Our blog-title surely must raise some eyebrows, particularly among those who don't notice the Scriptural basis in Jeremiah 23:29 ("Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"). I suppose we might have called it "Hammermaniacs." In fact, on second thought, maybe that would have been a better.... Oh, wait, no: people would have thought of the wrong Hammer.
But I digress.
Each of us in the Pyro Triumvirate of Terror has lamented the pathetic state of "evangelicalism," and I think the three of us agree that the term has become almost useless, nearly as bad as "family values."
But now I have begun to wonder whether a little distinguishing phrase could redeem the venerable old label.
Perhaps it would help if we distinguished two kinds of evangelicals:
- "Fire-in-the-belly evangelicals"
- "Fire-sale evangelicals."
This term would describe those gripped with the Biblical vision of God's holiness and man's sinfulness, humbled by their own depravity to the point where inerrancy is not an inconvenient doctrine but God's indispensable lifeline, awed by the atonement of Christ to the extent that its doctrines are neither periphera nor adiaphora, but life itself.
Fire-in-the-belly evangelicals don't sign confessions with an arched brow, a smug smile, and crossed fingers. They never condescendingly view the exercise as a silly formality that they'll loftily condescend to endure, in order to keep their tenure, or their membership, or their association. No; in fact, you couldn't physically stop them from confessing their faith, because the Object of their confession is everything to them. They take to heart the writer to the Hebrews' exhortation, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering," for the very reason that the author himself provides: "for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). They see clearly that an abandonment of the confession, or even a wavering or tentative confession itself, necessarily impugns the very nature and person of God.
These are the folks who don't view Jude's overriding concern ("I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints," Jude 3b) as an antiquarian reflection of a bygone era. It isn't that they love to fight. Like Jude, they are also "very eager to write ...about our common salvation" (Jude 3a). But, also like Jude, they find it necessary to take up arms for the saving and sanctifying truth of God, when that truth is under siege from without, or from within.
And so, like Paul, when they view a landscape laden down with false doctrines and false gods (κατείδωλον [kateidōlon], Acts 17:16), they don't break out their cameras to take pictures of the lovely statuary, and start taking notes for cozy, adoring little travelogues on multiculturalism and the many paths different people take "to God." They don't take heretical blasphemy and "round it up" to the nearest orthodox position. Their spirits don't soar at the thought of how admired they will be, how grand and broad-minded their "generous orthodoxy" will appear to the world, what delightful niche they can carve out for themselves as "a different sort of evangelical."
No, again like Paul, their spirits are provoked within them (sharply and painfully so; incensed; παρωξύνετο [parōxuneto]), and they engage the opponent by proclaiming the truth (17:16ff.). They'll do this even if it gets them called to an inquisition (vv. 19ff.), even if it gets them mocked at (17:32a), or driven out of town (17:10, 14), or even beaten almost to death (14:19) and imprisoned (16:19ff.). When this happens, they do not regroup and decide to tone down or moderate their message; they rejoice and praise God for the privilege of suffering for the truth (16:25).
Can anyone imagine a fire-sale evangelical enduring such treatment?
Not once we know what they are. And so now we turn a sad eye to...
These are "everything-must-go" evangelicals, who will sell out on the cheap. Nothing is too precious to retain, everything is on the auction block, for a pittance. Perhaps this (h-t Justin Taylor) provides an example?
It's hard to imagine that these folks could happily echo Jeremiah's exclamation about the nature of God's Word. Their more honest version might be, "Is not my word like Jello, declares the LORD, and like a comfy chair that lulls the world's paramours to sleep?" They've certainly forgotten the Lord's words, "For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15); to say nothing of His step-brother's hammer-blow:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)I find it impossible to envision Fire-sale evangelicals being able, in good conscience, to say, "My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law" (Psalm 119:136). What must they think, when they read "Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law" (v. 53), or "I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands" (v. 158)? It appears that these elite and refined souls are strangers to such passions.
How do they regard the wise man's words, "Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them" (Proverbs 28:4)?
They make it their practice to do the very opposite!
How do fire-sale evangelicals respond when someone they regard as part of their guild commits what their elders-and-betters would have regarded as apostasy, or cozily entertains what would have seen as compromise at best or heresy at worst? Do they weep, do they strive, do they show indignation and repugnance for the defection? Or do they not rather offer warm collegial tea-room praise and support — while directing rivers of fiery wrath on anyone who would dare to take the traitors to task?
We know the answer to that last question, don't we? To fire-sale evangelicals, those who advocate (or model) defection from evangelicalism's central, Biblical, distinguishing doctrines are dearly-beloved and highly-regarded brothers and sisters — colleagues! — to be appreciated, lionized, and protected. But, by contrast, anyone who brings Biblical discernment and reproof to bear is a basher, a hater, an attacker; he is divisive, and has committed the Unpardonable Sin of "poor tone."
Contempt for God's truth, we observe, is forgivable. Contempt for those who display such contempt? Not so much.
"Ah, now," we hear, "we mustn't judge." And you know, on one level, I'm actually okay with that. Certainly none of us is qualified to invent truth, and then judge others by truths thus invented.
But is it okay for God to judge? Is that permissible? See, because I think He has judged. I think He has given us a preview of how He will find, in His court. Consider:
"...those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30b)Knowing His judgment, may we embrace, and affirm, and echo, and apply it? Is that permissible today?
"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16 CSB)
"How can you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us'? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. 9 The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? 10 Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. 11 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. 12 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD" (Jeremiah 8:8-12)
"...the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. 8 But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, 9 and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction" (Malachi 2:7-9)
"Permissible"? Dare we do otherwise?