernists, do not distinguish between the two, and are rejected by fundamentalists as too soft. They are not as reactionary as A and B, though are becoming increasingly alarmed at the tumoil and division. They sometimes, like the fundamentalists, deny or minimize their Restoration Movement/Churches of Christ heritage, some insisting on an almost detached-from-the-world spiritual view of the church. They tend to emphasize practical matters, including evangelism.

D. Pragmatists are committed primarily to making Christianity relevant to the contemporary culture. They sometimes appear to be almost totally market-driven, following whatever seems to work (from charismatic manifestations, instrumental music, new worship styles, etc.) They are sometimes more in touch with the evangelical religious scene than with our own fellowship, though many are vitally interested in promoting spiritual renewal in Churches of Christ. Pragmatists may tend toward the modern or postmodern areas.

E. Moderate Postmodern Conservatives, while by no means rejecting rational thought, have a strong dose of skepticism toward human rational processes as infallible. May include some pietistic and apocalyptic tendencies, but characterized by a deep commitment to biblical authority and spirituality.

F. Intellectual Postmoderns tend toward the pessimism characterized by much of postmodern thought, though not in the extreme. Pensive, philosophical, theological, and concerned about one's relationship with God.

Suggested Reading

Diogenes Allen. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.

Vinson Synan. The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans Pub Co., 1997.

Douglas A. Foster. Will the Cycle Be Unbroken: Churches of Christ Face the Twenty-First Century. Abilene: ACU Press, 1994.

Robert Wuthnow. The Restructuring of American Religion : Society and Faith Since World War II (Studies in Church and State). Princeton Univ Press, 1990.

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