Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Circle and a Graph: Evangelical Excuses for Disobedience to God

It would be great if evangelicals experienced conviction of sin, felt bad about being evangelicals, for instance.  I believe there are a few signs that they do, which should help some of us breathe a shallow sigh of relief.  One way we see their guilt is in their incessant explanation or excuses for disobedience to God.  I'm saying really that I hope that they know that they're wrong, and they are indicating that with the various ways that they attempt to cope with it.

Inventing ways to survive with false doctrine and evil isn't good.  However, what this says to me is that they feel guilt.  The right response is to repent and confess.  They won't do that.  Instead they create systems to explain their missing the mark.  The Pharisees did this too, which is why an alternative title might be Evangelicals, the Real Legalists Today.  That might be a good theme for part two of what might be two or three.  Instead of doing right, the Pharisees developed schemes to justify their wrongdoing, which they promoted above anything else.  Their system was a giant excuse but also a faux means to propel themselves.

The evangelical excuse feigns with complexity.  It provides a narrative with so many dimensions so as to defy falsehood.  The labyrinth of verbiage immerses the intellect like a piece of modern art.  You've got to act like it means something.   And many then will subscribe to the facade, giving it the credibility of numbers.  Crowds mill the streets of this false-front city.

What are the excuses?  There are two mainly.  Very developed now and gaining in tenure.  Both have a diagram or chart.  One is a circle.  The other is a graph, like a timeline.  The schematics are flawed, but they appear significant---Henry Hill making music.

The Circle

The center of the circle is the target, the goal, the core.  Evangelicals label that the gospel.  That iron-nickel alloy surrounded by a mantle and crust is man's salvation.  Of course.  Perfect.  Evangelicals insist a true theological gravity will press the faithful to the middle.  The other teachings of God so lack in comparison that any insistence on them actually do diminish the center.   By their explanation, the center is kept the center by diminishing the orbiting layers.  You get all this, right?  So if someone were to alter or twist almost anything outside that core,  and yet loyally embrace the middle, he should be in no risk of alienation.

The circle is everywhere.  Math.  Astronomy.  The atom.  Clocks.  Lids.  The moon.  Balls.  Charlie Brown's head.  Who could go wrong with the circle?

The circle is an excuse for missing anything outside the center.   Those who separate over the peripherals are the enemy of the core.   Suddenly disobedient people are not only excused, but they are of superior status.

"Baptism is by immersion.  He was sprinkled."
"Awww, now that really doesn't relate to people bein' saved, does it?"
"So let's not take away from the importance of the gospel by bringin' that up, OK?"

The circle is a good shape, really.  It's just that the evangelicals mislabel it.  The center should have Scripture on it.  And then the outlying layers should be various and unacceptable degrees of disobedience with the outside being an apostate.  The circle should provide no basis for disobedience.  That can't be right.  But it's one of the systems of the evangelicals used as an excuse for false doctrine and disobedience.

The Graph

The graph or timeline-looking chart or spectrum is the right-middle-left scheme.  Evangelicalism puts itself in the middle, fundamentalism on the right and liberalism on the left.  The three bears could come in here.  Fundamentalism is the papa bear, too hard.  Liberalism is the mama bear, too soft.  Evangelicalism is the baby bear, just right.

The graph is essentially Hegelian dialectics.  The truth or Scripture is thesis, falsehood and lies are antithesis, and synthesis is a compromise between the two.  In the spectrum, evangelicalism is the synthesis, falsehood and lies is liberalism, and biblical Christianity (what those to the left will call fundamentalism) is truth or Scripture.

Again, the graph or chart or spectrum can be a useful illustration if properly labeled.  The middle should be taken as the middle of the road with two ditches on the left and right.  The middle of the road is safe---that is the belief and practice of everything in Scripture.  The left is liberalism, which is taking away from God's Word.  The right is legalism, which is adding to God's Word.  Scripture warns against taking away from or adding to God's Word.  What I'm describing is scriptural, and what evangelicals portray is pragmatic.

Evangelicals place denial of the Word of God and then complete obedience to the Word of God in positions in the extreme.  They put their moderate middle as some superior position reached through compromise or what they might call "epistemological humility."  They see a danger in absolute certainty and complete doubt. They would perceive, of course, the absolute certain also as lacking in compassion.  The superior truths of harmony and toleration necessitate bridging certainty with doubt.

In politics today, we call this the third way.   President Bill Clinton popularized it as political philosophy in part to win reelection in 1996.  For a church, the compromise is an important numeric growth technique.  An allowance of several points of view enlarges the tent for more to get in.

When you think about the evangelical graph, their position on a spectrum, you might think of the same strategy that destroyed Israel and then the churches that Jesus warned in Revelation 2 and 3.  You would be right.  When captive Judah read 1 and 2 Kings and then post-exilic Israel read 1 and 2 Chronicles, they were challenged to identify these evangelical excuses as the very reason for their chastisement.  If their minds drifted to the end of Deuteronomy, they knew there were only two poles from which to choose, one blessing and the other cursing.  Something in the middle wouldn't and couldn't suffice.

Don't be fooled by the evangelical circle or the graph.  They're just excuses for disobedience to God.


Joshua said...

Amen and thank you for this post.

This statement nails the core of where this thinking goes:

"The circle is an excuse for missing anything outside the center. Those who separate over the peripherals are the enemy of the core. Suddenly disobedient people are not only excused, but they are of superior status."

I was thinking of taking those 5 circle and dot graphs on Patton's website, correcting the fundamentalist one, then putting them all on the same page with all the verses on doctrine quoted below and asking the question - which one of these graphs represents what we see in the Bible?

Thank you again for taking the time to write this.


Lance Ketchum said...

Of course you are dealing with Barthian inspiration. Most Neo-evangelicals believe it without even knowing that it comes from Barth or even that it is inconsistent with the historical position on inspiration.

Joshua said...

Read this this morning in Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional, and thought it remarkably appropriate to this topic:

"If thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it."—Exodus 20:25.

GOD'S altar was to be built of unhewn stones, that no trace of human skill or labour might be seen upon it. Human wisdom delights to trim and arrange the doctrines of the cross into a system more artificial and more congenial with the depraved tastes of fallen nature; instead, however, of improving the gospel carnal wisdom pollutes it, until it becomes another gospel, and not the truth of God at all. All alterations and amendments of the Lord's own Word are defilements and pollutions....

Many professors may take warning from this morning's text as to the doctrines which they believe. There is among Christians far too much inclination to square and reconcile the truths of revelation; this is a form of irreverence and unbelief, let us strive against it, and receive truth as we find it; rejoicing that the doctrines of the Word are unhewn stones, and so are all the more fit to build an altar for the Lord.

Kent Brandenburg said...


are you the Joshua from Australia? Wisconsin?

Joshua said...

I am the Joshua from Australia. I haven't seen the other Joshua (I think his last name is Alan? Allen?) around since he took Thomas to task for his criticism of natural medicine a few months back.

I'll start posting with my gmail account to make me easier to distinguish.

God bless,


Joshua said...

Found one last thing relevant to this.


From Phil Johnson, emphasis mine:

[i][b]A question I'm often asked is this: Can we have a complete and exhaustive list of doctrines and propositions that are essential?[/b] Frankly, I don't believe that's possible, because truth itself is not a finite commodity, and the minute you think you have nailed down a simple list of all the essentials, the powers of darkness will challenge some underlying point of doctrine you never imagined would be controversial. Then you'll have to add a new item to your list.[/i]

I have to sympathize with those asking for his list. If they want to talk tough about separating over the essentials, it's a bit rough if no one knows the list. Even rougher still finding out that it's an ever changing list based upon the times.