The challenge of the New Evangelical Liberalism

Whether or not J. Gresham Machen was right, that modern liberalism represents a different religion from Christianity, it is definitely a mindset that offers enormous danger to the church. The January/February issue of the 9Marks eJournal examines the new evangelical liberalism and the current marginalization of the Gospel in some quarters of the church today. There is plenty of good reading, from the issue of evangelical scholarship and ambition by Carl Trueman (Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at WTS) to an article by R. Albert Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) on how the reformulation of the doctrine of hell to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness is a good test case for the slide into liberalism.

For those that are passionate about the Gospel and the health of the church, the eJournal is a helpful collection of essays that reaffirm the necessity of faithfulness to God’s Word in our Gospel-proclamation and witness.

Download the PDF or read the articles online:

THE MINDSET OF THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

How to Become a Liberal Without Attending Harvard Divinity School
What kind of pastor is susceptible to liberalism? One who loves self, and even the sheep, more than he loves the Good Shepherd.
By Michael Lawrence

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Why do evangelical academics so crave worldly acceptance?
By Carl Trueman

Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens
Liberalism happens when we try to save Christianity from itself.
By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

The Neo-Liberal Stealth Offensive
The gospel’s most dangerous adversaries are not raving atheists. They are church leaders with gentle, friendly, pious demeanors.
By Phil Johnson

CASE STUDIES IN THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

What’s Happening to InterVarsity?
A long-term InterVarsity vet takes a hard look at some disturbing trends in this historically faithful campus ministry. 
By J. Mack Stiles

Is the God of the Missional Gospel Too Small?
When we say that a gospel that addresses systemic injustice is “bigger” than a gospel of “sin management,” what are we saying about the worth of God’s glory?
By Jonathan Leeman

What Would Athanasius Do: Is The Great Tradition Enough?
Is this new rallying point for Christian unity all it’s made out to be? Not if you want to preserve the gospel.
By Greg Gilbert

Notes from the Future: Evangelical Liberalism in the UK
Want a sneak peek at the future of evangelicalism? Then listen in as a British brother takes a look at the past and present of liberalism in the UK.
By Mike Ovey

Social Gospel Redux?
Are some evangelicals preaching a renewed social gospel?
By Russell D. Moore

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

What Can We Learn from the History of Liberalism?
Historic liberalism was a response—the wrong one—to Christianity’s credibility crisis.
By Gregory A. Wills

Who Exactly Are the Evangelicals?
Is an evangelical simply “anyone who likes Billy Graham,” as one historian put it?
By Michael Horton

More Than a Feeling: The Emotions and Christian Devotion
Casting an eye toward recent evangelical history, Darryl Hart suggests that a wrong emphasis on emotions has been—and can still be—a path to liberalism.
By D. G. Hart

Evangelism and Social Action: A Tale of Two Trajectories
What do twentieth century ecumenism and twenty-first century evangelicalism have in common? More than you might think.
By Bobby Jamieson

MISCELLANEOUS BOOK REVIEWS

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, by Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna
Reviewed by Aaron Menikoff

Book Review: Why Join a Small Church?, by John Benton
Reviewed by Aaron Menikoff

Pray for Haiti

If you haven’t heard, Haiti was today shaken by one of the strongest earthquakes the Carribbean country has seen in more than 200 years. The shallow, 7.0 magnitude earthquake centered around 16km from the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the death toll is rumoured to be in the thousands. It’s difficult to imagine what the people over there are facing and our thoughts and prayers go out to them. Even for a nation whose history already seems like one long heartbreak, from despotism to destitution, this tragedy looks to be utterly devastating.

Here are some options for donating towards the disaster relief:

TEAR Fund

World Vision

Habitat for Humanity

Oxfam NZ

UNICEF NZ

Save the Children

Samaritan’s Purse

Compassion International

Feed My Starving Children

Food for the Hungry

World Relief

Love a Child

Northwest Haiti Christian Mission

(Photo by Lisandro Suero / AFP-Getty Images)

The indispensibility of humility in apologetics

Betsy Childs from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries:

“What are we offering to the world?” Those of us who desire to engage in the ministry of the Gospel – whether formally or informally – must continually ask ourselves this question. Although we may start with a clear sense of purpose, it is frustrating to recognize one’s self gravitating towards selling the messenger (ourselves) rather than the message. Critics of Christianity goad us toward self-preoccupation when they focus their critique on a particular method or messenger, ignoring the claims of Jesus altogether. This may tempt us to believe that the salvation of souls has less to do with the power of the Gospel and more to do with the skill of the one presenting it. Yet the apostle Paul writes, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

…humility is not just vital to our own spiritual health; it is crucial for our witness to the world. Not only should a defense of the faith be humble, humility should itself be a defense of the faith. I know of no more startlingly countercultural scheme than to be honest about one’s own failings. In the political world, to admit a mistake seems to be equated with signing one’s own death warrant. In the intellectual world, both professors and students are encouraged to bluff comprehension and competence rather than admit ignorance. In the world of sports, one loss or weak moment can end a career. But the Gospel radically calls us to bring our sin and our weakness into the light. If our message is one of forgiveness, how can we conceal from the world our own need of it? We should certainly not flaunt our sin or champion our failings, but we can be honest about them in reverence and gratitude.

Practicing the apologetic of humility does not mean that we content ourselves with ignorance, accept our own laziness, or “continue to sin so that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). On the contrary, taking any of these courses would not make us any different from the world and would not testify to the power of the Gospel within us. We should strive for excellence in all we do. We should never forget that we are Christ’s body and that we reflect him to the world. Many people first approach the faith when they recognize the excellence or intelligence of a Christian they encounter. But Christian humility should also be a means by which people are confronted with the genuineness of our message. When non-believers discern ongoing repentance and meekness in the lives of believers, they observe that which only the Spirit of God can effect.

As earthen vessels, we can admit our ignorance of an answer to a particular question, while at the same time holding fast to the idea of absolute truth. After all, we do not claim to be omniscient; rather we claim to know the One who is. Honesty is far more disarming than defensiveness.

Read the whole thing at BeThinking.org.

Tiger Woods, Brit Hume and Religious Discourse

Brit Hume made headlines and ignited a firestorm on the blogosphere when he urged Tiger Woods to embrace the Christian faith. About a week ago, at a panel on the Fox network, Hume was asked what advice he’d give the scandal-struck golfer. He responded:

“Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person, I think, is a very open question. And it’s a tragic situation. . . . But the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal, the extent to which he can recover, seems to me to depend on his faith.

“He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’ “

Outrage quickly followed. Many declared Hume’s remarks to be intolerant, arrogant and worse. At the Huffington Post, Eve Tahmincioglu in her column, “Beware the Brit Humes in Your Office,” wrote:

“The fact that a journalist — and I use that term loosely as it pertains to Hume — would go on a national news show and put down another high-profile individual’s faith should tell all of us that religious bigotry, and bigotry as a whole, is a growing problem in this country.”

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, suggesting that Hume had attempted to “threaten Tiger Woods into becoming a Christian”, also said:

“This crosses that principle [of keeping] religious advocacy out of public life, since, you know, the worst examples of that are jihadists, not to mention, you know, guys who don’t know their own religions or somebody else’s religion, like Brit Hume.”

The anger over Hume’s comments says a lot about religious discourse, pluralism, and the new tolerance. Ross Douthat, writing for the New York Times, has written a good op-ed piece about why it is important that we’re able to talk about religion:

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

Douthat is right: “If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously. The idea that religion is too mysterious, too complicated or too personal to be debated on cable television just ensures that it never gets debated at all.” He continues:

This doesn’t mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse. But what Hume said wasn’t bigoted: Indeed, his claim about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity was perfectly defensible. Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it’s at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there’s Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.

In fact, Hume’s comments about Buddhism are well supported. Boston University professor on Buddhism, Stephen Prothero, told Tamara Lush of the Associated Press: “You have the law of karma, so no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he’s done. There’s no accountant in the sky wiping sins off your balance sheet, like there is in Christianity.” Professor of Buddhist studies at Cal Polytechnic State University, James William Coleman,  also agreed. “If you do what [Tiger Woods] has done, it comes back and hurts you.”

Of course, the problem is proselytization and how this offends the new tolerance.  Michael Gerson, writing for the Washington Post, rightly puts his finger on the root of this anger over proselytization: Brit Hume’s belief in religious exclusivity. But Gerson, responding to Tom Shales‘ call for Hume to apologize, argues that the idea of religious liberty does not forbid proselytization; but presupposes it:

” Free, autonomous individuals not only have the right to hold whatever beliefs they wish, they also have the right to change those beliefs and to persuade others to change as well. Just as there is no political liberty without the right to change one’s convictions and publicly argue for them, there is no religious liberty without the possibility of conversion and persuasion.”

The new referrees of discourse no longer see tolerance as exhibited by the person who argues that position A is correct and position B is incorrect, but who still defends anyone’s right to defend position B. Instead, advocates now think that tolerance is only exhibited by those who say that there is no one right position (except for the position of new tolerance). Gerson’s comments hit the mark:

Hume’s critics hold a strange view of pluralism. For religion to be tolerated, it must be privatized — not, apparently, just in governmental settings but also on television networks. We must have not only a secular state but also a secular public discourse. And so tolerance, conveniently, is defined as shutting up people with whom secularists disagree. Many commentators have been offering Woods advice in his travails. But religious advice, apparently and uniquely, should be forbidden. In a discussion of sex, morality and betrayed vows, wouldn’t religious issues naturally arise? How is our public discourse improved by narrowing it — removing references to the most essential element in countless lives?

True tolerance consists in engaging deep disagreements respectfully — through persuasion — not in banning certain categories of argument and belief from public debate.

In this controversy, we are presented with two models of discourse. Hume, in an angry sea of loss and tragedy — his son’s death in 1998 — found a life preserver in faith. He offered that life preserver to another drowning man. Whatever your view of Hume’s beliefs, he could have no motive other than concern for Woods himself.

The other model has come from critics such as Shales, in a spittle-flinging rage at the mention of religion in public, comparing Hume to “Mary Poppins on the joys of a tidy room, or Ron Popeil on the glories of some amazing potato peeler.” Shales, of course, is engaged in proselytism of his own — for a secular fundamentalism that trivializes and banishes all other faiths. He distributes the sacrament of the sneer.

Who in this picture is more intolerant?

Is Exodus 21:22 pro-life or pro-abortion?

Exodus is a book in the Bible that describes the laws God issued to the nation of Israel as a part of his covenant with them. It was intended to regulate the lives of a people living in a distinctive geographical and redemptive-historical context and does not apply in the same sense to those who follow Christ and are bound by his law (1 Cor 9:20-21; Heb 8:18; etc). Yet it does reveal many important things about God and His moral vision for humanity and has a place in contemporary ethical discussions.

Frequently in abortion debates, Exodus 21:22-25 is used against the pro-life position and the traditional Christian understanding of the equal moral status of the unborn.

The passage:

“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” [Exodus 21:22-25 NASB]

The passage seems to imply that if the mother dies in the clash, the penalty is “life for life” but if a miscarriage takes place and the child is lost, then the only penalty that is imposed is a fine. Therefore, the Bible does not consider the unborn to be fully human.

This months issue of Solid Ground, from the ministry of Stand to Reason, tackles this question:

At issue is the phrase translated “she has a miscarriage.” There is an assumption made about this word that is crucial. In English, the word “miscarriage” implies the death of the child. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines miscarriage as, “The expulsion of the fetus from the womb before it is sufficiently developed to survive.” In the struggle, the child is aborted, and so a fine is levied.

Here’s the crux of the issue: Does the Hebrew word carry the same meaning? Is it correct to presume that the miscarriage of Exodus 21:22 produces a dead child, just like an abortion? This is the single most important question that needs to be answered here. If it does, the English word “miscarriage” is the right choice. If it does not, then the picture changes dramatically.

Are we justified in assuming that the child is dead?

Read the whole thing.

Reflections on Vampires in Twilight

Stephanie Myers novels already enjoy cult status. Reading some fan-sites its scary to see the testimonials of how Twilight has changed my life – what amounts to idolatry. There are people who live, breath and think about Twilight endlessly, so one fan says. The mania that these books and movies have inspired is a clue that there is something deeper here than what first meets the eye, and though I am not trained in the literary arts, I have been reflecting as I have watched the films and now reading the books about possible messages in Twilight and New Moon.

There’s no question that Vampires are “in” at the moment. But what is it about Vampires that strikes the chord and resonates so well with audiences today? What is it about them that inspires such intrigue and fascination? Traditionally, a Vampire is the archetype of a person who lacks all self-restraint, who cannot control their impulse to indulge in the wickedest of evil (Drinking blood – greed, Mind-control – indulgence, Illicit Sex, Murder), who is condemned to live a half-life forever without growing weary, and is never satiated. A Vampire is a picture of the sinful nature. They can be weakened by starving them of food (putting to death the sinful nature by righteous living). They can be killed by a wooden stake (crosses are made of wood) through the heart, or by letting them burn in the light of sun (exposing sin in God’s light of truth).  They cannot enter churches or stand against sacred things. With seduction and violence they can capture your soul and turn the innocent evil.

Of course no model is perfect. And Stephanie Myers’ incarnation of them breaks the traditional mould somewhat. But is there anything profound here? or is just literary-candy? I’m guessing the former, rather than the latter.

The Bella / Edward relationship is to me very interesting. Recall two snippets from the films. (1) Near the end of Twilight, at the dance where Bella asks to Edwards to make her a Vampire also. For a second it looks as if he will, but then he says, “Isn’t it enough to live a long life with me.” (2) In New Moon, during the trial Edward is asked how he can stand being with Bella, whose scent is intoxicating – to Edward her blood is like the heroine to an addict. He replies “With difficulty.”

From these we see a Vampire (one who lacks all restraint, the sinful nature) with tremendous self-restraint. Whose love is so strong he cannot stand the idea of hurting her, of taking her soul and condemning her to live a cursed life, but who is constantly, powerfully tempted to do what his nature tells him to do anyway. He hates who and what he is, and lives a frustratingly moral life. Is this a picture of a man by nature depraved but who longs for redemption?

Vampires, we discover, are also endowed with special gifts that are both frightening and menacing, but Bella is mysteriously unaffected by them. But – and this is key – the only power that effects Bella is the power of self-control by Edward and his family – the power that prevents her becoming like them – a power she is increasingly frustrated with. The message, it seems to me, is that true power is not measured by what one can do, but by what one can restrain from doing.

I think then of the problem of evil, and what this insight means when applied to the suffering we see in the world. God, who is all-powerful and therefore capable of ending all pain, and all-loving and therefore desiring to do the same – indeed longing for all pain to cease and evil to be gone, restrains himself for a grand purpose that only he can see and only he currently truly appreciates. This is the mark of a power that is true and righteous. Psalms 78:38 tells us God is restrained “time and time again.” Though we might plead for a reprieve from suffering, God displays his power by restraining his intervention, for he knows that this present suffering will produce a glory that is not worth comparing to our present struggles.

Romans 8:17-21

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.