In many ways, I believe the modern church is rife with the error of thinking trite thoughts on virtually every biblical topic under the sun. What I believe lay behind each of these issues is not merely the interpretive maladies many might approach the text with—but the same issues the Reformers ran into in their own time. There is a widespread denial of fundamental doctrines on the nature and character of God, there is certainly much denial of the penal-substitutionary model of atonement; there is a denial of personal and corporate holiness; there is likewise a denial of the power of the gospel itself in many ways. We see these things plainly enough as we enter debates on what it means to be saved and what this requires for our lives. At the base level though, the issue is one of biblical the sufficiency of Scripture, and therefore, the authority of Scripture.
This becomes painfully evident when one looks at how churchgoers understand their relationship with God even after embracing and cherishing the true gospel, meaning simply that many give perfunctory lip service to Christ, all the while embracing movements and cultural ideologies that are diametrically opposed to the Scriptures. One of the more notable recent trends within the Evangelical church has been a shift towards the social ethic concerning race-relations, from embracing the predominant narrative imbibed in things like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, all the way to embracing the structural changes this world believes are part and parcel to solving these tensions.
The question being asked is not if we have a sufficient Word on these matters—but if these systems of thought have a seat at the table to inform how we understand the Word itself. The church is actually not debating the issues at hand, not in the fullest sense. Rather, the issue behind the debates surround the nature of what our final authority is when one considers how the issues play out in our social milieu. I say this simply because I believe it has become evident that a new hermeneutic has been developed from within the church to fit the current cultural position and prescription. To be sure, this has happened numerous times before with hot-button issues like the wave of theological liberalism at the turn of the 20th century, Egalitarianism, the Emergent Church Movement, issues of personhood and metaphysics, and more.
Examples abound where pop-psychology, cultural dogmas, personal experience, or even purportedly mystical experiences trump the Word, rather than the opposite. In a nutshell, we are dealing with a functional denial of the Scriptures, even from many who claim confessional roots, which places an emphasis on the primacy of the Bible as the infallible, inerrant, clear, and authoritative Word of our Lord. Undoubtedly, many within traditionally conservative institutions are embracing cultural “wokeness,” affirming LGBTQ+ identities in some fashion or another, and sanctioning cultural understandings on things like gender roles—all the while, subjecting numerous biblical texts to a sort of tokenism that betrays one’s true thoughts on the Scriptures, like David French is guilty of doing here and elsewhere.
Rather than Scripture being the norm that norms all other norms, it has taken second place to the prevailing cultural canons. Part and parcel to this issue is that many, and here I do truly mean many, view the Scriptures as a source we can go to in order to support what it is we truly believe about the world around us, rather than revelation given by God Himself that reveals the world for what it is. Some even affirm that Scripture is the lens through which we must understand the world—yet have adopted worldviews opposed to Scripture itself. Thus, arguments using the Scriptures are in abundance, but when push comes to shove, what wins out is not what the text says, but historical, sociological, psychological, and anecdotal arguments (and often, emotionally manipulative ones at that). All of these systems are seen as a lens through which one can and should interpret the Scriptures, especially as they seemingly fall silent on some of the predominate cultural issues in our day.
However, it is increasingly rare to find in the aforementioned issues of race-relations, LGTBQ+ narratives of identity, gender roles, etc., that the various systems of thought in place are under the domain of darkness. What I mean by that is the simple truth the apostle John expresses so clearly when he speaks to a present love of this world being incompatible with genuine faith (1 Jn. 2). In this, he is not merely speaking to the things we typically gravitate towards in our understanding of “the world.” He is not solely identifying a love of possessions, power, prestige, and wealth—he is identifying a system of thought—a system the apostle tells us is fading away as we approach the eschaton because it does not come from the Father. The apostle James likewise draws attention to this reality when he takes to task the adulterers and adulteresses guilty of making friendship with this world, which is at enmity with God (Ja. 4:4).
In another manner of speaking, what I am plainly saying is that many are seeking a sort of ecumenism with these various systems of thought the world holds dear, and this, rather than God Himself, is what captures the hearts and minds of professing Christians. Even more clearly: The Word is no longer the central, dominating focus of the church. It is claimed to be; it is preached as such; it is taught this way in our academic institutions—yet in practice, the Word is not sufficient to substantively inform us how we ought to think and even act on these matters. Instead, the broader church is integrating various disciplines from this world in a manner consistent with the mantra “all truth is God’s truth,” yet without subjecting these disciplines to the ultimate authority of the Scriptures, while still claiming to do just that. Inevitably, the fruit of this practice is revealed for what it truly is: another movement driven by the purported sins du jour of the culture.
On paper then, you can find one who is socially and theologically conservative, yet in practice, they embrace ideologies born out of socially and theologically liberal frameworks. These things become sufficiently “Christianized,” or draped in the language of redemption, yet at its core, it is a fundamental denial of many plain teachings of Scripture. For example: an elder candidate is not considered exclusively on the basis of the biblical criteria outlined in the pastoral epistles, but in part, includes things like diversity quotas. The truthfulness of a theological author is not considered exclusively on the basis of his or her fidelity to the text of Scripture and the cogency of their arguments, but in part, includes things like their ethnic perspective. None of this is to say diversity or ethnic/cultural perspective is necessarily bad—but at the end of the day, the norm that norms all other norms in these cases is not Scripture itself.
When we get into the issues of systemic or institutional racism, hegemonic power, white guilt, generational guilt, etc., the same can be said. The debate is not over the facts representative of each case, but the values of the people interacting with these facts. In more plain language: It isn’t about the truth of what objectively happens, nor the truth of the Biblical text in relation to those facts, but what emotions have been felt regardless of either. This is why one can continue to see riots even after the acquittal of officers based on the evidences at hand, yet likewise why you can see cultural commentators, pastors, and various others, comment on the injustice of it all when the verdict doesn’t match their anticipated outcome. One’s reaction dictates the truth, rather than the truth dictating how one then responds.
When we get to issues of gender roles, or whether or not you should identify as a gay Christian a la Revoice, the presenting issue is much the same. The objective biblical reality is not the norm that norms all other norms; the norm is the prevailing cultural dogma, draped in biblical garb. In either case, the subjective interpretation of reality informs the objective reality rather than the other way around—but the phraseology and language still bears intrinsic Christian likeness. Thus, you can have one who affirms one thing on paper, yet is a wildly different thing when the terms are defined and it is put into practice—and my basic argument is that this reveals whether or not we truly take God at His Word, and therefore, whether or not we truly believe the Word is sufficient and authoritative on these things.
One of the things I truly believe the recent pandemic, social unrest, and even political unrest has been wonderful at revealing, is what professing Christians genuinely believe about Scripture—not simply in its content, but in its nature and purpose. It has likewise revealed just how much the broader church has made friendship with the world, not just in those easy-to-identify idols of the heart we so often draw focus to like sex, money, and power, but in the embrace of the worldview this age expresses, which does not come from the Father. Much like any time of theological crisis, the solution is much the same: the people of God must return to being a people of His Word. We must approach the text as if God is truly speaking to us and He means what He says, otherwise, we will be driven by the ever-changing winds of cultural dogma.