My colleague, Mike Horton, has just published a book, Christless Christianity. I write, so to speak, from the belly of this beast, attending the National Pastors’ Conference, sponsored by Zondervan and Intervarsity Press, which is taking place in San Diego, February 9-14, 2009. It is amazing to see how these once faithful publishers of evangelical orthodoxy are now consistently and deliberately launching a massive but subtle attack against the “Fundamentals” for which Evangelicalism stood courageously against liberalism in the past.
While I am struck by the sincerity of the brilliant public speakers (named below), who still have evangelical piety and passion, their openly-stated theology is turning large swathes of the evangelical church into various new forms of old-fashioned though very cool liberalism.
UNDERMINING OF SCRIPTURE
Brian McLaren is still widely featured here. He believes that the age of sola scriptura is over. Rob Bell, a plenary speakers, believes the Bible is a “human product…not the product of divine fiat” Little wonder Mr. Bell’s former colleague at Mars Hill of Grandville, MI, Ron Golden, now Senior Vice President of World Relief, a ministry of the National Association of Evangelicals, in a seminar I attended, openly boasted, “Karl Barth is my theological mentor.” Barth undermined the classical orthodox doctrine of Scripture. Is it surprising that in all the plenaries except one, there was no biblical exposition?
THE ABSENCE OF CHRIST
Christ’s atoning death was passed over in silence. A few examples:
- In the middle of a “worship service,” Andy Crouch of IVP interviewed A.J. Jacobs, an editor at Esquire magazine, about his book, The Year of Living Biblically. Jacobs, a non-practicing Jew, lived for one year according to OT laws, letting his beard grow, wearing Kosher clothes and practicing Sabbath and the Ten Commandments. Crouch did not remind him that the New Testament was part of the Bible, nor that Jesus saw himself as the very center and goal of the Old Testament (Luke 24:27). Jacobs concluded, to applause, that he had become a “reverential agnostic.
- “Christ is absent but “Jesus” is here, as the architect of a socio-economic revolution that he began while on earth that we must finish, with the help of all religionists and globalist socialists of good faith. Shane Claibourne (30), who looked like a youthful throw-back from the Sixties, with tee shirt, very baggy slacks and very long hair constantly exhorted people to get serious about non-materialistic living. His model was Mother Theresa with whom he worked in India, but never once did he make any attempt to include the Gospel of saving grace as the motivation for Christian service. McLaren summed it up: “Jesus teaches a way of life rather than a set of beliefs.” Every video clip from World Vision and other ministries was exclusively about digging wells in Africa. Not a word was uttered about preaching the Gospel to Africans bound in pagan practices or Moslem darkness. We are losing our nerve and closing our mouths! Sooner or later, we will endorse all “valid” spiritualities, as do McLaren and Bell.
A GLOBALIST FUTURE
The other half of the very center of the Gospel-Jesus’s physical resurrection-was also absent. A miraculous divine transformation of the physical universe really does not fit this new liberal social gospel of the kingdom, which comes incrementally through our works of social justice. Certainly, eschatology is not a Left Behind “board game figuring out where we are,” but when asked about the Early Church’s expectation of the imminent final coming of Christ, McLaren rejected Christ’s final coming out of hand, Ron Golden said it was an image of being open to the kingdom coming now, and New Testament scholar Scott McKnight spoke of New Testament eschatology as “metaphorical rhetoric.” This is pure liberalism gone wild, at an evangelical pastors’ conference!
DE-PERSONALIZATION OF GOD
With all the emphasis on the earthly Jesus, on our human efforts to bring in the kingdom, and on “Human Flourishing,” God as personal savior is vague, even absent. God was referred to in a large plenary session as “God revealing ‘godself,'” thus successfully avoiding any gender-specific language for God but successfully depersonalizing Him. The absence is filled by seeking God’s “presence” through mysticism and so-called “spiritual disciplines,” so widespread in impersonal pagan spirituality.
Both the bold-faced audacity but more, the naiveté of this project is quite stunning. There is no mention anywhere of the vastly superior pagan project, already well-developed, to construct a this-worldly socio-economic utopia, very similar to neo-evangelical’s this-worldly “kingdom of God.” Will this “shovel-ready eschatology” of human justice be digging the church’s own grave? Will the two meet one day, and then, as Jesus asked (Luke 18:8), “Will the Son of Man, when he comes, find faith on the earth?”