July 10, 2020

The Unresolved Tensions of Evangelicalism Part 1: The Biblical Worldview

NOTE: This post is analysis and opinion. It’s not about what I believe or don’t.

My posts on Christine Wicker’s and Julia Duin’s descriptions of evangelicalism’s winter are meant to be provocative, but they are also an attempt to hear something in the voices of our critics we rarely allow into our discussions: the scary truth.

The observations of these two reporters- one a Christian and one not- tell a similar story of a fragmented, declining evangelicalism; a movement whose energy and direction has badly dissipated.

Some of these observations are highly controversial. According to Christine Wicker’s model, evangelicalism began to come apart at the Scopes Trial and its end was actually hastened by the advent of critical thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Carl F.H. Henry. Such men gave evangelicals a non-fundamentalist option and started a process of accommodating various aspects of modernity.

In compromising at all with modernity, evangelicalism started a journey that will end with many of its thinkers and children abandoning its historic distinctives, its inerrant view of the authority of scripture and its commitment to the traditional church. Wicker believes modernity will triumph; in fact, has triumphed any time an evangelical’s child decides not to be a young earth creationist or to accept the possibility of gay marriage.

Julia Duin is more optimistic about evangelicalism. She believes that the flaws can be corrected by making choices to reject the shallowness and cultural captivity of evangelicalism. The demise of the evangelicalism of the Bush years is a good thing, and can be replaced by the best that evangelicalism has retained and learned. But Duin understands from within evangelicalism that there are genuine tensions whose lack of room for resolution is having affects few reflecting on evangelicalism want to admit.

I would like to suggest and explore another level to this consideration of evangelical demise: the personal level. Both Duin and Wicker skillfully describe personal stories of evangelical degeneration and abandonment. Both have personal experiences in their own evolution, both in moving through and out of evangelicalism under the pressure of some of these tensions.

The personal level I want to consider are those places where evangelical Christianity is fails for millions of evangelicals. It is the levels where so many evangelicals are painfully silent, but where the truth is discernible to the careful observer. These are some of the unresolved tensions of disillusionment among evangelical Christians.

What are these personal levels of disillusionment?

The level of disillusionment with the Christian worldview.

The level of disillusionment with Christian experience.

The level of disillusionment with Christian community.

The level of disillusionment with Christian commitment itself.

I will briefly touch on each one in a separate post.

Disllusionment with the Christian worldview.

The Christian worldview claims to be the absolute truth. An individual Christian undertakes no greater assignment than to assimilate the truth claims of the Christian worldview into his or her belief system, experience and personality.

This is not just a matter of remembering what the Bible says. This is the matter of taking the worldview of an ancient book from an alien culture and applying it into an ever-emerging world of modernity and secularism. It involves hermeneutics, interpretation and ongoing application. This isn’t the curriculum of your vacation Bible school. It is a daunting, intimidating task if considered honestly.

What is essential to evangelicalism’s worldview? At the core, the Bible is without error and truthful in all its descriptions of science, history and psychology. Its language and accounts are authoritative in all areas, not just specifically religious claims.

An evangelical is not going to get away with reading the Bible devotionally or selectively. He or she is going to have to have an answer for if the sun really stood still, why God ordered the slaughter of children and why Saul’s apparently mental illness is the result of an evil spirit sent from God.

The serious evangelical may want to major on the love of God for individuals, but they will be continually reminded of the issues of Biblical authority that define whether they really believe the Bible or are liberals headed for unbelief.

Let’s think for just a moment about what awaits a Christian student who has decided to be a doctor.

Unless they are going to a very unusual evangelical church, they will be confronted with the choice to embrace either a) Ham/Hovind young earth creationism with all its various necessary supports, b) some form of Intelligent Design or c) some form of theistic evolution.

This student will be made painfully aware that the creationist position doesn’t view the other two positions as accepting the Bible as actually true. One exposure to the creationist position will make it obvious that this is a matter of minimal, essential Biblical belief. No quarter is going to be given to those who deny any creationist conclusion. Our student will find that deviation from creationism is the most slippery of slopes, if they are on the slope at all.

Should they attempt to maintain a creationist view, they will suffer in their academic and professional journey. If they embrace these limitations, they can fulfill their goals, but many doors will be closed. On the other hand, should they attempt to maintain intelligent design or some form of theistic evolution, their evangelical profession will be under constant suspicion.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Wheaton College. Such students can find evangelical communities where this tension is absent, but those communities are few and far between. Remaining in evangelicalism will mean that the evangelical worldview, and its inerrant Biblical basis, will be a constant tension; a tension that will cause continual intellectual battles, compromises and conflict.

This evangelical will meet many other evangelicals who claim to have compromise positions (old earth, but no evolution, for example.) But these compromises do not go forward to resolve the tensions. They attempt to create another space for belief without pressing the issues to the point of a necessary either/or.

Similar experiences abound in the areas of human psychology, parenting, history and even political belief.

What is the experience of someone who considers themselves a Bible-believing evangelical, but who is also a political liberal, supports some allowance for legal abortion, women in leadership, gay marriage and egalitarian marriage? What is the experience of someone who doesn’t view human experience through the lens of demonic/angelic activity? What is the experience of someone who, as an evangelical, doesn’t accept all the affirmations necessary for total depravity? Or doesn’t believe that the Old Testament accounts are all literal history? What happens to the evangelical who says they don’t accept the morality of Biblical statements of God commanding the death of children? What happens to the evangelical who sees a lot of ancient culture, not divine order, in the Biblical texts on marriage and gender?

Such a person will be ushered out of evangelicalism, or at least shown the door. Likely they will silently and unobtrusively leave on their own. They will grow weary of believing and being told they don’t believe. They will grow weary of hearing that there are no options. They will grow weary of people who don’t know an educated beginning about science or history of psychology telling them what they must believe about those things in all kinds of areas. They will grow tired of everything being equal, and everything being a matter of whether you really believe the Bible or not. They will grow tired of being told that their intellectual convictions must be submitted to the Biblical worldview in ways they deeply believe are wrong.

Evangelicalism may have, on its fringes and in its dwindling moderate wing, a place for those persons who differ with the evangelical distinctives while affirming the faith summarized in the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. But it’s not much of a place to stand, and it’s not a welcome place to belong. This person won’t be an evangelical for long.

Marcus Borg? Your phone is ringing. Is that a bunch of intelligent evangelicals on the line? Rome? (With your acceptance of modern science in so many areas) Are those evangelicals at your doorstep? (About to take on another whole raft of problems.) Atheism? Are you really an option of more integrity for thousands who were raised in evangelicalism and sat in its pews nodding their affirmations? New Age? Are those evangelicals adopting your Oprah-esque view of the world?

Serous Evangelicals who are looking the other way don’t want these people in their churches unless they change what they believe. Megachurch folk want them there no matter what. The fact is, they aren’t going to stick around either way.

Next…the disillusionment of Christian Experience.

[Note: Writing these posts is quite likely to excite some of my critics to the point of fainting. So let’s be clear: the post-evangelical option- my confessed faith- is precisely a way to say that I will not be cornered by what some evangelicals have decided is the “righteous path.” Within the diversity of broader, deeper more ancient Christian tradition and history, there is a place to stand on many of these issues and on these tensions. Evangelicalism, by and large, rejects that option in favor of forced uniformity at levels that are neither wise nor necessary. There is a welcome for those who confess the faith and believe the creeds among many Christians who see the faith-growth process as a journey that accepts unresolved tensions. Wicker has, if anything, stood too close to evangelicalism. Evangelicals do many things well, but accommodating the journey and making room for the doubting believer to stand is not one of them. My advice: If these issues trouble you, most of evangelicalism isn’t going to help you. If you stay there, it’s going to cost you to stay.

One last note: I am bitterly disappointed in Christian leaders who dodge this issue. I’m particularly disappointed in men who insinuate that they are old earth, non-evolutionists, but don’t detail how they are resolving the tension. That’s an abdication of leadership and it’s costing a lot of young evangelicals the opportunity to deal with this and other issues within their faith context.]

Comments

  1. Having been an evangelical for well over 50 years, I have observed that it is a “movement” that has been based on a lot of things other than the Holy Scriptures that its adherents profess to believe and live by. Regardless of what evangelicals say, few live like they really believe it.

    Hopefully, the winter of evangelicalism means that evangelicals are turning away from pretending and religiosity to the “first things” that Jesus taught us. If we believe Jesus is who He claims to be and that the Bible contains an accurate record of His teaching, then we MUST live accordingly. If we don’t live accordingly, we are telling the world and ourselves that we don’t believe it.

  2. I’m having a hard time finding words to say.

    I think that a major part of the problem is that evangelicalism has no real grasp of what a worldview is. As a whole, we haven’t looked through the lens of Scripture and come to deep convictions on metaphysics, ethics, or ultimate reality. We really don’t have a clue what the character of God is. Can I tell you how many times as a high school student I started statements with “I like to think of God as…” The statement was filled out with whatever I felt like God should be at the time. Holiness and justice, mercy, and grace through the cross of Christ were MIA.

    Too much humanist philosophy has seeped into our worldview and we’re finding that that Bible stuff just isn’t practical in the real world. We have nice books about people that die for the faith and outside of our own subcultural celebrities, we don’t really know anyone who is living the faith.

    We’ve used Biblical authority as a paddle to shake at those outside the church. It’s ceased to be a call to die, to eat of the flesh and drink of the blood of Christ, and it’s become a scare tactic that we don’t take seriously ourselves. If we did take the authority of the Bible seriously, we’d define the fear of God as something more than a healthy respect for Him.

    I think Duin is right, the shallowness has got to go, and we’ve really got to start taking a serious look at ourselves in the mirror. I would say even the in realm of criticizing megachurches (things of which I’m not a huge fan), do we need to pull the log out of our own eyes first? Are we sure that we’re not as shallow and looking for entertainment as they are? We’re all weak and prone to go on what feels good rather than any sort of principle.

    Thinkers, are we thinking only? Or (if we’re so concerned) are we praying for wisdom? I will go on record as saying I’ve got some praying, Bible-reading, and thinking to do. In that order.

  3. “Duin is more optimistic about evangelicalism. She believes that the flaws can be corrected by making choices to reject the shallowness and cultural captivity of evangelicalism.”

    I guess this expresses in a nutshell where I’m at, but I think it will take place only by the gradual dismantling of a distinct evangelical culture and the infusion of Evangelicals back into the mainline churches, churches that have more stable structures, liturgies, traditions, ways of carrying on dialogue, etc.

    “The Christian worldview claims to be the absolute truth. An individual Christian undertakes no greater assignment than to assimilate the truth claims of the Christian worldview into his or her belief system, experience and personality.”

    I wonder, have you read Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity? (I’m a newer reader.) This would certainly be a version of what he calls “Christianity” and what he thinks a lot of our problems stem from. We are attached to “Christianity” over and against a more fundamental, less Hellenistic or rationalist, more Hebraic allegiance to YHWH that becomes a similar allegiance to Christ and to his Church.

    “What is essential to evangelicalism’s worldview? At the core, the Bible is without error and truthful in all its descriptions of science, history and psychology.”

    Well, then, if this is how Evangelicalism defines itself, I’m out. But I don’t think it has to be.
    When you start with this all consuming view of inerrancy and then build upon it (in Cartesian fashion) a structure of necessary, tightly woven doctrines that you then call something like “the faith” and to which you demand unquestioning assent, you get something far less than a Biblical gospel. The gospel demands first allegiance within a story of God’s work in the world, then faith in what is not yet seen, then action in the world (intellectual, moral and physical action) based upon this faith in YHWH and his Christ.

    It is just this ‘timeless truth’ approach to laying a foundation and the rationalist approach to building on it that produces such a brittle existence.

    “Evangelicalism may have, on its fringes and in its dwindling moderate wing, a place for those persons who differ with the evangelical distinctives while affirming the faith summarized in the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. But it’s not much of a place to stand, and it’s not a welcome place to belong. This person won’t be an evangelical for long.”

    Or … they remain Evangelical and Orthodox in very real ways (inspiration of Scipture, primacy of scripture in directing the church and the individual, desire to spread the whole Christian witness, final judgment, etc) and yet become Anglican or Presbyterian or some such thing. Or, I suppose, start churches of likeminded people and become emergent or missional.

    “Serious Evangelicals who are looking the other way don’t want these people in their churches unless they change what they believe.”

    That’s why Evangelicals shouldn’t have a church. They should be in a church.

  4. Bob Sacamento says

    According to Christine Wicker’s model, evangelicalism began to come apart at the Scopes Trial and its end was actually hastened by the advent of critical thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Carl F.H. Henry.

    I would strongly disagree with Wicker’s model, and, if I can say this without sounding arrogant, I think most of the folks who have studied this stuff professionally would too. As far as I can tell, there was no real evangelicalism at the time of the Scope’s trial. Fundamentalism was the only option for conservative protestants looking to belong to a movemetn of any size. The evangelicalism of Wesley, etc. had gone to sleep decades earlier. Carl Henry, Ockenga, Billy Graham, etc. did not hasten the end of modern evangelicalism. They constructed modern evangelicalism in the first place. Before them, there was nothing to end or to persevere. Unless in Wicker’s mind evangelicalism just is fundamentalism, I don’t understand how she can say what she has said.

    Along the same line, I would say that many of the characterstics you associate with evangelicalism here are more properly fundamentalist. And yes, certain sectors — maybe the most important sectors — of evangelicalism have been sucked back into fundamentalism. But that is not the whole story, and I think that for purposes of communication, it would be better to make the distinction between the two clearer.

    But I have to concede what I take to be your main point — Being an intellectually honest evangelical is very lonely business these days, and alot of the people who are trying to be such will be going elsewhere within the next few years unless something big changes.

  5. American Evangelicalism is, by definition, an accommodation to modernity. Yes or No. I say yes.

    The Evangelical Theological Society has one requirement: belief in inerrancy.

  6. I think this sort of talk is the healthy, robust, critical thinking that the church has been missing (and that the milk-sop emergent church failed to bring up). So whether you look at church ministry, evangelism, or politics – something is missing, and many things are wrong. Seeker-sensitive, mega-church pop psychology doesn’t have the answer. Evangelical “blind faith” or liberalism doesn’t have the answer. Fundamentalist legalism doesn’t have the answer.

    The Bible has the answer. Wrestling with adopting the “mind of Christ”/Christian worldview is difficult and it requires you to actually think. But there is something joyful about this challenge that makes my heart glad. With the light of the gospel in a lost world, being able to think through and then practically live out the Christian worldview is what made all those jolly, life-loving fellows like C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon or G.K. Chesterton. Personally, I’m not sure if I’m an evangelical/intellectual, post-evangelical or what – but I’m happy to join in this, at least we’re allowed beer with our Bibles here.

    So let iMonk’s thoughts be a clarion call here – No, just because you are NOT Reformed does not mean you have to be Arminian. Yes, you can believe in intelligent design and modern day science at the same time. Yes, you can believe the inerrant infallible Word of God and logic both at the same time. And no, refusing to sit in the “religious right” camp doesn’t mean you can’t still hold to an active & aggressive Christian worldview in politics. This is all sort of liberating.

  7. I am curious as to why we believe that Christianity is primarily an intellectual pursuit. There will always be people that look at the claims of the Bible and judge them to be anti-intellectual. Paul himself said that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe. Before I came to Christ I felt that the Bible was irrelevant and out-dated and had no problem finding people who believed that with me. Now I see it as glorious and amazing and wouldn’t trade a word of it for anything. What happened? With the new heart God gave me I got a new mind and those things that were foolish to me I now see as the wisdom of God. So I guess my point is, the reason so many are leaving the faith is because we have done a poor job of preaching the gospel that converts the hearts and minds of sinners. When our leaders (and us) begin to preach the gospel and call sinners to repent and put their trust in Christ alone for salvation, then and only then will you see these trends begin to change.

  8. iMonk asked – “What is essential to evangelicalism’s worldview? At the core, the Bible is without error and truthful in all its descriptions of science, history and psychology.”

    Myrddin commented – “Well, then, if this is how Evangelicalism defines itself, I’m out. But I don’t think it has to be. When you start with this all consuming view of inerrancy and then build upon it a structure of necessary, tightly woven doctrines that you then call something like “the faith” and to which you demand unquestioning assent, you get something far less than a Biblical gospel.”

    But holding to Biblical inerrancy does not alone make you evangelical. And the fall of evangelicalism by no means results in the fall of the belief in Biblical inerrancy. Starting with the Bible, and making logical and practical deductions from it – isn’t that what Aquinas did in the Middle Ages? Neither is there any reason to demand unquestioning assent or blind belief here – there are very rational and logical reasons for this that should be challenged, thought through, and explained.

    “It is just this ‘timeless truth’ approach to laying a foundation and the rationalist approach to building on it that produces such a brittle existence.”

    Sound a little like Brian McLaren there (jn), but seriously – I believe truth has to be timeless in order to be truth, and anything but a rational approach to theological thought might produce nice feelings or different experiences, but it’s not going to provide solid grounds for action. I think it was Chesterton who cheerfully wrote that propositional creeds are the sole grounds in Christianity for doing anything at all.

  9. Thanks Michael. To be honest, I’m close to the tail end of the cycle you described. After 15 years, though technically still a member, I suppose in practical terms I’m done with the SBC.

    My wife has finally, just in the last couple of years, been accepted in the social circle of women at the church. She’s not thrilled at much of the church, especially the way it views women, but she doesn’t want to lose that.

    My youngest, just now in 6th grade, also wants to go from time to time. So I attend when my wife does. I no longer go without her. And I’m at least as content, if not more content, when we don’t go.

    My younger son (a junior in high school) has been mostly disillusioned with the church since mid-way through 7th grade, though he has geared up and truly tried to engage a number of times in the years since then.

    The exposure of the church had no positive lasting effects on my older, adult children. And possibly harmed their likelihood to ever embrace Christianity as adults.

    If there were somewhere else I thought we could go as a family that would be any different and at the same time something we could all embrace, I would switch in a heartbeat. We have halfheartedly tried visiting several other places locally.

    I don’t really know where we’re headed. Maybe nowhere. Maybe just doing that from here on out. I’ve never been the modern agnostic/atheistic sort. I’m a little too postmodern for that. One of many influences from my childhood in the seventies would be pieces of what might be called “New Age” though I don’t recall the term from back then. I’m not sure I could embrace again a Far Eastern perspective on reality.

    Everything I’ve encountered in and about Jesus of Nazareth has changed my perception of reality in ways I don’t think will ever fade. I’m not even sure I want them to. The God embodied and made known in Jesus of Nazareth is a pretty breathtaking and amazing God. But the evangelical church? Not so much. And you do a good job of outlining some of the myriad reasons why.

    Now if you just had answers … even if my postmodern suspicion would keep me from accepting them. 😉

  10. Excellent post Michael,

    You have defined my own questions in so many ways.

    Fortunately I have found a Church where I can be on the “left fringe” of the evangelical world and not feel out of place.

  11. I would only add to these other insightful comments the need for a greater humility regarding what we do and do not know. I’m a member of the Christian Church (Disciples) and am always pleased to share a statement common among the Stone-Campbell movement in the 19th century:

    “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things, Charity.”

    This capture for me much of what is needed in American Evangelicalism currently. As a Christian and professional biologist, I’ve often be appalled at the lack of scientific knowledge among those laypersons and clergy who so solidly pronounce the scientific vacuousness of this or that, often without warrant. We should focus more on the work of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, upon which much CAN BE confidently said, and let our hyper-concern with orthodoxy give way to perhaps a more solid investment in orthopraxy—so that we might win the world for Christ.

  12. Scott M,
    would you please email me at ldames at pacificdotnet?
    Or give me another location where I can talk with you outside of other people’s blogs? Thanks.

    Dana

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    When you start with this all consuming view of inerrancy and then build upon it (in Cartesian fashion) a structure of necessary, tightly woven doctrines that you then call something like “the faith” and to which you demand unquestioning assent, you get something far less than a Biblical gospel. — Myrrdin

    You get a Party Line, Comrade.

    With Thought Police Commissars parsing every word you utter for Thoughtcrime.

    Isn’t Christ supposed to be more than just The Party Line?

  14. Critical thinking is a gateway to liberalism. Contemplation is a gateway to New Age. Bibles in the hands of the laity is a gateway to heresey. Would someone just please put on the pointy hat and save us from ourselves?

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    With the light of the gospel in a lost world, being able to think through and then practically live out the Christian worldview is what made all those jolly, life-loving fellows like C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon or G.K. Chesterton. — JP

    I don’t know about Spurgeon, but Lewis was High-Church Anglican and Chesterton was Catholic (Victorian Gonzo Catholic, to be precise).

    Personally, I’m not sure if I’m an evangelical/intellectual, post-evangelical or what – but I’m happy to join in this, at least we’re allowed beer with our Bibles here. — JP

    As Chesterton (a staunch opponent and heckler of Temperance/Prohibition) put it, “ISLAM, not Christianity, is the teetotaler’s religion.”

  16. “Evangelicalism may have, on its fringes and in its dwindling moderate wing, a place for those persons who differ with the evangelical distinctives while affirming the faith summarized in the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. But it’s not much of a place to stand, and it’s not a welcome place to belong. This person won’t be an evangelical for long.”

    *stands*
    Hi, I’m Wes and I’m a recovering Evangelical
    *sits*

  17. Michael, for that matter I’d have to say that Fundamentalism is also an accommodation to Modernity.

  18. If there are Catholics on this thread, could you identify yourselves before you post, at least once. Thanks.

  19. Wezlo: Amen!!!! Fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity. It is not the solution but part of the problem.

    I think we are witnessing the end of the protestant era, which will not lead us back to Rome, but back into a new dark ages, of intellectual and spiritual serfdom. (With tax payers paying to bail out billionaires, I think we have already entered into a new economic serfdom).

  20. Evangelical culture won’t change – it’s profitable. It’s just eventually going to go out of business.

  21. Why is it naturally assumed that there is a problem with ‘accommodation to modernity’. Not that I believe that we should automatically take on what the world has to say on everything, but stated like that it makes it sound like the christian response is a ‘rejection of modernity’ or a ‘dismissal of modernity’.

    I don’t see how you can believe in common grace, and believe that there is nothing to learn from modernity. If that’s an accommodation then that phrase just lost all usefulness as a description of reality.

  22. Michael,

    There are about a hundred things (at this moment) that I would like to comment on . . . but, I can’t keep up with you unless I quit my job and sit in my boxers for hours on end, drinking caffeine and blogging . . . and of course reading the books that you mention.

    But I will comment on one tiny piece of your discussion and that is the following: I really don’t believe that the Wheaton’s of the world are without tension . . .but where they resolve some tension (in the creationist front) they create other tensions, the tension between pretend and reality or what I would call the farce factor. Before I upset anyone, I will say that I am confident that most people who attend and graduate from Wheaton are very sincere and wonderful people.

    I remember while going to grad school at UK, one of the gals, a Wheaton grad, told me that she had two abortions while attending Wheaton. She said she felt much more pressure to have an abortion there than she would have had at UK because at Wheaton there was a huge social pressure to “pretend” that you were not having sex. She says that the sexual activity was no different there than a secular school but there was a huge pressure to hide it . . . so thus she thought the abortion rate was higher. I mean, if you are pretending that you are not having sex, then you can’t go to the Wheaton student health clinic and ask to be put on birth control pills (in reality maybe you can, but you won’t).

    Christian schools sometimes have the “SAVED” syndrome, speaking of the movie by that name. SAVED was co-written and directed by Brian Donnelly. He must have known what he was talking about (although of course the movie was an extreme exaggeration about the fraceness of a Christian high school) because he actually attended a Baptist high school in Baltimore.

    I did send one of my kids to a Christian college, only because he was well founded and loved to ask honest questions and was not offended by (nor enticed by) farceness. However, I would not have sent a couple of my other kids. With their very skeptical thinking, the farceness would have driven them away from Christ in the end.

    So, my point is “Christian education” does not solve all the tension problems.

  23. We aren’t talking about “the” problem. We’re talking about evangelicalism’s problems.

    I think a lot of folks are missing this.

    Wicker isn’t saying its bad to accomodate or think critically. She’s all for it.

    But she is saying that when you move away from strict and defining fundamentals and start thinking critically, then a process begins. It starts with a C.S. Lewis and ends with a Brian Mclaren and beyond.

    You can’t maintain our faith and redefine, redfine, redefine, exempt, interpret, exempt, etc.

    Sooner or later you wind up with a kid who was brought up in a Christian home but is a universalist, etc. Because you told him to think critically and live with modernity.

    You and I may see this as a good thing. (I see it as largely inevitable.) But what it means for evangelicals as churches and as a movement is pretty significant.

    ms

  24. Michael Jones:

    I was talking about creationism specifically, and other matters of science.

    Wicker eloquently reports that abortion clinics are full of evangelicals. Megachurch pews are full of people who live just like the non-Christian. The serious evangelical disciple is a sliver of the evangelical movement.

    Friends, don’t ever talk about “cafeteria” or “token” Catholics. Our kids, by and large, are just like their friends and becoming more and more so on the cultural accommodation issues.

    Both my kids graduated from a school of Christians and non-Christians, but with required Bible and required chapel.

    Both are graduated/graduating from state universities. I went to two Christian colleges and there was no doubt in my mind where the better discipleship opportunities were to be found. RUF has been great for my son especially.

  25. Let me be frankly honest: I’m an evangelical Christian who works hard to figure out the Christian worldview. In some ways I’ve accomodated my evangelicalism toward modernity. In some ways I’ve accomodated my evangelicalism toward postmodernity. In reality I’m post-conservative or post-evangelical but our tribe is still forming so I’m still a part of evangelicalism.

    Now the problem in accomodation is not so much how you accomodate, but why. Discerning worldview requires a lot of serious thinking and asking lots of questions. Here are a few that I think through:

    1. Does your accomodation come as a result of pursuing truth or a result of emotional pressure? 2. Does your accomodation have intellectual grounding and what are the intellectual alternatives?
    3. Are you filtering the culture through the gospel or are you filtering your understanding of the gospel through the culture?
    4. Will this accomodation cause a conflict with my belief system as it stands?
    5. Is the accomodation going to conflict with the Christian faith or merely with a construct of latter Christendom, or even a particular construct of evangelicalism? People regularly leave the faith because of the inability to discern between these two.
    6. Does the accomodation conflict with the Bible or with an interpretation of the Bible (this one requires particular wisdom as well)?
    7. Would an accomodation take my beliefs outside of the Nicene Creed? If so, do I have intellectual warrant for abandoning the Creed that unites most Christians and is held to by many who are more intelligent than me? Have I consulted them or their writings as to why they are not facing the conflict I’m facing?

    These are the types of questions I ask when confronted with what seems to be a worldview challenge.

    What does this look like in practice? Let me share from my progression as a believer interpreting Genesis 1-3.

    I went to college taking ten or so books. One was Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis. Written in the 1960s it was the standard YEC commentary on Genesis. I had read it inside and out and marked it up. I was almost daily checking the Institute for Creation Research website and would often argue with my father (a petroleum engineer) over science information that I really knew only little about.

    As I started taking classes on biblical interpretation, we learned about eisegesis (reading your interpretation into the text as opposed to exegesis which is getting your understanding from the text). Due to my interest in Genesis I did things backwards from most students and decided to start Hebrew my freshman year. So after a few months I started translating Genesis 1-3. I quickly realized that this passage is highly poetic, and that the names of the individuals have meanings which factor into the story. The story is structured in a poetic way as well.

    Because of my translating and exegesis I was now faced with a conflict. I had to go back to the Morris commentary and see if what he said lined up with the text itself and attempt to discern his hermeneutic. He claimed that the passage was not poetic, but historical. I now knew this position was simply untrue. I also saw his hermeneutic. Instead of letting the text be the text, he was interpreting it in a certain way that would help him oppose evolution. He was actually reading his interpretations into the text.

    I was conflicted. Am I now a liberal for rejecting Henry Morris? I had to think through questions like the ones listed above. I quickly realized that I was not conflicted over a serious faith issue, but over an interpretation and construct of modernity.

    As I continued to study early church interpretations of the Genesis account, I found that most of the founders of the faith interpreted the passage as poetry and this caused no conflict for their faith. They saw that the text was intent on poetically telling the Hebrews a theological message of who created the world, and how he relates to mankind. It wasn’t until the 19th century that people started to use the text to answer prove or disprove science. As I studied other ANE literature I realized that God used this passage to contrast Himself with the other cultures and to show that He alone was God, that he created the world with good intent and that he desired a relationship with mankind.

    As a result of this struggle ten years or so ago, I’m now able to be open to follow science wherever it leads concerning origins. It’s not a conflict for me anymore, and the result wasn’t because I accomodated to modernity, but because I trusted in the Bible and attempted to discern what God was saying through its authors in the original languages. Therefore, by working through these types of worldview questions I was able to discern that YEC was a construct of a certain period of church history and I was able to reject it without having a conflict in the core of my faith.

    Unfortunately, many do not discern between issues that are secondary and ones that are primary and as such leave the faith for unjust reasons.

  26. “At the core, the Bible is without error and truthful in all its descriptions of science, history and psychology. Its language and accounts are authoritative in all areas, not just specifically religious claims.”

    The problem is that evangelical scholars don’t believe this, and when they are asked to describe inerrancy they have a long, nuanced definition. Even the Chicago Statement, which is more conservative than many evangelical statements about inerrancy, allows for errors in numerical data, ancient science, etc. The statement is a very nuanced, lengthy definition of inerrancy, and not easily simplified.

    Most of us who are evangelicals, and even many in the ETS, are left of the Chicago statement. Do they believe the Bible is any less authoritative or any less inspired? Not at all.

  27. Michael, I bought Wicker’s book today and am eager to read it. You described my journey well…from fundamental dispensationalist Bible college, to evangelical seminary, to “community” churches where I served as pastor (“community” meaning largely influenced by parachurch non-doctrinal approaches), to serving as a hospice chaplain and being a member of an ELCA church. Through it all, I don’t think I’ve lost my true evangelical beliefs, only the accretions of evangelical culture. I think I’m stronger than ever on the Gospel, much more accommodating to general revelation and humanity.

  28. Not sure if this comment is appropriate for this thread, but I would really like to know of any persons/articles that clearly defend an old-earth, non-evolutionist position.

    Can anyone help me out here?

  29. Did evangelicalism always push such an untenable worldview? With me not being a “evangelical”, per se, but coming from fundamentalist Christianity, I have to wonder if there was an evolution [gasp! pun quite intended] of the tenets toward what exists today.

    Do the “elders” blame the young people for not accepting the cognitive dissonance, that perhaps the elders recognize should have been thrown away a long time ago, but are too far gone to admit?

    Are the leaders of evangelicalism, needing a scapegoat, more interested in saving face than saving the movement?

  30. My world view is that God alone has the correct world view.

  31. Excellent content and style…keep up the good work!

  32. “…hear the voices of our critics we rarely allow in our discussions: the scary truth.” “…a fragemented, declining evangelicalism; a movement whose energy and direction has badly dissipated.”

    I personally have experienced the tensions you refer to and have learned to welcome them when they arrive to challenge me. It forces me to dig deeper intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. I was born and raised a Roman Catholic and left that church in my twenties. It was a very valuable part of my life to deal with all the tensions brought on within that structure of belief.

    I appreciate you giving a voice to the critics. For me personally, I have no problem with the perceived rise and decline of evangelicalism throughout history. It is good to look at its effectiveness or lack of effectiveness in this generation but I do not find the current state of evangelicalism scary.

  33. Pastor Aarn,

    You asked about why we are talking about Christianity using our intellect. According to Luke, (Acts 4:32) “All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they shared everything they had.”

    We look at the church with our minds because we are supposed to, consider the Bereans who tested travelling preachers.

    And when you are given no answers about making evolution and the Bible work together. I still remember that conversation with my mother when I was in high school. Nor did my Sunday School teachers help. So I did like some many good evangelicals and put science and church in two separate boxed with strong barriers between them.

    If the church cannot withstand honest questioning, who needs it? Or if we have to overlook many problems, is that friendship truely worth it?

    I’m not saying that the answers are easy, smarter people than I are still wrestling with them. Please don’t say “turn off your brain” It may work for some and for others for a season, but not forever.

    Anna-chemist, former evangelical, current Catholic.

  34. Indian Paintbrush,

    I would recommend anything by Hugh Ross and his web site http://www.reasons.org/ to represent the old-earth creation viewpoint from an evangelical perspective. It has such fascinating articles as Kidney Stones: Evidence for Divine Design http://www.reasons.org/resources/connections/200411_connections_q4/index.shtml#kidney_stones_evidence_for_divine_design
    which I will definitely bring up during Thanksgiving Dinner!

  35. I haven’t read either authors quoted by iMonk. I do wonder how outsiders view themselves, critiquing how non-believers act and believe regarding their worldviews and how to improve on them.

    So many are dying to declare Genesis and other ancient biblical history as a parable but the closer you get to more extra-biblical historical sources THEN the bible becomes semi-believable.

    Are the evolutionists regarded as hypocrites because they essentially believe in spontaneous generation- life from nonlife.

    Are non-believers hypocrites because they believe in the sanctity of life regarding war and capital punishment, yet the children’s lives aren’t worth a plug nickel before birth?

    When liberal believers say “I believe in gay marriage”… – what do you mean “I” believe? Shoot, I believe in discreet adultery but God has other ideas, so I have to adapt.

    Yes, there are many downward trends in the church. Yet, how well is the secular world faring without biblical values? Is their lot improving? Are marriages/relationships improving?

    It seems they are the ones who gave society things like saturation and great increases of :
    pornography,
    drugs,
    increased crime,
    teen suicides
    etc.

    Then they’ll say “we never begat those horrors”.

    Sorry,folks, but God is a package deal. Get rid of Him and lot of good goes away with Him.

    I also concede we Christians can be a warped lot as I read some heartbreaking stories in these recent comments.

  36. Scott Miller says

    >>I’m particularly disappointed in men who insinuate that they are old earth, non-evolutionists, but don’t detail how they are resolving the tension.

    First of all, inerrancy does not mean literalism. I agree with Ranger that Genesis is highly poetic in the original language. Augustine wrote about the Genesis creation account almost more than anything else, commenting on the literal and figurative meaning. His views of reading it in the Collosians 1 view shows deeply and beautifully the role of Christ in creation (and really illuminated the Trinity more than I have seen anywhere else). But he also strongly believed that the days were not literal days – at least the first three, before the Sun and Moon were created on Day 4.

    Old earth creationism and the “God of the Gaps” and catastrophism was common-place belief until Fundamentalism insisted on a literal reading of Scripture and YEC belief as a statement of faith.

    Back in 2005, when the Kansas Board of Education was having the Intelligent Design hearings and rewriting the science standards, I wrote a research paper on Intelligent Design vs. Evolution (http://downloads.appsguild.com/ID%20vs%20Evolution.doc). Although ID is mostly a subversive political movement designed to undermine evolution, many of the scientists who are Christians that they trot out believe in an age of the Earth that is 4 billion years old.

    Like Boethius, I actually appreciate the tension. It is something I don’t know and it adds a “wonder” back into science in particular. So many scientists, and religious writers for that matter, talk about something with such certainty that it is dry and lifeless. There is wonder in God, His word, and His creation and it continues to astound me.

  37. Ky boy but not now says

    Justin

    “Do the “elders” blame the young people for not accepting the cognitive dissonance, that perhaps the elders recognize should have been thrown away a long time ago, but are too far gone to admit?”

    As to science they avoid “cognitive dissonance” by teaching kids you can’t trust scientists. Of course this leads to a lot of other issues down the road. Both nearby and far away.

  38. Ky boy but not now says

    iMonk
    “I think a lot of folks are missing this.
    Wicker isn’t saying its bad to accomodate or think critically. She’s all for it.
    But she is saying that when you move away from strict and defining fundamentals and start thinking critically, then a process begins. … You can’t maintain our faith and redefine, redfine, redefine, exempt, interpret, exempt, etc.”

    We brought out kids up to think for themselves from an early age. (And if you don’t know this can lead to some tough times when raising kids. Letting them think for themselves. 🙂 )

    The problem with many churches, ours for one more Sunday, is that they say they are teaching kids to think critically but really teach them ONE TRUTH that some other critical thinker came up with and no questions allowed. When this, what I call “brittle” faith, hits the outside world they have three choices:
    -Let it crumble and walk away
    -Let it crumble and build something new
    -Go hide to protect it

    Most do the first and last and many who do the middle build something that is nothing any of us would call a Christian faith.

  39. someone above mentioned that we’ve used “biblical authority” as a paddle to shake at those outside the church. i agree, but i’ll add that we probably more frequently use it as a canon to assault enemies within the church, which is a most unfortunate characteristic – in-house fighting instead of dialogue!

    still, i can’t toss biblical authority on the ash heap yet. the bible intrinsically testifies to its own authority, and as an evangelical (baptist) i am not able to proceed very far in discussing scripture without its authority being foundational to dialogue. i didn’t say i can’t proceed at all, just not very far.

    my opinion, whatever that’s worthy, is that the Bible’s authority necessitates its normative function for our lives and, to echo k. barth, calls us to give “yes” and “no” answers to its demands (don’t worry, i’m NOT claiming barth was evangelical).

    thanks for the informative post, sorry to go sort of off topic

  40. This was such a good post. Someone earlier cited that C.S. Lewis and G.K Chesterton were respectively Anglican and Roman Catholic. Let me point out that John Stott is a Priest as is J.I. Packer (Anglican). In fact, quite a few of the most beloved Evangelical writers were not necessarily Evangelical alone.

    John Stott and J.I. Packer would classify themselves as evangelicals, but they are in a Tradition where a connection to the Early Church is highly valued. And that connection is not merely scholarly, but liturgical, ecclessiological, etc. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton are even more so in that camp.

    I would argue that without Tradition to keep you in check, without the willingness to look back and read so that one may know what were some of the acceptable parameters of Christian thought, then either theology becomes a logical battleground where almost anything can be argued to be Christian or, as you pointed out, limits are set that may or may not be true to what Christians have believed and/or allowed.

    It is interesting to note that Anglicans are in a major worldwide battle precisely because the American Episcopal Church decided to openly give up its connection with Tradition. Once that was given up, it was not long before the American Episcopal Church started having serious problems. There was neither a way to keep “liberals” in check nor any way to call “conservatives” away from inappropriate beliefs.

  41. Yes Michael S. I knew that you were talking about the tension of creationism being relieved at Christian colleges. What I was trying to say (about Wheaton and others) was not meant to be oppositional, but more tangential. I wasn’t saying, “You’re wrong because” but more “You’re right and here is a tangential point (about other areas of tension that may be created in a Christian school environment).

  42. imonk,
    One of my absolute favorite books is “Love your God with all your mind” by Moreland. I appreciate where you are coming from a great deal, and I tend to focus on these issues as well. I would do well to remember, however, that the intellectual aspect, and the intellectual answers to the very real issues and problems is one leg of the table, so to speak. People are not argued into the Kingdom. We must be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have.

    But are there not any more Billy Grahams walking in the woods, placing their Bibles on a stump and declaring openly to the Lord “I don’t understand all that is in Your Word, but I accept it by faith”

    Or what about a Robertson McQuilken standing on the Japanese coast hearing a still small voice ask “Are you smarter than Jesus?”as he was wrestling with the lures of agnosticism.

    A person who says that they need to have every issue explained so that he understands it before he accepts Christ Jesus as Lord and lives for Him will likely never put his trust in Him.

    But you are right, we need to wrestle with, study, research and investigate both the Word and the issues that are confronting the Church.

  43. “They will grow weary of believing and being told they don’t believe.”

    Thank you for this sentence. It almost brought me to tears.

  44. Bob Sacamento says

    Couple of things:

    But she [Wicker] is saying that when you move away from strict and defining fundamentals and start thinking critically, then a process begins. It starts with a C.S. Lewis and ends with a Brian Mclaren and beyond.

    This is exactly what I was trying to get at in my first comment. This process was not evangelicalism losing its way. This process was evangelicalism from the get go. (I’m sure you have read Ockenga and Henry!) I haven’t read Wicker’s book, but if she doesn’t get this, then she completely misunderstands her entire subject matter. Maybe what she (and you?) are really trying to say is that evangelicalism was always a lost cause, carrying the seeds of its own destruction from the beginning, and that the only true alternatives are the fundamentalism it grew out of, and modernist secularism? I’m really confused. And, come on, in what sense does C.S. Lewis lead to Brian McLaren? I don’t know many people at all who really like them both.

    Sooner or later you wind up with a kid who was brought up in a Christian home but is a universalist, etc. Because you told him to think critically and live with modernity.

    Living with modernity and thinking critically are two different things and shouldn’t be conflated. Alot of people will argue that they are in fact contradictory.

    Sorry Michael. This post doesn’t sound like you in alot of ways, and it doesn’t sound like your are merely reporting Wicker’s views either. I am confused.

  45. Bob Scaramento: The series will have five parts, and the fifth will be my response.

  46. Bob Sacamento says

    iMonk,

    I know I sound flustered. I hope I don’t sound angry. I am confused. I get the impression Wicker has some severe bliners on. And I’m having a hard time separating her conclusions from yours. Will wait for part five. Thanks.

  47. Bob Sacamento says

    uhhh, that’s blinders, not “bliners”.

  48. (The Ed Young post closed while I was attempting to add a comment. What I wanted to say really had more to do with this post, so may I place it here?)

    Anyone who could rub two active brain cells together should be able to discern what Ed Young is teaching is wrong. But since critical thinking is a slippery slope into liberalism, no one dares! No wonder evangelicalism has become so guttural. Evangelicals feel bound to respond to every manipulation of primal fear or irrational emotions or base desires. But thank goodness that we are safe from the critial thinking of liberalism! I feel so proud to call myself conservative!

  49. But Jesus was a liberal! He would hate Biblical Literalism. It binds you and distracts you from what is important in life. The greatest of these is charity (love) — remember that one? The Good Samaritan? Remember him? Give all your goods to the poor and follow me? Remember that? Those are the kinds of things that were important to Jesus. Feed the poor (not the deserving poor, the poor…), love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Pay all jobs the same amount. (yes, that’s in there too, if you like being literal.)