The Evangelical Forfeit: Can We Recover?

By John Seel
Grand Rapids : Baker (1993). 124 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
4.2 (Fall 1993) : 237-239

John Seel, co-editor with Os Guinness of No God But God (Moody, 1992), provides a succinct analysis of evangelicalism's current state. He asserts, "We have forfeited our influence within American society and are on the verge of forfeiting the vestiges of our biblical identity" (11). This book is his assessment of the state of American evangelicalism.

He begins by defining what he means by an "evangelical." Seel writes, "Evangelicals are those who seek to define themselves and their lives by the demands of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is, evangelicals are those who have a passion for the first things of the gospel" (16). With that definition in mind, Seel suggests that evangelical leadership is currently in a mood of somber reassessment. He speculates, "In fact, evangelicalism may be in its most reflective mood since the forties when a handful of leaders forged a powerful new consensus that has lasted for fifty years" (22).

In five fast-paced chapters, Seel makes his analysis. Chapter one is an introduction to the subject. Then in chap. two he surveys the highlights of Christianity in American history. He argues

that 'yesterday's man' is more Americana-cum-debased-nineteenthcentury- evangelicalism than the real thing. Modern American evangelicals have largely abandoned our historical connection to pre-American evangelicals -to the patristic fathers, the reformers, the Puritan divines, and others (27).

He concludes the discussion by suggesting that the popularity of Frank Peretti's recent best sellers, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, illustrate this cultural and national tainting of biblical Christianity in America. He urges that evangelicalism divest itself of American tradition and return to its biblical roots.

Chapter three, entitled "The Crises of Evangelicalism," stems from interviews with 125 prominent evangelical leaders. Seel summarizes his findings with eight dominant themes as identified by these leaders to characterize today's evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has (1) a growing uncertainty over what constitutes an evangelical, (2) a growing disenchantment with evangelical institutions as ineffective and/or irrelevant, (3) a dissatisfaction with current leadership, (4) pessimism about the future of evangelicalism, (5) questions about the effectiveness of evangelicalism since numbers are up but impact is down, (6) a sense of cultural isolation by society, (7) two wrong responses to culture -a political response and a methodological response- and (8) shifting of priorities from a truthcentered to a market-responsive base. He believes these are at the heart of the current crisis in American evangelicalism.

In chap. four, Seel outlines a two-year process through which leaders of mega-churches dialogued with leaders of several seminaries regarding the future of seminary training and the training of Christian leaders in America. Many believe that seminary training in America is at a crisis-point, because churches are saying they can train men for ministry better than seminaries. The challenge of the mega-church to seminaries is for seminaries to become relevant or die the death of a dinosaur. This does not characterize all seminaries, nor is it necessarily true of any one seminary, but it is a perception on the part of many mega-church leaders.

Seel concludes with a call for repentance and a return to a Christ-centered definition of evangelicalism. Though it is short and in some points might seem to border on the simplistic, The Evangelical Forfeit nonetheless identifies and initiates discussion of the confusion among evangelical leaders in the 1990's.