Boisterous Irrelevance

 

A famous quote attributed to Martin Luther is: “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

Actually, the quote is by Elizabeth Rundle Charles appearing in her The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family, and about Luther. It does, however, reflect Luther’s oft-repeated sentiment.

In the great battles for the souls of men and the world, a certain species of Christian leader specializes in taking a bold, boisterous, public stand on issues that aren’t under attack. These leaders exit the actual battlefield to create sandbox battles, sometimes convincing the naïve, and perhaps even themselves, that they’re faithful warriors. They’re not. They’re irrelevant.

Since March 2020, the “point[s] which the world and the devil are at [this] moment attacking” are political liberty in the culture, and gospel truth in the church. The draconian and suffocating executive political edicts issued in response to COVID-19, notably in the form of “shelter at home” (euphemism for virtual house arrest), antisocial distancing, and mandatory masking haven’t only ravaged jobs and livelihoods and wrecked the economy. They’ve gutted public Christian worship and transformed many churches into non-churches — what were once churches are now religious Zoom collectives. It is statist ideology adapted to the institution-formerly-known-as-church.

Following quickly in its wake were the protests and terrorism and monument toppling, allegedly in response to the unconscionable killing of George Floyd. In actuality, this tragic event permitted Cultural Marxists, mostly in the form of Black Lives Matter, to invent a rationale for an assault on the United States and Christian culture.

What Communism couldn’t accomplish in a century, “white guilt” pulled off in three months.

Likely more troubling than this social anarchy has been the capitulation of thousands of conservative churches to “wokeness,” supporting the new racism in the church: white Christians bowing and kneeling (idolatrously?) before black Christians in confession for other people’s sins, actual or imaginary, and shifting the conservative church into social Leftism. What Communism couldn’t accomplish in a century, “white guilt” pulled off in three months.   

While all this was going on, some of the great bastions of orthodoxy were manning the bulwarks of the covenant of works, two-kingdom theology, and the rise of the latest iteration of the Middle East Antichrist. While not unimportant, error on these topics is far from posing the danger to both society and church that ideological statism and Cultural Marxism do. Fixating on the former doctrines while the latter poison the commonwealth as well as Christ’s body exhibits a battle-avoiding irrelevance that might deceive the naïve but that disgusts the perceptive.    

Theological Hyper-specificity

A chief culprit in this irrelevance is theological hyper-specificity. We’ve all heard of the proverbial medieval scholastic debates over how many angels can dance on a pin’s head, but debates today can be no less trivial. Debates over the sign gifts (tongues and healing), water baptism, church government, the sacraments or ordinances, Bible translations, and election and predestination are occasionally worth having, but they don’t touch on the heart of the once-and-definitively-delivered Faith one way or another.

Truly trivial, however, are the silly arguments over infralapsarianism, supralapsarianism, or sublapsarianism; the ordo salutis; and the immediate or mediate imputation of Original Sin (if you don’t know what these are, you don’t need to know).

While many truths revealed in the Bible are implicit and need to be drawn out by careful prayer, study, and reasoning (like the orthodox Trinity), some theological arguments catapulted to top-agenda items are simply speculative. Somebody once asked an older theologian friend of mine his view on the lapsarianism controversy (infra-, supra-, or sub- ?).

He responded, “Why should I have a view when God doesn’t?” If the Bible doesn’t address certain topics that might interest us, it might be because we don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about them. And thinking about them when we should be thinking about topics burningly relevant to church and culture is positively dangerous.

Theology Without Christian Worldview

Finally, many Christians assume theology will suffice to equip one for life in this world. But it won’t. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. Theology needs to be incorporated into a Christian world-and-life view. This is an entire outlook generated by a heart for God, a life immersed in the Bible, and a mind cultivated in Christian philosophy — a God-oriented knowledge in all things, not just theology.

About three decades ago a great push emerged for a recovery of the early ecumenical creeds and especially the Reformation confessions during that time of doctrinal flimsiness. This was a timely call, and many churches and ministries correctly reoriented themselves to these powerful doctrinal statements. I myself was a part of this movement, and I make no apology for it.

But we’ve now learned that the historic confessions won’t save us. This is evidenced in that a surprising number of these “confessional” churches have capitulated to “wokeness,” Leftist “social justice,” Black Lives Matter, socialist economics, feminist ideology, and routinized same-sex “attraction.”

While they formally affirm confessionalism, what they lack is a comprehensive Christian world-and-life view. This, and not merely a reaffirmation of confessionalism, is the desperate need of the hour.

Theology – Christian worldview = cultural irrelevance.   

Conclusion

Theological hyper-specificity and theology without Christian worldview are two hazards leading to irrelevance during the great battles of the time. Our calling is to fight where the “battle rages,” where “the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle-field.”


Author: P. Andrew Sandlin

I am founder & president of the Center for Cultural Leadership, core faculty of the H. Evan Runner International Academy for Cultural Leadership and De Yong Distinguished Visiting Professor of Culture and Theology, Edinburg Theological Seminary, and an ordained minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity. I am happily married to Sharon Lynn Sandlin (nee Habedank) and have five adult children and four grandchildren.

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