Labberton’s Critique of Evangelicalism

At a recent conference at Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary president Mark Labberton addressed evangelical leaders on what he calls the “crisis of evangelicalism.”  You can read the address here, and I commend it to your prayerful consideration.

We face a haunting specter with a shadow that reaches back further than the 2016 election—a history that helps define the depth of the sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, and injustice around us. Today’s egregious collusion between evangelicals and worldly power is problematic enough: more painful and revealing is that such collusion has been our historic habit. Today’s collusion bears astonishing—and tragic—continuity with the past.

Many of the remarks on Facebook were less than charitable. That is the world we live in. In the wild west of social media, reasoned argument is often met with unreasoned rebuke. Labberton, however, is engaging in an important tradition that extends back to the prophets of Israel: critique from within. His remarks deserve serious consideration and a proportionally cogent response from those who find them lacking.

Labberton is, after all, the president of a seminary many consider to be the flagship school of evangelicalism. He knows something about evangelical life. In a political context in which “white evangelicalism” has become a powerful (if amorphous and undisciplined) force in the United States, Fuller remains one of the most diverse schools in the country, racially and internationally. Labberton’s context is not simply American evangelicalism, then, but global evangelicalism. Speaking from such a vantage point, his voice is an important reminder that, for Christians, our primary citizenship is within the kingdom of God, and the witness to Christ is meant to extend “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Much of the social-media blowback against Labberton’s remarks accuse him of pointing to the excesses of the religious right, with nary a word about the problems with political and religious left. While there is some truth to this critique, as a rule, evangelicals are not in cahoots with the DNC. Sure, there are exceptions,  but Labberton is addressing the dominant currents of evangelicalism, not the dissenters who are swimming upstream.

Beneath Labberton’s remarks is a theological vision of humanity. It reminds us that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). The love of God extends beyond national boundaries into every race, tribe, and nation. Thus our mission is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19). We are to be bearers of salvation, ambassadors of the gospel, offering to people what they need most: Jesus. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” said Augustine.

Social media has made it easy to dismiss the ideas of others, and even to shame them in public, with a few simple keystrokes. We can then walk away from the conversation feeling content that we got the last word in an ugly disagreement. Yet nothing productive is ever accomplished in this way. I encourage you to read through Labberton’s remarks, consider them in prayer, and, if you’d like, comment below with your responses.



3 thoughts on “Labberton’s Critique of Evangelicalism

  1. I like the way the document begins with Hope in Jesus Christ, and ends with us on our knees before the Risen Christ. This is honest, helpful, and calls us to the Savior. I will join Labberton on my knees, confessing and hoping in the work of Jesus Christ.

  2. I’ll have to confess that watching progressive politics destroy the UMC from within makes reading Labberton less convicting than it might be otherwise. We are up to our necks in a swampland fight.

  3. Yeah, I read this article the other day. He makes a lot of valid points. Is Wheaton that diverse? I thought it to be more Baptist oriented, probably since Ed Stetzer is there. As an old Wesleyan who married into a Southern Baptist situation, I can say that it is my experience the Baptists have done nothing but dig in deeper to their fundamentalist mindset. In my area the Baptist churches are still growing, but I see this situation as being a political birds of a feather congregating. They all get together and enjoy being among like-minded, political, nationalist and very tribal.

    It seems the deconstructionist church movement is growing in our country. Many points of view being shared in podcasts and books that lend to the Church simply treating/loving people like Jesus did and not hanging their hats on posting their belief system so strongly.

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