28 July 2008

The Fad-Driven Church

by Phil Johnson


The worst of times: Evangelicalism in critical condition
This was the opening post in the first major definitive Pyro-series. It pretty much epitomizes and explains why we're suspicious of evangelical trends, disturbed about the state of evangelicalism—yet not at all interested in joining the Emerging and post-evangelical stampede. We think young evangelicals' infatuation with everything postmodern is just another disturbing fad-driven step in the wrong direction. What is needed, instead, is true reformation—driven by biblical, not cultural, concerns. Anyway, have a read:

(First posted 16 July 2005)

ith the wild popularity of so many evangelical fads like "Forty Days of Purpose"; the lucrative success of the Christian publishing and contemporary Christian music industries; the growing influence of the "emerging church" phenomenon; and a recent cover story by Time magazine featuring "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," lots of evangelicals might be tempted to think these are the best of times for their movement.

My own assessment would be that evangelicalism's spiritual condition at the beginning of the twenty-first century is reminiscent of the medieval church just prior to the Protestant Reformation.

No, I take it back. Things are much worse among evangelicals today than they were in the Catholic Church in those days. Modern and postmodern evangelicalism is just like medieval Catholicism was—only more superficial.

Think about it: Luther was provoked by Tetzel, the charlatan fund-raiser who went through Europe promising people indulgences in return for money so that the Pope could build St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. We've got at least a dozen Tetzels appearing daily on TBN, promising people material prosperity in exchange for money. Jan Crouch uses that money to make the sets of the TBN studios more garish and more gaudy than any room in the Vatican, and she has added so many tawdry pink hair extensions to her hairdo that it now rivals the size of the dome on St. Peter's.

Tetzel peddled his indulgences with trite songs and sayings ("As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs"). Modern evangelicals are experts in writing doggerel and banal platitudes and have even made silly, superficial songs the centerpieces of all their liturgy.

The medieval church was overrun with superstition. We've got people reciting the prayer of Jabez every day who are convinced it's a magic formula that will bring them wealth and good luck.

The Medieval church produced Niccolò Machiavelli, the cynical and unscrupulous political theorist who believed the end always justifies the means. We've got a host of evangelical celebrities with shady reputations, from Gary Ezzo to Benny Hinn. We've also got a thousand church-growth "experts" who insist pragmatism is the only workable philosophy for the church today, and that we will never "reach" this generation until we first study which way the winds of popular culture are blowing and follow along.

Evangelicalism as a movement has bought that lie. That's why we have so many Fad-Driven® Churches and so few where Christ is honored and His Word obeyed. That's why the gospel is not only in eclipse but actually under attack on several fronts within evangelicalism.

We don't need more hype and activity and mass movements. We need the pure light of God's Word—"the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises" (2 Peter 1:19).

The alternative is a postmodern darkness that is shaping up to be worse than the murkiest spiritual gloom of the Dark Ages. We could sure use a new generation of Reformers.

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29 comments:

dac said...

What hath the reformation wrought - don't you think that many of these current excesses are a direct result of the reformation (which I would put forth is one of A. McGrath's proposition in Christianity's Dangerous Idea)

yankeerev said...

Phil,

Couldn't agree more! It is always amazing to me how history just repeats itself over and over again.
I am reminded of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' comments to the church committee in Aberavon, Wales, concerning the stage that was built and used for plays to attract people to the church..."You can heat the church with it." (He-He-He)
May I be more like Lloyd-Jones...or better yet, Christ.

Daryl said...

Dac,

I think that was the point of comparing the church today to the pre-reformation church.
People are sinful, so the church will always have a large element that runs downhill towards the gutter.
Just like the book of Judges we're in a constant state of faithfulness and apostasy running side by side. Every so often the apostasy is so great that the faithful rise up in strength and put down the traitors and call for a return to Scripture.

As in medieval Europe...so in the 21st Century in the West.

So yeah, maybe you can tie the current excesses for the reformation...in the same way you can tie the medieval European excesses (and many since) to Rome. The difference is the current evengelical excess comes in spite of the Reformation. Those other ones come because of Rome.

Solameanie said...

That hair . . . that hair . . .

I could have gone all day without seeing that hair. It reminds me of "Thing" from "The Addams Family."

Seriously though, looking back to Tetzel and the church preceding the Reformation, one has to wonder what would have happened had they had access to modern technology i.e. television. Speed and the need to appeal to mass audiences seems to breed superficiality.

Matt said...

It looks like the link to theroughwoodsman.com has fallen victim to Go Daddy. Does anyone have an updated link, or an archived version of what Phil was trying to link to?

Sorry to dangle the preposition.

Chris Roberts said...

Another difference between today and Luther's day. Reformation was possible because people then were ready. They were just waiting for men who would lead them to a true and proper worship of God.

All people today want is the next Seinfeld rerun.

I may be wrong. I pray I am.

dac said...

Daryl -
I understand Phil's point - my comment was that in many ways the reformation has brought us to where we are today.

Phil Johnson said...

dac: "don't you think that many of these current excesses are a direct result of the reformation"

No, I don't. On the contrary, they are proof of how much steam the Protestant Reformation has lost. None of the faddish trends named above has any root in the Reformation. As I have pointed out, they reflect a resurrection of some of the same corruptions that troubled the medieval church, but you don't see these things among the magisterial Reformers, in the puritan era, or in any context where you have a virile stress on key Protestant distinctives.

And if Alister McGrath really does hold the opinion you attributed to him, that's a good reminder of why one should never take an Anglican seriously if he starts to expostulate about the Reformation.

Becky, a slave of Christ said...

Reformation was possible because people then were ready. They were just waiting for men who would lead them to a true and proper worship of God.

Chris,
With the current state of the world, a perfect backdrop for the man of lawlessness, it seems unlikely to me that we will see a widespread revival in this country (not that God can't bring such a thing about, as He did in Nineveh, if that is His will). However, on a much smaller scale, God always has some hearts plowed and ready for the truth. He will bring those hearts to Him as His Spirit works through genuine evangelists.

Me: “I love how he exaggerated her hair.”
My daughter: “Not by much.”

Thanks for a great (and well-illustrated) post, Phil.

Phil Johnson said...

Matt:

I fixed that link.

donsands said...

A lot has happened since that post.

I was reading some of Rick Warren's sermons, and though he speaks the truth about we are saved by grace alone, there's something missing.

It's almost as if he is suggesting this truth, and hoping it's right. And if it isn't, then it's not that big of a deal.

" ..and have even made silly, superficial songs the centerpieces of all their liturgy."
There's are some bad songs being sung in church gatherings for sure.

We sang the John Newton hymn:

"Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s Name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.
He has washed us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God", but with a new tune, and it was wonderful.
It's the words that grip the heart, but the melody is important as well.

dac said...

Phil
You really should read his book - it is a fascinating analysis/history of protestant reformation and the results of it. Not so much (or just)a history of what happened when, but what happened because of it.

The "dangerous idea" lying at the heart of Protestantism is that the interpretation of the Bible is each individual's right and responsibility. The spread of this principle has resulted in five hundred years of remarkable innovation and adaptability, but it has also created cultural incoherence and social instability. Without any overarching authority to rein in "wayward" thought, opposing sides on controversial issues can only appeal to the Bible—yet the Bible is open to many diverse interpretations. Christianity's Dangerous Idea is the first book that attempts to define this core element of Protestantism and the religious and cultural dynamic that this dangerous idea unleashed, culminating in the remarkable new developments of the twentieth century.

It's a great book. Justo Gonzales likes it.

Matt said...

Thanks for the link, Phil.

In the comments to theroughwoodsman article, someone was arguing that 95% of what was sung in the 18th century was probably drivel and has been lost to history. Which might be true - I have no idea - but misses the obvious point that the 5% that has survived has been tested and approved by many generations of Godly men and women, so there's a certain arrogance to lightly tossing it aside.

I don't mind singing some new music...it would be a shame if we stopped using our creative talents to glorify God through songwriting...but the time-tested music ought to be a measuring rod for the new, and frankly much of the new just doesn't measure up at all.

Stefan said...

Phil, you're such a rabble-rouser, ruining the party with your Spurgeon and stuff like this. Sheesh.

Susan said...

Phil said: "Jan Crouch uses that money to make the sets of the TBN studios more garish and more gaudy than any room in the Vatican, and she has added so many tawdry pink hair extensions to her hairdo that it now rivals the size of the dome on St. Peter's."

Wonder if her hair would beat Absolom's....

Phil Johnson said...

dac: "It's a great book. Justo Gonzales likes it."

Justo Gonzalez is a liberal Methodist whose own treatment of church history (in my estimation) shows a fairly shallow grasp of theological issues and a preference for sociological fads. (That deficiency may be observed clearly in his coverage of numerous individual episodes from church history, but it comes through especially in his his relentless efforts not to seem euro-centristic. He gives short shrift to some fairly key matters in church history because of this).

And the quote you gave from McGrath made me gag. What a simplistic assessment of the Protestant rationale for recognizing the authority of the Word of God over any group of bishops' interpretation of it!

Your quote epitomizes why I say it's generally safe to tune out when Anglicans start making high-and-mighty critical analyses of the Protestant Reformation.

I wonder if McGrath would like to hear my homily about how Anglicans make an idol of the via media and how that has created 450 years of doctrinal incoherence and spiritual instability in the Church of England. The fops and homosexuals they have ordained as priests are the spawn of that truly and demonstrably "dangerous idea," which was canonized in the days of Richard Hooker and functions for Anglicans the same way ex cathedra papal pronouncements work for Roman Catholics.

Maybe I'll blog about that someday when I have a minute. Meanwhile, beware of Anglicans bearing judgments about the Reformation. When they manage purge their own body of the relics of medieval Catholicism (ranging from Mariolatry to openly corrupt priests) then maybe I'll be interested in their criticisms of the Reformation.

dac said...

ewww, Anglicans. And methodists, icky poo.

I am greatly amused that the man who takes such great offense at those who form opinions of him without reading every blog post he has ever written is so willing to make sweeping generalizations about a book and an author they have never read.

DJP said...

dac, I'm trying to remember. Have you ever, even once, admitted that you had simply been plain-Jane, dead-dog, purely and simply WRONG? Or even at least OFF-BASE? Without evasion, without changing the subject, without saying "Oh yeah?", or "So's your old man!", or "Look! a comet!", or "I know you are, but what am I?"

I'm not asking whether you've ever been wrong. We're all witnesses to that one.

I'm asking whether you've ever manned-up and admitted it.

You know, like Phil has done, on those exceedingly rare occasions when it was called for.

Mrs. G. said...

Not that I'm trying to change the subject here, but... As a relative newby, can someone please tell me why we lump Gary Ezzo in with Benny Hinn? Thank you.

DJP said...

Repeated consonant in the last name. It's a dead giveaway:

Hinn
Ezzo
Schuller
Bultmann
Eddy
Pagitt
Phillips...

Oh, wait. That doesn't work.

Better let Phil answer.

(c;

Solameanie said...

By the way, has anyone (besides me) seen the story that was in The Christian Post today about Brian McLaren giving the Anglican Communion ministry advice?

Rather like asking the guys that blew the top off of Chernobyl how to cure radiation sickness, IMHO.

Phil Johnson said...

Mrs. G.: "can someone please tell me why we lump Gary Ezzo in with Benny Hinn."

The sentence in the above article seems clear enough. Is your question about why I would suggest Ezzo's reputation isn't exactly stellar? A google search will give you plenty of data on that. I'd explain, but it's really old news, and we don't need to divert this thread with it.

dac: "I am greatly amused that the man who takes such great offense at those who form opinions of him without reading every blog post he has ever written is so willing to make sweeping generalizations. . .

The only times I can ever recall complaining about whether someone read something I wrote or not is when they make an argument I have already answered or attribute to me something I never said (like you did here). I've never once suggested everyone needs to read every blogpost I've ever written (or even one of my blogposts) before "form[ing] an opinion" of me. Go for it.

dac: ". . . about a book and an author they have never read."

If you mean McGrath, I didn't suggest I've never read his works; only that I haven't read the book you referred to.

If you mean Justo Gonzalez, I have plenty from him, too, and gave a fairly specific reason why I don't trust his opinion.

. . . but then you don't really have any objection to sweeping generalizations when you are the one making them, do you?

Matt said...

Repeated consonant in the last name. It's a dead giveaway:

Hinn
Ezzo
Schuller
Bultmann
Eddy
Pagitt
Phillips...


Tillich. You forgot Tillich.

Carol Jean said...

"Repeated consonant in the last name. It's a dead giveaway"

Let's see:
Bell
Sweet
Miller
Willard
Hmmm...

Kimball?
Webber?


In "Campolo" the o's are pretty close...does that count?

You may be onto something Dan. I am now very troubled about you...

Barbara said...

dac, I'm going to use myself as an example of my own point here:

In theory and in an unregenerate church the fault of the waywardness may well lie in the individual interpretations of scripture rather than a single church authority. In an unregenerate church.

Now. Raising my hand here as a Methodist preacher's kid, lapsed Episcopalian, one who "prayed the prayer" and was baptized at the age of five, who avoided Scripture and lived in fear of it, finding ways to debunk it but trying to stay in touch with her "creator"...and who had no clue what was happening to her in the weeks following a breaking point in which she had surrendered to God in utter resignation and stayed surrendered. This sudden love for scripture, this sudden "I can't wait for church" attitude in one who usually avoided a pew, the illumination of scripture and of the reality of the self...plus many other amazing things going on that I had no idea to expect - were happening. It wasn't until a bit later that I had...through fervent prayer and study and online research - had a name for it: Conversion. Regeneration. Becoming born again. Five months later, this Methodist preacher's daughter/lapsed Episcopalian who had previously found every way possible to try to find the soft/easy way has, in that surrender and through the working of the Holy Spirit, been gradually led to find her home in that which she previously found nonsensical and utterly distasteful: Puritanism, Calvinism, Reformation theology...in a nutshell, the Gospel of Jesus Christ from not only a doctrinal standpoint but also from a relational standpoint.

In other words, He led me to Himself - and Praise be His Name! Sometimes it still brings me to tears...and I pray that never ceases.

Now. If the churches as a whole had a bit more trust in and regard for the power of the workings of the Holy Spirit and more focus on the amazing, wonderful thing He does in the life and heart and soul of the genuinely lost of His elect, none of this crazy stuff would be the widespread issue that it is.

Do we need a church authority telling nonregenerate members what to believe? Nope. That's pure folly anyway. All we need, God has already provided: the tremendous gift of salvation through the blood of Christ, and the help of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer, keeping the child of God in the correct path and in the true body of Christ: a community of surrendered, regenerate believers.

terriergal said...

Ya know, if the Crouches were anything like Richard Abanes, you could expect a lawsuit threatened and your host to shut down the site... but oops it's google. I don't think even Richard Abanes would make a ripple complaining to google.

The hair photoshopping is great~!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "The fops and homosexuals they have ordained as priests are the spawn of that truly and demonstrably "dangerous idea," which was canonized in the days of Richard Hooker and functions for Anglicans the same way ex cathedra papal pronouncements work for Roman Catholics.

Maybe I'll blog about that someday when I have a minute. Meanwhile, beware of Anglicans bearing judgments about the Reformation.
"

I, for one, would enjoy reading a blog post critiquing Anglicanism.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I just want to say that I really appreciate your comment, Barbara.

God bless you and your family.

fredpfeiffer said...

Barbara,
AMEN
That was a beautiful testimony. Thank you for sharing.

My dad was from Germany and I was raised in a Lutheran church. My dad was superintendent of SS, a deacon and the teacher of my Confirmation class. When I was 21 I met my ex at work and converted to his religion,Judaism. He left our daughter and me 5 years later and filed for divorce. My real conversion came 2 years later and I met my husband shortly after at a Christian Singles Conference at the church I attended, Garden Grove Community Church (now known as The Crystal Cathedral).When we got engaged, I started attending his church, a Friend's church, where we were married. Since then the Lord has led us to plant another Friend's church, move and attend a 3rd Friend's church and then He put us into a Church of God. When we moved again, He led us to an AOG church.

My husband showed me this site because he knows what I think of what Rick Warren's teachings have done to the church we attend, or actually attended until just recently.

About 3 years ago it went from an evangelical AOG church to a "seeker" church. This was just after we went through 2 of Warren's books as a congregation, with a series of sermons and small group DVDs written by Warren.

I have the spiritual gift of prophesy. In the past, if the Lord gave me something to share with the congregation, I stood up and shared it. I have been forbidden to do so now. The pastor is afraid that now that we are a "seeker" church, it will "freak out" the "seeker". I won't go into my thinking on that subject as it could be a blog unto itself.

I'm sure he was also offended when my husband and I pointed out that some of the scriptures he had used in his sermon and put on Power Point, from The Message Bible,we're not at all the same when taken from a translation. The Message paraphrase did say what he was looking for, but it was not accurate. That was one of the first things that bothered my about Warren's books; he used "modern versions" a LOT when he quoted scripture. He hardly ever used translations.

We have just started attending a CMA church, as we have a real heart for missions, but we're not sure if this is where God wants us.

We would love to find a church with a Calvinist/reformed theology that believes that the Holy Spirit and His gifts are alive and to be used by His body for His glory.