Toward a Future Different from the Present
By: T.M. Moore|Published: March 12, 2009 11:54 AM
The Crisis of Evangelical Vision
This article appeared in BreakPoint's Findings Journal.
Unless God’s people have a clear understanding of where they are headed, the probability of a successful journey is severely limited.
But faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the verification of things unseen.
We had reached the end of a particularly difficult discussion of the state of the evangelical Church in America as it prepared to enter the twenty-first century. Having read a variety of books, conducted a study in their own churches, searched the Scriptures together, and shared numerous disappointing and baffling experiences, my students had descended to a fairly cynical state and seemed almost to despair of the Church ever breaking out of its marginal status. They began to query me about the role of church leaders in allowing this woeful condition to develop. Were pastors and lay leaders simply indifferent to this crisis? Were they just lazy? Too concerned about their careers to risk upsetting the status quo in their churches? One thoughtful student rose to ask if I thought the problem might lie in the skill level of individuals serving in pastoral leadership roles. Was it my opinion that contemporary evangelical pastors were working as hard and as well as they could? Is this simply the best they can do?
I answered without hesitation: “No, I do not believe this is the best we can do. It is my firm conviction that most evangelical pastors—at least, those I know—are highly gifted and deeply dedicated to the work of church leadership. No, I do not believe that such pastors are working up to the level of their ability. Rather, I believe they are working up to the level of their vision.”
The role of vision in evangelical churches and the state of evangelical vision today has become a topic of widespread discussion on the part of theologians, consultants, sociologists, pastors, and lay leaders within the evangelical tradition. In recent years a growing consensus has developed that churches within the evangelical tradition have lost their way and are in need of a renewed vision if they are to rediscover their mission and overcome the present condition of marginality into which they have drifted.  General agreement exists among evangelical leaders that the Church must change, must adapt itself more effectively to changing times and circumstances, if it is to recover relevance and significance in a postmodern world. The evangelical Church has reached what Eddie Gibbs, citing Intel CEO Andrew Grove, refers to as a “strategic inflection point,” where an institution must either change or drift further into irrelevance and marginality.  Gibbs expresses a view shared by many evangelical leaders when he writes, “Leading a church beyond a ‘strategic inflection point’ requires a clear sense of vision for a desired future that is significantly different from the present.” 
Other evangelical writers agree. Douglas John Hall insists that the vision currently guiding most evangelical churches—a vision that has remained largely unchanged for 500 years—must be rejected in favor of one more capable of moving the Church ahead in the days to come:
Robert Wuthnow cites the need for American Christians to recognize the challenges facing them as they enter the twenty-first century and to re-evaluate and “move beyond” the “models” and “paradigms” that are presently limiting their ability to meet these challenges.  George Barna questions the value and validity of the visions for ministry currently guiding evangelical church leaders, and laments the lack of training in vision-formation by evangelical seminaries, calling for a renewed emphasis on vision as critical to the recovery of meaningful ministry.  Craig Van Gelder, in a volume of essays calling for a renewed vision of the Church, observes that “it is certain that Christianity as we have known it in Americais undergoing a systemic shift.” 
Indeed, many churches, having already realized and dealt with this crisis of vision to their satisfaction, have moved in bold new directions, as Donald E. Miller observes:
Some of these churches, such as the Willow Creek congregation in suburban
Before we can answer that question, we must explore a number of other issues, among them, the nature of vision and its function within organizations, institutions, or communities, as well as the biblical teaching on vision and how that has been understood throughout the course of Church history. In this paper we will consider the importance of vision in a variety of spheres beyond that of the evangelical Church, discuss the nature of vision and its role in institutional renewal and direction, and summarize the requirements of a truly evangelical vision.
VISION BEYOND THE
The discussion that follows is undertaken within the context of a recognition of general revelation, the Christian doctrine that holds God is at work in all aspects of life in the world to make His character, will, and purposes known to His people. Here is not the place to elaborate this doctrine in detail.  Instead, I will simply assume the basic tenets of the doctrine of general revelation as a basis for investigating discussions of vision in arenas beyond that of the evangelical Church, with a view to discovering there whatever may be helpful for understanding this important subject according to an evangelical outlook.
Vision in Social Order
Social visions are inherently unstable and susceptible to challenge from a wide variety of sources, particularly in an age of media saturation such as ours. However, challenges to a society’s vision do not always begin, in the first instance, with ideas. Whenever, for example, accepted practices are challenged, cherished presuppositions become threatened, social tensions increase, and the possibility of a change in a society’s vision is introduced. During such times of challenge and tension, social theorists engage in the work of reconstructing social reality or articulating a new vision for society. And, while this work may take place only among a relatively few social theorists, the consequences of a change in vision will ultimately affect every member of the society.  Sowell describes the conflict of social visions that “provide the consistency behind the repeated opposition of individuals and groups on numerous, unrelated issues.”  Changes of vision are accomplished in some cases by force; however, more durable and far-ranging changes of vision are achieved through various forms of discourse, including, myth, ritual, and ideology.  As challenges to accepted practices come to be deemed less threatening, and more the new norm, the presuppositions undergirding those practices are regarded as less controversial and coalesce to provide the outlines of a new vision of society. New social visions, thus achieved, provide a new sense of social identity, foster new values and practices, spawn new rituals and myths, and establish new boundaries for legitimacy within the social order.
This was the experience of American society during the late 1950s through the 1980s, as an array of new practices came to be accepted—in the areas of sexuality, race relations, respect for authority, entertainment, and consumption; established myths were challenged—concerning the nature of the spiritual, the validity of long-standing institutions, the role of women, the meaning of racial equality, and the nature of family and community; and new ideologies of radical individualism, ethical relativism, social justice, egalitarianism, pluralism, and secularism were promulgated to justify and substantiate such changes. The result, as many writers have observed, has been the transition of American society—including evangelical churches—from a modernist to a postmodernist phase. As we observed above, it is precisely this transition that has brought about the current sense of urgency for the renewal of vision among evangelical churches.
In recent decades, evangelical social theorists have also tried to introduce a vision of social order more in keeping with their understanding of the teaching of Scripture and, thus, to affect the vision of what constitutes the good society and to reshape the social consensus on matters of morality and social justice.  To date, that effort has been only marginally influential; further, there has been no concerted effort to bring together the vision of evangelical social theorists and evangelical church leaders into a larger, all-encompassing, cogent, and persuasive whole.
Vision in the Sciences
Thomas S. Kuhn drew back the veil of science’s vulnerability to changes in vision in the 1970s with his landmark and controversial book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Prior to Kuhn it was assumed that the scientific enterprise was a cumulative venture, each generation of scientists receiving, building on, and improving the contributions of those who had gone before. Kuhn argued, on the other hand, that science proceeds in no such way; rather, “scientific revolutions” occur when a new vision of the scientific endeavor—what Kuhn called “paradigms”—is introduced into the work of science from the fringes of the scientific community and gradually begins to supplant the existing vision. He cites the change from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican cosmology, and from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics as classic examples of his argument.
Since the 1970s Kuhn’s book has been debated and discussed throughout the scientific community and beyond; his basic premise, however, seems to have been received, at least tacitly, by all, for the work of identifying a new vision for science is accelerating and expanding.  Michio Kaku writes concerning the scientific endeavor today:
Kaku predicts a powerful new age for the work of science, in which the visions now being promoted at the extremes coalesce into a new, all-comprehending vision of science and society, unlocking new powers within and producing new benefits from the enterprise.
At one end of the spectrum are those who argue that the vision of science—and all of life as dependent on scientific understanding—must be grounded in understanding the nature and function of the human gene.  Visionaries in this camp hold to the belief that all of human behavior is determined by genetic combinations; understanding how genes work, and discovering the various ways they combine and influence human choices, is thus the key to a science that can best serve humankind’s needs in the future. Already the influence of these thinkers is being felt—in the investment of the United States government and private enterprise in the Human Genome Project, the expanding biotechnology industry, and the widespread discussions on the subject of cloning, among other matters.
At the other end of the spectrum are the cosmologists and physicists who are looking into the ultimate aspects of time, space, and matter for keys to scientific renewal.  Contending for the ultimacy of matter and a better understanding of its nature and interactions as the key to better science, theorists in this camp continue to investigate the unseen world of atomic structure, subatomic particles, or, alternately, the vast reaches of space or the origins of the cosmos and humankind. Their efforts have also been widely received and heralded, resulting in large and expensive projects in the study of human origins, space exploration, particle accelerators, and so forth.
In the middle is a congeries of science popularizers, brain theorists, historians of science, and technology gurus who express enthusiasm for all aspects of the scientific enterprise, and for both extremes of its visionaries, chiming in for their own peculiar interests and laboring to keep the glories of science before the population at large. 
In this area as well, the evangelical community, alarmed at the progress of science, the entrenched position of Darwinian evolutionism, and what it regards as abuses of science and technology—such as abortion, cloning, environmental destruction, and so forth—has sought to enter the debate over the future of the scientific vision. To date, its work has been largely popular and apologetic, although thoughtful evangelicals within the scientific community are laboring to incorporate their vision of the life of faith into their day-to-day work as scientists.  While there is evidence of acceptance of an evangelical view of science within the narrow confines of evangelical formal education, especially in the home- and private-school spheres, that vision of science has failed to command anything but scorn from the rest of the scientific community. While somewhat more engaged in dialog with evangelical church leaders—primarily because of the apologetic value of their contribution—theorists for an evangelical vision of the sciences, like their counterparts in the social sphere, are operating in disciplinary isolation, having but little interaction with those who are developing and communicating the vision that will guide the vast majority of evangelicals in the days to come.
Vision in Business and Organizational Leadership
In successful organizations shared visions create purpose, community, and energy. They uplift people’s aspirations. Work becomes part of pursuing a larger purpose embodied in the organization’s products or services—accelerating learning through personal computers, bringing the world into communication through universal telephone service, or promoting freedom of movement through the personal automobile . . . Visions are exhilarating. The create the spark, the excitement that lifts an organization out of the mundane . . . In a corporation, a shared vision changes people’s relationship with the company. It is no longer “their company;” it becomes “our company.” A shared vision is the first step in allowing people who mistrusted each other to begin to work together. It creates a common identity . . . Shared visions compel courage so naturally that people don’t even realize the extent of their courage. 
Statements of shared vision—what Peter Schwarz refers to as “scenarios”—have the ability to help people perceive reality and future possibilities differently, so that the result “is not an accurate picture of tomorrow, but better decisions about the future” (italics in original).  Guided by their vision of what the organization aspires to achieve, employees make better business decisions, increasingly becoming more effective at using the resources and opportunities of the present for the purpose of attaining the hoped-for future scenario.
Since vision in a business or organization can do so much, it is not difficult to see why, as Tom Peters puts it, “developing a vision and, more important, living it vigorously are essential elements of leadership.”  James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner agree:
The challenge to leadership is leading employees to “rally around” the vision, to embrace and embody it in all their thinking, planning, communicating, acting, and evaluating of company activities.  The really successful companies and organizations, those that survive changes of leadership and changing times, are those in which the organization’s vision has become so much a part of every aspect of the organization, and every individual involved with it, that it carries the organization along irresistibly toward the hoped-for future. In what James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras describe as “visionary companies,” the entire organization becomes a vision embodied, indeed, becomes the vision itself in all aspects of corporate life and culture. A visionary organization generates bold goals, the kind that “may be daunting and perhaps risky, but the adventure, excitement, and challenge of it grabs people in the gut, gets their juices flowing, and creates immense forward momentum.” 
Evangelical church leaders have been acutely aware of the thinking of business and organizational leaders concerning the matter of business. This is as we might expect, given that every evangelical church is in part comprised of members of the business and professional community, at least some of whom emerge as congregational leaders. It would be natural for them to want to translate into their ecclesiastical life what they have found to be exciting, challenging, and effective from their experience in the working world. Indeed, much of current evangelical thinking about the nature of vision and its role in congregational development borrows freely and unabashedly from the conclusions and practices of secular organizations and leaders, as even a casual glance at footnotes and bibliographies in books by evangelicals on vision and leadership will reveal. This can be very healthy, although, as we shall see, relying too much on secular ideas concerning vision can actually have the effect of limiting a church’s vision.
T. M. Moore is the editor ofFindings, a Fellow of the Wilberforce Forum, and Pastor of Teaching Ministries at Cedar Springs Church in Knoxville, Tenn. His most recent books are Redeeming Pop Culture: A Kingdom Approach (P & R, 2003) and A Mighty Fortress (Christian Focus, 2003). He is also editor of the series, “Jonathan Edwards for Today’s Reader,” and editor of the first volume in that series, Growing in God’s Spirit (P & R, 2003). He and his wife, Susie, live in Concord, Tenn.
Notes for Part 1:
 George Barna, The Power of Vision (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1992), p. 11.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture translations are my own.
 For purposes of this discussion I will use the term, evangelical, to refer to those Christian churches, denominations, and ministries that declare their belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ, and salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. For a further discussion of evangelical beliefs, see John N. Akers, John H. Armstrong, and John D. Woodbridge, eds., This We Believe: The Good News of Jesus Christ for the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
 Aubrey Malphurs, Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 2001), p. 13. Craig Van Gelder writes, “This vision concept is at the core today of almost all new church development starts, as well as the majority of renewal efforts.” “A Great New Fact of Our Day: America as Mission Field,” in George R. Hunsberger and Graig Van Gelder, eds., The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging
 Eddie Gibbs, Church Next (
 Ibid., p. 34.
 Douglas John Hall, The End of Christendom and the Future of Christianity (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995, 1997), p. 19.
 Robert Wuthnow, Christianity in the 21st Century (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p.13.
 Barna, ibid., pp. 14-16.
 Van Gelder, ibid., p. 68.
 Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 14.
Cf. the numerous examples of vision and mission statements in Malphurs, pp. 199ff.
 For discussions of the doctrine of general revelation see G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: General Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1955, 1973); Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001); Scott Hoezee, Remember Creation: God’s World of Wonder and Delight (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998); Alister McGrath, A Scientific Theology 1: Nature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001); and Richard J. Mouw, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001).
 Dennis H. Wrong, The Problem of Order: What Unites and Divides Societies (New York: The Free Press, 1994), p. 5.
 Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (New York: William Morrow, 1987), p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 16.
 Anthony P. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (London and New York: Routledge, 1985, 1992), pp. 12-19.
 Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, 1992), pp. 1?7.
 Cf. Stephen Turner, The Social Theory of Practices: Tradition, Tacit Knowledge, and Presuppositions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 28ff.
 Cf. Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor Books, 1967), pp. 15-31.
Sowell, p. 14.
 Bruce Lincoln, Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 4.
 See, for example, such works as Donald G. Bloesch, Crumbling Foundations: Death and Rebirth In An Ange of Upheaval (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1984); Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1999); Dean C. Curry, A World Without Tyranny: Christian Faith and International Politics (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1990); Don E. Eberly, Restoring the Good Society: A New Vision for Politics and Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994); Lisa Barnes Lampman, ed., God and the Victim: Theological Reflections on Evil, Victimization, Justice, and Forgiveness (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999); Ronald H. Nash, Social Justice and the Christian Church (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1984); Marvin Olasky, Herbert Schlossberg, Pierre Berthoud, and Clark H. Pinnock, Freedom, Justice, and Hope: Toward a Strategy for the Poor and Oppressed (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988).
 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (
 For a useful summary of the present state of thinking about scientific revolutions, see Paul Thagard, Conceptual Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), and Howard Margolis, Paradigms and Barriers: How Habits of Mind Govern Scientific Beliefs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
 Michio Kaku, Visions (New York: Anchor Books, 1997, 1998), p. 4.
 Cf. R. C. Lewontin, Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (New York: HarperCollins, 1991, 1992); John A. Moore, Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); and Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life (
 Cf. Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995); Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989); Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978); Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (New York: Doubleday, 1992); Ilya Prigogine, Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (New York: Bantam Books, 1984); David Ruelle, Chance and Chaos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991); Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak: Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993); and Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (New York: William Morrow, 1979).
 Cf. the work of such popular spokespersons for science as the late Carl Sagan and the late Stephen Jay Gould; the popularity of such television channels as “The Discovery Channel” and such programs as Nature and Nova; and such books as William F. Allman, Apprentices of Wonder: Inside the Neural Network Revolution (New York: Bantam Books, 1989); and John Brockman, ed., The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (New York: Touchstone, 1995).
 For this latter see especially the work of the American Scientific Affiliation and the Journal of that organization. For the Evangelical apologetic vis a vis the secular scientific endeavor, cf. Charles E. Hummel, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986); Phillip E. Johnson, An Easy-to-Understand Guide for Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997); Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992); J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989); Roy E. Peacock, A Brief History of Eternity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1990); Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986); and Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1995).
 Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday Currency, 1990), pp. 207, 208.
 Peter Schwarz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World (New York: Doubleday Currency, 1991), p. 9.
 Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos: A Handbook for the Management Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), p. 400.
 James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, “Seven Lessons for Leading the Voyage to the Future,” in Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Richard Beckhard, eds., The Leader of the Future (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996), p. 103.
 Cf. A. W. Dahlberg, David W. Connell, and Jennifer Landrum, “Building a Healthy Company—For the Long Term,” in Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Richard Beckhard, The Organization of the Future (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), pp. 362, 363.
 James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 9.