Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My 95 . . . Okay, maybe 1 . . . Thesis Against the Evangelicals, Part I

It's been a while since I've read Luther's 95 thesis and I didn't have time this morning. But, if my memory serves me well the 95 were made up of church behaviors and theological positions, especially when it comes to justification.

Eagle asked me what mine would be against evangelicalism. This can be complicated so I think it will take more than one post. I've decided to approach first from the superficial issue, then the philosophical one.

While Luther's concerns were very legitimate, mine do not focus so much on theology or even church behavior. Part of it is behavior, but I believe that behavior is reflective of deeper underlying philosophical beliefs and it those beliefs I oppose, not the specific behaviors if that makes sense. Once again, if you want to understand the details of my thinking, you can read my entire 350 page "thesis" or manuscript here.

First, like any good position paper, I must briefly define "Evangelicalism."

The root of this term grew out of the American church movement to counter liberal theology which was taking over the European churches in the early twentieth century. The title was based on the simple distinguishing belief that the Evangelical churches held that Jesus was the only way to redemption, thus there was a reason to evangelize all non Christians. However, since that time (and even then) this simple fact marked a church movement that had a far wider culture. I'm not in opposition to that original, simple defining thought, but much of the huge culture, which grew up around it.

To define Evangelicalism today is not easy. It is like trying to mark the boundary to a fog bank. So, if you had two churches, of the same denomination, in the same town, one may be far more evangelical in character than the other. However, there are of course denominations and church types that one would assume are evangelical.

Okay, to my thesis. I will start with one surface marker and come back next time to explain the philosophical under-tow which I think is behind it.

I. Moral Certainty in All Things

I think it was Dave Tomlinson who said, in his book The Post Evangelical, that one of the defining features of being a post evangelical, is the loss of certainty in all things. This is NOT the same as moral relativism. The key word is "all." So, myself, and any post evangelical would still see murder as sin (in all cases), lying as sin, hate as sin etc. But, we wouldn't see voting Democrat as sin.

The tendency of Evangelicals is to see all of life in back or white terms of godly or sin and they see their own perspective as god-given certainty . . . not personal opinion.

To put flesh on this point, I will illustrate with the age of the earth issue.

The problem for me (and this is just one minor issue) in my old church buddies believing the Ken Ham doctrine that the earth is 6,000 years old is not that they are in sin and I have certainty that the earth is billions of years old. Honestly, my view in the old earth is my personal view based on my understanding of science and that it would seem odd to me that God would create an earth with a strong appearance of age, while it would really be young. That is a personal opinion. That's why I have no moral evaluation of someone who believes the earth is young. They can still be my friends and have my full moral respect. At worst, I might have the feeling that they didn't know much about true science, but that is not a moral issue of godly vs sin. So-called "godly people" can disagree with me and still be "godly."

But the evangelical believes that not only can you know absolute truth in all things, but if you don't you are at least in sin, or maybe not a true believer at all. So it becomes a moral issue, not one of opinion.

So, when I said in my church that I believed that the earth was billions of years old, two church-leader friends right away said I had "come under the spell of the humanist secularist" (a moral problem and they used the Bible to try and show me that I was in sin).

Then the head elder, pastor's right hand man said, "My Bible says the earth is 6,000 years old. If you don't believe the Bible, I'm not sure you can be a Christian." Ouch! So, he not only had certainty in his beliefs (about the non-essentials, the age of the earth) but he had a strong moral judgement on those who do not see things his way.

So the age of the earth is one trivial issue. This same principle, moral certainty in the obscure, has hundreds if not thousands of practical examples. I've heard in my recently-ex church as well as other evangelical churches the following moral certainty:

"Tattoos are a sign of a pact with the devil and they are sin."

"The Tea Party Movement is God moving in this country" (so if you are not a tea-party supporter, you are not on God's side. It's not a political opinion but a moral certainty)

"Music with a rhythmic beat is an act of sexual pleasure thus sin"

"Homosexuality is a clear and simple choice to reject God and to sin because they love the devil." (homosexuality is complex topic, far beyond what I want to discuss here. But certainly it is not just a simple choice to reject God and love the devil.)

I could go on an on.

I will, tomorrow, continue this discussion with the deeper philosophical problems I have with Evangelicalism, giving practical illustrations of how those beliefs manifest in attitudes and behaviors.


Oloryn said...

The ironic thing about the 'moral certainty in all things' bit is that as far as I can see, it's not scriptural. I Cor 8:2 would seem to imply that those that take that attitude are still lacking in necessary knowledge.

MJ said...

Oloryn, that's a great verse that I haven't even thought of in a while. Thanks.