Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Collapse of Evangelicalism

The condition of Christianity in many modern cultures is anemic. The outlook for visible Christianity, at least the kind that enjoyed considerable influence not so long ago in some western cultures is bleak. Some have said that Christianity has had its day in the sun and finally, the fruit of the enlightenment and the spirit of science have come into their own, dispensing with the primitive superstitions of a religion that has been as stubborn as they come, refusing to give up the ghost, and take its place in the graveyard of the ignorant, the traditional, and the unenlightened. The agnostic and the atheist are poised to take their place on the platform that once propped up men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Warfield, Spurgeon, and Bavinck just to name a few. Have we reached the end of the Christian era? Is the Christian community really headed to the graveyard? Perhaps certain stripes of Christianity are in danger of becoming irrelevant, insignificant, and comatose, but the true Church will thrive and live on until her husband returns arrayed in all His glory! What then is the phenomenon we are witnessing? Perhaps what we are seeing is the collapse evangelicalism, or should I say, the metamorphosis of evangelicalism.

All around us we see obvious signs of the collapse of this movement that for so long held some sway at least in the west and especially in American culture. I do not think one has to look very far to understand the driving force underlying the collapse of once highly influential movement.

Many would argue however that evangelicalism is not collapsing but rather she is finally catching up with the rest of the enlightened. For years, the Church recognized God’s design for leadership, both in the home and in the church. God created men to lead, both in the home as well as in the church.

Evangelicals have finally become enlightened on the gender issues. Because of the pressure of the culture, many, if not most evangelicals have embraced the notion of gender-neutral leadership. They have managed to reshape the Scripture and adopt a hermeneutic that will allow them to claim a high view of Scripture and embrace modern cultural practices that reject it. Hence, the biblical teaching on male leadership is entirely dismissed.

Most evangelicals have a low view of marriage. Now, I am not speaking about the scholars or even the theologians. I am speaking about the common churchgoer and even the pastors. Illicit divorce is tolerated without as much as a flinch from the leaders and the churches. Men and women can leave their spouse, and destroy their families, all in the name of “falling out of love” or an exaggerated claim of emotional abuse. How often do such circumstances lead to the biblical practice of Church discipline? Almost never! Hence, the biblical teaching on marriage and divorce is ipso facto ignored altogether.

Promiscuity is another issue that plagues evangelicals, especially the young people. Evangelicals still give sexual sin the lip-service it deserves, but that is about it. In a survey conducted in 2013, 45% evangelicals between the ages of 18-29 admitted they were involved in a sexual relationship. These are not people struggling to remain celibate until marriage and who have fallen into sexual sin in the heat of the moment. These are people who are sexually active just as the world would be sexually active. It has to do with the heart attitude toward sexual behavior outside of marriage. It just isn’t taken that serious any longer. In dispensing with the Christian ethic in the area of sexual behavior, evangelicals have decided to take a very low view of Scripture’s teaching on God’s design for sex.

Finally, evangelicals are beginning to slip on other issues, such as homosexuality, the exclusive truth-claims of Christianity, the view that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that Jesus is divine, that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and the existence of a literal hell just to name a few. What is the single best explanation for why evangelicals are moving from historic Christian orthodoxy on so many issues to embrace new ideas that are mostly the product of their respective cultures? The answer lies in the evangelical position on Scripture.

With the renaissance and then the enlightenment came the liberation from the supernatural, from revelation, from human tradition, from the unscientific teachings of the Church. As science has grown in influence and naturalistic rationalism has grown in the Church, more and more men have shifted their source of authority from divine revelation to science and human reason. The exaltation of science and reason has witnessed a corresponding decrease in the evangelical view of Scripture. What seems unreasonable and unscientific is now deemed unworthy of belief. All knowledge is empirical, and science can explain all of human experience, or what it can’t explain only requires a little more time. Various forms of naturalism rule the day, even if they are determined to be utterly bankrupt when placed under the philosophically critical spotlight. The use of science and reason are not ipso facto bad things. The myth that faith and reason cannot get along has been thoroughly dispelled although one would not know it by reading some evangelicals even today.

Now, if it is true that we derive our morality from Scripture and it is also true that Scripture cannot be trusted in all things without hesitation then it logically follows that the force of Scripture to inform one’s morality and consequently shape one’s community, is significantly weakened. After all, the kind of moral demands placed on Christians by Scripture are of the highest order. But the source of this morality has been downgraded on so many levels recently. Many evangelicals view the Bible as just one more self-help book whose content can be embraced or ignored depending on the individual. Of course very few will confess this view with their mouth but from a practical standpoint, that is precisely the manner in which most evangelicals treat the Scripture.

It only follows that if evangelicals are Christians, then they are people of the book. And if the book that people belong to is less than authoritative, then one has to wonder in what sense are people really people of the book. More accurately, where most evangelicals are concerned today, they are not people of the book, but the book has become a book of the people, by the people, and for the people. That is to say that it has lost its divine nature and is rather viewed as distinctly imperfect and of human origin. The book belongs to the people so the people can handle it however they wish. The book is by the people, which means it is imperfect and not authoritative as we once believed. In addition, the book is for the people in that it is a pragmatic means to an end, a collection of self-help ideas designed simply to make me a better spouse, parent, employee, and all around good person.

When you destroy your source of structure and authority, you create a major vacuum. Something has to take its place if chaos is to be avoided. When we displace Scripture as our source of authority, something else must take its place. For many, it is continued revelation. For many, it is human reason. For many, it is science. The charismatic claims God speaks to them through a variety of mechanisms, apart from the authoritative revelation that is Scripture. As a result, we witness a very high variance in doctrine ranging from moderate error to rank heresy. Others reject Scripture everywhere science seems to disagree with it on matters such as a young earth, our first parents, miracles, etc. Still others subject Scripture to humanistic rationalism, and turn Scripture into a mere product human reason making man the measure of what is reasonable and what is not.

It could not be clearer: evangelicalism is collapsing for the sole reason that the movement has come to reject the Bible as its sole authority for faith and practice. And in so doing, the movement has lost its identity, which at one time was very simple: the good news of the gospel.

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