Worldliness & Compromise: Protestant Self-Critique #2

Worldliness & Compromise: Protestant Self-Critique #2 November 20, 2018

[from the original 1994 manuscript of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism; this portion dated 6-20-91]

Prominent evangelical leaders have critiqued themselves quite strongly. Evangelicals will be exclusively quoted, with the exception of two excerpts.

1. Donald Bloesch, well-respected professor of theology at the University of Dubuque, has some hard words to say, quoting the renowned writer A. W. Tozer as well:

Although evangelicalism constantly warns against the encroachment of worldliness, its accommodation to cultural norms and values is almost as noticeable as in liberalism . . . The fascination of a considerable segment of the evangelical community with worldly success and celebrities is nothing less than scandalous. A.W. Tozer laments that while Christ calls people to holiness, too many contemporary representatives of the oldtime religion

call them to a cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the Stoic philosophers. (Born After Midnight, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1959, 141)

This prophet from the Christian and Missionary Alliance presents a rather bleak picture of modern evangelicalism :

Evangelical Christianity is fast becoming the religion of the bourgeoisie. The well-to-do, the upper middle classes, the politically prominent, the celebrities, are accepting our religion by the thousands . . . to the uncontrollable glee of our religious leaders who seem completely blind to the fact that the vast majority of these new patrons of the Lord of glory have not altered their moral habits in the slightest nor given any evidence of true conversion that would have been accepted by the saintly fathers who built the churches. (From David J. Fant, A.W. Tozer: A 20th Century Prophet, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1964, 150; Bloesch, The Future of Evangelical Christianity, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983, 10, 100-101)

2. Richard Halverson, Senate Chaplain, in a speech of April, 1988, lamented the “materialism that I believe now has really infected badly the whole evangelical community.” (Christianity Today, August 12, 1988, 20)

3. Rodney Clapp, in the same article, entitled “Remonking the Church: Would a Protestant Form of Monasticism help Liberate Evangelicalism from its Cultural Captivity?,” in the leading evangelical periodical, Christianity Today, charges:

There is much talk against violence, sensuality, and materialism. Yet even the most casual observer can see that the evangelical church is ‘infected badly’ by all three.

In a sarcastic tone, he complains:

If the church dislikes coarse ‘worldly’ celebrities, let it create its own celebrities. If it is cautious about the worldly mania for numbers (stocks sold on Wall Street), let it develop its own mania for numbers (souls saved by the megachurch).

4. Donald A. Carson, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in another article in the same magazine, entitled, “Evangelical Megashift” (about foreseen changes coming in this theological milieu), acknowledges:

Evangelicalism is undergoing a ‘megashift’ – indeed several. But . . . unless we are committed to bow before all that Scripture teaches and not merely our preferred ‘subsets’ of what it teaches, there is no hope for reformation. We will sell our evangelical birthright for a mess of populist porridge. (Christianity Today, February 19, 1990, 15 ff.)

5. Clark Pinnock, professor of Theology at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, agrees with Carson:

Evangelicals are experiencing the dizzy ferment of theological change that they thought happened only to liberals. It is the price we pay for our success, I suppose. Once we move out of the ghetto into the limelight, the pressure to clarify our thought increases, as does the willingness . . . to reconsider traditional opinions. (Ibid.)

6. David Wells, professor of Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, gives his corroborating views:

We . . . are reducing historical Protestant faith to a mass of diverse, conflicting ‘models.’ I cannot see it all surviving. That a sundering of the movement is coming seems utterly certain to me; the only question is when, how, and with what consequences. (Ibid.)

7. Franky Schaeffer, a moviemaker, artist and writer, who recently joined the Greek Orthodox Church, wrote scathingly before his conversion:

Evangelicals must decide what sort of ‘evangelicals’ they wish to be . . . Take, for example, evangelical colleges, which ‘open-mindedly’ tolerate pro-abortion professors, totally unbalanced political science and economics courses . . . and highly secularized social sciences . . . The choice must be made and the lines drawn lest we slip into a new mire of cultural liberalism comparable to the old theological liberalism which overtook the Protestant denominations at the beginning of this century in America. Do we really want to be burned twice in the same century? (Bad News For Modern Man, Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1984, 52)

8. Charles Colson, the acclaimed author and founder of Prison Fellowship, concedes the cultural enslavement of evangelicalism:

The church, broadly speaking, has succumbed to many of the culture’s enticements . . . Much of the church is caught up in the success mania of American society. Often more concerned with budgets and building programs than with the body of Christ, the church places more emphasis on growth than on repentance. Suffering, sacrifice, and service have been preempted by success and self-fulfillment. One pastor confided to me, ‘I try not to talk about subjects that make people uncomfortable. My job is to make sure they come back here week after week.’ (Against the Night, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 1989, 103)

9. Jon Johnston, professor of Urban Ministry and Sociology of Religion at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, and a Church of the Nazarene minister, writes cogently in a work on this very subject:

Evangelicals . . . are increasingly opting for godless cultural values. Our degree of compromise has reached epidemic proportions . . .

Popularity can prompt disastrous compromise. I firmly believe that compromise, or ‘accommodation,’ is the most formidable threat to evangelicalism today’ . . . Evangelicalism is in serious danger of . . . becoming engulfed by the surrounding culture. (Will Evangelicalism Survive Its Own Popularity?, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1980, preface, 35, 39)

10. Richard Quebedeaux, an evangelical sociologist of religion, adds to this litany:

Evangelicals have become harder and harder to distinguish from other people. Upward social mobility has made the old revivalistic taboos dysfunctional. (The Worldly Evangelicals, San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1978, 14)

The minute respectability and acceptability come from the wider society, secularism and corruption come in as well. The church then becomes just another worldly institution . . . I’m afraid that evangelicals, just like the liberals did, are going to eventually wind up in some sort of new morality. If we aren’t different from the rest of the world, then why are we Christians? (Denny Rydberg, “Door Interview: Richard Quebedeaux,” Wittenburg Door, June-July 1978, 8-24)

11. James Davison Hunter, professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, is one of the leading authorities on evangelicalism today, and is the author of American Evangelicalism (1983) and Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (1987). Christianity Today described the latter’s thesis as follows:

Hunter argued . . . that contemporary evangelicalism is moving away from tenets of belief and practice long considered orthodox. (Randy Frame, “Theological Drift: Christian Higher Ed the Culprit?,” April 9, 1990, 43)

And, he writes, many younger believers are uncertain about difficult doctrinal questions, such as biblical inerrancy and the exclusivity of Christ as the only path to salvation. (Amy Sherman, “Leaders Disagree on Future of the Church,” April 21, 1989, 42)

In an address on the same subject,

Hunter identified the major combatants in the cultural war. Traditional Orthodoxy, he said, holds a transcendent view of moral authority, as expressed in Scripture, the Roman Catholic magisterium, the Torah. What Hunter called a ‘progressive’ view of authority, based on Enlightenment thinking, is grounded in human, rational discourse. Hunter contended that advocates of the new way of thinking are winning the war. While allowing that ‘evangelicalism is the most vibrant form of religious expression,’ he said there is no evidence to support the oft-stated assertion that the evangelical faith is in the midst of revival . . . Hunter . . . added, ‘There is a very strong undercurrent of subjectivizing the gospel and the theological task.’ (in Frame, ibid., 43, 46)

12. Carl F. H. Henry, one of the figureheads and most brilliant theologians of post-World War II evangelicalism, at a conference on Hunter’s book attended by 25 Christian scholars,

. . . charged that Hunter’s research ‘points to noteworthy concessions’ by the evangelical movement to the secular culture. He worries that ‘even on some of the best evangelical college campuses,’ some professors ‘have taught that Jesus Christ is not the sole ground of human acceptance by God.’ (in Sherman, ibid., 42)

13. Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-84), was perhaps the most influential evangelical of the last 25 years. In a book of ten essays by ten evangelical scholars on Schaeffer – which in itself indicates his importance – are found the following estimates of him:

One of the great shapers of evangelicalism in the mid-20th century . . . catalytic role in the emergence of an intellectually aggressive evangelical church in the 1970s . . . One of the most powerful influences on the evangelical church. (James B. Hurley, in Reflections On Francis Schaeffer, edited by Ronald W. Ruegsegger, Grand Rapids, Michigan Zondervan, 1986, 301)

Schaeffer . . . discerned better than most evangelical leaders the true proportions of the challenge that biblical Christianity faces in our time . . . A great Christian man . . . I have not known another like him to this day . . . A godly man, a man of prayer, who wept and pleaded, intellectually and passionately, that people should heed the message of God”s Kingdom . . . He cared about truth, and . . . could speak out boldly on issues that mattered. (Clark Pinnock, in Ruegsegger, ibid., 174, 192)

Schaeffer was . . . an evangelical of importance to evangelicals . . . He became an opinion-maker, a consciousness-raiser, and a conscience-stirrer . . . Schaeffer . . . spoke frequently to prestigious gatherings in prestigious places, and was noticed outside evangelical circles as an evangelical leader . . . One of the truly great Christians of my time. (J. I. Packer, in Ruegsegger, ibid., Foreword, 8, 17)

Now that we have some idea of Schaeffer’s stature, his devastating critique of the state of evangelicalism, which we will quote at length, assumes all the more importance and credibility. The following is from his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster:

The statement which I am making in the pages of this book is perhaps the most important statement I have ever written . . . the greatest problem we who are Christians face in our generation . . . Sufficient numbers of those under the name evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical. (The Great Evangelical Disaster, revised version in Complete Works, Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1984, vol. 4, 304, 343)

Have we as evangelicals been on the front lines contending for the faith and confronting the moral breakdown over the last 40 to 60 years? . . . Sadly, we must say that this has seldom happened . . . When it comes to the issues of the day the evangelical world most often has said nothing, or worse, has said nothing different from what the world would say. Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation . . . Many who call themselves evangelicals hold a weakened view of the Bible and no longer affirm the truth of all the Bible teaches . . . Many evangelicals now accept the higher critical methods in the study of the Bible . . . These same methods . . . destroyed the Bible for the liberal in our own country from the beginning of this century . . .

We must say with tears that, with exceptions, the evangelical Church is worldly and not faithful to the living Christ . . . The Bible is made to say only that which echoes the surrounding culture at our moment of history . . . instead of . . . judging our society and culture. (Ibid., 320-321, 340)

Things are moving rapidly in the direction of what happened 50 years ago in the denominations . . . there is the growing acceptance of higher critical methods . . . of the neo-orthodox existential methodology . . . of humanistic ideas into both theology and practice. There is a growing acceptance of pluralism and accommodation . . . A large segment of the evangelical world has become seduced by the world spirit of this present age. (Ibid., 361, 401)

A significant and influential section of what is called evangelicalism has become infiltrated by . . . neo-orthodoxy [a movement in theology spearheaded by Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, which placed a low premium on reason] . . . Where this ends had already been demonstrated by the . . . ‘God-is-dead’ syndrome . . . Is it not curious that some evangelicals are just now picking this up as if it were the thing we should hold if we are to be ‘with it’ today? . . . In the new view of Scripture among evangelicals we find the same thing – namely, that the Bible is not objective truth . . .

Today we find that the same view of Scripture which is held by the modern liberal theologian is being taught in seminaries which call themselves evangelical . . .

By the end of the 1930s almost all the major Protestant denominations came under the control of those holding liberal theological views, and . . . now in the 1980s those denominations not dominated by liberal theology in the 1930s are in the same place of decision as the others were in the 1930s.

If we do not have the courage to draw lines . . . then history will look back at this time as the time when certain ‘evangelical colleges’ went the way of Harvard and Yale, when certain ‘evangelical seminaries’ went the way of Union Seminary in New York, and the time when other ‘evangelical organizations’ were lost to Christ’s cause. (Ibid., 334-335, 338, 355, 411)

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Photo credit: Evangelical lion Francis Schaeffer, 1974; web page from The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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