Last week, Jonathon rightly pointed out in last week’s blog Christian Scandal (the good kind) that:
… all of these distinctly Christian stumbling blocks have been questioned by the Culture Driven Church. Grace and Hell have long been disparaged. Grace has either been watered down into universal salvation or thickened with concepts of good works. Hell has been disparaged by even venerable dons of theology. Evangelism has been abandoned in favor of a social gospel and Brian McClaren’s religous pluralism. And sexual ethics have been simply and quietly ignored in favor of discreet trysts or transformed into political debates. All of this in an effort to remove the skandalons that offend.
As we have continually emphasized through the series on the Culture Driven Church that nothing happens in a vacuum. We got to this point through processes in the past which bring us to where we are at today, in culture and the church as well. A physical analogy may be helpful.
A fine line exists between personal rights and public safety. A small retrovirus, 90 nanometers in size, invisible to the naked eye and even to a high-powered microscope, now straddles that line. In this tug of war, people are walking wounded and dying in large numbers.
America has already lost 400,000 people to AIDS; another 600,000 to 900,000 are HIV-infected and will meet the same fate. Around the globe, 16,000 people become newly infected each day; according to the most recent data from UNAIDS, one woman becomes infected every 12 seconds.
The lack of leadership in controlling the AIDS epidemic is a national disgrace. Fifty-two communicable diseases are reported by name. HIV, the most deadly communicable virus, is off this list in California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Georgia (the backyard of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and in a number of other states.
In case anyone is still wondering, the cure rate for AIDS remains locked in at zero. There is no AIDS vaccine, and there may never be one. HIV should be at the top of the list of communicable diseases in all states and partner notification a must, not an issue for debate. Our only hope in saving lives is through prevention, and that opportunity is being squandered.1
When AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was first brought to the attention of the public at large, it was viewed by many as a “Gay” and/or drug abusers disease. A terrible one, no doubt, but after all hadn’t the cry up to that point been: “What goes on behind closed doors is none of your business. Any satisfactions or consequences are ours and don’t affect you!” Suddenly the outcry from within these communities was “AIDS cure now!” and militant Gay activists made sure it was in the public view demanding that all tax payers be penalized for the consequences of the behavior which happened behind closed doors. As time went on AIDS moved into the heterosexual community and the nation began getting more concerned. With the exception of the few innocents who contracted AIDS through blood transfusions, when a spouse brought it home after a bit of “recreational” sex or some similar reason. Most, however, contracted it through bad behavior, behind closed doors, in privacy.
Prior to the sexual revolution of the ‘60s sex outside the bounds of matrimony was looked upon with disdain. That is not to say it didn’t occur, it did, but there were social consequences to pay. Today, morality in this area has been lowered to the equivalent of going to a basketball game, baseball game or bowling. It is now “recreational.” “Checkers, ping pong or sex anyone?” Self gratification has come to rule the day. The cry-baby boomer generation has carried their motto, “If it feels good do it” to its logical extension. Divorce rates have climbed:
About 50% of first marriages for men under age 45 may end in divorce, and between 44 and 52% of women’s first marriages may end in divorce for these age groups.2
This statistic, according to some researchers is no better in the church and in fact may be worse. Abandoning the sacredness of marriage and monogamous relationships has resulted not only in broken families and shattered lives but a deadly disease which is being spread around at a staggering rate (16,000 people become newly infected each day3). There are dangers in basing one’s decision primarily on self gratification. It brings great cost to those who so act, to those they become intimate with, their families and ultimately to all of us who end up paying the price, emotionally and financially.
The role of public health is to prevent disease and save lives, not to serve as bean counters. We can no longer allow the CDC to sit on the sidelines, a spectator to this epidemic. Testing the political waters before formulating sound public health policy is unacceptable.4
In other words, being “Politically Correct” is not only not helping it is an “unacceptable” way to “protect” public health. Some things are more important than looking the other way and allowing wrong behaviors to go unchecked because we don’t want to make people feel bad.
AIDS in the Church
As we continue addressing the question, “How does the disparagement of heaven, hell, evangelism, sexual morality or the acceptance of a false teacher like Gwen Shamblin so widely in the Church. How is it that this has happened virtually unchecked, given the implicit and sometimes explicit denial of essential doctrines of the faith?” We need to also ask, how is it that the theological ramblings and heretical descriptions on the nature of God and salvation pass the editors of what is considered a mainline Evangelical publishers? Why were the sales of Shamblin’s book, Rise Above, reaching 185,000 on their way to 1,000,000 until Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., brought her views to public attention? How did it happen that McLaren and others in the emerging and Contemplative Prayer movements so widely embraced and promoted? The answer is that there is a different kind of AIDS in the church. It doesn’t necessarily affect the physical health of individuals or the group but something far worse. Spiritual health, well being and potentially for some, eternal separation from God are the result of spiritual AIDS. This spiritual AIDS is Acquired Ignorance of the Doctrines of Scripture.
Are we overstating our case here? We don’t think so. Pollster George Barna has shown repeatedly in research studies the gradual abandonment of essential Scriptural doctrines. For example:
The poll provides evidence of a “very considerable diversity within the Christian community regarding core beliefs,” according to the Barna Research Group of Ventura, Ca. But what alarms Hinlicky is the “erosion of the church’s foundations this study seems to expose.”5
In talking about the increase in the belief that good works contribute to salvation and the growing rejection of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone the article states:
“If this figure holds up it signals a complete breakdown of catechetical practice,” said Hinlicky who teaches religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Va.
His colleague Gerald McDermott, an Episcopalian, agreed: “This happened because in the last 30 years American pastors have lost their nerve to preach a theology that goes against the grain of American narcissism. What we are witnessing now is what (evangelicalism’s premier thinker) Francis Shaeffer predicted over 20 years ago — that the American church of the future would be dedicated solely to peace and affluence.” 6
How has this played itself out in public and in the church?
More than four out of five Americans claim to be Christian and half as many can be classified as born again Christians. Nine out of ten adults own a Bible. Most adults read the Bible during the year and a huge majority claims they know all of the basic teachings of the Bible. How, then, can most people say Satan does not exist, that the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol, that eternal peace with God can be earned through good works, and that truth can only be understood through the lens of reason and experience? How can a plurality of our citizens contend that Jesus committed sins and that the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all teach the same truths?
“In a sound bite society you get sound bite theology,” Barna lamented. “Americans are more likely to buy simple sayings than a system of truth that takes time and concentration to grasp. People are more prone to embrace diversity, tolerance and feeling good than judgment, discernment, righteousness and limitations. People are more focused on temporal security than eternal security and its temporal implications7
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…
The Christianity of the 1940s and 1950s tended to be denominationalized and dry with a focus primarily on the distinctive doctrines each denomination held. Although each of the conservative and fundamental denominations affirmed the essentials of the faith the primary teaching and evangelism was aimed at bringing people into one’s own denomination. As a result, it was rare that different denominations worked together on issues where they were actually in agreement. In many cases they didn’t even realize they were in agreement, at least at the lay level. Lutherans viewed Baptists, Presbyterians, etc., with a distrustful eye and vice-a-versa. Even within the general denominational headings there were sub-denominations which viewed the others as possibly Christians but certainly less informed or spiritual.
‘I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, ‘Stop! Don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!’ He said, “Like what?” I said, “Well, are you religious or atheist?” He said, ‘Religious.” I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?” He said, “Christian.’ I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” He said, ‘Baptist!” I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?’ He said, “Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God!” I said, ‘Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!’ 1 said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.’8
There were clearly drawbacks to this practice in the sense that denominational distinctives approached being idolatrous. The core of the faith, although officially affirmed, took a back seat to other things. Denominational lines were rarely crossed. Reading works by authors of other denominational affiliations really “wasn’t done.” On the other hand, the core doctrines of the faith were at the very least affirmed and as they were part of the respective denominational teachings they enjoyed some measure of protection. However, for the previous one hundred and fifty years or so theology itself was being changed slowly from being God centered to being man centered. Theology had classically been the study of God and as we knew God we knew more about His creation and the nature of man.
Even books on theology changed their order of things so that the theology of man took on greater and greater importance. Theologians previous to Friedrich Schleiermacher of Germany generally considered theology to be the study of God, and that from knowing God one could gain insight into His creation, including the nature of man. However, Schleiermacher included self-consciousness in his theology, whereby subjective experience gained a foothold alongside revelation.9
A more human centered theology, the mass marketing of Finney, the alter call tradition that was now so much a part of the fundamentalist church and the ever growing acceptance of psychology in nearly all of the Bible believing church as well as all other facets of culture reshaped how the church thought and taught. The result of this was that:
…many pastors assumed therapeutic roles and provided acceptance and understanding in place of confronting the sinner and guiding him to repentance. By the middle of the century most seminaries offered classes in psychology. These included seminaries of conservative, as well as liberal, denominations.10
Fundamentalism’s emphasis was on evangelism and the external marks of being a Christian. Such notables as John R. Rice and Jack Hyles spent a great deal of time in their preaching and writing on soul winning. A common element of preaching revolved around hair length, clothing, drinking, smoking and other external behaviors which served to maintain the “us vs. them” separation between true Christians (fundamentalists) and all other non-Christians (anyone that was not a fundamentalist in affiliation and behavior). To their credit, they were attempting to hold the line against liberalism, communism and other boogie men both real and imagined. However, their theology had become fairly anthropocentric (human centered). What things we need to do to be accepted by God, if not for salvation (most still affirmed salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) at least for sanctification. There was a fairly rigid outline of behaviors, modes of dress and persons and things we shun in order to become more sanctified. Very little teaching regarding God’s work of sanctifying the believer or of the growing personal relationship with God was present if even considered.
In the meantime, neoevangelicals were very busy attempting to gain credibility among their academic peers. Although they too affirmed the essentials of the faith the focus was more on how to make the faith academically acceptable to educated non-believers. In writing about the pastor/theologian Carl F. H. Henry, Timothy George says of this period and split between fundamentalists and evangelicals:
The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) breathes with fire – rejecting the failed theology of liberalism, discredited by the devastation of two world wars, but also calling fellow conservatives to a positive engagement with society and culture. Looking back on this manifesto years later he wrote:
What distressed the growing evangelical mainstream about the fundamentalist far right were its personal legalisms, suspicion of advanced education, disdain for biblical criticism per se, polemical orientation of theological discussion, judgmental attitudes toward those in ecumenically related denominations, and an uncritical political conservatism often defined as ‘Christian anticommunism’ and ‘Christian capitalism’ that, while politicizing the Gospel on the right, deplored politicizing it on the left.
Henry had been a strong supporter of the National Association of Evangelicals since its formation in 1942, and some of the ideas in Uneasy Conscience first appeared in the NAE’s United Evangelical Action. Like Ockenga – the impresario of “neoevangelicalism,” as he called it- Henry promoted the ideals of unity, education, evangelism, and social ethics while maintaining the absolute truth claims of historic Christian orthodoxy. This combination would become a mark of Henry’s leadership in many other evangelical ventures across the years.11
This split is actually pretty understandable as conservative intellectualism was growing and beginning to make an impact on the general culture. However, this was not making the left of center educators, religious leaders and politicians happy. Psychology swooped in to save the day for them and decided conservatism and by extension fundamentalism and evangelicalism, was actually a mental illness. To the psychological and sociological researchers and writers from the mid to late 1950s all of this challenge to the “educated” and “informed view” was little more than:
The response of a frustrated, maladjusted, status-conscious, neo-populist Radical Right, led largely by fierce (and implicitly suspect) ex-radicals, to a complex modern world with which they were unable to cope.12
This tendency to perceive conservatism as a problem of abnormal psychology rather than rational politics was further exemplified by Herbert McClosky of the University of Minnesota, in a 1958 article detailing his research on “conservatism and personality.” According to McClosky’s controversial findings, conservative beliefs were most frequently held by “the uniformed, the poorly educated, and …the less intelligent.” Conservatives tended to be submissive, alienated, lacking in confidence, “bewildered” by modern society, hostile suspicious, compulsive, intolerant, mystical, and fearful of change. McClosky contended that “conservative doctrines” were “highly correlated” with certain distinct personality patterns and suggested that their doctrines “may tell us less about the nature of man and society than about the persons who believe these doctrines.”13
The onslaught of these sorts of attacks seems to have aided in the hardening of fundamentalists against intellectual pursuits and loving Christ with their minds as well as their hearts and souls. On the other hand, evangelicals increased in their fervency to gain acceptance in the halls of academia and in spite of psychology’s overt attacks on the faith, church leadership pressed on in their zeal of embracing and attempting to “christianize” this new religion.
1 Cary B. Savitch, “Why Too Many Are Dying of AIDS at the Alter of Privacy,” ACP-ASIM Observer, March 1999; http://www.acponline.org/journals/news/mar99/toomany.htm
2 Rose M. Krieder and Jason M. Fields, “Number, Timing and Duration of Divorces: 1996, Household Economic Studies,” Current Population Reports, February 2002, p. 18, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p70-80.pdf
3 Cary B. Savitch, “Why Too Many Are Dying of AIDS at the Alter of Privacy,” ACP-ASIM Observer, March 1999; http://www.acponline.org/journals/news/mar99/toomany.htm
4 Cary B. Savitch, “Why Too Many Are Dying of AIDS at the Alter of Privacy,” ACP-ASIM Observer, March 1999; http://www.acponline.org/journals/news/mar99/toomany.htm
5 Uwe Siemon-Netto, United Press International, “Barna Poll on U.S. Religious Belief – 2001,” (Original Headline: Poll shows Protestant collapse) http://www.holytrinitynewrochelle.org/barna.html
6 Uwe Siemon-Netto, United Press International, “Barna Poll on U.S. Religious Belief – 2001,” (Original Headline: Poll shows Protestant collapse) http://www.holytrinitynewrochelle.org/barna.html
7 “Barna Identifies Seven Paradoxes Regarding America’s Faith,” December 17, 2002; http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=128&Reference=B
8 This was sent via email under the title ie Heretic Scum” and ascribed to an Elmo Phillips
9 Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Against “Biblical Counseling” For the Bible, EastGate Publishers, (Santa Barbara, CA; 1994) 34-35
10 Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Against “Biblical Counseling” For the Bible, EastGate Publishers, (Santa Barbara, CA; 1994) 42
11 “Inventing Evangelicalism” by Timothy George, Christianity Today, March 2004, Volume 48, No. 3, 48-49
12 George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 125
13 George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 125