- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Last Evangelical Citadel

David Goodwin, head of the Association of Classical Christian Schools, writes that Evangelicals (of which he is one) regard the Bible as their “citadel,” but now find themselves struggling to defend it in post-Christianity. [1] The problem, it seems to me, is fideism. Excerpts:

What has been lost with Evangelicals is the intellectual tradition of Christianity. Evangelicals scramble to rightly contextualize God’s word because we are not intellectually equipped to do so. 50 or 100 years ago, we were convinced to broaden verses like “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female in Christ” (Galatians 3, Colossians 4) to justify our support of progressive agendas like feminism, while passing over other verses about sexual roles in the church, family, and society (1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 3, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 11…). This led us down a road that converged with the Enlightenment’s view of the individual. We mis-applied Galatians 3 to embrace the idea we live in a structure and under an authority defined by ourselves, rather than by God.
But did God create male and female so they could self-identify against the nature He created? Or, against the purpose for which they were created? If so, then who is sovereign—man or God? Puzzled Evangelicals have no systematic way of resolving this conflict, so we predictably fall back to our favorite Evangelical verse: the Great Commission from Matt 29, v. 19-20, which calls us to “go into all the world.” We just need to tell others about Jesus! But, in doing so, we skip past v. 18: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

What he’s saying is that popular Evangelicalism has avoided doing the hard thinking about divine order, human nature, hierarchy, and suchlike, doubling down instead on preaching and revival. This is a failure of discipleship, and an inadvertent downplaying of the Incarnation, which entails the existence of a divine Logos manifest in all Creation.

More Goodwin:

The only systematic theology most Evangelicals encounter is the progressive American theology taught in the media and in public school—which stands for extreme self-determination.

For a time, Evangelicals will hold out in our crumbling biblical citadel. We will take Paul and Christ at their word. We will defend the traditional family (weakly). But if someone asks “if men and women can self-define their roles, why can’t we all self-define our gender?” There will be a pause. Evangelicals who lack a systematic truth system based in scripture will succumb to the lie offered by our culture. This is why we Evangelicals should embrace classical Christian education. In classical Christian classrooms, we remember that Jesus was given all authority in heaven AND on earth. We study every single subject as an integrated whole with theology as the queen, ruling over all knowledge. We dedicate the 16,000 hours that our children are in school to this one critical task.

Goodwin cites the recent podcast interview Al Mohler did with me [2], in which Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the nation’s leading religious conservatives, said that Evangelicals don’t have what it takes to do the Benedict Option because they are not intellectually serious enough to ground themselves in the Reformation roots of their own tradition. Goodwin:

In the end, Al Mohler was right. Most Evangelicals do not presently have the ability to execute the Benedict Option. But if we return to the systematic theology of our Protestant forefathers (and the educational system they used to perpetuate that theology), we have the strength of the gospel on our side. It really does all hold together with the power of His Word.

Read the whole thing. [1] Biblical fideism is not enough, not in liquid modernity. I hope The Benedict Option [3] will inspire some tough, fruitful conversations among Evangelicals. The challenge facing Catholics and Orthodox is different, but based on a fideism particular to them: the belief that the Church system is sufficient to produce new generations of Christians whose hearts and minds are formed by Christianity.

Right now, Christian Smith’s research [4] shows that just about everybody is failing catastrophically at this.  We have to do better. Our institutions are at this point only managing decline. This is no time for complacency.

73 Comments (Open | Close)

73 Comments To "The Last Evangelical Citadel"

#1 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 16, 2017 @ 8:38 pm

“Love your enemy” and “Kill everyone that pisseth against the wall” are in the same Bible.

For the record, there is no general prescription against any and all who “pisseth against the wall.” The phrase is used as a derogatory epithet of Jeroboam, and of Ahab, and apparently certain enemies were to be deprived of all followers and retainers of the male sex. Now the Amelekites, that’s another story.

Paul accepted that the church had to live within the social structures they were given, but he also understood that the Christ-given dignity and significance of every husband, wife, parent, child, master, and slave had to be respected in ways that the household codes did not mandate.

That sounds good. But it sounds a little different than “the whole of Scripture is inspired.” Some of Scripture is about coming to terms with the social context in which one lives… and apparently that means said social context is not mandated for all time by Scripture, merely because it is mentioned.

Activists are increasingly vocal about denying the truth of this, even putting pressure on the medical community (who we know will cave) to cease using certain terms like ‘gender dysphoria’. I don’t know where that will end.

That’s true Elijah, they do that. When I say sexual dysphoria is a medical diagnosis, not an oppressed minority, I say it in the teeth of said activists. They have their heads inserted so deep into their own navels they wouldn’t know a fact if it slapped them on the rear end.

But there is no record of any Christians of any kind in any part of the Christian world at any point in history having ever interpreted the Scriptures in that way

In the first century, they didn’t interpret Scriptures, they lived and wrote them. There is plausible inference that women served in leadership roles — and its not clear there was yet such a thing as priesthood.

I’m not sure we read the same post. I don’t read anywhere in this post under discussion an advocacy for rescinding the constitution and instituting a theocracy a la Calvin or the Dalai Lhama.

Start with this: ” In classical Christian classrooms, we remember that Jesus was given all authority in heaven AND on earth. We study every single subject as an integrated whole with theology as the queen, ruling over all knowledge.” But the key point is this phrase: “while passing over other verses about sexual roles in the church, family, and society.” So, the author might answer my concerns, but, the question is, how is Jesus’s authority over “society” exercised? I’m quite convinced that the hand of God is visible in the course of the Civil War, developing an outcome sought by the leaders of neither army. But as far as the men leading the nation and the abortive rebellion were concerned, both prayed to the same God, and God could not answer the prayers of both, may not have cared to grant the prayers of either (to paraphrase Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address).

Ultimately, appeals to the Authority of God, or Jesus, fall short because we have no unassailable comprehensive understanding of WHAT exactly that amounts to. What is offered above is one man’s, or one church’s, or one profitable educational business’s, understanding of what Jesus commands.

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 16, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

I happen to think Rod’s work is extremely important and I’ve gotten quite a number of folks I correspond with to follow him. They in turn have turned others on to his work as well, as they’ve reported back to me.

I’d like to ask in the interest of our common love for the Lord, if that is what we do share, that folks also respect that what Rod intends is to shore up all of us, and not to undermine any of our orthodox faith traditions in favor of another.

When people do voice that no one will survive unless they “return” to Mother Rome or Patriarchal Eastern Orthodoxy (which none of us North American Protestants and Anabaptists alive ever did), then a valid response to that is to point out their calls as counterproductive to the purpose that Rod intends. Even if no response is offered, that is still true.

If I gave voice to this annoyance, you can bet that of the many who read but never write anything here, some can’t help but draw similar conclusions. I’m certainly not an outlier, since my own perceptions for better or worse track popular perceptions on the political side, having either supported or predicted every successful Presidential candidate since 1968.

#3 Comment By Hound of Ulster On February 16, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

The Reformation was an unmitigated disaster for Christanity…but so was the Great Schism. In fact, Orthodox fathers such as St. Justin Popovic trace a direct line from the papal claims to the extreme individualism of modern society. Very interesting stuff all around.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 16, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

“…for many Evangelicals, there is no comprehensive, coherent Biblical worldview.”

I don’t know who has been interviewed to prove that. The truth of the matter is, perhaps of people in general, not many have worked that out for themselves, either, but simply float along the stream of whatever is culturally relevant to their own experience.

The thing is, when you’re young, no matter how perceptive, it’s not yet possible to substantially test any competing worldviews you will encounter against personal experience. But if you take the questions of the purpose of life seriously, you will make the attempt. There are no complete answers possible for us, but I am convinced a Christian world view more accurately comports with the realities we observe, properly understood, than any of the alternatives. That said, like philosopher Mortimer Adler, all the analysis and even near proofs in the world can’t bridge the gap between man and God, until man accepts God’s intervention instead of man’s own efforts at understanding. As the rich man who knew Lazarus was told, even if someone came back from the dead, they wouldn’t comprehend it on their own.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 16, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

“The Reformation was an unmitigated disaster for Christanity”

One might say, the necessity for it was driven by an unmitigated disaster – the degradation of the papal Borgias, for instance, among many other outrages to good conscience by the hierarchy who damaged its moral authority among the laity. An unfolding disaster of the failure to be corrected resulted in the compounding errors of its counter-reformation.

Practically speaking, the Reformation was a tremendous boon, for the knowledge of Christ has spread throughout the world, driven in large measure by Protestant evangelists. And even the Roman Church has benefited, by being forced into recognizing the separation of church from state which it had so long violated, and the recognition that the faithful have alternates to it in competing churches, if its hierarchy grossly misbehaves.

I think Dostoyevsky’s sharply drawn critique of the Roman Church become betrayer of Christ’s return, through his Grand Inquisitor’s monologue as delivered by Ivan Karamazov, remains one of the most spiritually insightful in history, right down to the old man’s fatal kiss.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 16, 2017 @ 10:52 pm

Hound of Ulster, I admire the Reformation, but I draw more on the tradition of Wycliffe than of Luther or Calvin. I do recall someone who commented at Rod’s old Beliefnet blog that the Reformation will not end until the Pope returns to Holy Orthodoxy, because the Pope was the first Protestant, putting his own individual prerogatives above the collegial governance of all the Patriarchs. There may be something to that.

#7 Comment By Nelson On February 16, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

I basically lost faith with the Bible when I read the book of Joshua. That was not a loving God there.

#8 Comment By Kathleen On February 16, 2017 @ 11:59 pm

The debate between evangelicals and those in sacramental faith traditions tends to orient along the lines ofsola scriptura versus the benefits of a magisterium. I’ve spent time in both traditions but now living between the two convinces me that precognitive differences, what sociologists refer to as a habitus, best describes the deeper structures that undergird the positions discussed on this thread.

The wiki describes a habitus as a “system of embodied dispositions, tendencies that organize the ways in which individuals perceive the social world around them and react to it.”

Anglican to Catholic convert, Fr. John Hunwicke, takes up the differences as articulated in John Henry Newman’s novel Loss and Gain. In the novel a Catholic convert explains that Catholicism and Protestantism are essentially two different religions:

“The idea of worship is different … for, in truth, the religions are different. Don’t deceive yourself… it is not that ours is your religion carried a little further—a little too far, as you would say. No, they differ in kind, not in degree: ours is one religion and yours is another”.

Fr. Hunwicke states: “This is an important perception today, when much misunderstanding is caused both in ecumenical dialogue and in the subject called ‘Comparative Religion’ by those who fail too realise that religions can have radically different structures; their fundamental grammar may be wholly different, not just their superficial features. As so often, Newman is a thinker and an analyst very much for our time”:

From the novel:“To me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever, and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words – it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present upon the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble… Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission”.

Back to Father Hunwicke: “In other words, for classical Protestantism, the Eucharist is an acted word; it is a sermon dramatised; it is intended to instruct the witnesses and draw their heart to that saving faith which justifies. But for the Catholic, it is an opus operatum; an action which by the powerful and indefectible promise of Christ is objectively (not merely subjectively and in the heart of the believer) effective. So the celebrant is not in the business of moving or instructing or edifying or converting the viewer – if such may be the the by-products, even useful ones, of the action, they are not its intrinsic purpose. The priest’s intrinsic purpose is to confect and offer the Body and Blood of the Redeemer in sacrifice for the sins of men. Failure to realise this is at the heart of what is wrong with so much modern and ‘relevant’ liturgy. And failure to realise this is to fall into the structured error which we call the Enlightenment.”

As I read books on Catholicism I made the conceptual leap from “just me and my Bible” to entering into an external structure that has existed throughout time. I became part of the eternal framework that mediates God through apostolic succession and mediation through performance. The heavenly blueprint and the Communion of Saints was made visible through liturgical architecture and artwork.

In attempting to revert to Protestantism I find I am getting smaller; I am shrinking back into myself. I am losing that larger metaphysical space that I inhabited as a Catholic. The process is not all bad and it is unavoidable.

The rest of Fr. Hunwicke’s post here:

[5]

#9 Comment By Charlieford On February 17, 2017 @ 7:48 am

“… popular Evangelicalism has avoided doing the hard thinking about divine order, human nature, hierarchy, and suchlike, doubling down instead on preaching and revival.”

Of course. (I speak as one myself.) That’s, if not the essence of evangelicalism, that’s its modus operandi. Depart from that, and it dies.

Most people simply aren’t up for “hard thinking” about anything. They don’t even want to hear reports from those doing any “hard thinking.”

The vast majority of people find “The Bachelorette” just right for them. These are the folk evangelicalism makes it pitch to, and that’s how it remains a genuinely “popular” movement.

#10 Comment By Elijah On February 17, 2017 @ 9:17 am

One last thing: for all of the shortcomings of Evangelicalism, I remain an Evangelical who wishes his church would adopt some of the spiritual practices of the reformers.

But it is very important, I think, for all Christians to take heed of Jesus’ words in John 17:20-23. Unity is not an option, it is a Biblical command. We must not let polemics further divide us, tempting as it often is.

It’s always worth remembering that as believers, we all depend on Christ for salvation, period. That is the basis for our brotherhood, imperfect as it may be.

#11 Comment By Wes On February 17, 2017 @ 9:19 am

Re Sola Scriptura:

From the Gospel of John: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

#12 Comment By Ken On February 17, 2017 @ 9:41 am

Nelson: What you encountered in the book of Joshua was a holy God. Sinners naturally recoil in the presence of holiness out of an impulse for self-preservation.

#13 Comment By Gregory Martha Herr Obl.S.B. On February 17, 2017 @ 10:02 am

The Benedict Option: “The world’s biggest charity”

This is Us.

[6]

#14 Comment By Ron Miller On February 17, 2017 @ 10:14 am

Forgive me if you’ve been asked this question before, but regarding the Benedict Option, you’ve shared a voluminous amount of rich commentary and provided your own context on it over the past couple of years through your columns. This column is a prime example of that.

While the book, which I’ve pre-ordered and will read while convalescing from a total hip replacement (!), is perhaps the culmination of your research, do you plan to consolidate these and future columns and/or the links to resources therein in a place where those of us who believe in this initiative can be fully educated and equipped to act? I know that is much to ask, but it would bless many of us, I’m sure.

#15 Comment By RockMeAmadeus On February 17, 2017 @ 10:27 am

Well when “everybody” is potentially a priest and one’s understanding of one’s authoritative Divine scripture is based on inconsistent translations from Latin, then yes, one won’t be able to “defend the citadel”.

Maybe the “western” Churches should nurture more scholars of ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek and Aramaic.

In the meantime notice that the “eastern” Churches- which are somewhat closer to the original words of the Scripture- have rarely been infected by “reformation” and “liberalism”.

And notice how the “other” two Abrahamic religions insist on keeping the original language of their scriptures and reject the authority of any translations.

#16 Comment By David On February 17, 2017 @ 3:29 pm

Pray for wisdom right? So I’m going to do that before commenting. Having done so literally let’s continue.

The senior pastor of a well known evangelical church which I won’t name because I don’t wish to speak for him or the church talked about understanding the Bible and here’s the way to do. First and foremost every word of the Bible are God’s words. We may say Paul wrote this but every word that Paul wrote came directly from God Himself. Next comes how to understand it. “Text, context, pretext” is where you start. You read the text, put it in context, and understand what goes before it. He went on to say that take it literally at all times unless clearly it’s parable which almost all the time we can derive that from the writing. (Genesis given the way it’s written strongly suggests that it is literal and science as he has pointed out increasingly supports a literal interpretation.) Going back to the original text helps too because looking at the original Greek helps us with understanding the meaning of the passage.

Evangelicals who don’t compromise on the message, and he and the church he is pastor of, doesn’t and never has, do in fact focus on bringing the message of Christ to those who do not know Him as their personal Lord and Savior. The Bible is quite clear on how you get to heaven, Ephesians 2:8/9 John chapter three and so many other references. We can talk about discipleship all we want and this church talks about it a lot but you have to be a Christian first to become a disciple don’t you? And note that the moment Paul came to Christ he went out preaching the word even though he was brand new to Christianity and was not remotely in the league of the other disciples. That did not stop him from telling others about Christ nor should it, nor should it stop us as long as we understand the basics of what it takes to become a Christian. We so often forget and so many commentators forget this that the moment we became Christians the Holy Spirit comes and dwells within us acting as our guide from then on. We should not casually dismiss the power that the Holy Spirit has on the lives of even brand new Christians.

Finally we can talk about art, music, the magic of the worship service, all of it. But for people in say the rural areas of the Philippines where the building is an open air nipa hut, and the music is an out of tune guitar, is the worship service any less moving? Does God delight in it less? Is it the music, the building or what’s in our hearts? The Bible reminds us does it not that if any two people gather in my name. As I did one day in freezing temperatures with a street person, a fellow Christian. We talked for 10 minutes about our Savior and had “church”. And it was moving and inspiring indeed.

In the end it’s not about this religion that religion, it’s about seeking the will of God and doing it. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the one true “church” is the one created by Jesus himself with Him as the head of it. The one true religion is based on what He did on the Cross and His Resurrection and what that means for all of us. Let’s not lose sight of that please?

#17 Comment By JonF On February 17, 2017 @ 6:30 pm

Re: We may say Paul wrote this but every word that Paul wrote came directly from God Himself.

This is an extreme interpretation. God inspired Scripture, but did not dictate it word by word. The words are indeed theirs, and that is why we need to seek the Truth underneath them. OK, sometimes it’s very transparent. But even if read in the original tongues there’s much that is obscure and difficult of contradiction. Hence the need of the Church (which compiled the Bible originally), and not just anyone with his own axe to grind.

#18 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 17, 2017 @ 7:25 pm

We may say Paul wrote this but every word that Paul wrote came directly from God Himself. Next comes how to understand it. “Text, context, pretext” is where you start. You read the text, put it in context, and understand what goes before it. He went on to say that take it literally at all times unless clearly it’s parable which almost all the time we can derive that from the writing. (Genesis given the way it’s written strongly suggests that it is literal and science as he has pointed out increasingly supports a literal interpretation.)

Paul one at least one occasion explicitly denied that he was speaking for God.

I’m not a big enthusiast of Genesis anyway, and there would be excellent reasons not to take it literally even if Charles Darwin and Wallace had never been born, but if you think you have evidence that “science” (which science, btw?) supports a literal interpretation of genesis I’d really like to see it.

#19 Comment By Mia On February 17, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

Awesome. So the entirety of Christian civilization rests on women knowing their place. Remind me to stay away from the Association of Classical Christian Schools, because this kind of commentary is barely worth taking seriously.

#20 Comment By Nelson On February 18, 2017 @ 2:38 am

Nelson: What you encountered in the book of Joshua was a holy God. Sinners naturally recoil in the presence of holiness out of an impulse for self-preservation.

Not at all. The commandment “thou shalt not kill” was broken repeatedly, apparently at the suggestion of God himself. Basically, it is pure evil done in God’s name. Either it is true and God is hypocritically evil, or it is false. I choose to believe the later.

#21 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 18, 2017 @ 7:39 am

To use Rod’s phrase, faith in the Bible is necessary, but not sufficient. Words, then deeds. Faith, then action.

#22 Comment By Geronimo On February 18, 2017 @ 10:10 am

“…we remember that Jesus was given all authority in heaven AND on earth…”

And the next question will be to whom God gives authority, returning to the 30 Years War. To the Pope? To the pastor? If there is a divine order who has the divine right to rule and who has the divine right to obey? Is the World an imperfect reflection of the Heavens? Should it be?

Evangelicals avoid those questions, and with good reasons: those are the questions that killed the West long ago and the reason religion was made a private matter. The SJWs, transsexuals in female’s bathrooms, are just the maggots eating the corpse.

#23 Comment By Elijah On February 23, 2017 @ 10:41 am

“He went on to say that take it literally at all times unless clearly it’s parable which almost all the time we can derive that from the writing.”

@ David – the problem here is that it’s not always so easy. “This is my body, given for you.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” “Pray like this: Our Father…” Why don’t we Evangelicals take those verses literally?