This is a very important program that ministers, leaders, counselors, and pastors in the church should take the time to listen to. The White Horse Inn radio program recently did a show entitled The Foolishness of God in which a discussion took place on the relationship of the church to culture. There are a thousand different “approaches” out there. But more and more, it seems many within evangelicalism are bent on the idea that the primary role of the church is to address the various needs of the culture in various temporal ways, instead of primarily ministering the Gospel to its own people. This isn’t just in the emerging church now either, it’s in many average evangelical congregations and fellowships. The question is which approach is Biblical?
So Apple, in response to the environmentalist outcry over the past few years, that their products are harmful to the environment (which I am for reducing toxins I might add), stepped up their efforts to make good on reducing the amount of damage they cause in towns like China where they are produced, as well as issues such as the cancer-causing toxic fumes reported to be burning off of the motherboards. So, as this article says, with one hand, environmentalists are patting Apple on the head and saying, “Good job,” while apparently the other hand is still chastising them for not doing enough. What is enough for an environmentalist, I ask?
This leads me to one fundamental conclusion: as long as humans are alive and consume anything, anything at all, whether it is food such as plants, animals, or if we use wood for building houses to live in, or use cars for transportation, fuels for energy, environmentalists will complain and fight all forms of technology that advance society. Now that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to take care of the Earth as Christians. But it does mean that it should not become our god as it has for the environmentalist movement who opposes the God of the Bible (for the most part, with exceptions of course).
This leads me to more thought at a worldview level of where we as Christians are coming from and where our environmentalist friends are coming from. Are humans more valuable than anything else on the face of the planet as the Scriptures say, or are they of the same worth, value and honor as everything else that exists, which makes us just common place amongst a host of other organisms and matter? For instance, does a plant, as has been dictated in Switzerland by their governmental ethics board, have just as many inherent “rights” as humans and as much God-given value and honor? Or are humans distinct in honor and value apart from all other things in creation as has been ordained by our Creator?
Now my presupposition with all of this is that God is the Creator of all things and created all for His glory. In addition, I believe people were created in the image of God, to reflect His glory and attributes. The evolutionist/environmentalist does not believe any of this and so just as belief in the God of the Bible guides all my other beliefs and decisions, so also their underlying beliefs about reality (based largely outside of any text or manuscript, but based in very large assumptions that have been widely accepted by the scientific community) guide all of their other decisions regarding the world and our role as humans in it. These beliefs naturally and logically lead them to conclude we have no more inherent worth than that of a rock.
The Christian worldview says humans were created by God as His crowning achievement, made in His image and possess more inherent worth than any other of His creations. The evolutionist/environmentalist worldview (though not all environmentalists I might add) explain humans away as just a series of chemical and biological reactions that just happened to come into existence by chance, survival of the fittest or natural selection. Therefore, what worth do we have as humans that is more than that of other creatures, they seem to ask on an almost constant basis, at least implicitly?
This exposes the fundamentally different ways of viewing humanity and our use of the environment. Both camps believe (or should at least) that we should care for and protect the environment. Yet the reason why we should do this is what splits us. The Christian worldview says that we should take care of the environment out of our glory to God and thankfulness for what He has granted us to live in. The environmentalist (who for the most part holds to a evolutionist worldview) is merely a survivalist, believing humans to possess no more worth than that of a rock or plant and then applying the same worth and value we possess as humans, as granted to us by our Creator, to that of other objects with which we come into contact.
At what point will environmentalists cease their varied agendas? In their worldview, until humans are using no resources or are using only the most limited amounts possible to the point where there is no progress made at any level in our civilization, will their endeavors be complete. So should environmentalist policies and legislation be imposed on the collective society so that everyone must abide by their assumed rules? Is this not the very thing the same kinds of people accuse Christians of doing, imposing moral laws on the collective society? Do they not believe their proposed laws to be rules that are morally correct for all people and that we all should abide by them?
As Greg Koukl insightfully points out in his lecture on Relativism, and this whole discussion proves as a case in point, when you really get down to it, morality is the only thing you can legislate. This is clear between both the Christian and environmentalist worldviews. Now I don’t believe you can bring people to salvation through legislation (what many on the Christian right seem to assume), all the while ignoring the actual changing of people’s hearts by the Holy Spirit.
But the question is, which one of the meta-narratives for our existence is true? The Christian worldview that values humans above all in creation? Or an atheistic, evolutionist, radical-environmental worldview which believes humans to be of equal worth and dignity as anything else that exists, like plants now? I would argue it takes way more faith to believe we got here from nothing than to believe God was always there, self-existent, creating us and all things out of nothing by His infinite power. The latter at least logically makes more sense for how we got here and what our point of existence is: to find our ultimate joy and fulfillment in giving glory to God through Jesus, not in trying to save a world marred by the fall, though of course we sinners can make it worse off a lot faster if we’re not careful by how we use resources.
Written in 1923, Machen addresses a system encroaching upon the church that would bring about the sure eclipse of the very Gospel itself within the 20th century. It is important to note from the outset that this liberalism is not at all the same as modern political liberalism, but is rather theological liberalism. In his day, J. Gresham Machen, at great cost to himself, fought against the theological and doctrinal accommodation of the scientific culture within the church, who were denying miracles and the supernatural based upon empirical scientific evidence. Despite many of his “brethren” in the day, he held out that we must adhere to the divine, supernatural nature of all that Christianity entails or else forfeit the Gospel itself: the divine inerrancy of the Scriptures, the nature and qualities of both God and man, that salvation is a supernatural work of God, that real people with real sins were atoned for by the blood of Christ, the human and divine natures of Christ, amongst many things that set Historic Christianity apart from all other religions devised by man out in the world.
The thinking of the forerunners of theological liberalism went like this, “In order to reach the scientifically enlightened culture we live in, it is not important to hold to a literal virgin birth, a literal resurrection, atonement through the cross, or any miracles really at all, mainly because these events cannot be empirically proven through scientific analysis and methods; we believe these things personally, but it is not important to hold to these things in light of science.” Because the church was increasingly falling prey to this and in danger of apostatizing from the Gospel itself as a result, Machen wrote this book in response and fought vigorously for the truth of the Scriptures, Orthodoxy, and Historic Christianity. While it is definitely possible the intentions of the original liberals were good in trying to reach a culture with Christ that had scientific empirical evidence as a presupposition when coming to the spiritual/supernatural statements of Christianity, the followers in its wake have basically denied Christianity of any supernatural and divine quality (which is how lives are effectually changed, i.e. God creates in people something that was not there through the cross of Christ). Theological liberalism essentially renders Christianity just another choice of moralistic religions, that we are all “basically good,” and can morally reform ourselves outside of God, amongst a host of other religions saying the same thing in principle.
I believe it is deeply and vastly important for modern believers in the Gospel to read this book, because there is a movement underway in our culture that is doing the same things as liberals of the early 20th century. The liberalism of the 20th century addressed the Modern era, and now the Emerging church (or new liberalism) addresses the postmodern era. With modernism there was scientific certainty; with postmodernism, there is total uncertainty and skepticism, and this has translated into the realm of spirituality (i.e. “we can’t really know anything for sure concerning who God is, what He’s like,” etc). While times have changed (philosophical/cultural thinking) and even science itself (there is increasing ambiguity concerning the very nature of particles and waves in the scientific community, i.e. what scientists thought they knew for sure in the 20th century concerning matter, anti-matter, and laws of physics, they are not so sure about now, based greatly upon quantum mechanics – so miracles and the supernatural are no longer deemed as impossible scientific propositions), the premise is the same in both ages: adopt the culture with its thinking, belief structure, and presuppositions in order to win the culture for Christ. Make Christianity attractive by bringing in the thinking of the world around us.
Sounds good right? I mean, at least on a surface level, the intention may be good, which is win people for Christ! But is it effective in the long run? As John Piper properly notes in an introduction to a sermon he preached, “If you adjust your doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world, sooner or later the world realizes that they already have what the church offers. That was the story of much of mainline Protestantism in Europe and America in the 20th century. Adjust your doctrine – or just minimize doctrine – to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth [the Gospel itself] that alone can set them free.”
In order to accommodate a postmodern culture in which we live, the Emerging Church has brought down doctrinal walls in order to win the culture. However, as history shows, this does not work. This movement will ultimately wind up blocking people from seeing, believing in, and enjoying the true Christ of the Scriptures (as opposed to the Jesus made in their own image and likeness), for which they will be held accountable before His White Throne judgment (may God have mercy on us all on that day). Emergents have themselves adopted postmodern thought within a “new” system of Christianity, that you cannot really know anything for sure, so there is no need to be dogmatic on doctrine. And in addition to this, they have in many cases totally redefined the Christian message altogether, where it is no longer distinguishable from that of other religions with their pseudo-pietistic, works-based approach to God. As with the liberalism in the 20th century that Machen addressed in this book, the Emerging Church will surely bring about the very eclipse of Christ and the Gospel (the good news of redemption!) itself in the 21st century. The Emerging Church is just version 2.0 of the theological liberalism of the 20th century. May we learn from history and glorify Jesus by adhering to His infallible Word, even if people hate us!
“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:23-34
If you want to read this book right now, go here (PDF):
Audio biography of J. Gresham Machen by John Piper (MP3):
John Piper’s sermon on Romans 9:1-5:
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith – Review by Dale Van Dyke: