All posts by John

Christian saved by grace through faith.

Reflecting on the Predicted Evangelical Collapse 8 Years Later

 

Something interesting happened in 2009 that recently caught my attention.  As noted in the post Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore, on March 10, 2009 I commented on a religious survey that highlighted the decreasing religiosity of Americans.  In that post, Survey shows a Falling Away, I stated:

The fact of the matter is we are crossing over the threshold of the Final Apostasy.  Soon we’ll see the denominational wall fall completely as these churches begin to combine through their own false interpretations of the Bible.  I believe we’ll begin to see the atheist/agnostic movement pick up speed as they continue their assault on Christianity and the Word of God.  Look at what’s already going on in Great Britain.  We’ll continue to embrace other world religions as the world seeks an Ecumenical balance.  False movements and leaders will seemingly pop-up over night, much like the Emerging Church movement with people preaching with the Bible in one hand, but not speaking the Truth.  II Thessalonians 2:11-12 “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

That same day, Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, published his widely read series, The Coming Evangelical Collapse, which sent shock-waves through the blogosphere and online evangelical media outlets.  As recently as a few months ago, I was listening to a sermon by Brian Borgman in which he referenced and commented on this post by the late Spencer and it reminded me of the “prophetic” voice that his post had.

Spencer introduced his thesis with the following shocking prediction:

“We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.”

Here we stand, eight years after this prognostication that looked 10 years into the evangelical future and we must take inventory by asking whether there was merit in the words of Spencer and what the current condition of the Evangelical landscape is.  Let’s pause here to provide a general definition of evangelicalism:

Our modern evangelicalism was essentially birthed out of the fundamentalist vs. liberalism movement of the late 1800s – 1920s.  It was a correction to the staunch fundmentalism of the day over and against the liberalism that was infiltrating schools of higher education and mainline protestant denominations.  Evangelicalism was a middle ground so to speak, albeit mushy and ecumenical.  George Marsden defines the movement as, “any Christians traditional enough to affirm the basic beliefs of the old nineteenth-century evangelical consensus” which includes, “1. The Reformation doctrine of the final authority of the Bible 2. The real historic character of God’s saving work recorded in Scripture 3. Salvation to eternal life based on the redemptive work of Christ 4. The importance of evangelism and missions 5. The importance of a spiritually transformed life.”

So then, evangelicalism, if it can be defined clearly, is a broad movement and its foray into the political realm, particularly within the last 50 years, has been well documented.  I maintain that Evangelicalism is nothing more that conservative Christendom.  If you have time, listen to this 10-minute description by Phil Johnson, I posted from 2009: What is an evangelical?

Returning to Spencer, without question we can affirm that the 21st century is rapidly becoming, “very secular and religiously antagonistic”.

Likewise we are seeing unfold right before our eyes “Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Spencer went on to outline the reasons Why this collapse was imminent, the first of which, I believe, will largely usher in the forthcoming collapse.

“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.

Why do I see this this as the most significant “Why” of Spencer’s article?

Because it’s happening with rapidity since the latest presidential election.  Evangelicalism began to align itself with conservative politics in the late 1970’s early 1980’s with the goal of reclaiming the culture.  In a sense, they became cultural warriors to such a degree that the distinction between political conservatism and evangelicalism disappeared altogether.  To be Republican was to be Evangelical and vice versa.  To be Democrat was to be theologically liberal and vice versa.  Politics then became good vs. evil, sinners vs. saints, etc.  When a Republican won the presidency it was God’s divine intervention and blessing; when a Democrat won it was time to “hunker-down” for the spread of evil throughout the land.  The most recent election was hailed as a victory for Evangelicalism, but I think in the long run it will prove to have been a death-blow.  The backlash of this poorly reasoned political alignment will be harsh.

Where Evangelicalism has failed was in assuming their role was primarily cultural instead of primarily religious.  You simply cannot “preach” morality to a cultural that is blinded by sin and under the rule of the god of this age.  This is true in the most basic arguments used against abortion and for traditional marriage.  This is why these arguments are often made into political talking points and partisan politics.  Why should we be surprised when hearts darkened to the majesty of God uphold Roe vs. Wade or decide the fate of marriage via the Obergefell Decision?  To what is Evangelicalism appealing to?  Politics?  Morality? The unbelieving conscience that has been darkened by sin?  To justice?  Apart from the Word of God, how are we to determine what is just?  The primary clarion call should have been and should be repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

George Eldon Ladd offers wisdom on this matter in the following quote:

Here is the root evil: blindness, darkness, unbelief.  The Biblical philosophy of sin makes ethical and moral evil secondary to religious evil.

All forms of wickedness ultimately grow out of the root of ungodliness. Sin is primarily religious and secondarily ethical.  Man is God’s creature and his primary responsibility is towards God.  The root of sin is found in his refusal to acknowledge in grateful dependence the gifts and the goodness of God (Rom. 1:21), which are now imparted in Christ.  Darkness is the assertion of independence rather than God-dependence.

The primary manifestation of satanic influence and of the evil of This Age is religious; it is blindness with reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  How often we fail to understand satanic devices!  A man may be a cultured, ethical and even religious person and yet be in demonic darkness.  Satan’s basic desire is to keep men from Christ.  His primary concern is not to corrupt morals nor to make atheists nor to produce enemies of religion.  Indeed religion which rests upon the assumption of human adequacy and sufficiency is an enemy of the light.  This is the character of the Age of this world: darkness.

Contrary to Ladd, modern Evangelicalism has made ethical and moral evil primary to religion, in essence desiring to treat the symptom rather than the disease.  As I look back on this article 8 years later, the single biggest factor, in my humble opinion, that will contribute to the collapse of evangelicalism will be the failure to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of the gospel cultural Christianity.

Let me conclude with an additional quote from my own post I wrote on March 10, 2009

“If the Body of Christ is to survive all of these paradigm shifts, we must unite with one voice with the Bible as our foundation.  We must preach “Christ crucified” and rebuke those who deem it “offensive”.  II Timothy 4:2, I Corinthians 9:18 As the Apostle Paul says, “…We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” I Corinthians 1:23

Our message of Salvation must be clear: repentance of sins, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and faithful acceptance of Him as Savior.  We cannot sugar coat the alternative, “The wages of sin is death” but through our repentance, belief, and acceptance, “The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

If we as a “church” can do this and I believe we can, we’ll have one final great revival.”

An Objection to Original Sin – Ezekiel 18

 

Continuing our look at some of the common objections to the Doctrine of Original sin.  You can get caught up here:

In Adam and Original Sin

What About Eve

Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

Objection #4 – What about Ezekiel 18?

This passage is often used as a proof text not only for those who wish to deny original sin, but also for those who wish to deny the seminal headship of Adam, discussed in An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

In short, Ezekiel 18 is not talking about the seminal transmission of sin, nor does it have Adam (centrally) in mind.  It’s focus is on an individual’s deeds (see Objection #6, forthcoming) and the judicial punishment associated with those.  The fault of the Israelite’s was to drift into fatalism by shifting the blame of their exile from their own sins, to the sins of their fathers and essentially throwing their hands up in hopelessness.

Let’s look at the passage in context and allow that to determine whether or not this undermines the doctrine of original sin.

The crux of interpreting Ezekiel 18 hinges on the proverb cited in verse 2, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  Admittedly, I have had a tough time with this proverb in the past, particularly because it is cited elsewhere, Jeremiah 31:29, where it is applied differently.  Clearly though, the intended meaning is that the action of the fathers has had consequences on the children.  As stated before, Israel seemed to place the blame of their pending exile at the feet of their fathers who had sinned and walked contrary to God.  In doing so, they had failed to recognize the sinfulness of their own sin, were guilty of blame-shifting, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and resigned themselves to a fatalistic view of the pending exile.

In our passage, God then commands that use of the proverb cease and makes a declaration of sovereignty that all souls are his, both father and son, and that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:3).  In other words, we are responsible for our own actions.  This does not have original sin in its cross hairs, rather we may add, the consequences of original sin’s corrupting influence, but let’s press home this point.

As the prophet unfolds an ethical case study (Ezekiel 18:5-18) against the erroneous belief of Israel, we find 3 scenarios: 1) The Grandfather 2) The Father 3) The Son, which are righteous, unrighteous, and righteous respectively.  The argument follows that the father is not credited with the righteousness of the grandfather, nor is the son credited with the sins of the father but each are responsible for their own actions.  Essentially this is a case study of the the law found in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

After raising their own argument against them in vs. 19-20, we read, But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” Ezekiel 18:21-22

This point is critical towards understanding that the fatalism of the Israelite’s was a fallacious belief because the passage clearly states that repentance, i.e. turning away from sin, is a decision that rests on the individual.  In other words, their situation is not hopeless but they can be restored if they recognize and repent of their sins.  The individual is responsible for his/her actions and the decision to repent of those actions rests with them as well (humanly speaking).  The reality is, this is a gospel, hope-filled passage declaring the justice of God in holding people responsible for their own sins, yet also the mercy of God in granting forgiveness and restoration to the penitent heart.

That said, understanding this individualism, in isolation from the rest of Scripture, has caused many to use this passage as a proof text against original sin and Adam’s seminal headship, as noted earlier.  However, this application simply cannot be allowed to stand.

First, this view subconsciously implies that individual responsibility for sins would have been unthinkable in Israel prior to Ezekiel’s prophecy and he was charting new territory.  Additionally, the alternative view, “corporate solidarity” would have had to have been the view that this prophecy was correcting.  Neither of which is expressly true.

As previously mentioned, Deuteronomy 24:16 is in the background of Ezekiel’s prophecy and would have been a familiar passage to the prophet’s audience.  Again, the view that was being confronted was the fatalistic view of being punished for another’s actual sin, a view that is explicitly denied when attention is given to the possibility of individual repentance.

Now this is where the objection against original sin finds its headwaters.  As you can probably hear, the argument often made is that Ezekiel 18 is speaking against Adam’s posterity receiving the punishment that was due for his sin.  However, as previously mentioned, the “corporate solidarity” view must equally be considered.  Ezekiel 18 must be harmonized with other areas of Scripture that affirm this solidarity, i.e. that the one can represent the whole.

A classic case study for this is Achan.  Though it was his individual sin, the entire nation was punished for it.  Joshua 7:11 – Israel has sinned, Joshua 7:20 – Achan has sinned.  A second example is the wives and children of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), where the ground split under those who would presume the priesthood and swallowed up whole families.  A further example is that of David, after his sin in the murderours affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and his sin in conducting the census of Israel (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  In the first, we find the death of his newborn son and the promised division of the Israelite Kingdom, both as a result of his sin.  In the latter, we find that God declared judgment upon Israel for David’s unwise, ungodly decision to count his people, resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelites.  Each of these are individual sins, in a sense, the one represented the many and yet corporately they subsequently suffered the consequences.

On the positive side, we have the example of Abraham, and subsequently, Isaac and Jacob, through whom God promised to bless the nation of Israel.  Repeatedly we find God “remembering” the promises made to the Patriarchs as the foundation and basis for how He deals with Israel in an ultimate sense.  Certainly not least in our example of corporate solidarity is our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who represented the many in His death and resurrection on the cross and His subsequent imputation of righteousness to those who believe.

When held in isolation and taken from its context, it’s easy to see how Ezekiel 18 may be used as an argument against original sin and also against the idea of Adam’s seminal headship.  However, context is king, as they say.  The concept of individual responsibility as well as corporate solidarity must be held together.  As Walter Kaiser states in his book on Old Testament ethics, “Both individual responsibility or worth and group solidarity must be understood and carefully defined in approaching Old Testament ethics.” Additionally, the whole of Scripture is in harmony and is therefore does not contradict itself.

In the next post from this series, we’ll wrap up our look at some of the more common objections raised against the Doctrine of Original Sin before proceeding with two implications which arise from the foundation of this critical, yet oft-misunderstood biblical doctrine.

 

 

 

 

The Fabian Strategy of Satan

 

Awhile back, we looked at the petition from the “Lord’s Prayer” to deliver us from the evil [one] and briefly touched on the fact that Satan, like a roaring lion, is prowling around seeking whom he may devour.  In a very real sense, Satan is actively pursuing mankind in order to leave them blind or lead them from the light into darkness, even if this be temporary for the true child of God.

Thus we have come to consider a method that our enemy uses in assaulting the saints of God.  Keep in mind too, that when we say Satan, it may not mean a direct attack from the singular figure of evil, as in the Garden of Eden or the Wilderness of Christ, but may and most often does include some other demonic personage serving the will of his master.  Thanks be to God that the head of Satan was crushed at the cross of Christ, nevertheless our opponent is very real and very active.  In this particular post, we’ll look at the Fabian Strategy of Satan to see how that ancient serpent, the Devil, employs an old military strategy in one of his many attacks on the children of God.

The Fabian Strategy was a military idea implemented by Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (280 – 208 BC), or Fabius Maximus, sometimes simply Maximus for short.  He was arguably one of the greatest generals in the Roman Empire and is often credited with being the father of guerrilla warfare.  In perhaps the most famous war of all time, the Punic War, Rome, led by Fabius prepared to battle against the superior Carthaginians, led by Hannibal.

Recognizing his army was outpowered, Fabius employed his now famous Fabian strategy in which he wore down his enemy by avoiding any “pitched battles or frontal assaults” and instead relied on a war of attrition.  As this strategy unfolds, it calls on the proponent to harass his opposition through smaller skirmishes that cause attrition, disrupt supplies, and effect morale largely believing that time is on their side to wear down their opponent (see wikipedia article).  How then does Satan employ this strategy against the saints of God?

Before we start it’s important to note that we’re not inserting the Fabian Strategy into Scripture, simply observing the methods of our enemy and finding a fitting description of them to better help us to understand the war in which we are engaged.

First, this strategy of wearing us down is extremely dangerous and extremely effective because it avoids many of the frontal assaults that the believer may be more aware of in his or her battle against sin.  For example, if a person knows that a particular location, we’ll call it the sin store, however make the necessary application in your own case, causes him or her to sin, obviously they would stay out of that location, simple enough.

However, through means of the Fabian Strategy, the devil would not tempt a person towards that location, but would instead wear them down physically, mentally, and spiritually, over time, perhaps even to the point of cutting off all other avenues leaving the only opening that travels past the “sin store”,  inevitably leading to sin.  At this point, you are weakened and worn down, unable to avoid what would have normally been a very weak temptation had it occurred as a frontal assault.

As alluded to, primarily Satan wears us down physically, mentally, and spiritually and sometimes in that order.  Physically this may come by way of a variety of means, sometimes through illness, sometimes through lack of sleep, sometimes simply through the exhaustion of the day.  He need not bring these on directly, but may, as in the case of Job.  Or, he may simply take advantage of an opportunity of these weakness that is already preexisting.

Obviously, physical exhaustion lessens mental alertness, which in turn makes one more susceptible to temptations.  Consider the example of our Lord, who after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness was left no doubt, weak, tired, hungry, and physically exposed.  Satan sought opportunity in this weakness to strike.  Take also for instance the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane with our Lord and His instruction upon finding them asleep to “watch and pray.  That you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40

Against this war of attrition in physical strength, a greater reliance on the strength of God will be necessary.  Consider our Lord’s response to Satan with the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, from our example cited above.  Too often, we become comfortable and self-reliant, either in our own gifts, strengths, even our material possessions.  Reconsider Job, who had his material possessions and physical strength taken away, yet Scripture affirms for us that Job did not sin with his lips (Job 1:22, 2:10).  When these comforts evaporate, we are left to return to the fountain’s source, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  Ephesians 6:10  In this alien strength, pray and grab one verse at a time to hold onto.  Volume of reading, either Scripture or godly books will not be as helpful here, but could  actually hinder progress in the battle if one is not careful.  Become a master of one verse and use it acutely, praying until you can’t.

Second, the Fabian Strategy, having plundered our physical resources shifts to the attack of morale, sometimes via the form of lacking mental alertness.  This may come in the form of discouragement from the physical weakness, mental fogginess, or simply resorting to vegging out.  In our society, we are perhaps more prone to this than any other time in history and we have a lot of devices and opportunity to do so.  After running the daily rat-race, we can be given to extended periods of vegging, be it in our consumption of social media, binging on-demand videos, video games, shopping, etc. all to make us feel better in a flesh-led effort to recharge our physically weak batteries as it were.  This simply opens up further opportunity for the devices of Satan.

The key opposition against this is to reengage the mind upon the word of God.  Meditation can functionally serve the same purpose that many hope to gain by turning to vegging out by essentially calming and refocusing the mind.  Here of course, we are talking about biblical meditation and not that which accompanies yoga, transcendental meditation, or other ungodly forms of mind emptying.

Finally, if both physical and mental strength be lacking in any substantial quantity, the spirit is essentially left exposed in the battle against the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Think again on Matthew 26:40 cited above, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The two are diametrically opposed and without diligence, the flesh can sometimes gain the upper-hand on the spirit quite easily, Galatians 5:17.  Here then the Fabian Strategy of Satan often employs the temptation to lesser sins over those of more scandalous or outlandish nature all in an effort to subvert the spirit’s resistance against the flesh.

Beaten down physically, sapped of mental alertness, and blind to the peccadillos of life, the Fabian Strategy has subtlety given Satan the upper-hand often without us being none the wiser.  This of course may happen over a long period of time to further heighten our drowsiness until he makes an attempt to strike a mortal blow.

Very rarely to believers fall into sin upon the first hints of a frontal assault.  Little by little the enemy pecks away much like water dripping on a mighty granite boulder until finally a crack appears, when heat is applied the entire rock is in danger of exploding.  Be alert and sober, dear Christians.  Our enemy, the devil often has more success in lulling us to sleep, via the Fabian strategy, than an all out, in your face assault.  Resist him and he will flee from you. James 4:7