Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cultural Issues Are Essential for Evangelicals, Just for Bad Reasons

I don't know that I'll be writing the critique of the Sword of the Lord Lordship salvation article.  I missplaced it or lost it and I'm not going to work that hard at getting it back.  If it shows up or you send it to me, I'll write on it, because I want to.  I'll be continuing the series on prayer.  I'll be writing on the Anderson/White video.  I don't have the time to write about those today, because it will take more effort there.  I have time for this, because it relates to my last post, which touched on cultural issues.


Evangelicals differentiate themselves from fundamentalists and other separatists on cultural issues. They call them non-essentials.  A big chunk of fundamentalism is moving that way too, by separating historical fundamentalists from cultural ones.  What I'm contending with this post, and I think it is obvious enough to write on it, is that evangelicals don't think that cultural issues are non-essentials.  In certain cases, maybe most, there is nothing more important to them than cultural issues, except for different reasons than for separatists.

People like myself, and our churches, deal with cultural issues like any other biblical subject.  We read the Bible, we study it, we get the interpretation, and then we apply it.  We apply the Bible to cultural issues, since that is what Christians should do (really will do), and obey God by doing so. We don't relegate these to non-essentials.  We see that the biblical authors dealt with them and expected obedience in them.  We assume we should too.

Churches like ours, people like me, make the application of the Bible to cultural issues and are unabashed in doing so.  It's just like any other subject, perhaps the only difference being that cultural issues are what is most controversial in their application, because they usually mean differentiation from the world.  People want to fit in.   

Enter evangelicals.  They say that cultural issues are non-essentials. They say the Bible is silent on these things.  They say that people who apply the Bible to cultural issues generally are speaking where the Bible is silent, so these people are going beyond what is written.  Usually they also say it is legalistic to make these applications, and the people making those applications are legalists, even Pharisees.

Evangelicals use fitting in as a strategy. They call it contextualization or incarnational.  They don't want to be judged on cultural issues.  They want to be left alone and not be thought to be less for not applying the Bible in those areas.  In certain cases, they will say that they are theologically conservative and culturally liberal.  They attack separatists and fundamentalists for teaching that the Bible is authoritative or clear on cultural issues.  They mock them over this.  They go after them in public, in advertisements, and on blogs.  They separate over them.  They marginalize them.

Evangelicals gladly take the members from separatist churches.  Separatists, those who teach personal separation from the world, evangelize and hopefully win someone to Christ.  They begin to teach, and then that person perhaps discovers he can be a Christian and be just like the world. He makes that choice, the evangelical church takes him in.  Welcomes him in.  And why is he there? It isn't the theology.  It is the cultural issue.  They know it.  They use it as a strategy.  They advertise their music all the time.  They constantly talk about their no dress standard.  It is essential for them.

Usually when I hear the evangelical reasoning behind their cultural positions, it is either perverted or just superficial.  Many times it is pragmatic.  They have got a lot of mileage out of "first in importance," taking that from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  They say that they are diminishing these cultural issues to make the gospel of first importance.

I am saying that cultural issues are essential for evangelicals.  Why do I say that?  They must, must be loose and leftist culturally.  Must.  It is a must.  They must, not because of anything the Bible teaches, but because that is essential for their success.  Even the Calvinists, who trumpet their own theology, and their own dependence on dense theological thinking and heavy-duty, on the ground they are actually pragmatists.  They want to keep teaching their Calvinism or reformed theology to people who won't come if the dress isn't casual and the music isn't trendy or contemporary in style. Their churches must entertain quite a bit too with their activities.  They have to have those trappings.

What I'm talking about is about as obvious as anything to the world, that this is the way evangelicals operate.  Marketing is essential to evangelicals.  Rick Warren in his purpose driven church book said that musical style choice was the single most important point to the success of a new church.  You have to get the musical style choice right or you won't succeed.  Not everyone is as blatant as that, because they won't say it, but I don't know of any evangelical (I'm not saying there are none -- I just don't know of any) that would not be this in at least a basic way.  It is important to them not to stop a particular musical style or casual dress, but to be open about this -- this is what is essential to them.  Evangelicals will fight for this, um, "non-essential."

I've noticed that how evangelical Presbyterians oft times deal with this is by separating personal musical choices from what is used in their churches.  For instance, I know that evangelical leaders like Carl Trueman and Douglas Wilson both believe that there are limitations for corporate worship, going to something far more traditional and conservative, while having their own play list to be Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and the like.  I'm sure some semblance of the regulative principle holds them back.

Evangelicals say, the gospel, the gospel, the gospel, the gospel.  Alright, test.  If the gospel is what it is, what really matters, then let's just have Sunday best in the dress, suits and ties and modest dresses, and then very reverent, sacred, classical, conservative organ and piano.  Your churches will stay the same, since it is the gospel, right?  Nothing would change, because you're not dependent on those things, because it is only the gospel.  Great, huh?

And I'm talking about just the services.  We could go further with the mixed swimming activities and their own entertainment habits at the movie theater and rock concerts.  And a lot of social drinking of alcohol in their midst as well.  All that could be cut out, and it would not effect one iota the size of their churches, because these things are non-essential?  No way.  Their churches are built on allowing all of these things that people want to do in the world, to fit into the world.  These are essential for evangelical churches to keep the size they are.  And that is all heading further and further left and loose, what we would call worldlier.

Certain conservatives are trying to stop the slide culturally, but it is tough when they have not been making theological arguments.  It's very tough when they have been the ones defending, defending, defending cultural agnosticism.  Very tough.  The ones trying to hold back the decadent slide toward the precipice won't be able to do it, because they've been a part of it.  It won't work.  It will get worse.  They will have to admit they were wrong.  The Bible isn't silent about these things. They will have to get off their non-essential track.  I'm not holding my breath for this, because I'm not hearing it.  I hear continued digging in on that old emphasis, but at the same time trying to stop it a little in the areas they are most concerned.

They have some interesting pragmatic ways of keeping out the undesirable culturally.  As this comes to me very quickly, the first one that I think is the unity of the church argument.  Unity must be an essential, so they pick a music style that will allow for unity.  This is the doctrine of unity---voting for the favorite music style you like or want to hear the most.  They can't say they know what God wants to hear.  They can't say that there is possibly a music style that will not carry theological truth, because it is too irreverent.  But all this is because the license here is an essential to evangelicals, more than anything.  I contend it is more essential than the gospel.

Here is one that is tell-tale that I mentioned in my last aside in the last post.  The Strange Fire Conference says that the music is the entrance to Charismaticism.  It isn't a doctrinal entrance, but a musical one.  Growth of Charismaticism is most attributed to music.   Several said that and no one disagreed.  No one pushed back with "ahem, that's a non-essential."  Heads nodding.  Is anyone going to do anything about that?  What will be done to stop this horrible thing?  What?  Nothing will be done to stop strange fire from growing.  They won't.  They can't.  It would disrupt an essential.  If it wasn't essential, then wouldn't they do something about the chief cause of strange fire?

Some evangelicals won't admit that their churches are larger because of all the liberty they allow on these cultural issues.  Others will push these.  They will say this is how to get it done.  At least those who say it is the way, like Rick Warren, are being up front and honest about it.  The Conservatives give you the faux appearance that it is just because of their theology and their preaching, not because they won't say no to almost anything culturally.  They can't.  It's an essential.


Anonymous said...


This article seems to echo much of what you said:

In the style of the Screwtape Letters,

"No matter which version (original or toned-down pop) he has a taste for, have him consumed with contemporary pop hymnody to the point where, as much as possible, they ignore classic hymnody and modern hymns written in the same classic vein, such as some of those by Joan Pinkston and Paul S. Jones. I have found this strategy especially effective with youth. Let me further explain. First, I can get them to hypocritically claim that they are primarily concerned with theological depth in their music. But when a worship service includes pop hymnody and classic hymnody, with equal or better texts, I can get them to mumble through the latter but “passionately” sing through the former. Sometimes, I can even get them to perform all of their worship service songs exclusively in a pop style, even the classic hymnody (that is, if they include it). I do not let them realize that their primary concern is really the pop tunes, not the quality lyrics. Do not let them see their inconsistency in despising classic hymnody."

Jim Camp said...

Thanks, could not agree more

Anonymous said...

Good post! I enjoyed the linked article from Anonymous as well. I guess the Evangelicals do not think the gospel is power enough without the nonessentials. As you mentioned brother Brandenburg, take away the pop sound, the low standards and the entertainment from the Evangelicals worship service and you will see a mostly empty auditorium.

Ryan Hayden said...

I totally agree with this. A refusal to take a stand on cultural issues is the unspoken secret weapon that evangelicals use to keep their pews full.

Anonymous said...

I agree in part. But I disagree with the concept found in this sentence: " Their churches must entertain quite a bit too with their activities. "

I have never understood why, if someone likes something that differs, that it is labeled as "entertainment." I worship with varying styles of music, but the common denominator is that each piece is Scriptural. A woman once told me that some of the music that I sing is just entertainment. She said that she only sings hymns from the 1700s and 1800s.... because that is what she likes. I contend that if that is the only reason she likes those songs, then it is entertainment for her. Yes, I do think that the classic hymns can be just entertainment for some.

Bottom line: It is too easy to pin a label such as "entertainment" on something with which we differ or disagree. I contend that the concept of entertainment deals more with the heart of the individual. Is one seeking to worship and glorify God or only seeking to satisfy self?

Kent Brandenburg said...


When I wrote "entertain" in the particular sentence that you quoted, I had already mentioned music. I was talking about the entertainment of the activities that they offer in the church. It's the youth group, singles, young couples philosophy that I witnessed with Hyles and those types of churches that spread into fundamentalism. I see it in evangelicalism too as part of their church growth -- they entertain their people with activities. Their people take this as a church function and they don't even know any better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. That makes your position much more clear to me. I understand the caution of depending on the church for activities. On the other hand, I find that I gravitate towards being with others in our church because we share values, philosophy, standards, etc. Plus..... we just like to be together! We really enjoy being with our Sunday School class for a night of snacks and games, for instance. Again, I believe this goes back to attitude and the heart. If my attitude is that the church exists to provide these activities, and that I believe that those activities somehow provide saving grace, then I am wrong.