Sunday, July 27, 2008

"When did evangelicals become liberals?": A Question for the Historians?

From Michael Lawrence's sermon on Mark 4-10 today at Capitol Hill Baptist Church:
I fear that a hundred years from now, church historians are going to have to answer the question, "When did evangelicals become liberals?" And the answer's going to be, "When they became so concerned with worldly respectability that they redefined kingdom work as cultural engagement rather than good old fashioned evangelism. When they became more concerned about Christians in the arts and the marketplace, than Christians that knew how to explain the gospel. When they became more concerned with redeeming culture than they were to see men and women who are the creators of culture redeemed by the gospel. Oh Christian, let it not be said that that happened on our watch. To paraphrase Jesus, what good is it if we gain the world, only to lose its souls?
The broader context begins about 15 minutes in.

I assume that this is one more in a long line of statements that will lead some fundamentalists to re-define their definition of neo-evangelicalism in order to maintain their convenient categories from the past 50 years. In so doing, they avoid the embarrassment of admitting that some churches outside fundamentalist circles better demonstrate faithfulness to Scripture and the gospel than a vast array of "fundamentalist" churches that run roughshod over Scripture and the theology it reveals.

10 comments:

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm really happy about the content of the quote above and it shows discernment (well, except for when he didn't use the KJV :-)). Is he preaching this to his own church because he sees the seeds of this there or is he referring to a bigger audience, perhaps the convention from which he hasn't separated?

When you make these types of comments about fundamentalism, I don't know who you are talking about? Is it wrong that I should know who you're talking about? Wouldn't it be the best thing to tell us who that is? Is it the Hyles guys? Is it guys from Calvary Baptist Theological? Is it Pensacola? Is it the Sword of the Lord crowd?

Ben said...

Kent,

1. I haven't asked. Given the contemporary American religious climate, it's at the very least a good work to inoculate one's own congregation.

2. I doubt that any one group has a corner on the market. Categorical, binary thinking that is oblivious to the theological errors in its own movement has a long and wide tradition in fundamentalism.

David Stertz said...

Thank you for the quote from the sermon. It has wet my appetite to listen to it....and I plan to.

Maybe it is because I have not heard the whole sermon but I do not understand what you are trying to say about "some fundamentalists?" Are you saying that fundamentalist have done this in the past and are going to do it again?

Or, as it seems, are you sticking your finger in the eyes of "some fundamentalists" hoping to elicit a response?

As one who would call myself a fundamentalist, let it be known that I do think there have been churches within the movement that have run roughshod over Scripture and the theology it reveals and that there have been evangelical churches outside of fundamentalism that have been more faithful to the Scriptures than some fundamentalists churches and that it does embarrass me for the failures within the movement I associate with. But I don't understand your basic assumption that since a guy from a "neo-evangelical" church preached a sermon from Mark, "some fundamentalists" will change their definitions of neo-evangelicalism?

Ben said...

David,

I don't think the rest of the sermon will affect your perspective. My argument is that fundamentalists view a mandate for "social action" in order to advance the kingdom and make the gospel more palatable to the world as a foundational motivation for and identification of the NE mindset. (I agree with them.) Since fundamentalism has broadly possessed a categorical mindset (you're either a fundamentalist or an NE . . . or a liberal--and there's often precious little difference between the two), alleged NE's who repudiate one of its fundamental tenets present a problem. Fundamentalists either have to admit their categorical, binary system is flawed, admit these alleged NE's are fundamentalists, or simply play a shell game and switch the definition when no one's looking.

I do think the last definition happens all the time as long-standing categories are confronted with present realities. I don't have anyone in mind who takes the last option from whom I'm hoping to elicit a response. But as I see some fundamentalists responding with integrity and honesty, I see others slander, mislead, and manipulate.

Don Johnson said...

So, Ben, are you saying that only the social action component is what defines New Evangelicalism?

Seems a pretty shallow definition to me, if so.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

David Stertz said...

Ben,

I guess Don has already said in a nutshell what I was thinking. Maybe your experience with fundamentalists has been different than mine but as one having grown up in a fundamentalist pastor's home and having graduated from one fundamentalist institution and attending another, I have never been taught that social action is a fundamental tenant of NE.

I have, however, been taught that "many" NEs do use social action as a means to make the gospel acceptable.

But that issue is neither here nor there. The way that I have traditionally understood the difference between NE and fundamentalism is that fundamentalists do not extend Christian fellowship to unbelievers either in the church local or in any sense of the visible church and that they limit their fellowship with believers who do.

I don't think it matters in regards to fundamentalism/NE if someone repudiates social action as necessary to presenting the gospel. Praise the Lord if they do! But that does not mean that I now have to call them a fundamentalists?

Ben said...

Don,

That is certainly not what I've said.

David,

For fundamentalist background on the influence of social activism in the rise of NE, you'd benefit from chapter 18 of McCune's "Promise Unfulfilled." From the NE perspective, Marsden's "Reforming Fundamentalism" proves the point that NE's were interested in engaging society for the purpose of winning a hearing for the gospel. For a historical perspective, Henry's "Uneasy Conscience" shows where it all got started.

The NE mindset is much more than repudiating separation from other believers. That's why people like McCune and Doran at the very least skittish about the increasing interest among younger fundamentalists in social action. They've argued that social action is closely connected to the rise of NE philosophy and methodology.

And they're right. Anyone who's taught what NE is without addressing that fundamental tenet has presented at best a flawed definition.

david stertz said...

Ben,

I appreciate the response...I do have your first two books on my reading list (which grows longer by the day)!

Even if you are right about the social action issue (and you probably are), I am still not making the connection as to why a rejection of that one individual tenant qualifies a person to be labeled a fundamentalist?

When I say that "the way that I have traditionally understood the difference between NE and fundamentalism is that fundamentalists do not extend Christian fellowship to unbelievers either in the church local or in any sense of the visible church and that they limit their fellowship with believers who do," do you disagree with the notion that this is either the primary distinction or a fundamental tenant of fundamentalism? If not, even if CHBC, or the SBC, or any other organization rejects social activism as a means to share the gospel, they still could not be labeled a fundamentalist unless they embraced this idea.

Don Johnson said...

I don't care to add to this thread, but David, I just have to point out this one word:

TENET not 'tenant'

Of all my pet peeves, this is the peeviest.

Otherwise, I agree, carry on!

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

David Stertz said...

Don,

I appreciate the humble spirit in which you have so graciously pointed out one of my greatest flaws:)

My Mother would love you!