Teaching the Church’s Faith (II)
The question of culture and how to engage it remains intriguing if not elusive. But even with the degree of difficulty that surrounds pinning down an adequate and practical definition of how the Church ought to engage the culture there are some clear warning signs along the path. The late John Leith noted three problems in particular dealing with the Church and culture. Last week we discussed the first of three problems, which is “…the prevalent conviction that the faith the church has confessed in the past is not adequate for a post-Enlightenment culture, the idea that faith must be accommodated to culture has undermined the teaching of the church’s faith.” Leith went on to say that “The peculiarities of our age ought not to be an excuse for our failures to proclaim the gospel as Christians have believed and confessed it through the centuries.” If we were to do that today, there would be no more controversy surrounding the mega-church, Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, or the Emergent Church, just to mention a few.
Leith also mentions a second reason why seminaries (and churches) lose their God-given focus: embracing a “multitude of causes.” Take a few minutes some time and go on line and peruse the course descriptions of a number of our “cutting edge” seminaries. It will become readily apparent very quickly that Leith’s accusation is to the point. A large number of our seminaries are “cause-driven.” The cause can be anything ranging from feminist oriented courses to Black Theology to the Theology of Liberation (theology with a Marxist sauce thrown over it), homosexual theology, the social gospel, or any number of current fads. As “contemporary” as many of these courses portend to be, they tend to fade rapidly into the background as soon as the next “latest and greatest, recent and decent, newer is better” fad comes along. Rather than giving the students a solid background in what Christians have believed and confessed throughout the centuries.
How exactly does a “cause-oriented” seminary operate? Leith states, “the cause orientation of seminary campuses not only takes time from the study of basic texts, but it also changes the focus of the seminary from its primary tasks of educating ministers to preach the gospel of what God has done and is doing for human beings to the advocacy of ‘causes’ that are flawed and that will die.”
Engaging the Culture
But there is more: “A cause-oriented seminary not only exploits the gospel of what God has done for our salvation but also the theological enterprise itself for ideological purposes.” Leith’s points are more thoroughly delineated in Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth. There are two chapters in Pearcey’s book that are particularly applicable to what Leith is saying: chapters 10 and 12. The 10th chapter is entitled “When America Met Christianity—Guess Who Won?” and the 12th is “How Women Started the Culture War.” I would like to take some of her most important points and bring them to your attention. Quite understandably, both of these chapters deal with the Second Great Awakening. Pearcey, Wells, and others have made strong cases that the Second Great Awakening was a watershed—in a negative sense. In fact, the effects caused by the close proximity of the Second Great Awakening and the Industrial Revolution are still being felt today.
Given figures such as Charles Finney, Lorenzo Dow, and John Leland the biblical doctrine of the Church and preaching took a beating. The culmination of this phenomenon was this: “The troubling thing about all this is that Christianity was not shaping the culture so much as the culture was shaping Christianity.” This remains a perennial problem today as well as a good warning when Christians launch forays into “engaging the culture.” Once undertaken, many of the tenets of the SGA had no brakes. For example, Elias Smith, a Baptist minister, resigned from his church as a manifesto of his liberty, “and began denouncing formal religion of every kind.”
If you take a quick glance at the Emergent Church movement you will see the irony and paradoxical nature of the ECM. The literature expresses that they are weary of organized religion and really don’t want “leaders” in their meetings. Nevertheless, they set meeting times and, like it or not, certain men and women have emerged as “non-leader leaders.” This approach by the ECM crowd is analogous to the man or woman on the street who tells you that they are spiritual (I call them metro-spirituals) but are opposed to organized religion. It’s important to keep in mind that this secular and supposedly Christian disdain for organized religion finds its roots in the SGA.
But it gets more interesting. Pearcey records that one of the salient results of the SGA was that “Many began to declare the right of each person to reject historic churches, ancient creeds, and theological scholarship in order to decide strictly on his own what the Bible really teaches.” Smith, for example, taught that each Christian possessed an unalienable right to follow Scripture “wherever it leads him” even if that meant embracing heterodox positions. Can you begin to see where this all led? Isn’t it patently clear that much of this is alive and well in modern evangelicalism? Pearcey is convinced that “the religious revivals became a massive defiance of traditional authority.”
Three other outworkings of the SGA were that the preacher became a performer or “storyteller,” that a “celebrity” style arose among “preachers,” and that public relations was a large factor in the celebrity of the preacher. One of the ironies of the SGA was that “the magnetic leaders who encouraged people to break away from traditional theological structures often ended up becoming authoritarian leaders within their own groups, sometimes verging on demagoguery.” Or, as Alan Wolfe puts the matter, “In every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture—and American culture has triumphed.” So we have been warned by Leith, Pearcey, Wells, Wolfe, and others that we had better know what we’re doing if we wish to engage our culture—especially 21st century culture—and we had better tread circumspectly when we engage it. In light of the fact that many theologians are coming out of seminary ill-equipped for truly engaging the culture and understanding the concepts of being “counter-cultural” and “antithesis.”
Has Feminism Died?
Chapter 12 of Pearcey’s book is “How Women Started the Culture War” also hearkens back to the SGA. I mentioned earlier that the SGA pretty well coincided with the Industrial Revolution, which moved men out of the home and into the “workplace” leaving women to fend for themselves at home. Whereas the “workplace” had previous been the rural setting where the entire family worked shoulder-to-shoulder, now the father was absent and began to neglect his duties in the home and the church. As a result, the church began to turn more and more to women for the moral leadership in the home.
In 1838 a controversial article appeared, written by a woman encouraging women to read the Bible for themselves. It said, “I believe it to be the solemn duty of every individual to search the Scriptures for themselves, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and not be governed by the views of any man, or set of men.” Clearly, this was substantially more than Luther intended with the “priesthood of all believers.” The end of the quotation is very instructive.
Pearcey points out that “The revivalists also permitted women to pray and speak publicly, and even to become ‘exhorters’ (teaching assistants)…” Moreover, revivalists “…began to speak of women as being more naturally religious than men, and urged wives to be the means of converting their more worldly husbands.” The upshot of all this was the feminization of the Church. Rather than calling men to account about their lives and lifestyles, the Church catered more and more to women. The many Temperance Leagues that sprang up across the country were led, by and large, by women.
This means, among other things, that the “Feminist Movement” of the 1960s and 1970s was little more than an extension of the SGA. Granted that the preponderance of the feminists of the ‘60s and ’70 were secularists, not all of them were. It wasn’t long before we began hearing about “Evangelical Feminists” or “Biblical Feminists.” The carry over has to do with “emotions.” Because the SGA increasingly focused on women, the messages tended to stress the emotional, feeling side of the Christian faith and the sermons “seemed to be pitched especially to women.”
Pearcey is spot on when she writes, “American churches still typically attract more women than men, giving rise to the stereotype that religion is for women and children.” There was even—following culture—a movement for Christian men to get in touch with their feminine side. When my wife was asked what I did to get in touch with my feminine side she laconically replied, “He goes shooting.” Ironically, there was not equal pressure for women to get in touch with their masculine sides, although those who went into the workplace themselves—thereby extricating themselves from the “ghetto” of the home—learned crude jokes and language from their work colleagues. Equally ironically, women in the workplace traded one ruler for another. If their husbands were not acting in a biblical, Christian fashion, did they really expect their employer to? Obviously, some did.
But feminists were not satisfied with getting into the workplace in general, they aimed at getting into the military and our military schools as well. They succeeded—sort of. Actually they didn’t succeed, but that is something for another blog. Of course, the men are not blameless in this all nor were they unaffected by what the Industrial Revolution required of them. Along with the good came a lot of bad as well. “…[A]s men went forth to do battle in the tough, competitive work of commerce and politics, the masculine character itself was redefined as morally hardened, competitive, aggressive, and self-interested.”
The Church stepped in to remind the men that they were crude and brutish and that they needed to learn virtue from their wives. A number of men succumbed to the pressure and acquiesced to the “new ethos.” Whereas in colonial times men were viewed a paragons of virtue and leadership, the Industrial Revolution released them “from the requirement to be virtuous. For the first time, moral and spiritual leadership were no longer viewed as masculine attributes.”
All this did not leave the pastoral ministry unscathed either. Ann Douglas in her book The Feminization of American Culture informs us that the ministry itself lost “a toughness, a sternness, an intellectual rigor which our society then and since has been accustomed to identify with ‘masculinity,’ and instead took on feminine traits of care, nurturing, sentimentalism, and retreat from the hard, competitive ethos of the public arena.” In truth, the sword of the Spirit had been muffled up and decked out with flowers and ribbons. Douglas goes on to say, “New England ministers fervently reiterated their consensus that mothers were more important than fathers in forming ‘the tastes, sentiments, and habits of children and more effective in instructing.” The result is not surprising. All things considered, mothers increasingly “took over the formerly paternal task of conducting family prayers” and the now feminine-oriented churches released men from the responsibility of being strong, effective spiritual Christian leaders in both home and church—not to mention in the world/culture.
This partially explains the title of David Murrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church. One of the ironies of Murrow’s book is out of ten “blurbs” that bedeck modern books six are women. All of this is merely a timely reminder of the truth of what Leith laments. Seminaries need to get back to the task of training seminarians to be men. It is only when men has a good grasp of who they are and how God created them that they will stop the nonsense of trying to get in touch with their feminine side. And if the seminaries are not willing to train men this way, then I suggest that future pastors volunteer for the military, go to regular boot camp, learn how the proverbial “other half” lives, get muddy and dirty, spend sleepless nights outside in the heat and cold, learn how to lead, and then go to seminary. Not only will you be better prepared, but perhaps you can point out to your professors where they are acting more like “girly men” than men.Pastor and churches need to return to real male leadership. 80% of public school teachers are women. Almost 100% of home school teachers are moms. There is a crying need for a strong male presence and leadership in home, church, and society. I’m not talking here about macho-men, but I think it’s safe to assume in our culture that that would be the first thing that would come to the mind of many. Oh, Ron just wants the men to become ex-tank commanders, wrestlers, tough guys. No, I just want men to start acting, thinking, praying, and leading like real biblical men, and they’d better start before it’s too late!
 John Leith, Crisis in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p. 40. Italics mine.
 Ibid., 42.
 Ibid. Italics mine.
 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth. Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004).
 Ibid., 277.
 Ibid., 278.
 Ibid., 286.
 Ibid., 286-289.
 Ibid., 290.
 Alan Wolfe, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, (NY: Free Press, 2003), p. 80.
 Pearcey, TT, 326.
 Ibid. Italics mine.
 Ibid. 332.
 Ibid., 333.
 Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, (NY: Knopf, 1977), p. 18.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 75.
 David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005).