he following is a sample from the premier issue of Pulpit (Sep/Oct 2003). This piece was featured in a regular column called "Christianity Astray" which column critically assessed various fads, ideas, and evangelical apostasies that had somehow won Christianity Today's seal of approval. I hope to make "Christianity Astray" a regular feature of the new Pulpit blog. This piece also makes a nice rejoinder to something the iMonk recently posted:
Too Late to Steer the Titanic
by Phil Johnson
Perhaps you page through each month's issue of Christianity Today as we dobaffled and disconcerted to see that venerable magazine being used as a platform for so many of the dubious fads and disturbing theological trends that constantly flourish at the fringes of the evangelical movement.
Until now, all we could think to do was wince and file the magazine in the circular file.
But from now on, we're going to vent our frustration by writing about it.
This section of Pulpit is devoted to exposing and responding to the latest aberrations seeking acceptance from the evangelical mainstreamin the pages of CT and elsewhere.
September 2003The August 2003 issue of CT features a cover article suggesting that there may yet be hope for those denominations that abandoned biblical Christianity last century in favor of modernism, liberalism, and neo-orthodoxy. The cover illustration features a tiny tugboat with a church steeple nudging the massive bow of a gargantuan ship.
Both the illustration and the article imply that the liberal "mainline denominations"groups like the United Methodists, PCUSA Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Disciples of Christare slowly being turned toward orthodoxy.
"We may soon witness a new thing under the sun," the article breathlessly announces. "Contrary to folk wisdom and traditional sociological theory, the mainline Protestant denominations may be poised for a historic changea return to orthodox Christianity."
The facts actually cited in the article itself hardly support such a rosy outlook. In fact, the authors more or less begin by acknowledging that "the mainline Protestant denominations seem as liberal in theology as ever."
The article cites, for example, the case of a Methodist bishop recently exonerated by his church's hierarchy after "asserting that Jesus was Joseph's biological son, that he never performed any supernatural miracles, that his body was never raised from the dead, and that the orthodox creeds of the historic church are true only to the extent that they mean something different [from what] they say." Church officials actually praised the bishop and censured his critics.
In one of those wonderful, providential twists of perfect irony, on the same day the CT article was released, World magazine published a feature article reporting on the groundswell of support for acceptance of homosexuality within the mainline denominations. (World's editors apparently aren't as giddy as CT about the future of mainline denominationalism.)
Not that the authors of the CT article ignored the growing influence of gay activism among mainliners. Of course they see it too, and they mention it as one of the issues denominational reformers must face. But far from seeing this as a disheartening trend, the CT writers say it is "high-octane fuel" for renewal, because of the backlash the gay-rights movement is expected to generate within the denominations.
"Likewise with abortion," the article says, noting that staff members in United Methodism's national office are so committed to abortion-on-demand that they regularly "march with the prochoicers, boycott prolife demonstrations, and are working behind the scenes to eliminate the church's nominal opposition to partial-birth abortion."
So how does CT find a glimmer of hope in that? Again, one of the main theses of the article is that the politics of abortion and gay-rights issues could finally galvanize and mobilize lay church members to unite for reform.
For that very reason, the authors of the CT piece think the brightest prospect on the horizon is a loose conglomerate of lay-led renewal movements seeking to reform the denominations. "Contemporary renewal groups have greater staying power and more supporters than ever," the article triumphantly assures us.
Best of all, according to the authors of the CT article, the lay reformers have gone parachurch: "This time around, the renewal movements within the denominations are being fueled by evangelical parachurch movements that stand outside the denominations."
And yet "they are committed to staying within their denominations rather than leaving."
The exquisite incongruity of those statements seems to have escaped CT's editors.
Of course, the vast majority in the evangelical mainstream that originally gave birth to CT have always believed that once a denomination's leadership officially embraces and institutionalizes liberal apostasy, the most effective way to fight the drift is from the outside.
Certainly, the weight of Scripture seems to suggest that when an organization officially sanctions a bishop who teaches that Christ is a mere manthat organization is no true church, and believers ought to cease participation in "worship" with such a group (2 John 7-9; 2 Cor. 6:14-17; Eph. 5:11; 1 Cor. 10:21). Moreover, a bishop who denies the deity of Christ is at least as gross an abomination as a lesbian "pastor."
And one breeds the other. Where doctrinal apostasy is tolerated, moral decay is inevitable. If evangelical hangers-on in the denominations have been unable to stem the tide of rank heresy for decades, why would anyone hold out hope that extreme moral rot might finally cause a backlash that will turn the denominations around spiritually?
But lay people who get exercised over moral issues can't fix the problem in the denominations anyway. You don't reform a harlot by giving her lessons in how to apply cosmetics. Besides that, Scripture never encourages believers to try to reform the harlot church in the first place. Rather: "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4).
History would also seem to be overwhelmingly on the side of that perspective. Lay renewal efforts among Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians date back at least to the 1960sand they have always been colossal failures. The article even tacitly concedes this point. ("In the past evangelicals have tried to reform the denominations, but each time they failed.")
So one wonders precisely what is gained by institutionalizing the renewal movements as non-profit corporate entities and thus giving them "more staying power."
In any case, the CT article is unstintingly positive about efforts to reform apostate churches from within. At one point the article even seems to sound a note of caution about "parachurch ministries [that compete] against the denominations. Every missionary for Wycliffe Bible Translators has the potential to draw funds away from the denominational missionary agencies. Every Young Life group has the potential to lower attendance at local church youth groups." The tone of the article suggests that this would be a bad thing, because it is perceived as detrimental to the denominations' numerical, financial, and political strength.
But (the CT writers hasten to add) the denominations have actually gained numeric strength from the work of the parachurch organizations. "Flying under the radar. . . is the surprising fact that parachurch ministries have for years been giving transfusions of members and energy to the mainline churches." They credit Billy Graham with "enormous courage" for including mainline denominations as sponsors in his crusades, and for channelling large numbers of his converts back into liberal churches. So "the payoff for the mainline was enormous."
Indeed. We have long believed that the apostate denominations would have mercifully died off years ago if not for "transfusions" of cash and people from well-meaning but misguided evangelical organizations.
Meanwhile, are the denominations themselves actually showing any signs of being "turned"? Is it true, as the article claims, that "underneath the surface evangelical forces are reshaping mainline Protestantism"? Nothing in the article gives any good reason to think this may be the case.
Well, OK. One paragraph celebrates the fact that a group of lay Presbyterians succeeded in getting the PCUSA General Assembly to declare it "unbiblical" to worship the pagan goddess Sophia in place of the God of Scripture. But the same paragraph immediately adds, "On homosexuality, however, the renewal movements have succeeded only in fighting normalization to a rancorous draw."
The article also reports on recent joint efforts between the United Methodist Publishing House and Bristol House to publish "orthodox" Sunday-school curricula. We'll reserve judgment on the "orthodoxy" of that curricula until we have an opportunity to review it. But we can't resist pointing out that what's "orthodox" to CT's current core constituency seems to be little more than user-friendly morality lessons virtually devoid of any doctrine, conservative or otherwise. Let's just say this one factoid did little to buoy our enthusiasm about the coming "renewal" in the denominations.
Face it: the mainline denominations have been utterly apostate for decades and remain so today. They have officially championed virtually every liberal causemoral, political, social, and theologicalsince at least the 1960s, and they continue to do so at this very hour.
Meanwhile, CT, which was founded as an alternative to Christian Century and other liberal magazines shortly before the birth of the baby-boom generation, is steadily becoming more and more like those journals were fifty years ago. What's "turning" is CT and the evangelical subculture it represents. And perhaps that explains how CT is able to find so much to celebrate in the state of modern mainline denominational Christianity.
We think the one truly hopeful trend reported in the CT article is seen in statistics that show drastically declining membership rolls in the mainstream denominations while church membership in general is on the increase. We call on the faithful remnant among evangelicals to do everything possible to help keep CT's influence from steering our movement onto an iceberg like the one that sank the mainline churches nearly a century ago.