Passion for Catholicity
In recent years I’ve tried to make a chief feature of my ministry catholicity, specifically, orthodox Christians working together for wholesale reformation. Culture-reclaiming Christians committed to Biblical authority, the apostolic Gospel, and historic orthodoxy should not allow their secondary differences to divide them. The stakes are too high; our culture is too decadent for us Biblical Christians to wallow in nit-picking sectarianism and divert ourselves from the collective task to press the Lordship of Christ in all of life. Catholicity for cultural change is a cornerstone of Biblical faith.
Tenacity for Truth
But culture-avoiding sectarianism is not the only danger confronting us. We now encounter a massive defection — there is perhaps no better expression for it — from Biblical Faith in formerly orthodox, Bible-believing corners: among the evangelicals. This is not a “crisis” that I have manufactured; it is evident to all who have open eyes and objective minds. Nor should this defection surprise us. A pervasive example of naiveté, as David Wells has noted, is the idea that great decadence can never emerge within the church. This sunny notion is patently false, as the history of Christianity, certainly the Christianity of the 20th century, abundantly testifies. Three quick examples of today’s defection will support my point:
Example # 1: You may have heard about the group “Evangelicals for Obama” with which prominent “post-conservative” Christians are bandwagoning. Franky Schaeffer, late Francis’ son, supports Obama because Franky is so pro-life. But Obama, you may be thinking, is thoroughly and eagerly pro-abortion. What, then, is Franky is trying to say? In essence that Obama is a politician who is “full of life” [!]. But endorsing the legality of the murder of preborn children is no celebration of life, no matter who’s spinning the PR. Tony Jones, at the vanguard of the Emergent (and Emerging?) Movement, has also endorsed Obama, as have a number of other younger evangelicals.
These Christians and those like them tend to decry the captivity of evangelicals by the Christian Right and the Republican Party, their new whipping boys. Well, I agree with that caveat. Christians must ever and always be captive to Jesus Christ and His infallible Word, not to political parties or ideologies. But to say that Christians should not be captive to a political ideology is not to say (a) that free markets are no less Biblically justifiable than socialism, (b) that the burden of the American “Black experience” is a valid explanation for the inane and hysterical rants of Barak Obama’s long-time pastor Jeremiah Wright, and (c) that supporting an aggressive pro-abortion candidate (like Obama) is ethically preferable to supporting a pro-life foreign-policy-hawk candidate (whoever he may be). But this is just what a growing number of evangelicals are saying or implying.
Example # 2: Fuller Seminary New Testament Professor Marianne Meye Thompson writes in the Winter 2008 issue of the Seminary’s house organ Theology, News & Notes: “[T]he inerrancy of Scripture . . . has at times been taken by some [sic!] to be essential to an ‘evangelical’ doctrine of Scripture, but . . . others, including Fuller Seminary, have not deemed [inerrancy] to be helpful in coming to terms with the phenomena of Scripture or its authoritative function for faith and practice” (p. 12). While no thoughtful Christian should bow to a form of Biblical inerrancy that subordinates it to categories of thought alien to the Bible itself, it is remarkable how easily more and more evangelicals are surrendering the classical confidence in the full trustworthiness of the Bible under the pressures of modernity and postmodernity. Should we be surprised if in 50 years their institutional heirs have given up on the authority of the Bible altogether (just as happened in nearly all the major Protestant denominations)? Must not the Bible be truthful to be divinely authoritative?
Example # 3: In the long-awaited symposium from the Emergent Movement, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Baker Books, 2007), edited by Tony Jones and by Doug Pagitt, contributor Samir Selmanovic writes that for too long Christianity has been influential in the West. It now needs to fail. (Read that line again.) For too long Christianity has insisted that one must trust in Jesus Christ to obtain eternal life; this dogmatic insistence just plain turns people off, and we must get rid of it. We follow Jesus best (so goes the logic) by not insisting that people trust in Jesus Christ. Selmanovic argues that Christians must “reinterpret the Bible, reconstruct the theology, and reimagine the church to match the character of God that we as followers of Christ [presumably, people who agree with him] have come to know” (p. 191). In other words, human experience must be the new criterion for Christian belief and practice. No theological liberal ever said it better.
In the same volume, gadfly Brian McLaren savages Western Christianity for its “colonialism” and reprimands the United States for its material wealth, suggesting that “[w]e are rich in resources gained at the expense of the colonized” (p. 150). The fact that he has not learned even the most basic economic fact that free trade is never a zero-sum game but that it enriches all parties involved never seems to have stopped McLaren from his demonstrably spurious utterances. They do, however, find enthusiastic reception among young, white, guilt-ridden evangelicals who never studied basic economics — and seemingly do not know what the Bible teaches on these topics.
Evangelicalism has gone soft at its core, and it’s in danger of rotting away.
Liberalism on the Cheap
These examples highlight today’s poorly concealed revival of the old Protestant liberalism among the evangelicals without, as John Frame has noted, the intellectual firepower of the older liberalism. Much of today’s evangelicalism is liberalism on the cheap.
The problem isn’t that these Christians aren’t culturally relevant; they’re increasingly relevant. The problem is that they’re culturally relevant in injurious ways. Transformed Christians must be transformed from their accommodation to the world spirit (Francis — not Franky — Schaffer warned of this danger 20 years ago) and to the mind of the Spirit disclosed in God’s infallible Word (Rom. 12:1-2).
The present evangelical crop has things just backwards: they live in conceptual and ethical accommodation to the world. The next generation is in danger today of losing the Faith.
What Zealous Christians Do About the Defection
I am haunted by words I once read from an old, stodgy — but faithful — preacher I knew: “You cannot preserve a position without crusading for it.” I thought at the time, “This sounds unnecessarily combative and just isn’t true. After all, you don’t need to crusade for the Trinity to preserve it, do you?”
But, no longer a young man, I have now lived long enough to observe the trends of conservative Christianity and learned (painfully) the element of the truth in this old preacher’s words. One generation obtains through great combat and suffering the spiritual capital that the next generation squanders in its diffident accommodation to the world spirit.
The heart of the problem is a heart problem: drifting away from unalloyed devotion to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Pleasing the world and man rather than pleasing God. Lusting for success rather than living in faithfulness. Increasingly accommodating to forms of the world spirit.
Amid this accommodation, I refuse to go down without a fight. I intend to intensify my prophetic trumpet blast to greater Biblical fidelity and devotion to Jesus Christ and His infallible Word without which godly cultural reclamation is a mirage.