Thursday, April 4, 2013

Young Evangelicals Redefine Christianity

How the Church Enables their Project

Earlier this month, Peter Enns spoke on the subject of how young evangelicals are out to redefine what it means to be evangelical. His talk, delivered at the Pastorum Live Conference sponsored by Logos Bible Software, focused on how young evangelicals have a real problem with accepting what older evangelicals have claimed for over two thousand years. I have intentionally labeled my post “Young Evangelicals Redefine Christianity because essentially that is what they are seeking to do.

Enns pokes fun at the idea that evangelicals have taught young evangelicals that we must defend the faith and defend the Bible against the bad guys. He says that young evangelicals have difficult questions that older evangelicals don’t want to answer. They don’t even want to have the discussion. What are some of these questions? What objections do young evangelicals have to evangelicalism that older evangelicals are so afraid of that they won’t even discuss them?

Enns brings up the subjects of evolution, Canaanite genocide, and yes, human sexuality. Apparently young evangelicals want to revisit these issues and reshape evangelicalism’s views on them. But is such a project even possible? Can we redefine the essentials of a movement without compromising the very essence of that movement? If one of the four essentials of the “Evangelical” movement is a high regard for Scripture, how can the movement continue to be the movement without that distinction? It is akin to what is happening in politics. You cannot rightly be called a conservative if most of your political philosophy is derived from liberal thought.

Essentially, this whole project of redefining evangelicalism is about redefining Christianity. Young evangelicals desire to place more and more options on the table for what one can believe and how one may live and  still retain their “Christian” status. They want to believe in evolutionary theory even though it is a violent contradiction of the clear teachings of Scripture and what has been received and settled in the Church for centuries. The young evangelical wants to have an open discussion about homosexuality and rebukes his or her elders for scolding them for wanting to discuss an issue firmly settled by Scripture. What Scripture has settled must remain settled. In our arrogance, not our humility, we wish to reopen certain matters from the motives of a sinful and idolatrous heart, not because we sincerely seek what is true. Young evangelicals have a real problem with God’s judgment on the ungodly in the OT. They have serious issues with an eternal hell. They reject the exclusive claims of Christ Himself, especially when it comes to those who have never heard the gospel.

Young evangelicals have a view of God that is a projection of their own wicked selves. This should not be surprising. We are all tempted to disfigure God in one way or another so that He won’t be such a threat to our private pet sins. The Church, if she is to survive (and she will), must stand up and purge the leaven from her midst. She must install discipleship programs that are intense, that are designed to bring people up in the teachings of the faith. Discipleship helps the Church grow, mature, and thrive spiritually. It also helps the community identify liars and wolves. When we encounter one of these young evangelicals that wants to remain part of the group but reject core teachings of Scripture, we must act. We educate, we counsel, we correct, we instruct, and then we rebuke, and eventually, if God does not grant repentance, we say good-bye from the standpoint that their faith will not be recognized as genuine by the group. We love them, but not as fellow God-fearers, but as we would any other unbeliever. They become targets of evangelism, not brothers and sisters with whom we have small differences. Some of these changes in the Christian community are more subtle than others. The shift in the lack of humility, teachability, and respect I see among young male seminary students or those just out of university is more than a little alarming. While this may not rise to the level of abandoning core Christian doctrine, it does rise to the level of abandoning Christian virtue. I will use the remainder of this post to make my point with a current, real-life example of how even conservative Christians are abandoning true Christianity in exchange for a version they find more appealing, more attractive, because quite frankly, it does not threaten to change that part of them they treasure most.

An excellent example of how Christian virtue and values have been all but dismantled, ignored, and dismissed is easy to find. All one has to do is enter any number of supposedly “Christian” apologetics sites and venture to disagree, in any way whatever, with the author or anyone who loiters there. I have enclosed a real-life example from Triablogue. Triablogue is a website that is supposedly reformed and supposedly mostly presuppositional in apologetic method. However, upon close examination, it is very difficult to find consistency in a number of areas. I recently blogged about the ideas and methods of the anti-abortion coalition known as AHA. The AHA responder is also a Triablogger. He issued a response to my argument and I was obliged to respond point by point to their criticism. The posts were respectful from both parties. This particular Triablogger seems more charitable in his argumentation than some of the others.

Enter Steve Hays at Triablogue. Steve and the some of the young men who subscribe to his blog regularly fit the bill I mentioned earlier in that they have decided to dispense with Christian virtue in how they speak to people on their blog, in both the posts and especially in the comments thread. In so doing, the young men at Triablogue have become some of the most rude fellows on the internet, rarely interacting with the actual argument in front of them, preferring instead to engage in a plethora of logical fallacies, such as the straw man, bifurcation, red herrings, appeal to emotion, appeal to the populace, and their favorite, the ungodly ad hominem fallacy. This behavior is not at all isolated to Triablogue. The sad truth is that it is far more pervasive than most Church leaders realize. I am convinced the Church needs to step in when it sees its members engaging in uncharitable discussions, using rude and disrespectful language, and take serious action. My aim is twofold at this point: to respond to the actual argument that Hays makes against my view on AHA’s thesis and praxis and to point out the need for a change in how we react to one another on the internet or any other forum. Steve beings with the following comment about my post.

Here I must agree with Ed. If a Christian layman sees a toddler wander into a busy intersection, that hardly gives him an excuse to take it upon himself to go rescue the child. That’s cowboy Christianity.
What makes you think you have the right to do the right thing just because it’s staring you in the face? You need special permission to do the right thing. We have standards, you know! Before you’re authorized to rescue the child, you must fill out a 4404-QZ Intervention form, signed by your pastor, and witnessed by an elder. After the paperwork is complete, you can go back to the intersection and peel the flattened toddler off the pavement.

From an argumentation standpoint, Hays commits a number of fallacies in this criticism. He is addressing my position that any ministry of the Church must be authorized by the church. He appeals to the populace with the emotional picture he has drawn. He surely appeals to emotion. It is certainly a red herring because it has nothing whatever to do with what I have argued. It is equivocal because it has nothing to do with ministry. In addition, one is left to believe that I have argued that Christians cannot even be Christians without express approval of an elder board. I have responded to Hays by accusing him of being deliberately uncharitable in his comments on my position. Hays is an intelligent man. He is educated. From my perspective, it seems highly improbable that Hays could have really interacted with my post and arrived at this conclusion. At the very least, Hays is either very sloppy in his argumentation or completely ignorant of my position, or worse, he has deliberately misrepresented my position because, well, he does not like it. If Hays is ignorant of my position, he should become more familiar with what I said before he comments on it. If Hays is simply guilty of being sloppy, he should spend more time framing out the actual issue before rushing to print. But if Hays deliberately misrepresented my view, intentionally distorting it, then he should apologize and try to do better in the future. To claim that this was just a literary device will not do. Literary devices are not morally neutral. Authorial intent remains intact. The author knows why he used the device to begin with.

Regrettably, Hays’ argument paints everyone who has a more authoritative view of ecclesiology than he apparently does, as being so bureaucratic that they are unloving and uncaring. And this is the point I wish to make. Hays compares my view with that of the Pharisees who would pull an Ox out of the pit on the Sabbath while rebuking Christ for healing someone. Hays has effectively said that those who think all formal ministry must be authorized by Church leadership are guilty of the same hypocrisy as those in Christ’s day.

When I pointed out the lack of Christian charity in some of the remarks coming from Triablogue contributors, Hays posted the following:

And Ed incessantly reminds us of how spiritually mature he is. Do spiritually mature people feel the need to constantly brag about their superior sanctity? Or is all that spiritual preening a mark of overweening pride rather than humility? Sounds more like the self-congratulatory attainments of a 33-degree Freemason.

My remark is that we must always be charitable to each other, even when we disagree. It is fine to call a position fallacious, wrong-headed, to describe it accurately. But to misrepresent a person’s view, malign and slander them, and bring in the wild card of the hyper-rude JP Holding (a man who lost credibility for the same kind of behavior years ago), is simply not in keeping with Christian virtue. Notice that Hays' initial response went to poisoning the well, it was emotional, and it had nothing to do with my position. After a couple of insults on the comment thread, I insisted we be charitable to one another and Hays responds with even more insults. It seems that you cannot correct uncharitable behavior within Hays’ group without automatically being uncharitable yourself. The very attempt to identify rude behavior is itself rude behavior and sanctimonious. This is the typical fallacious argumentation we see in many young evangelicals. It is precisely how they challenge tradition and authority and look clever their young friends in the process. By Hays’ way of reasoning, any attempt to point out bad behavior is ipso facto born from pride and therefore, no one can point out bad behavior. Sounds more like Bell, Pagitt, and McLaren to me.
This kind of nonsense does not help the Church combat the young evangelical desire to redefine Christianity. Their attempts are quite overt, attacking fundamental doctrines of the faith. Men like Steve Hays and others who engage in the same behavior, are not as far removed from redefining Christianity as we think. In addition, they do little to help stem the rising tide of young evangelicals who think they can pick and choose which doctrines to confess and which virtues to possess. A large contributor to this project is the outright rejection of authority. The young evangelical rejects the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Church by making their own decisions on when to submit. They renounce those doctrine and virtues that displease them. If they don’t like a particular doctrine, they simply dismiss it in the name of science, philosophy, or because it just feels wrong. Whatever threatens their desired lifestyle is destroyed and removed from the text. They also reject the authority of the Church. If they don’t like this Church, they just move on without any hesitation or struggle whatever and almost never for sound reasons. Hays and other websites that have bought into this mostly American idea of radical independence, that we can treat each other without honor, without respect, without dignity does not help matters in the least. Men like this also reject authority. They have decided to redefine what it means to be humble, to be charitable, to be courteous, to be kind, to be respectful. In this world, you can talk to anyone anyway you please and as long as you call it a literary device, you are safe. In fact, I can predict that Hays will call this very post uncharitably because it points out uncharitable behavior. This is the fallacy of tu quoque. It is like saying, you too! Such an approach makes correction virtually impossible. The principle error is the same. Many young evangelicals have no desire to humbly submit to any authority, be it God or the Church.

The Church must act. She must reinstate discipleship and discipline. By refusing to disciple and discipline, the church enables the young unlearned, inexperienced and arrogant at heart to boldly cast off biblical and ecclesial authority to their own detriment. Church leaders are to watch out for those whom God has placed in their charge, not allow them to just run out start whatever ministry they believe is fitting, allow them to cast aside basic Christian virtue, or allow them to cast Scripture into the flames of post-modern thought. Theology matters, and so does our sanctification. Scripture was given to sanctify our behavior, not to make us feel good or to provide fodder for argumentation, even though argumentation is unavoidable at times.

I am not saying that asking questions is ipso fact a bad thing. Young evangelicals are not just asking quesitons even if they would argue that is the case. These are not honest inquiries into Christian truth. They are asking the question, how much Christian truth can we reject and still claim to embrace Christian truth. I am also not arguing that being uncharitable makes one an unbeliever. I have been very uncharitable at times in the past. In fact, I see the same behavior in blogs like Triablogue that use to exist in me not so very long ago. God has been extremely gracious to this wretch in that He has shined His virtuous light into my heart and yanked me out of rude and uncharitable behavior, for the most part and but for grace. However, His work continues in my heart, for I am far from the shinning example I want to be. Our example is Christ and His disciples. When an imperfect man speaks truth, does that mean we any less obligated to embrace it or live it? The ad hominem fallacy would say yes. Sound reason would say no! I point us all to Christ, to His Word and His work. He is our sole authority, and His word, which belongs to the Church teaches us what we must believe, how we must live, and authorizes all ministry through His body, the Church. Anyone who stands against this must come under close scrutiny by the Church to make sure they are in fact not the leaven or the wolf or the ministers of light spoken of in Scripture. Yes, preserving the body is that important. You cannot hate the Church and love God.

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