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Francis Chan and David Platt, in the foreword to a redesignd edition of John Piper’s A Hunger for God:

As we look out at the church today, there is so much that encourages us and fills us with gratitude. There is renewed zeal among God’s people for the spread of God’s glory across the earth. Like never before we hear brothers and sisters in different circles and different streams of contemporary Christianity talking about the gospel and mission, about transforming cities and reaching unreached people groups. These conversations are essential, and we hope they will continue with even greater intensity and intentionality in the days ahead.

But sometimes what we are not hearing can be as illuminating as what we do hear. It reminds us of an exchange in an old Sherlock Holmes mystery, where Holmes refers to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” during a robbery. A fellow detective, confused at Holmes’s comment, responds that “the dog did nothing in the nighttime” — to which Holmes responds: “That was the curious incident.” Despite the proliferation of Christian publishing and Christian conferences, J. I. Packer’s observation of our own curious incident still rings true:

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service — but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine — but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

Think about it. Where are the passionate conversations today about communing with God through fasting and prayer? We seem to find it easier to talk much of plans and principles for proclaiming the gospel and planting churches, and to talk little of the power of God that is necessary for this gospel to be proclaimed and the church to be planted.

You can read the whole foreword here, and get the book here.

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12 thoughts on “The Curious Incident of Modern Evangelicalism”

  1. Arminian says:

    Good observations! May we grow in awe at the wildly gracious gift of communion with God, and in actually partaking of it.

    BTW, I think there is a typo in this sentence:

    “But sometimes what we are hearing can be as illuminating as what we do hear.” I think you need a “not” before “hearing”. If you fix it, feel free to delete this comment.

    1. Arminian says:

      I see you have fixed the typo. Thanks for the post.

  2. Little Sheep says:

    Those that are on the front lines who are speaking, preaching, lecturing, writing the Reformed books, commentaries, articles, blogs, FB posts & Tweets as were mentioned in this article have the voice & influence to act on what this article so rightly points out needs correcting.

    Perhaps they should begin the conversation …. since they are responsible in part for creating the gap …they also have the ability to be instrumental in closing it!

  3. I have two observations to make about this blog’s remarks on the curious incident of modern evangelicalism. One reason for the renewed interest in the spread of the Gospel around the world is that prayer has been going up for a Divine Visitation, a Third Great Awakening, a True Revival, for more than a half century. I began praying for such a blessing some 40 years ago (it will be this Fall), and I know of a fellow who said he began praying for this work of God in the fifties. We know from the records that D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones prayed for years for the renewal of Sovereign Grace, and he did not live to see it. With prayers for so many years, It might be that God has deigned to take notice at His discretion and when consonant with His plan to make the stone cut out of the mountain become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. Surely, He does not waste words concerning a 1000 generations (I Chron.16:15) for nothing. Two, the experiential quality is hidden as the prayers are due to the lack of knowledge on how to understand and interpret what happened or didn’t happen. Sometimes what didn’t happen can be as vital to the process as what we expect to happen and does not.

    1. Kevin says:

      I’m not sure I understand what you are saying.

      1. What doesn’t happen can have a meaningful purpose in the furtherance of God’s plan than we imagine. As to the private things of worship, I remember a visit that was marked for its magnification of the attribute of invisibility, an experience that lasted for a half hour. Meaning and effect, however, cannot necessarily be identified until the outcome becomes evident, ordinarily.

  4. jch says:

    John 17:3 says that eternal life is knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. I frequently remind myself of this verse when I become increasingly distracted by many (good) things which can often become substitutes for this one main thing–knowing God through Jesus Christ, which I understand to be synonymous with communion with God. I echo Platt, Chan, and Packer’s sentiments that the evidence that this is taking place in the American church is woefully lacking. As I visit churches, I find many who do all the other things well–doctrinally sound, missional, gospel-telling, discipling, etc. but there is this gaping hole. I might add, as one who “missed it” for many years, once you’ve tasted this communion and experienced biblical fellowship with others who have communed with God, you will not settle for less.

  5. Tim Webb says:

    I wish people at my church talked about “their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology”… but it’s usually about work and football. I desperately wish I knew how to talk about “spiritual” things… _all_ things of course being “spiritual” for a Christian.

  6. Tim Webb says:

    Does anyone know where Packer’s quote comes from? THAT’s the book or article I’d love to read…

    1. Tim Webb says:

      Sorry, I’m a stupid moron. I found the reference on another page here at Justin’s site. It is from J. I. Packer, “A Quest for Godliness” (Crossway, 1994), p. 215 (chapter 12). I’ll stop commenting.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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