Engaging the What? (II)
In the academic year 1908/1909, Dr. Herman Bavinck delivered the L. P. Stone Lectures at Princeton. Of the eight lectures, only six were actually delivered. The English translation was performed by Bavinck’s lifelong friend, Geerhardus Vos, as well as Henry Dosker and Nicholas Steffens. We closed our last installment with a deliberate quotation from Bavinck’s lecture on revelation and culture to the effect that those who are enamored of culture or who look at it with a “happy” eye fail to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession.
This seems to be the malady of a large portion of the Christian Church today. I’ll use Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren as examples. Both have written the equivalent of books on ethics filled with “shoulds” and “oughts.” Simultaneously, their books are virtually void of serious engagement with Scripture on issues such as (just) war, global warming, global poverty (how do you eliminate that when you cannot even eliminate it in your own country and Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with us?), environmentalism, renewable energy, equality, diversity, family, homosexuality, abortion, and the list goes on and on. Wallis and McLaren talk a game that can give the impression that they are deeply concerned (who isn’t?), but offer precious little in terms of real solutions. But it is all so trendy and sounds so hip. It’s a like a number of our PCA church plants and church planters who are hot to trot for engaging the culture. Over at Pressing On I found an interesting thread dated October 8, 2007. The blogger asserts that “The phrase ‘engaging the culture’ has become one of the new buzz phrases of many in the church over the last couple of years.” It still remains a very ill-defined phrase, with notable exception, in the PCA. No one has even nearly approximated what Bavinck described in one lecture.
As often as not, engaging the culture means doing something to get the unchurched into the church service. For the most part, scant time has been devoted to what we mean when we employ the term “engage.” Ostensibly, this is a “flat line” term with only one definition and we all know precisely what that term means—or do we? “Engaging” the culture does sound more intellectual and caring though. It is smoother, more glib than, say, “meshing with” the culture, “fitting in with” the culture, or “interlocking with” the culture. The blog site asked some very good, pertinent questions that to my mind demand answers from all of us. Here is a sampling of some of the provocative questions. First, “Does the method and means by which the gospel truth is shared matter?” In other words, does the Bible give us the wiggle room to use anything in an “evangelicalism trumps everything” motif? Second, when we are talking to Paul and Patty Pagan, “Is the gospel truth watered down or certain parts ignored or deemphasized so that it will be charming and compelling?” If we believe that it is necessary to ignore certain truths of the Bible, which parts of the gospel are unaffected by being watered down? Third, “Is the gospel truth obscured by all the other stuff that is done to engage them?” A decent barometer would be to go to the unchurched that have attended these assemblies and find out how much biblical truth they understand after a year. Fourth, “Is doing church like this really a subtle form of manipulation?” In other words, by engaging the culture by compromising the gospel aren’t we engaging in deception and dishonesty? I would ask a similar question of those PCA churches who refuse to use the word Presbyterian in their name or those who claim to be PCA and the only ultimate resemblance between their way of “doing church” and Presbyterianism is purely coincidental. Doesn’t basic Christian honesty require that we tell our members—eventually—that we are actually Presbyterians? Isn’t there an obligation to teach from Scripture that homosexuality and abortion are condemned by God in the Bible? Are we fearful that once with explain to a member or one who attends our worship services that yes, abortion is wrong because it is murder, but the wonder of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is that his precious shed blood is sufficient to cover the sin of abortion as well?
I don’t know how many of my colleagues open with prayer at civic meetings in their locales. I used to, but I caused much consternation because I insisted on praying in the name of Christ. I was asked not to, but I did it every time. Finally, I was told that if I kept on, I would not be asked back to pray anymore. I was not asked back to pray anymore. If I have scruples about praying in Jesus’ Name at the opening of a city council meeting, why would I hesitate to tell a sinner that a sin is a sin, but the wonders of grace are that in Christ there is rich, bounteous, and plentiful forgiveness?
Bavinck’s belief was that first and foremost Christians are to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession, which would entail no watering down of the truth. This clearly doesn’t mean that we should “rub it in the face” of the non-believer, but at the same time, we should not sugarcoat the gospel or walk on eggshells around non-believers so that they’ll think we’re nice guys and girls. Without a doubt, we are discussing competing, opposite worldviews and both parties need to acknowledge that in the discussion, engagement. The manner in which a non-believer thinks about God, man, society, truth, knowledge, and ethics is, as often as not, one-hundred-and-eighty degrees out of phase with the Christian life and worldview.
It is more than interesting—and more than coincidental—that the modern purveyors of pacifism bear a striking resemblance to many who preceded them. For example, both black suit, black turtleneck Jim Wallis and old Birkenstock and designer latte Bri sound a lot like Tolstoi, who also constructed a “wholly passive ethics, from the commandment in the sermon on the mount…” This aspect of the Social Gospel is quite in vogue today, especially among some pastors. Some think that pacifism is the default setting for pastors, while others view such a position as the actual loss of manhood. We have lost the concept of the gentleman/warrior in the shuffle. To be a “gentleman” doesn’t mean that you are a dandy, but involves teaching/mentoring other young men and boys that a gentleman’s honor depends on things like getting and staying married to someone of the opposite sex, providing for and protecting one’s family (to the death if necessary), protecting all women and children from harm and aggression whenever it is within your power to do so, being a well-informed patriot, and serving one’s country and the true God of the Bible. It also involves teaching these young men that in a home invasion dialing 911 or having a silly home burglar alarm is probably equivalent to dying at the scene.
In the engagement of culture among many of the postmodern pastors and theologians there is an unspoken belief that the gospel just doesn’t cut it anymore. In Bavinck’s words, these folks are convinced that “Christianity has had its day, and can no longer live with our present-day culture.” Even though these people still speak of Christianity in glowing terms and hold the gospel in high esteem, they remain unconvinced that it is sufficient for modern (or postmodern) man. To their mind, it has to be the Bible plus something. This, of course, is not a new trend, but has its roots in history. Bavinck reminds the reader that after Rationalism had rejected the church doctrine concerning the person of Christ (like Wallis and McLaren implicitly have), “men such as Strauss and Renan, Schenkel and Keim and Holtzmann took indeed a humanitarian view of the life of Jesus (like Wallis and McLaren have—RG).” Such movements in the emergent conversation (thus far, the “conversation” is like sitting on a flight from LA to Amsterdam where cell phone talking was permitted and you were sitting next to someone where you heard only one side of the conversation for 12 hours.) have always had an implicit low view of Scripture. They knew, of course, that if they showed their cards they might—might—lose some of their followers.
Now, however, some of the bold, fresh pieces of emergent humanity like Phyllis Tickle (yes, that’s her real name) are on record predicting the demise of sola Scriptura. Speakers at the Great Emergent Conference stated, “it’s not if sola Scriptura ends but when.” Ms. Tickle has actually written a very thought provoking book entitled The Great Emergence. You’d need to read past the title, because such a title could be taken a number of ways. Actually, I very much appreciate Ms. Tickle’s honesty, because she is saying what I’ve long suspected among the emergent tribe, namely that even though they talk a lot about Scripture, in their actual methodologies they do not like its authority in their lives. It tends to cramp their style. That’s one of the reasons they play so footloose with it.
In her book, Ms. Tickle says this: “Now, some five hundred years later (after the Reformation—RG), even many of the most die-hard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of ‘Scripture and Scripture only.’” She goes on to assert, “We question what the words mean—literally? Metaphorically? Actually?” If Ms. Tickle attended seminary, she got ripped off because obviously no one bothered to teach her basic hermeneutics. One can only wonder what the dear lady does when she comes to a stop sign or tries to buy a can of Campbell’s soup. Literally? Metaphorically? Actually? Ms. Tickle is not very original either. She describes adherence to the principle of sola Scriptura as “the creation of a paper pope.” (p. 47.) Well, no one has ever said that before—except every liberal who didn’t want to bow under the authority of the Word of God. Does the Ticklester actually believe this is new stuff? There really is nothing new under the sun. The Tickle-Meister must have slept through both hermeneutics and Church History. In Bavinck’s day he was pointing out that many predicted the downfall of Christianity precisely because it was outmoded. Now Tickle wants her merry emergents to believe that she has stumbled on to something new and unique.
What is Ms. Tickle’s solution to the paper pope mentality? Here it is: “The new Christianity of the Great Emergence must discover some authority base or delivery system and/or governing agency of its own.” Thank you, Ms. Tickle. Just who will discover this new authority base and how will we know it is authoritative when it’s discovered? Delivery system? You mean like FedEx or UPS? A “governing agency” sounds as it if has popish overtones to me. Will it be a governing agency with teeth or will it just gum you to death? Who will man this governing agency? Tickle? Old Bri? Jim Wallis? Only Ms. Tickle and the initiates into the Great Emergence have a clue what the answer to these questions might be. She is convinced, however, that the sola Scriptura “is now seen as hopelessly outmoded or insufficient.” (p. 151.)
Phyllis needs to get out more and change her friends and drop all the New Age themes like Great Emergence. It will be interesting to watch and see when and how the “new Christianity” will discover what the new authority base will be. I’m interested in why whatever is decided upon will be the real new deal and precisely what this authority base will be. I might be willing to wager that Tickle will set herself up in some kind of position of non-authoritarian authority, given that she is the poster matron for hermeneutical Voraussetzunglosigkeit.
Phyllis Tickle has been a driving force in the Emergent church movement for the longest time. And now we are witnessing what occurs when we tolerate nonsense. The liberals trot out more warmed over liberal drivel and declare it to be new to an ignorant generation. The emergents know nothing theological because, by and large, their parents are the products of Willow Creek, the Crystal Cathedral, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen. As sad as this all is—and it is sad—there are still pastors out there trying to be mega-church knockoffs or emergent Tickles and this also applies to the PCA. Other churches will need to deal with this spiritual travesty, but the PCA continues to act as if there are cute and valuable sides to the Emergent church movement. Thus far, the emergents have denied sola Scriptura, hell, homosexuality as deviant behavior, penal substitutionary atonement, the central place of abortion as a major problem, and a “violent” Second Coming where the sheep and goats are separated.
Can someone in Atlanta, on the staff of byFaith magazine, or in an emergent-leaning congregation please tell me what is either cute or valuable about this movement? Can someone explain to me why the PCA has not come down hard on this movement? Are we so bogged down in pseudo-toleration that we are afraid to call a spade a spade? Tickle is out aggressively promoting The Great Emergence and byFaith is writing about church plant openings with jazz quartets, pagan art exhibits, and the requisite tastefully done chardonnay and brie. Please gamble responsibly.
 Herman Bavinck, Wijsbegeerte der Openbaring, (Kok: Kampen, 1908); E.T.: The Philosophy of Revelation. For these articles, I will naturally use the English translation.
 Ibid., 247.
 See attorney, Richard Stevens’ excellent little book, Dial 911 and Die, The Shocking Truth about the Police Protection Myth, (Hartford, WI: Mazel Freedom Press, Inc., 1999).
 Bavinck, TPR, 247.
 Without any presuppositions.
Labels: Bavinck and the Culture