20 November 2021

"Enemies Within the Church": A review

by Phil Johnson

finally had an opportunity to see the documentary "Enemies Within the Church," and as promised, here is a candid review:

 

  The Good
     You need to watch this documentary. Its central message sounds a clear and necessary alarm that today's evangelicals (leaders and lay persons alike) urgently need to hear and heed. It is a two-hour video presenting undeniable evidence that influential forces within the church have been (and still are) working hard to advance an agenda that is rooted in neo-Marxism, overlaid with identity politics, and peppered with postmodern jargon. In other words, countless Christians are being force-fed an ideology that comes from the world, not from Scripture. It is being pushed in our seminaries and churches with tactics (and a lot of financing) taken from secular left-wing sources.

The worldview and values these change-agents promote are clearly influenced by radical feminism, the sexual revolution, academic elitism, socialist tenets, and critical theory. Those who traffic in these ideas don't necessarily sound overtly hostile to the authority of Scripture. Instead, they subtly undermine moral principles, vital doctrines, and the gospel itself. They subvert historic evangelical convictions by lobbying for Woke doctrines and liberal trends while relentlessly warning evangelicals that the church will lose the next generation, maybe even die, if we don't stay in step with the drift of the secular intelligentsia.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. There is an easily traceable line of descent that runs from the Socinians of the 16th and 17th centuries through the Deists and Unitarians of the 18th century, the modernists of the 19th century, the liberals and pragmatists of the 20th century, and the Emergents of the 21st century. Today's Wokevangelicals are following identical lines of argument, employing similar rhetoric, and drifting in the same direction as all of those previous departures from evangelical orthodoxy.

In 1887, The Sword and the Trowel (Charles Spurgeon's monthly journal) published two articles titled "The Down Grade," by Robert Schindler. A fierce polemical war ensued and lasted for several years, known as "The Downgrade Controversy." Anyone who has read about Spurgeon's final years of ministry knows of this controversy. Spurgeon himself and most who were close to him believed the stress of fighting the Downgrade hastened his death. He died less than five years after publishing Schindler's articles.

Robert Schindler's (and Spurgeon's) whole point was that the path of liberal apostasy is well-worn and familiar, and it should therefore be obvious to any vigilant observer when a church, educational institution, denomination, or Christian leader starts down that path. As the title suggests, Schindler noted that it's a steep downhill path, so once any person or group takes that turnoff, it becomes nearly impossible to stop the movement downhill.

Schindler was warning against the modernist influence that infected the Baptist Union in Victorian England, but his words are totally applicable to the current drift of Wokevangelicalism.

Be forewarned: "Enemies Within the Church"—like those 1887 articles in The Sword and the Trowel—will be deeply controversial. Sadly, many believers will conclude that the controversial nature of the documentary basically nullifies its message. After all, aren't Christians supposed to love one another? How can we warn against the influence of fellow church members and not be guilty of divisiveness?

But the New Testament is full of admonitions to be on guard against destructive influences within the church. These are wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15)—"fierce wolves [that] will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). We are commanded to "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3)—especially against those who want to rewrite the faith anew for each generation.

This documentary does a superb job in that task, and for that reason I commend it. The cinematography is stunning. The editing is superb. The story is told in a clear and compelling way. The message is poignant. Overall, I give the production high marks, and I hope it gains a large audience.

The Bad
     I should, however, mention that I have a few minor theological quibbles. The narrator (Cary Gordon) and several of the featured faces seem to be from Wesleyan backgrounds. That's not my complaint (though I'm a Calvinist). If there was any overt Arminianism in the presentation, I didn't notice it. On the whole, they did a fine job.

But at times speakers mentioned points of doctrine that I thought should have been presented with greater care, or omitted completely. For example, around 47:40, one of the interviewees mentioned John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Pastor Gordon replies, "That means the Old Testament was made flesh in Jesus Christ."

"Yup," says the interviewee.

Pastor Gordon continues: "So if we're to vilify the Old Testament and say we don't need it anymore, we're talking about some part of Jesus."

"No!" I say out loud. That's not what the apostle John is saying. The expression "the Word" throughout John 1 is a reference to Christ in his eternal glory, not the Old Testament. I share Pastor Gordon's contempt for the idea that Christians don't need the Old Testament, but it's not necessary make that point by getting sloppy with our exegesis of John's gospel.

Still, that's a disagreement that doesn't materially affect my endorsement of the film. It doesn't alter or diminish the validity of the larger central message.

A bigger objection of mine would be the way the documentary deals with the Ten Commandments. Here again, I agree with the point the documentary apparently wants to make, but I'm not completely satisfied with how they make it.

Here's the part I agree with: Postmodern evangelicals do overemphasize the love of God and deliberately truncate what Scripture says about sin, righteousness, and judgment—to the point where most in the evangelical movement today seem to think the whole gospel message is that God is love, or that God loves you in particular. The documentary correctly points out that we have not preached the gospel at all if we don't deal with the problem of sin and call unbelievers to repentance (Acts 17:30).

(I also agree that anyone who says the Ten Commandments have no relevance for Christians is an antinomian. And when you try to syncretize Wokeism with evangelicalism, antinomianism is one of the inevitable, and spiritually deadly, results.)

Nevertheless, I wish the documentary had taken greater pains to make clear that the Ten Commandments are not the gospel, or even part of the gospel. They are a prelude to the gospel—a tutor that points us toward Christ and the gospel (Gal. 3:24). The gospel itself is a message about the work of Christ to liberate us from the bondage of sin and the condemnation of the law. The heart of the gospel is the doctrine of justification by faith—not the Ten Commandments.

I'll mention just one other nagging complaint: I think what the documentary says about pietism vs. political activism seems to imply that these are the only two options in a fairly well-defined either/or choice for Christians. But lots of godly, biblically astute, reasonable Christians are neither pietists nor political Zealots. They recognize that churches tend to lose their focus and sometimes even cease preaching the gospel when they become immersed in unbridled political activism.

The true remedy for what ails both the evangelical movement and secular culture is not something that can imposed by legislation. Nor can righteousness be achieved by Christians flexing their collective political clout. "If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law" (Gal. 3:21). Dominionism is a corruption of the church's true agenda (Matt. 20:25-26). The disciples, not the party of the Zealots, are our role models in seeking to turn the world upside down.

The Ugly
     Now, if you've seen the online chatter surrounding the release of this documentary, you may be aware that there's a noisy squad of smart-alecky Zealots who began badgering a list of conservative Christian leaders who had previously spoken out against the influence of Wokeism. The Zealots demanded endorsements for this documentary almost as soon as it appeared in a downloadable format. Their nagging quickly turned to ugly public taunts and accusations.

I don't believe the documentary's producers were directly involved in or keenly aware of that campaign of harrassment. In fact, Judd Saul, the project's director, responded graciously to all the noise by making sure I had a speedy opportunity to see the full documentary. I would have eventually watched it anyway and most likely posted a recommendation, but I appreciate Judd's efforts to link me up with a timely review copy.

Still, those unauthorized efforts to promote the film by browbeating men in Christian leadership have prompted me to say once again that nothing undermines biblical discernment and the cause of truth more deeply and hurtfully than haughty controversialists who act like they firmly believe they are the kingpins and custodians of the cosmic war against false teaching. They seem to think the truth is best advanced by intimidation, insults, crass language, and caustic rhetoric. Passages like 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Galatians 5:22-23; and 2 Timothy 2:24-25 have no obvious impact on their dealings with others—because as they will point out, undiscerning people misuse those texts to justify their refusal to contend for the faith. But that doesn't give spiritual warriors license to ignore those features of true Christlikeness altogether.

My counsel: Beware of anyone who treats captiousness as sport. Frankly, such people actually undermine the cause of truth, and in their own way, they can be just as dangerous to the spiritual health of the church as the out-and-out Marxists.

One Final Thing
     Virtually all the negative pushback I have seen aimed at "Enemies Within the Church" has come from Southern Baptist sources. The Conservative Baptist Network promoted the film and announced that they would host the premier on the campus of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. The President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary protested the showing and Tweeted an open letter expressing with "deep disappointment but strong conviction," a charge that the documentary contains "scandalous and scurrilous slander."

What about that claim? What is the right response to those who claim the documentary is slanderous?

Let me speak plainly: I don't have the time or the need to investigate and verify every individual claim made in the documentary. "Enemies Within the Church" echoes an opinion I have stated many times already, so yes I emphatically agree with the central message. Most of the claims made are either well-established facts, or they are sufficiently documented in the film itself with video records and direct quotations. Plus, the clear and persuasive testimony of multiple eyewitnesses is hard to gainsay.

So the documentary raises questions that need to be answered. It points out issues that need to be addressed. It highlights problems that need to be corrected. To single out a disputed claim or two and blow the whole thing off as "slander" would be a monumental mistake. Deconstructing the critics' concerns by splitting hairs over terminology or by denying that Critical Race Theory (CRT) has infiltrated Baptist seminaries is not an adequate answer to the concerns raised in this documentary. We've all seen the videos where Baptist seminary professors do parrot rhetoric from CRT sources. The concerns raised by this film cannot be sidestepped or pushed aside. They must be answered.

For the record, I didn't notice any factual claims in the documentary that struck me as questionable. Some statements were made that I would like to see thoroughly documented. For example, a critic might claim that some of the connections drawn between various people and organizations may or may not be more tenuous than the narration noted.

However, it would be ludicrous for any biblically minded believer to deny that large-movement evangelicalism is speeding quickly in a bad direction; that some of the very best leaders in key evangelical institutions do not appear to be trying very hard (if at all) to reverse the drift; and that many other key leaders are aggressively promoting wokeism, identity politics, and other ideas that clearly obscure the straightforward simplicity of the gospel. Those are all legitimate—and weighty—concerns.

In the 1970s, all conservative evangelicals regarded the Sojourners organization as a left-wing outlier and a threat to orthodoxy because of the socialist and radical political agenda they were pushing. Today that point of view is considered mainstream in the larger evangelical movement. Such a profound shift does raise vital questions (or should I say "serious doubts"?) about whether we are truly together for the same gospel.

"Enemies Within the Church" demands a careful inquiry and answers to those questions.

Phil's signature



1 comment:

Jim Pemberton said...

I haven't seen the documentary, so I'm just responding to your review of it assuming that you have represented it fairly. You are a trustworthy source, so I feel confident in doing this.

In "The Good" section you outline the valid observations of the documentary, in particular the decline of the church through the interjection of secular ideologies. The "Bad" and the "Ugly" sections set up a pattern where you demonstrate how this happens internally to the church.

"The Bad" section really isn't all that bad. However, theological degradation often doesn't seem all that bad. I like Al Mohler's theological triage. The categories of theological importance are helpful, but you have to understand that third-order theological disagreement often abuts first-order theological necessary agreement. The question is where the line is to be drawn between first and third order in these cases. We can say that we teach the whole Gospel, but say homoiousios instead of homoousios, for example. Someone may consider this a Gospel issue and someone else might not. It's just a small matter and may never come up in a discussion about the Gospel, yet false teaching has entered the church by sneaking under a limbo bar that wasn't set low enough. Where should that bar be set?

"The Ugly" involves people who set that bar probably lower than it should be, but certainly behave as though the bar has been way too high the whole time and is getting higher. In this we can say that they are swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, sacrificing practical theology for exegetical purity and rigorous sytematics. If good practical theology doesn't result, then exegetical and systematic theology are mere verbiage. Poor practical theology is just as detrimental as theological drift, because it IS theological drift. Faith is more than mere belief. We must strive for fidelity in exegesis, historical consideration, systematics, AND practical theology.