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The Last Evangelical Citadel

To defend the citadel, soldiers need new strategies -- ones that are actually quite old (Alexlukin/Shutterstock)

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. 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, 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. Biblical fideism is not enough, not in liquid modernity. I hope The Benedict Option 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 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.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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