Evangelicalism’s Love Affair with Fads (I)
It seems that those in the modern Church—both theologians and the man and woman in the pew—have an ongoing love affair with fads. The last four decades have borne this truth out in the pews, in the pulpits, and in a large number of seminaries. Whatever is the “latest and greatest” attracts the attention of the modern Christian almost immediately. Of course, I’m not talking about every evangelical, but without a doubt, there is a clearly discernible trend that has been around for about four decades, if not longer, and it isn’t improving. In fact, it continues to get more bizarre and left-wing the longer it exists.
In one sense, these “trendy,” creative attempts and approaches to theology have been around since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. As far as original sin is concerned, distorting God’s truth “goes with the turf.” But rather than starting in Eden or even East of Eden, I want to focus on the more immediate context at the front-end of the 21st century. I could cite a number of different aspects that point to fads in the modern Church, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus only on a few.
Within the time frame of two to four decades, theological trends, fads have come and gone, some at a graciously alarming rate. I say “graciously” alarming rate because the Death of God theology took off like a skyrocket and very quickly crashed and burned—thankfully, graciously. There are a number of other “movements” or types of theology that are taught in seminaries that are not all that helpful. For example, you could—and possibly still can—study The Theology of the Secular, Theology as Literature, Game Theology, The Greening of America and Consciousness III (clearly Consciousness I and II are prerequisites!), The Theology of Hope (or maybe Hype), The Communist-Christian Dialogue, The Theology of Play, Black Theology, Liberation Theology, and Feminist Theology, just to mention the most obvious and most popular.
There are some conclusions to be drawn here that have a direct impact upon our current situation in the modern Church. Since seminaries have dropped many of their core courses and have substituted some or all of the above; have dropped their language requirements and have substituted pop-psychology courses; and have added professors who speak, act, and think more like secular university professors than church theologians, is it any wonder that the 21st century Church is also in a “crisis?”
As often as not, when these types of discussions occur, there is some vague appeal to Calvin’s work on the necessity of reforming the Church. Yes, I understand that John Calvin wrote about the Church always reforming herself. Many today, however, will cite Calvin as if he would approve of the current fads and nonsense under the guise of biblical reform. In point of fact, if you take the time actually to read that treatise, The Necessity of Reforming the Church,—there’s a novel idea—then you’ll discover that he had some very clear, cogent, and specific ideas of precisely how the Church was to be reformed.
As many modern pastors, writers, and theologians describe what they consider to be essential for the modern Church you quickly conclude that they have not actually read Calvin’s treatise, but have only heard of it. What Calvin meant and what many today twist his words to mean are quite different. Calvin’s insistence in his treatise was that the Church must be reforming herself according to the Word of God and not according to the whim or personal history of any man or group of men.
David Wells has, in a masterful manner, exposed the bankruptcy of modern evangelicalism in four provocative books that are well worth the time it takes to read them. Evangelicalism’s adherents, devotees continue, however, to insist on ever-new programs that promise much but deliver precious little in terms of true spiritual content. The net result is a spiritual downward spiral that began at seminary, was continued in the pastorate, and was passed on to the congregation. Modern seminary professors, pastors (if they even bother to attend seminary), and God’s people are “subject to being blown about by every wind of doctrine and every fad, lacking a clear identity…” Of course, at one level it is completely understandable that the modern Church is in rather constant search of the new, the creative, and the innovative. Modern church-goers insist on being entertained, so by pretending to be biblically reformational by a vague appeal to Calvin—I mean, who knows what’s biblical and what isn’t any more?—you can pull some rather expensive, yet creative, wool over the people’s eyes. Sadly, they won’t even know you’ve done it.
Pertinent examples of what I’m talking about are found in both the mega-church and Emergent Church Movement. From the outset, these movements ignored classical Christianity. The outset of the mega-church movement saw anything resembling Christianity removed from the meeting area (crosses, Bibles, etc.) in an attempt to make the “audience” comfortable. Eventually, retractable screens were used so that intractable people could feel good about themselves. Just as Calvin was drawn upon in a vain attempt to keep church from being boring and irrelevant, as often as not, Martin Luther was appealed to regarding music.
This is precisely how pooled ignorance substitutes for careful study. Paul Jones, in his excellent new book, Singing and Making Music. Issues in Church Music Today, devotes an entire chapter to Luther and the modern Church’s appeal to him as the forerunner to the Maranatha Singers. In a chapter entitled, “Luther and Bar Song: The Truth, Please!” Jones states, “If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that Martin Luther used tavern music for his hymns and that ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ was a drinking song, I would be a wealthy man. Yet such assertions are simply not true.” This myth, this inaccuracy has been perpetrated upon the modern Church until, like the old adage, if you repeat the lie long enough, people will believe it.
So the pragmatic (il)logic goes like this: “as long as the words are Christian words, the music is of little consequence—worse yet, the world’s music is the best way to win worldly people to Christ.” Jones proceeds to say, “The careless acceptance of these errant ideas has done great damage to the integrity of church music and worship in our time.” Want the real scoop? Luther composed both the text of A Mighty Fortress is Our God based on Psalm 46 and the original tune for this chorale in 1529. In point of fact, “None of Luther’s tunes can be traced back to drinking songs.”
Another apocryphal story that adds feet-moving, handclapping fuel to the fire is the hoax that Luther actually asked, “Why should the Devil have all the good music?” With disinformation like this, it’s only a short step to take popular songs and add Christian words—as if that actually constitutes true worship of God then. Those of us who remember the Jesus Movement will recall a song containing that question from Larry Norman. Arguably, Norman built a commercial Christian rock empire from some of this early works. In that sense, then, he was the forerunner of a preponderance of what we find in contemporary Christian music today.
My point here is simply that almost the entire enterprise of using contemporary tunes set with Christian words is supposed to be traceable back to Martin Luther. The (false) premise is, then, “that the simple addition of sacred text or Christian words to a tune makes it worthy of use in worship.” Jones corrects us: “But adding scriptural text to a heavy-metal tune or even to vapid easy-listening rock does not make it appropriate for worship. The ideological conflict of the two forces is irreconcilable. The music’s destructive and purposely anti-God, anti-authoritarian nature remains undiminished even if it is played by well-meaning Christians.”Yet, the modern Church marches onward undeterred by historical fact and God’s truth. Is there any wonder that charlatans such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Robert Schuller, Paul and Jan Crouch can continue successfully to ply their trade? In reality, we have not gotten beyond the tip of the iceberg with the mega-church movement and the spiritual destruction and deception they have served up to their audiences. We must, however, move on to take a look at the Emergent Church Movement since it, too, is burdened with a multitude problems stemming from their unbiblical stances on a host of traditional, classical Christian doctrines.
 I’m indebted to the late John H. Leith for a number of theses examples. Cf. Crisis in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1997), p. 52.
 Those books are: No Place for Truth. Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993); God in the Wasteland. The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); Losing Our Virtue. Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); Above All Earthly Pow’rs. Christ in a Postmodern World, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2005).
 Leith, CC, 6.
 Paul S. Jones, Singing and Making Music. Issues in Church Music Today, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2006), p. 171.
 Ibid., 171-172.
 Ibid. 172.
 Ibid., 175.
 Ibid. Italics mine.