The Late Great Evangelical Church

By Brent Bergman (Palm Harbor, FL)
    I am a conservative pastor (and a graduate of Oral Roberts University) and I have been teaching many of the same concepts found in this book. What Doner has done is provide me with the understanding of how these errors have found their way into the church. I have a list of people waiting to read this book after me. I have warned them that it will challenge their faith and practice. But in the end, it will restore their hope in a sovereign God and give them a sense of direction and purpose in their walk with the Lord.
    I received this book by accident (or rather by God's sovereignty) and have been unable to put it down. At first, it gave me a sense of comfort that I have been traveling down the right path. But as I approached the end, it drove me to tears because of the sad state of our churches in America.
    Father, humble me and enable me to engage this culture with Your truth. Amen.

By Matthew Everhard (Cuyahoga Falls OH)
    This is a book that all pastors should read. C Vaughn Doner elucidates many of the deep problems that the modern evangelical church has acquired. Likening them to the ancient heresy of gnosticism, Doner shows how close this deadly poison has come to infiltrating the American church. From the easy escapism of "left behind" dispensationalism (chapter 7), to the shallow attempts at evangelism through "testa-mints," televangelism, and film-ministries (chapter 8) to the over-the-counter spirituality of "do it yourself Christianity" (chapters 13 and 14), Doner points his audience away from a simplistic brand of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep to the powerful, provocative, life-altering evangel of Calvin, Schaeffer, Spurgeon, and the Puritans.
    As a reformed pastor, I loved his wit and courage. By the way, Doner has earned the right to give a critique; his conception of evangelicalism has been thoroughly and personally lived out on a global stage. Another solid product from upstart Oakdown Books.
Rev. Matthew Everhard. Hudson Presbyterian Church (EPC).

By Craig L. Hatcher "a voice in the wilderness" (Modesto, Ca.)
    Doner's book is best appreciated by Christian leaders who have some theological education, particularly in historical Christian theology. It points to a dilution of the church today in terms of its doctrine, goals, and emphasis. In a nutshell, it is the conflict between the historic Calvinist understanding of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and the Puritan Divines as opposed to the views of the Arminians/Neo-Gnostics of this age. It points to the shallowness of both Scofield/Chaffer dispensationalism and current Finneyism/Revivalism which so pervades our evangelical churches. The first is Christ-centered in viewpoint and the second is man-centered. Basically, we have not been saved to live as we please, but as God in Christ pleases. We are to seek His Kingdom and not our own "self-development." It is a masterful work, well-documented, and should make an impact on Christian thinking. Unfortunately, I feel that most churches are so consumed by dispensationalism/Finneyism that they will be highly resistant to change. Much to their own loss. It is a good read of deeper truths with a positive ending. Highly recommended.

By Ken McGrath (Healdsburg, CA United States)
    This is a serious and yet very readable survey of a daunting subject. At the dawn of a future of theological change that is unfolding at warp speed, most people are squinting to look into the future and tell us what's next. Doner took another path, as anyone who has followed his remarkable career will not be surprised to learn, he looked back. He triangulated 2,000 years of continually evolving paradigms in Christian Thought, Practice and Tradition, gave each of the phases of developing beliefs and assumptions "room to breathe" and be true in their own time and way. The work of a scholar who has a telling pen has laid a foundation for looking not so much at the future, and predicting, that's to common a task, no, he's exposing the present condition of the "so called" Evangelical Construction that has come to think of itself as NORMAL. If you think it's normal, you're in for a surprise. But then Doner is always a surprise.

By Allen Bruce "AB" (Western Canada)
    I wish all Evangelicals would read this book. Doner pulls no punches when he describes Evangelicalism as the American Religion. He gives the reasons why and backs them up with many credible and scholarly resources. What is even more startling is the similarity of this new religion to an old heresy: Gnosticism.
    Doner has spent over 30 years growing up in the Evangelical church and another 10 writing about it. He writes from painful first-hand exposure to the things he shares. He has rubbed shoulders with its key leaders. His voice is prophetic in its witness to the long slide from Reformation times until now, while acknowledging the shortcomings of the Reformation. So where does that leave us now?
    This book is must reading for anyone who truly cares about the Church. Being made aware of pervasive error is the first step towards recovery. This book is a call to action. Paradoxically the way forward is to go backward, not to some form of pristine primitivism, but to tradition and consistent teaching that is bolstered by authentic service. It is a book that will cause some weeping but will also bring forth rejoicing to those who act.

By Michael M. Denna "The Java King" (Sacramento, CA)
    The only negative about this book is that it will not be read by enough people. The thesis of this book is that what so often passes for Christianity today is really a different animal entirely. Today Christians, who think they are doing the right things, are more often than not embracing heretical concepts and calling them Christian. The greatest portion of the modern evangelical Church has fallen for at least one of the many ism's that find their root, not in the ancient Biblical tradition but in that most ancient heresy Gnosticism.
    Doner traces the winding path from the first century Gnostics to today's twisted versions of Christianity. Dispensationalism, Pietism, Legalism, Fundamentalism, and Escapism are only a few of the targets that he eviscerates in this excellent survey. He also deals with the incredibly low view of the Church that dominates Protestantism today, where the individual is so highly exalted above the Body.
More than just a diagnosis though, this book offers some very solid Biblical solutions. But the solutions are not easy, and that is probably why so few will receive them. After all it took 2000 years to create this mess, we can't solve it with a 3, 5, 7, or even a 40 step program.

This book should be read by Pastors and Layman alike;
it is not a comfortable read, but it is a necessary one

By A. Reader (Wheaton, IL USA)
    Prepare to be depressed, convicted and perhaps offended. This book is strong medicine. The Late Great Evangelical Church is reminiscent of, and a worthy companion to, the classic "Scandal Books". I refer of course to Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Ron Sider's Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Doner covers an equally if not more insidious issue: the Americanization of Christianity.
    According to Doner, American Evangelicals, like secular Americans, have become individualistic isolationists. Evangelical Christianity has (almost) been reduced to little more than a selfish end in itself rather than a call to serve others.
    Doner provides a provocative and fascinating journey through church history which persuasively points out that there is nothing new under the sun. American Evangelicalism is drifting perilously close to looking much like the ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. Like Noll and Sider before him, Doner has exposed another chink in the armor of American Evangelicalism. While quite depressing, all three authors have done Evangelicalism a great service. They speak the truth in love because a problem must be recognized before work can begin toward a solution.
    As Doner observes, men like Luther and Calvin might not recognize today's church as being Christian at all. Reform seems impossible, but it probably looked pretty tough to Luther too (not to mention Paul and all the saints). We must not despair or give up.

By Monte E. Wilson (Atlanta)
    If you are an Evangelical, prepare to have your world rocked. C. Vaughn Doner has written a book that challenges and debunks what passes today as solid, devout, orthodox Evangelicalism. For some readers, his book will cause their mind's to explode as they discover just how far their brand of Christianity has fallen away from its original course. For other readers, it will confirm their worst fears: Evangelicalism is no longer the House that Luther built, but a mixture of "Gnostic escapism, Greco-Roman dualism, and neo-Platonic mysticism," that preaches a Gospel foreign to all our spiritual forefathers suffered and, often, died for. Worse yet, as Mr. Doner points out, it is a Gospel at odds with the message of the New Testament.
    In my own fifty-year journey through modern Evangelicalism, my experience and studies echo those of Mr. Doner. Go to most any Evangelical church next Sunday and you will meet pews full of people who have emasculated the gospel, others who have an uncanny resemblance to New Age mystics, and entire churches that are proud of having turned the world over to Satan. To exacerbate matters, anti-intellectualism, pietism, and individualism are now attributes to be proud of--so much so that these errors are now "defining attributes" of Evangelicalism, not simply minor problems of which we should be aware.
    The question more and more of us are asking is how in the world did we cease being a "city set on a hill" or a "light to the nations," and become just another nightclub act in suburbia fighting for its share of the market? I can think of no other book that so painstakingly connects the historical dots so as to expose the how-when-why of where we are today then The Late Great Evangelical Church.
    Mr. Doner's treatise is not that of an outsider throwing rocks at his theological and ecclesiastical opponents. On the contrary, he is one of us and has been so for four decades, much of that as one of our leaders. What he has been looking for over the past two decades is anything that resembles the vision and beliefs of the first Reformers. Whereas the historic Evangelical message was all about the Lordship of Christ, being Salt, Light and Leaven in the world, seeking to heal the affects of sin, all the while celebrating the goodness of God given to us in his creation, modern Evangelicalism portrays Christ as helpless, changing the world as hopeless, and celebrating creation as ludicrous. Sadly, modern Evangelicalism is no more Evangelical than your neighborhood Mormon Church. Which is fine, I guess, if you don't care about what historic Evangelicalism was all about.
    "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!" What Mr. Doner is asserting in his book is that, no, Dorothy, this isn't the "Kansas" of our spiritual forefathers but is now the Land of Oz, complete with small men hiding behind curtains pretending to be a modern day Luther or Calvin, Cranmer or Hooker. How could it be anywhere else but Oz, for, as the author points out, what the Reformers gave their lives to overthrowing, today's Evangelical leaders embrace as core tenets of the Evangelical Faith. In other words, Gnostic escapism, Greco-Roman dualism, and Neo-Platonic mysticism are now the litmus test for anyone who wishes to be a True Evangelical!
    Escapism "Paul realized that any "restatement" of key doctrines by the Gnostics would eventually direct the faithful away from the outward-focused, world-redeeming, servant-steward-mission of the church. Gnosticism's primary focus was spiritual perfection, not saving the world." (p. 25) While our spiritual forefathers were all about being a City Set On a Hill and, subsequently, making a difference in the world in which they lived, today's average Evangelical is solely concerned with his own spiritual welfare. While our forefather's wanted to demonstrate the love of God, today's Evangelical usually only wants to feel the love of God.
    Dualism "A connected, more debilitating consequence of the dualistic paradigm was the myriad implications buried in the assumption that one's inner spirit and spiritual sense are good, but one's physical body and senses are evil, or at least untrustworthy. Whether in Gnostic retreats or Christian monasteries, the Platonic scheme quickly synthesized: Eschew the world, its attractions and problems; concentrate on transcending our physical limitations, and eventually reach perfection, or "deification." Simply stated, the primary impetus of Gnostic-and Platonic-tinged Christianity was (and is) to escape the world." (p. 34)
    Let's face it: In thousands of Evangelical churches today, Jesus would be shunned for simply going to a party, much less for turning water into an alcoholic beverage. Who cares about the world or the joy and grief of its inhabitants: it belongs to the Devil. All that matters is being more and more like Jesus ... except when he went to parties and drank wine, of course.
    Mysticism "The primary aim of every mystic, Christian or otherwise, is an intense feeling of oneness with God as he achieves victory over his human (and, unfortunately for him, sovereignly ordained) limitations. This union is not set in a biblical context where we receive the Holy Spirit and become like a son or daughter of God and a brother to Christ, but is more akin to Gnostic or New Age sense of `complete harmony with the transcendental order.' Primarily motivated by dualism's disdain for the here and now, it is an attempt to transcend and escape the "evil world" and enter a "conscious, personal, and complete" union with the Godhead." (p. 38)
    The weirdness Mr. Doner is describing here is seen most often in the Charismatic and Deeper Life branches of Evangelicalism, where hundreds of thousands of Evangelicals spend hours and hours each week in prayer and meditation, and attending multiple weekly meetings where even more hours are spent in "praise and worship." Why? Is it to be re-filled with the Holy Spirit so as to be further empowered for serving their neighbors and communities, for increasing their saltiness and the brightness of their lights? On the contrary, it is actually to help them become increasingly blind to the problems plaguing their world and become lost in the presence of God.
    One of the premiere strengths of Mr. Doner's writing here is that he does not merely make assertions. What he does do for us is build an airtight case for his argument by first going to the originators and sources of the Age Old Heresies, and then following the various paths of each, showing his readers exactly how and through whom these heresies both infiltrated and, later, began to define Evangelicalism. It is an invaluable study that serious Evangelicals should seriously read.


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