Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Rearranging the Deck Chairs: Negotiating or Managing the Demise of Evangelicalism

“Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” which describes futile activity in the face of impending catastrophe, first appeared in print in 1969 in Time Magazine and with reference to reforms in Roman Catholicism.  Its origination is appropriate for the parallel with the present sinking of evangelicalism.  An equivalent metaphor might be a spy keeping a handy cyanide capsule.  I was reminded of this condition of evangelicalism when reading the latest 9Marks Journal, Feburary 2019 edition, titled, Ecclesiology for Calvinists (pdf edition).

I like the nine marks of 9Marks.  In 2008 I wrote the article, Missing the Mark: 9 Marks Aren’t Enough, at the Jackhammer Blog.  I extol the original nine that Mark Dever listed.  All things considered, I would have enjoyed the Nearer My God to Thee played by the string ensemble in the face of approaching doom.  I wish the most recent edition of the 9Marks Journal signaled repentance and change, a return to biblical belief and practice.

Jonathan Leeman, the editorial director for 9Marks, gives introduction with two big concerns I also share with him:  revivalism and pragmatism.  I'm right with him in his explanation, so much so that my jaw was dropping.  Momentarily my hopes were buoyed, but as I continued to read, I could hear the sickening creaking of the ship and the chill in the air.

With few exceptions, the first article was an excellent one by Michael Lawrence, entitled, "Hey Calvinist, Enough of Your Revivalism," and it started with the question, "How do you grow your church?"  So much was good.  He even names names throughout, which could have an effect of separating himself from those he identifies. The following quotes are a good sampling:
In other words, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, not enthusiasm or momentum, that demonstrates God is at work. 
The tools of modernity produce the culture of modernity, not the kingdom of God. As survey after survey revealed, our growing churches were not filled with the results of Spirit-wrought revival, genuine converts characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, but were filled instead with the results of modern revivalism, religious consumers characterized by the spirit of the age.
Contemporary Christian music emerged from the culture of modernity.  Of what was wrong, displaying a contradictory lack of understanding to what was just written, he wrote in the last paragraph:  "There’s nothing wrong with having culturally appropriate music," conflicting with this line earlier in his piece.
From the camp meetings, altar calls, and anxious bench of the Second Great Awakening, to the marriage of emotionally powerful preaching and singing in the ministry of Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, to the stirring rallies of Billy Graham, the style of revivalism has shifted to match the changing culture.
"Culturally appropriate music" is 'worship' that "has shifted to match the changing culture."  It wasn't appropriate for godly, premodern reasons, and not now.  Finney pandered using music.  Worship should conform to God, just like everything else in the church.  The disconnect baffles me about as much as how good the rest of the article is.

Despite the inconsistencies and a desire for underlying exegesis, Michael Lawrence was refreshing for someone in the Conservative Baptist denomination on the West Coast.  I don't read this much from evangelicals.  I'm not sure the 9Marks crowd sees the ship sinking.  When they should be manning the life rafts, their eschatology, what they consider a second or third tier doctrine, gives them false hope.

Evangelicals fail to see the pragmatism of managed or negotiated evacuation.  Collin Hansen, who in 2018 authored the landmark book, Young Restless and Reformed, wrote in "Still Young, Restless, and Reformed?  The New Calvinists at 10":
Mohler’s [Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] teaching on theological triage helped YRR pastors avoid some mistakes of previous generations. Men like Graham and Henry were not primarily known as local church figures. There are some uses for mere Christianity, or lowest-common-denominator evangelicalism. But it led to confusion and the neglect of the local church and denominations that had succumbed to liberalism. 
Mohler’s triage distinguishes between first-, second-, and third-order issues so that we will learn how seriously we should regard disagreement. By contrast, lowest-common-denominator evangelicalism offered meager resistance to assaults on the character of God such as open theism and universalism. This triage helped sound the alarm bells of such first-order threats as Rob Bell’s Love Wins, published in 2011. 
At the same time, triage also helped the YRR avoid the belligerency and isolation of fundamentalism. Second-order doctrines such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, charismatic gifts, and polity are still vitally important, even if we don’t agree on every conclusion.  Triage helped us identify serious flaws in each other without condemning our friends and historical heroes to hell. Otherwise, the YRR would be cut off from much of Christian history and the global church in a kind of untenable Donatist purity. Finally, theological triage sidelined in the YRR certain issues that had formerly divided churches, such as questions surrounding the rapture and millennium. That’s where being connected to history helped. Not everything that seemed so important in late-19th and early 20th centuries is a hill to die on today or going forward. 
But triage doesn’t solve all our problems. And now, we’re seeing major disagreements in and among YRR, even within the same churches. Evangelicalism may not survive this transition.
Theological triage itself is pragmatism.  Scripture doesn't teach it.  It is rearranging the deck chairs, which Hansen himself concludes in the end, saying, "Evangelicalism may not survive this transition."  If scripture teaches separation from false doctrine, it's pragmatic not to separate to avoid either condemning historical heroes to hell or Donatist purity.  Donatist purity was the cure for what Hansen would see as first order heresies.

Both evangelicalism and fundamentalism are belligerent.  I don't seen any difference between the two.  Isolation is a caricature of the doctrine of separation.  It's a term neo-conservatives use to smear nationalist foreign diplomacy.  Biblical separation isn't isolation.  It is true unity.  It fellowships based on the truth, not by cutting the living child in two, something Solomon never planned to happen.

I can be happy that evangelicals know something is wrong.  That is evident in this 9Marks edition of their journal.  Some of the teaching in it is very good.  To save the ship, much more is needed.  Even to save what they call first order doctrines, they will need to separate, what Hansen calls "isolation" as a preventative for plugging the gaping hole.

Hansen's book was of such impact that several articles and other books proceeded from it (here and here, among others).  He coined  both "young, restless, and reformed" and "new Calvinist."  In 2009 Peter Masters, pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, wrote a scathing criticism of the new movement, entitled, "New Calvinism - The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness."  New Calvinism is another iceberg that will sink evangelicalism even faster.

To preserve organizations like 9Marks, doctrinal and practical triage is necessary.  To preserve the truth and the church, separation is necessary.  You won't save them by just rearranging the deck chairs.


Dever and Leeman discuss this edition of their journal here.  You can listen to a podcast on it.  Take out Calvinism in this instance and think instead "the Bible" or God-centered thinking and it is very good.  They are not being totally honest in my opinion, but they are so deluded in many ways, they might not be able to hear.  I wish they could.  It's interesting that Dever mentions Spurgeon's church as an example of what they're talking about.  You wonder if they might consider where Peter Masters is right now in that actual place.


Lou Martuneac said...


On July 2, 2009 I posted the Masters article The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness in its entirety at my blog. I wrote Dr. Masters for and he gave me permission to post it. The publication of his article at the Sword & Trowel could not have been better timed. Copies of the article were distributed to delegates at the FBFI Annual Fellowship in July 2009. The article dealt squarely with the subject matter of the Q&A Symposium, “Let’s Discuss Conservative Evangelicalism.”

From where I sit, I'd say his article never made a dent among the so-called “conservative” evangelicals nor the men who identify with Fundamentalism that embrace the evangelicals.


PS: Dr. Masters sent me three of his books to express his appreciation for reprinting his article.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I am glad you commented. I waited to reply because I wanted to think about it some---here's why. This post was about revivalism and pragmatism. The theology that you espouse authors revivalism and pragmatism. I don't like the revivalism and pragmatism, but you are in cahoots with those that find this as the foundational reason for this practice.

The Calvinists undermine their own system, some of which is right, like God-centeredness and sovereignty, and are hypocrites. They don't function according to the gospel being the basis of salvation, when they use their CCM and doctrinal and practical laxity to keep a bigger group and be a "success." Dever in his interview with Minnick back years ago now, said he compromised to keep the buildings. However, you are with a crowd in your soteriology that is the same way, that uses horrific methods, essentially those like Paul talked about, seeking after signs and wisdom, more of a soft continuationism. You buttress it with what you write.

Maybe Peter Masters doesn't know, but if he read your book on the doctrine of salvation, which I'm guessing he didn't, he would have real trouble with what you wrote. I don't think he would be happy with you. I think he should be more careful. I have some problems with Masters lack of separation and some of his methods. I'm sure it relates to his ecclesiology and that there is so few with which to fellowship, not excuses. It's just that he is so, so much better than the typical American revivalist and pragmatist that I like what he does in comparison.

Do you separate over revivalism and pragmatism, two of the underlying reasons for the worldliness in Christianity? It isn't consistent, Lou.

The separation piece, believing in separation, Lou, I'm with you on that, personal and ecclesiastical, but your soteriology is the underlying basis for the problem.