No Christian should naively imagine that heresy is always conspicuous or that every purveyor of theological mischief will lay out his agenda in plain and honest terms. The enemy prefers to sow tares secretly for obvious reasons. Thus Scripture expressly warns us to be on guard against false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed (Jude 4); wolves who sneak into the flock wearing sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15); and servants of Satan who disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
To help you withstand Evangelicalism's continuing drift, here are four major trends today's crop of neo-liberal leaders are fostering and taking advantage of:
1. They recklessly follow the zeitgeist.
Beware of church leaders who are more worried about being contemporary than they are about being doctrinally sound; more concerned with their methodology than they are with their message; more captivated by political correctness than they are by the truth. The church is not called to ape the world or make Christianity seem cool and likable, but to proclaim the gospel faithfully—including the parts the world usually scoffs at: sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. John 16:8). Jesus expressly taught that if we are faithful in that task, the Holy Spirit will convict hearts and draw believers to Christ.
2. They want the world's admiration at all costs.
There is of course nothing wrong with being winsome. As recipients of divine grace, if our lives properly manifest the Spirit's fruit, we should by definition have personal charisma (cf. Galatians 5:19-23). We also ought to maintain a good testimony before the world. In fact, to qualify as an elder, a man "must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace" (1 Timothy 3:7).
That of course speaks of a person's character—graciousness, compassion, and a reputation for integrity. It is not a prescription for the appeasement of worldly tastes or the endorsement of every earthly fashion.
3. Their "faith" comes with an air of intellectual superiority.
Liberals treat faith itself as an academic matter. Their whole system is essentially a wholesale rejection of simple, childlike belief. Their worldview foments an air of academic arrogance, setting human reason in the place of highest authority; treating the Bible with haughty condescension; and showing utter contempt for the kind of faith Christ blessed.
4. They despise doctrinal and biblical precision.
One maneuver neo-liberals have perfected in these postmodern times is an artful dodge when they dislike a particular doctrine but cannot afford to make a plain and open denial. Instead, they will claim that Scripture is simply too unclear on that point. We can't really be sure.
In reality—and this is a lesson the church should have learned from both Scripture and church history—unity and harmony cannot exist in the church at all if there is not a common commitment to sound doctrine.
As long as these four trends and others like them continue to thrive within the evangelical movement, the threat posed by neo-liberalism looms large. Conservative evangelicals should not grow apathetic or take too much comfort in the apparent meltdown of Emergent Village and the liberal wing of postmodernized Christianity. Even if the Emergent ghetto does finally and completely give up the ghost, many of the leading figures and popular ideas from that movement will simply blend into mainstream evangelicalism (which is growing less mainstream and less evangelical all the time).
We must pay attention to the lessons of history and stand firm on the truth of Scripture—and we desperately need to be more aggressive than we have been so far in opposing these neo-liberal influences.