Thursday, March 12, 2009

Analysis 0f Michael Spencer's "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" (Part 3)

Ironically and providentially I posted on an excellent book by David Wells entitled "The Courage to be Protestant" a couple weeks ago. Wells offers a more thorough analysis of the evangelical landscape than Spencer. Read my post that references Wells' explanation of how he would label himself. It relates to the Spencer post I am currently reviewing here.

Continuing a brief analysis of Michael Spencer's widely referenced post. Let's consider some of the reasons he believes there will be a major collapse in evangelical Christianity.

Spencer lists as his first reason for an imminent collapse of evangelicalism-

"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 Church should be actively involved with shaping the culture she is in. Such shaping only occurs when Christians are working toward possessing and living a holistic biblical worldview. I have posted extensively on the matter of shaping such a worldview, click on "Worldview" on the right sidebar under Topics and you can peruse various thoughts on the importance of a Christian worldview in shaping culture. One of the most helpful resources currently available is Nancy Pearcy's book "Total Truth". She basically supports what Spencer says about Christians aligning themselves too tightly with a cause rather than holding to and living out a biblical creed. Nancy Pearcey wrote-

Genuine worldview thinking is far more than a mental strategy or a new spin on current events. At the core, it is a deepening of our spiritual character and the character of our lives. It begins with the submission of our minds to the Lord of the universe- a willingness to be taught by Him. The driving force in worldview studies should be a commitment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind" (see Luke 10:27)

That's why the crucial condition for intellectual growth is spiritual growth, asking God for the grace to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). God is not just the Savior of souls, He is also the Lord of creation. One way we acknowledge His Lordship is by interpreting every aspect of creation in the light of His truth. God's Word becomes a set of glasses offering a new perspective on all our thoughts and actions.

One of the results from not possessing a biblical worldview has been a poorly thought out and explained activism. Christians oppose or promote this or that but seldom provide a thorough reason for the matter they are promoting. The general public grows tired with the lack of sound, developed arguments many Christians or Churches have. Spencer rightly observes a general alignment with political conservatism on the part of many Christians and some churches. Political conservatism doesn't equal biblical Christianity. Watching Rush Limbaugh, the tribal leader of modern conservatism, speak at the CPAC recently made me queasy. Sure I tend to agree with the historic ideals of political conservatism, however I'm not comfortable signing on point for point with Rush Limbaugh. My label as a Christian is more important than being identified as a political conservative. I don't think Christians should relish ideological identification with any unbeliever, even if they're is considerable agreement. Furthermore, what is political conservatism today? George Bush? John McCain? Sorry, while I have respect for these men, I would rather not be aligned with their worldviews. Aligning too closely with politicians and political movements can be counter productive for the cause of Christ. It's fine to be politically conservative, but raising that banner over the banner of Christian is a mistake that seriously hinders our ability to be salt and light, in my opinion.

Spencer finishes his first reason for the imminent collapse of evangelicalism by stating-

"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."

Spencer hits the nail on the head. The Church should speak against sins like gay marriage and abortion, but her lack of a cogent, pervasive, ideology (biblical worldview) makes us look like Amish kill-joys concerned only with condemning others and ruining their happiness. There are plenty of ways a Christian can argue intelligently and compassionately against gay marriage and abortion. It goes without saying, our words should also be backed by compassionate action.
Spencer really strikes hard when he says "The massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence," and he's right. If every Christian could give a coherent explanation of the gospel and how redemption touches every aspect of our lives and world, I think we would be witnessing a different situation in our country. Because of the total superficiality doctrinally and ideologically that is displayed by too many professing Christians, we are simply not taken seriously in the various cultural debates of our day. Spencer's final statement- We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith - underlies much of the ineffectiveness of so-called evangelicalism in our day.

The Church today needs a renewed, biblical understanding of three doctrines (at least)- Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. A biblical understanding and propagation of these key biblical doctrines serve to shape our worldview. Evangelicals have largely been concerned with only one of these- redemption, or "getting saved". To make matters worse, the popular evangelical view of redemption is largely human-centric (Arminian) and thus promotes too low a view of God. Christianity has been reduced to a "doctrine" about getting saved from Hell and that's about it. What about redemption as the bible displays it? To understand the need for redemption one must understand what happened to God's creation at the Fall in Genesis. No Christian can properly navigate the issues of our day and culture without recognizing the effects of sin in ourselves and the world we live in. Furthermore, to understand redemption one must comprehend what Christ came to redeem (His people and Creation itself). Nancy Pearcey covers these necessary components for developing a biblical worldview in her book "Total Truth", so I won't belabor the point here.

I'll review Spencer's second reason for the imminent collapse of evangelical Christianity next.
Two must reads on this topic:
"Total Truth" by Nancy Pearcey


Rick Calohan said...


Thank you again for your wonderful insights and analysis on this subject matter. You are truly an inspiring under-shepherd of the Great & Good Shepherd.

I did not see Rush’s CPAC speech although I did hear much about it. I think the rugged individualism philosophy must be squared with a love and compassion for our fellow man. We are called upon not to neglect the poor, and I think John Knox was a wonderful model of this (Wouldn’t it be grand to confiscate and sell off the apostate churches and use the money to properly educate our wayward yoots?) However, is the ‘dole’ the responsibility of the state or of the church? I lean more to the church. I believe many liberals who are affluent tend to not care about their taxes being raised for they will not have to dirty their hands if the Government takes over the reigns of programs design to help the poor. Unfortunately the Government has a tendency to enslave the poor, and politicians benefit by promising things at other’s people expense to help the poor. Programs such as Social Security, Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, may be well intended, but as the saying goes the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I believe true political social and fiscal conservatism values faith, family, stewardship and life at all stages, however that in itself is not Biblical Christianity. To tie Biblical Christianity to any political movement is foolish. People of various religious and worldview may be politically conservative but may not be Christian. Even though I have found that one’s religious world view usually coincides with their political world view.

For example when I was a liberal I believed outwardly that there were many paths to God, even though Christ clearly said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the father but by me.” Why was that? Because rather they taught it from the pulpit or in private you would here that there are many paths to God? That Darwinism explains Creationism. Those women have a right to choose after all it is their body. Those homosexuals should become members of the clergy if they are properly educated and it is their calling to serve the church. Those homosexuals should not be denied their civil right to cohabitate in a civil union or marriage if they so choose. Besides the Bible was written by man and is full of contradiction and errors, that God loves us all therefore if we are good God will look at our heart and take all actions into account and if our good outweighs our bad we will be fine. If I just prayed that special prayer all would be well. Now, why was that? Well, everyway mainline church I attended taught me these things in one form or another, every mainline member was virtually liberal in their politics and in their theology even if they hid behind the banner of an Evangelical or worse Reform.

How many times did I pray the prayer in my teenage wander years that Evangelicals spewed at prayer meetings, crusades and alter calls? While all along God had me safe in secure in His arms. He had already Chosen me, adopted me, regenerating me to faith and repentance unto life by the Holy Spirit, is constantly sanctifying me, has justified me in the righteousness of Christ my Redeemer, Advocate, and friend, so that one day I maybe glorified in His heaven.

Rather this is an ongoing work of sanctification I do not know, but I think I have become more aware perhaps even more cynical at politicians and their empty promises. Granted I will not vote for a tax and spend abortionist like Obama, but I pray the Lord will rise up leaders who maintain a Biblical Christian Worldview and place them in power in this nation if it be his will to restore and redeem this nation. However, if I am going to trust politicians to do the Lord’s work in this country is that not the same as trusting fallen man to save himself from hell.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Tony,

I wonder if Christians are supposed to "transform" culture. Further, is modern American culture really capable of being transformed? It seems irredeemably fallen and increasingly hostile to Christian truth claims. In terms of the culture war, it seems as though we lost it a long time ago.

Undoubtedly we(members of the body of Christ) are called to be salt and light, as you point out. I guess I see our actions as being more preservative (making the culture a little less ungodly) as opposed to transformative.

Scott Hirons

Reepicheep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reepicheep said...

Scott, God has granted the Church great sway over culture in various epochs of history and in many smaller locations where he grants revival and reformation. Yes, we may be called to simply preserve at times, but why think small? If God grants the Church revival, will it not in some way transform the culture we live in? It has in the past. It has in villages, cities, and countries. Why not again? Yes, I think we are called to such an effort knowing it will only happen if God gives it.

I like how John Frame puts it:

The task of the church is The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), to make disciples, teaching them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” By God’s grace, we train believers in obedience. That obedience inevitably transforms culture, as it has done now for nearly 2000 years. Christians have made huge contributions to learning, the arts and literature, the treatment of women, the abolition of anti-biblical slavery, the care of the poor, the sick, the widows and orphans. Sin, of course, has impeded our mission; but the grace of God working through his people has accomplished amazing things.