Thursday, May 17, 2012

The End of Evangelicalism or the Failure of Neo-Anabaptism to Take Over Evangelicalism? Part I

Note: In this post and the next I'll be reviewing David Fitch's new book, "The End of Evangelicalism: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission" (2011).  In this post I discuss chapters 1-5, which contain his critique of Evangelicalism.  In the next, I discuss chapter 6 and the Epilogue, which offer his alternative.  

David Fitch does not have much good to say about Evangelicalism.  The first five chapters of his six chapter book, The End of Evangelicalism: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission, reads like a laundry list of all the sneers and jeers Bill Maher has makes against Evangelicals (minus the profanity).   Honestly, we already knew that there is a lot wrong with Evangelicalism; only a Pelagian would be surprised by the sin, hypocrisy and inconsistencies.  You would think after reading this book that Evangelicalism is the only major segment of the Church that has problems.  After a while it ceases to be critique and descends into caricature.

There is also a disconcerting passive-aggressive flavor to his rants in which he first says: "Now I believe this teaching just like you do," after which he proceeds to rip it apart and accuse most other Evangelical of not really believing it.  He takes what he claims are three central tenets of Evangelicalism, biblical inerrancy, conversionism and the Christian nation, and claims that these are empty constructs that function as ideological markers for people who do not believe them but use them to mark off their political beliefs.  (I say "claims" because the third of these is not fully accurate.  It is just the old liberal "theocracy" boogey man being trotted out for the upteenth time.)  More on that in a moment.

Along the way he employs a lot of pseudo-intellectual, out-dated, Marxist mumbo jumbo appropriated from Slovakian atheist and Marxist, Slavoj Zizek.  Great.  Do we really need an atheist Communist to give us psychotherapy in order to recover from our false consciousness and throw over our false ideology? 

I basically have nothing to say about chapter 2, which is about Marxist jargon.  Some people are into magic crystals, others are into astrology and some just know that UFO's have already visited us.  And then there are those who believe that European Marxists know the key to understanding history and culture and politics.  "Honest," they exclaim, "I learned it in Cultural Studies - which is way easier than actually studying philosophy, history, economics and all those hard, boring subjects."  I think we can leave the Marxist jargon aside; it really contributes nothing important to the book other than making the author look "cool" to a certain kind of scraggly grad student.

In chapter 3, he argues that believing in an inerrant Bible makes us arrogant.  How does he prove this?  Well, you see, Hal Lindsay (stop laughing!) predicted the return of Christ on the basis of believing in an inerrant Bible.  So what, you ask?  Well, that means believing in an inerrant Bible is an embarrassment according to Fitch.  No, David: biblical inerrancy is not an embarrassment to Evangelicals - Hal Lindsey is an embarrassment to Evangelicals.  That whole date-setting thing was not the fault of the inerrant Bible.  If only Hal Lindsey had really believed in an inerrant Bible!  If he had taken Mark 13:35 literally and as true, he would not have gotten into date-setting in the first place.  He didn't do it because it is what you have to do if you believe in an inerrant Bible, he did it to sell books.  If you look in Mark 13:32 it says that the angels in heaven and the Son in his incarnate state don't know the time of Christ's return but only the Father.  It does not say "The Father and Hal Lindsey."  If someone wants to have a serious discussion of biblical inerrancy a good way to get one going would be to pay more attention to B. B. Warfield than to Hal Lindsey.   

Also, I am just tired of the old meme that if you believe in truth of any kind in a tough and serious way, then you are arrogant.  Here is a news flash: arrogance is a besetting sin of both those who believe in absolute truth and those who are relativists.  It is part of the sinful, fallen human condition and we all are susceptible.  But lay off the Bible; the problem lies elsewhere.

In chapter 4, he argues that the evangelical emphasis on the need for personal conversion - the decision for Jesus - means that Evangelicals have no doctrine of discipleship or sanctification.  Now does he interact with Tom Schreiner or John Piper here?  No.  Well does he discuss Calvin or Edwards or Hodge?  No.  So, who does he discuss?  Ted Haggard.  (insert ribald joke and laugh track here)  Yes, he quotes a man with very serious spiritual and psychological problems and who has been ejected from leadership in the Evangelical movement to prove that forensic justification is a doctrine that prevents Evangelicals from having an adequate theology of the Christian life.  He writes:
"Haggard finally says, 'You know Larry . . . Jesus says 'I came for the unrighteous, not for the righteous . . . '  So as soon as I became worldwide unrighteous I knew Jesus had come for me.'  Here in stunning fashion, Haggard presents the language of forensic justification as that which makes a final resolution possible.  It is the 'decision' to be forgiven and pardoned that enables him to bypass the raging duplicitous desires, make sense of the inconsistencies of his life, and come to peace. . . Does this not reveal the contradiction at its core, which says 'Go ahead and enjoy, but be guilty about it and then forgiven.  For that's where the true enjoyment lies'?  Is this not revealing of the lace behind the evangelical belief and practice of salvation: 'the decision'?

So, OK, let's try to get past the fact that treating Haggard as a theological spokesman for Evangelicalism is like judging all 16th century Anabaptists by the violent Munster rebellion.  What about the issue?  Is Fitch right to accuse Evangelicals of anti-nomianism on the basis of our belief in forensic justification?

I'd just like to point out that last week the 4000 members of the Falls Church (Episcopal) walked out of their beautiful and historic building and left it in the control of the neo-pagan pansexualists of the Episcopal Church who have rejected the Bible, sexual morality and all manner of sound doctrine.  These believers paid for the property, which was worth millions of dollars, but they left it behind because they believe that when we come to believe in Jesus Christ and are justified by faith we then, if Christ is really living in our hearts, will begin to walk in newness of life and struggle against our sin and law-breaking through the power of the grace of God given to us in the Spirit.  They believe that sexual sin of all kinds (divorce, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, etc.) needs to be repented of and confessed and that temptation needs to be resisted by the power of the Spirit.  They believe that when a Church begins to justify sexual sin in the name of "inclusion" and "tolerance of lifestyles" then that Church has seriously gone off the rails.  All over North America Evangelical Anglicans/Episcopalians have been making similar financial and emotional sacrifices in order to say that sanctification is not optional for Christians.  This is just one example that to me is far more revealing of the real heart of Evangelicalism than the twisted rantings of one drug-using, homosexual adulterer and ex-Evangelical leader.

In chapter 5, he argues that Evangelicals substitute a concern for a Christian nation for true compassion for the neighbor.  This chapter touches all the bases of typical leftist attacks on conservatism from Jerry Falwell to the Republican Party to George Bush to capitalism to Wal-Mart.  But let's just stop for a moment and ask what does he really want Evangelicals to do?  I get the feeling that he wants us to maintain our beliefs in marriage and against abortion but to do so in a way that is popular with the liberal media.  (Now, I believe in miracles, but isn't this asking a bit much?)  Again and again he quotes such biased figures as Jon Meacham and Sam Harris and at one point writes:
"I suspect that many American Christians under the age of thirty-five refuse to be called evangelical because of the presidency of George W. Bush." (p. 66)  

One has to ask oneself, "Why does the unpopularity of Evangelicalism with the Left bother Fitch so much?"  We know that the Left started the culture wars that have been raging since the 1960s and is engaged in trying to undermine the family and basic morality in the name of preparing the way for the Revolution.  When Evangelicalism came out of its separatist hibernation that followed the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the early 20th century, Evangelicalism reacted defensively against the attempt by the Left to destroy the family, make killing the innocent legal and impose a European-style welfare state. This made us unpopular.  Jesus predicted that in the Upper Room Discourses.

So what should Evangelicals have done?  Should they just stand aside and let the Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wrights and Al Sharptons and the radical feminists and the socialists change America?  Should they say, "It's no concern of ours whether the public schools teach free sex and out condoms to eighth graders?  Should they concentrate on hymn sings, Bible studies and church suppers and have nothing to do with politics?  Or should they vote for the Democratic Party like Jim Wallis wants them to because they "care about the poor"?

Once Evangelicals decided that they had to get involved in politics it was entirely predictable that it would end up messy and that there would be harsh opposition.  And to build a mass movement and a voting block you have to risk having wackos saying embarrassing things (kind of like the Democratic Party has to put up with Joe Biden putting his foot in his mouth every other day).  The Religious Right is not perfect, but if you want Evangelicals to be involved in politics you have to take the good with the bad.  Or you can, I suppose, join the other side.  Or you can withdraw. 

Tomorrow I look at the kind of theological politics Fitch proposes as an alternative to the decision of about 75% of Evangelicals to vote Republican and engage in politics as conservatives. 

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