Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Evangelical fears and compromises

Various commentators from within evangelicalism are coming to the conclusion that has been obvious for a rather long time, that evangelicalism's greatest fear is at the heart of all its compromises. This is the fear of not being relevant or to use a more realistic term, fashionable. David F. Wells in his latest book 'The Courage to be Protestant' writes: 'Frankly, there is no judgment more to be feared than this: you are now passé. That weighs more heavily even than words coming from the great white throne at the end of time. Imagine that! Passé.'

He also writes in a collection of essays 'Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church': 'Evangelicals today are fearful, but they are fearful of all the wrong things. They are deeply apprehensive about becoming obsolete, of being left behind, so to speak, of being passed by, and of not being relevant'.(p. 48) It fits very neatly with marketing theory and practice which, through a very thin veneer, is driving much of the trends within evangelicalism.

Os Guinness has written a book 'Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance', he says that this desire to be fashionable (culturally relevant) is exactly why Christians are now becoming marginalized. Being fashioable means creating trendy worship services, writing books about how Christ can be seen in current movies, or mirroring hot bands playing on MTV. He says in a recent interview 'Evangelicalism has never chased relevance more determinedly than it does now. And yet, we've never been more irrelevant'. This undermines the authority of Scripture, and a loss of identity and continuity with the Church historically.

Wells observes that the fear of being irrelevant and unfashionable has been 'transferred' from liberals.
'This, of course, was the fear that haunted the older generation of Protestant liberals, so many of whom began their lives in evangelical homes. They were overwhelmed by the need to be relevant to the culture...Their conversation partner was the Enlightenment.

This lesson, however, is entirely lost on most evangelicals today. The reason is partly that they are treading a different path and so they do not see the parallels. Theirs is not the accommodation to high culture, as was the liberals'.

That culture was suffused with intellectual pride and humanism, with rationalism and hostility to Christian faith. It is now dying. The Enlightenment, from which much of it arose, has all but collapsed, as has the Christianity that had made itself into an ally.

The parallels between these older liberals and today's evangelicals are not in the culture to which they are accommodating but in the process of accommodation. Behind each is the same mind-set. The difference is only in what is being accommodated. And the dangers are all concealed beneath the apparent innocence of the experiment.

The fact is, however, that evangelical Christianity today is as endangered by its postmodern dance partner as the earlier liberals were by their Enlightenment partner'. (p. 49)

My view on this as evidenced in the secularisation of the Bible through inferior translation in the 20th century is here.