Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 4b
So, Protestantism tore in two: liberal and fundamentalist.
We must consider the affects of denying inerrancy on how we view the story of the Bible. Recall that higher criticism read the Bible through rationalistic eyes. The net result was the demythologization of the Bible. Demythologization means exactly what it looks like – taking the supernatural and mythological elements out of the text. So, liberal Protestants recast Jesus as a more charitable/moral, kinder, gentler and better way to be human – rather than the substitionary sacrifice to save sinners from the wrath of God and an eternity in hell. Jesus is boiled down to the moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The concept of the Kingdom of God is not salvific but merely social in nature. For the deconstructed liberals, Jesus’ mission statement was something to the effect of: I came to make society better by showing an unselfish way of living. Jesus’ vision statement would be something like: By showing a better way to live, people will follow my example and gradually make the world a better place.
The tragic thing about the liberal social gospel is that there is truth to be found, the problem is that the truths are imbalanced by a lack of their necessary counterweights. The reality is that the Gospel is both salvific and social in nature. When God’s people take the Gospel to a new place, God’s rule/reign/authority comes along with it. Where God’s rule/reign/authority is manifest, His blessing is also manifest. That blessing is not full, final, and complete in the manner that it will be at the Second Coming of Christ – but it is present. Unfortunately, the early fundamentalists did not fully embrace this consequence of the Gospel.
What happened was simple… the fundamentalists saw that the liberals were embracing and engaging culture because they had bought into a merely social gospel. Hence, the fundamentalists reacted against the liberal engaging of culture and they decided they would disengage from culture and sequester themselves. The core issue was the fundamentalists did not develop a positive identity, rather they defined themselves anegativa (the not-liberals and hence not-socially-engaged). Fundamentalism became a negative term and eventually conservative Christians grew to self-identify as being “evangelicals” to avoid the negative connotations of the pejorative title of fundamentalist. Recall that most evangelicals were already highly anti-intellectual at this point (with the notable exception of the Reformed Old Presbyterian folk), so a movement to disengage further from culture was devastating. Conservative Christians receded from the world of academia, art, media, and other American cultural institutions. A cursory look at the history of American Universities during this same period (first half of the 20th century) will show a rapid de-Christianization and the beginnings of secularization. The receding of the conservative Christians from cultural interaction combined with the suburbanization and white flight of the mid-20th century created a huge void of Christian witness in America, particularly in city centers, the hub of cultural life.
Evangelicals have decried how godless/liberal our schools, Universities, media, art… etc. have become and are upset with urban decay. The problem with this is that we are substantially culpable. If only the Gospel brings God’s blessing on a society, and the people who still hold fast to that Gospel completely disconnect from society, we can only expect serious moral, intellectual, and social decay to follow.
Next, we shall look at the methodology of mid-late 20th century evangelicalism…
Written by Michael Graham
October 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm
Tagged with Bultmann, Culture, Deconstruction, Demythologization, Fundamentalism, Higher Criticism, History, Inerrancy, Liberalism, Missiology, Sermon on the Mount, Social Gospel, suburbanization, University, white flight
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