It’s been a few months since I posted a video in which Todd Friel, of Wretched Radio and Wretched TV summarizes some recent, troubling events within Evangelicalism. As I’ve stated before, I don’t believe that the term Evangelicalism really has any meaning these days, but is instead better qualified as an American subset under Christendom, that which is Christian in name only. Specifically, the troubling events that Friel highlights are occurring with the “Reformed” branch of Evangelicalism. This group can be summarized as essentially those who hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation, which has sadly become the only qualifier necessary to call oneself reformed.
I don’t want to rehash all that Friel discusses (you can view it for yourself here The Gathering Storm) because he does an excellent job of introducing and over-viewing the landscape of these issues, including The Players, The Events, The Worldviews, and The Future. However, in this post, I’d like to simply highlight the three primary issues which have surfaced recently that will likely have, and have had, significant impact on the remnant of what calls itself Evangelicalism.
Before we begin, I also want to draw attention again to the viral post from 2009 by the late Michael Spencer, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” Recall that in that post, Spencer points out 7 critical factors that he believed would contribute to the downfall of evangelicalism, 2 of which have a remarkably profound link to the current issues that we’ll define below. By the way, Spencer thought that this evangelical collapse would come within 10 years. Next March will be ten years since he penned the article. The foundations are already crumbling and becoming irreparable.
Here are Spencer’s words:
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.
The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.
5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.
Without commenting further, let’s look at the current issues that are contributing to an evangelical divide at break-neck speeds and will likely lead to its continued demise.
This first issue has garnered most of the attention over the last decade. However in this short period there has been much evolution on the views and positions of so-called (self-appointed) leaders within evangelicalism and church pastors. The issue of marriage, more specifically homosexual marriage, has naturally led to broader discussions on the sin of homosexuality. I fear that the pendulum is tilting towards supporting a “born this way” biological view of homosexuality that will lead to unrecoverable ground in this discussion.
Even if born this way, biologically, is not fully embraced, nevertheless a shift has already been taking place in clear acceptance of same-sex attractedness. While there is a wide-range of views on this, from those who openly believe that one can be in a monogamous, homosexual relationship to those who believe one can be gay, or same-sex attracted, and simply be celibate while still claiming to be Christian, nevertheless there has been a tendency to soften on the view that homsexuality, even the desires, are sinful and therefore need to be mortified.
Additionally, and equally as troubling, is the effort to normalize the identification of gay or homosexual or same-sex attracted as an adjective describing a Christian. The remarkable thing is that even since the first draft of this post, which began in July 2018, this trend has been increasing to accept same-sex attraction Christian and gay Christian as simply normal, regardless of the end of the spectrum views one holds to. This is a slippery slope, unless of course we are prepared to normalize paedo-attracted Christianity or beastial-attracted Christianity.
The second issue that is and will continue to drive a wedge among remnant evangelicalism, broadly, and the reformed movement, specifically, is race. Over the last few years American society has been shaken and divided over issues of race, specifically in matters involving law enforcement. It was only a matter of time before the social/cultural movements migrated into evangelicalism. The election of a president, by the overwhelming majority of evangelicalism, at least as we have been told, has predictably contributed to this division. Evangelicals continue to hitch their wagon to the political golden-calf in the hopes that government and policy will somehow restrain sin and make this a Christian nation. Law cannot convert hearts. This has kept them comfortable enough not to feel the urgency of spreading the Gospel, so long as a particular party is in charge. The fact that our sitting president has been painted (whether fairly or unfairly) as racist and a white supremacist sympathizer, has predictably led to an overreaction that evangelicalism is inherently racist, has always been, and thereby should repent of their sins and the sins of their fathers.
This issue has been gaining massive speed and I simply do not see reconciliation coming any time soon, if ever. In fact, the division is deepening even in recent days. Earlier this year with the T4G and MLK50 conferences, the issues of systematic racism and white privilege, along with the call for repentance from every
non-black white person’s role, and their parent’s role, in racism, hit mainstream evangelicalism. However, I went back and looked at some of the key speakers trajectories over the last few years and this was the path they were on, it was just largely unnoticed.
On the one side, that of racial reconciliation and systematic racism is some of the T4G members (perhaps John MacArthur as the lone exception), MLK50, The Southern Baptist Convention and their seminaries (including the flagship -Southern Seminary), 9 Marks, The Gospel Coalition, the ERLC, Acts 29, Sojourners, and a host of others (essentially all major seminaries, though I’m sure there are exceptions), all represent the recent push for racial reconciliation and an emphasis on social justice. Clearly they hold the majority of the evangelical power, particularly those in the reformed camp.
On the other side, the ever-shrinking minority, John MacArthur, Voddie Baucham, James White, and others who have authored and signed a recent statement on the Social Justice Movement explicitly stating that an emphasis on social justice, whatever that even means, is an assault on the gospel. The outcries, hatred, and downright sinful responses to this statement have been telling of the path that Evangelicalism is on. If a Christian finds themself on the side of hate-filled, liberal, unbelievers, a reassessment is necessary. Additionally, what speaks louder is the silence that those in the first group above have had on their various media platforms regarding this statement. Of all of their blogs that I follow, there has been zero commentary.
The Role of Women
This final issue is one that has been on-going, but honestly the issue I’m least familiar with. Typically, it is broken down into complementarianism vs. egalitarianism. That is, that men and women are different but complement each other perfectly in their various roles vs. a more egalitarian view that says their roles are equal. In the past, these views usually manifest themselves in divisions over whether women can be pastors, but more recently the #metoo movement has begun to percolate throughout evangelicalism, which will, and has, inevitably lead to an overreaction (see the firing of Paige Patterson). Don’t get me wrong on this point. I abhor any use of power for sexual gain, as well as sexual harassment, and especially assault. What I’m more pointing out here is the pendulum swing, rather than a balanced approach to these issues.
For some time, I have felt that a minority of those who label themselves as complementarian have painted with broad strokes and have a tendency to come across as heavy handed and domineering over women. This certainly has not been true of all and there are those who hold to a more balanced view of biblical complementarianism, but predictably, this has led to the overreactions that we’re witnessing.
Ironically, some of the publications and outcries for the advancement of complementarianism were themselves a reaction to the influx of feminism. Since I’m not as familiar with this movement, as with the others, I will simply defer additional comment.
Regardless of where one’s views fall on any of these issues, it is impossible to justify the divisions and disunity that is taking place. In fact, what we’re witnessing should cause every genuine believer’s heart to ache for the reproach being brought to the name of Christ. Every day that these issues continue to fester is another day that division widens.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said that church history can be boiled down to excesses and then subsequent overreactions, in contrast to consistently holding to the pattern of the New Testament. This is precisely what we are seeing today. Excesses in political involvement and engagement with culture have led Evangelicalism down a path of gospel neglect. In turn, by attempting to address or confront culture on its terms, it has resulted in a watered down gospel message, one that now associates the Gospel with republicanism, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy. This is what happens when you soft-peddle the gospel on the back of winning the culture wars. Man cannot serve two masters. Evangelicalism has tried to serve both Christ and culture and it has resulted in an abject failure.
A final word from Spencer on his predicted evangelical collapse,
“Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.”
May God have mercy on us, but brothers and sisters, judgment begins in the house of the Lord (1 Peter 4:17). Make no mistake, its here.