Loss of Biblical Identity
In its February 7, 2005, edition, TIME lists Brian McLaren as one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals; yet McLaren would be better classified as a postevangelical. Postevangelicals view evangelicalism as oppressive and adoles- cent. They are especially suspicious of proclamations of certainties in evangelicalism. This movement draws many disaffected evangelicals into its domain.
Postevangelicals have no way to stand for truth to the world once they buy into postmodernism. They have no adequate doctrinal place to stand. David Wells asserts that much of so-called evangelicalism today cannot even declare itself Protestant:
In eviscerating theology in this way, by substituting for its defining, confessional center a new set of principles (if they can appropriately be called that), evangelicals are moving ever closer to the point at which they will no longer meaningfully be able to speak of themselves as historic Protestants.241
Postevangelicals label evangelicals as fundamentalists, neo-fundamentalists, and rigid conservatives. They claim that evangelicals have bought into the assumptions of modernity with its emphasis on propositions and forced harmony of the Bible. Implied in this claim is that postevangelicals come from an open viewpoint. However, postmodern assumptions pervade their thinking; the presuppositions of postmodernism condition their assumptions. The postevangelical assumption that Scripture must link significantly with tradition and culture as authoritative sources of theology is exceedingly dangerous to its ability to uphold its truth.242
Postevangelicals look upon evangelicalism as a particular movement in time, and they deem evangelicals as rooted in modernism (philosophy and science). They see themselves as postmodern; accordingly, they desire to strip evangelicalism from its historical and cultural baggage and adapt it to postmodernism.243 This theological view wants to retain commitment to the person of Jesus and his generic message. Postevangelicals regard evangelicalism as immature intellectually, and therefore consider it a stifling system. They are suspicious of certainty and have no consistent way to represent the truth of Christianity to the world; they do not want to identify with those who hold to truth with conclusion and clarity. Thus, they have no coherent system of theology or system for knowing truth. (That is, they do not have a systemized epistemology.) It appears they want to move into a system of truth without knowing what it is!
This is unadulterated disaffection and disillusionment with evangelicalism without clear alternative. They languish without coherent understanding of truth because they are adverse to truth and conclusion. Postevangelicals are people without substantive conviction, a transparent difference from evangelicals of the past and many of the present. One thing is patently clear—they want to differentiate themselves from evangelicalism as we know it. With this, they want the Bible to be the normative way they establish faith and community with the people of God. To do this, they must realign the way they interpret Scripture. Interpretation will come out of different perspectives of community by conversation, which is hermeneutical pluralism. The result is that “distance” from the text will produce ambiguities that do not allow for clear distinctions upon which they stand. Postevangelicals must move away from propositions to stories of the Bible on order to justify their argument; their framework is narrative rather than systematic. The narrative approach puts interpretation of text into disjointed fragmentation. Thus, postevangelicals are moving away not only from evangelicals but also from the evangelical way of interpreting Scripture.
If a question admits of any number of plausible and mutually conflicting answers, then there is no certainty and no way to get to certainty. All alternatives are equally true, so we must grant tolerance to all views uniformly. No assertion can claim to be true. Postevangelicals must place all claims to religion on equal footing. There is no valid claim to exclusive truth but simply the perspective that it is “true for me.” If this is so, then no Christian should assert that Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). In an attempt to move away from the traditional view of what an evangelical is, postconservatives try to avoid the appearance that they hold certainty about something.
We live in a day when postconservatives obscure biblical Christianity with current cultural priorities, whether political, philosophical, or social. On the other hand, true Christianity rests on the foundation of truth uniquely revealed by God. It is sad that evangelicals have now lost trust in the “living and operative” Word of God and have begun a long and relentless slide from biblical truth. Christianity has no message without the starting point of the Word of God; nevertheless, this aberrant form of evangelicalism has lost its biblical identity.
Postevangelicals hail the success of postmodernism and the demise of doctrinal formulation. They want to oust from the market of ideas evangelicals who appeal to Scripture and view Scripture as inerrant. Postconservatives want to formulate doctrine in community and not by individual interpretation; this positions doctrine in the language of community rather than Scripture itself. They rebuff the evangelical view of continuity of Scripture and doctrine. By this, they can accept mutually exclusive beliefs as equally true or, at least, acceptable to their fraternity of ideas.
Roger Olson, a postconservative, wants to distinguish postconservatives from conservatives. Postliberals such as George Lindbeck, with whom Stanley Grenz associated himself, attempt to stiff-arm evangelicals as well. Lindbeck wishes to portray the idea that not all evangelicals are conservative, and to assert that many evangelicals are shedding theological conservatism.244 Millard Erickson says Stanley Grenz’s historical judgments are “deeply tendentious, in need of serious qualification, or simply mistaken.”245 Grenz’s attempt to characterize the Reformation or the stance of Puritanism as indifferent in doctrine is specious.
He does not want to define evangelicalism within the boundaries of theology or doctrine. In defining evangelicalism by social or historical approaches, he enfolds sundry scholars and movements that, as D. A. Carson says, “no evangelical thinker would have admitted as ‘evangelical’ a mere half-century ago.”246 Grenz places John Sanders in the evangelical camp, whereas Carson is not sure whether Sanders is evangelical.247 Wells shows how the term “evangelical” has lost its definitive meaning:
As evangelicalism has continued to grow numerically, it has seeped through its older structures and now spills out in all directions, producing a family of hybrids whose theological connections are quite baffling: evangelical Catholics, evangelicals who are Catholic, evangelical liberationists, evangelical feminists, evangelical ecumenists, ecumenists who are evangelical, young evangelicals, orthodox evangelicals, radical evangelicals, liberal evangelicals, Liberals who are evangelical, and charismatic evangelicals. The word evangelical, precisely because it has lost its confessional dimension, has become descriptively anemic. To say that someone is an evangelical says little about what they are likely to believe (although it says more if they are older and less if they are younger). And so the term is forced to compensate for its theological weakness by borrowing meaning from adjectives the very presence of which signals the fragmentation and disintegration of the movement. What is now primary is not what is evangelical but what is adjectivally distinctive, whether Catholic, liberationalist, feminist, ecumenist, young, orthodox, radical, liberal, or charismatic. It is, I believe, the dark prelude to death, when parasites have finally succeeded in bringing down their host. Amid the clamor of all these new models of evangelical faith there is the sound of a death rattle.248
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. makes a telling point regarding the current evangelical identity crisis: “A word that can mean anything means nothing. If ‘evangelical identity’ means drawing no boundaries, then we really have no center, no matter what we may claim. The fundamental issue is truth . . . there is nowhere else for us to stand.”249
Sola Scriptura—Source for Evangelical Identity
Evangelical identity and the authority of Scripture are closely linked. Sola scriptura is the formal principle of Christianity that gives direction and framework to all that follows in Christianity. The mutually exclusive Word of God cannot accommodate itself to something that undermines its truthfulness or inerrancy. Those who reinterpret the Bible or neglect the Bible in their notions of reality violate the formal principle. Many reject the absolute truth of the Bible and others go a step further and reject absolute morality. The nature of truth is at stake in doing so.
Stanley Grenz undermines the doctrine of Scripture in the classical evangelical sense, causing Carson to say: “I cannot see how Grenz’s approach to Scripture can be called ‘evangelical’ in any useful sense.”250 The heart of evangelical identity has been sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fides. Mohler identifies the doctrine of Scripture as the foundational truth of evangelicalism:
An Evangelical Christian is pulled in two directions here. We believe in justification by faith alone, and we believe that this doctrine is indeed the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (“the article by which the church stands or falls”). Thus, while we hold without compromise that theology matters, we do not believe that we are saved by theological formulae. But we really do believe that theology matters, and that a sinner must believe that Christ is Savior, and that salvation comes through Christ’s work and merits alone. We do not claim to be able to read the human heart—that power is God’s alone. We must, on the other hand, evaluate all doctrinal claims—ours and those of others—by a biblical standard of judgment. Evangelicals came to our understand- ing of justification by faith alone the hard way, and we defend it as central and essential to Christianity itself. This is the doctrine of salvation, the kerygma, as preached by the true church.
Without this doctrine, no church is a true gospel church. Many Evangelicals, myself included, remain unconvinced that any consensus on salvation now exists between those who hold to the teachings of the Reformers and those who hold to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, the embrace of an inclusivist model of salvation by the Catholic Church at Vatican II (and expanded thereafter) has served to increase the distance between the Evangelical affirmation of salvation through faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone and the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Central to the Evangelical doctrine of justification by faith is faith in Christ—and this faith is a gift received consciously by the believer through the means of the proclamation of the gospel.251
Mohler also argues that Roman Catholics, evangelicals, and Orthodox Catholics must concede that their doctrinal disagreements are not incidental but carry significance for eternity. He says that each must have honest disagreement in postmodern culture and irrationality that does not allow difference. The evangelical principle of sola scriptura is non-negotiable, whether it is the Roman Catholic understanding of Scripture as interpreted by tradition or the popular evangelical deviation of interpreting Scripture by personal experience.252
Mohler further asserts in the same article that evangelicals should stand with Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics as “co-belligerents in the culture war” because all three groups believe in transcendent truth. The three together must commit to the unity of truth that they have in common and deny the relativism of postmodernism. They should stand against the postmodern English departments of universities that promote deconstructionism, which declares the text of Scripture to be dead, with the idea that interpretation is up to every reader’s perspective.253
Criticism against identifying evangelicalism with the Reformation is not valid because it is not merely the defense of the Reformation per se that is at stake, but the argument of the book of Romans and other books of the Bible that define the identity of an evangelical. It appears that these critics are long on church history and short on the Bible. It is true that the Reformation was a response to the context of its time, but it is not true that that response was purely historical or cultural.
Another aspect people use to negate the Reformation in defining an evangeli- cal is globalization of missions. The charge is that Western evangelicals carry Western theology arising out of Western culture. The fallacy of this assumption is the idea that Western evangelicals have derived their theology from culture. No doubt, this is true to some degree; however, careful exegesis and exposition does not necessarily imply a Western read on the Bible. It appears that these critics want to reject a concept such as justification by faith alone as somehow Western. No, this charge is a rejection of the Bible itself. There is no need to find a new way to understand the gospel.
The error of postevangelicals is that they assume the fallacies of postmodernism and then reject propositional truth based on that assumption. It is the propositional truths in Romans, for example, that define what an evangelical is. Postevangelicals, in rejecting the propositions of Romans and Galatians, leave evangelicalism itself. They turn into something other than what it means to be an evangelical. They have lost identity with evangelicals and with the idea of the Bible itself.
Inspiration and Inerrancy—Core Issues of Identity
The issue of whether the doctrine of inerrancy defines an evangelical is crucial. Harold Lindsell, in The Battle for the Bible, years ago drew the line on inerrancy as to what in part identifies an evangelical. However, Carl Henry and J. I. Packer contended that inerrancy was an issue of evangelical consistency rather than identity.
The true Christian cannot start anywhere but at the Bible’s attestation of itself. Although this is circular reasoning, all systems that approach truth begin at a presupposition of method for finding truth. The skeptic begins with the method of suspicion about coming to any truth at all. The scientist begins by assuming that the physical is all that there is, so one only has to examine the phenomena to come to truth. The philosopher begins with belief that the finite mind can find truth. All these are circular by choosing an independently credible method, the presupposition of an essential modus operandi for coming to truth.
The Bible claims for itself “inspiration” in 2 Timothy 3:16. The idea is that God breathed out from his realm into time and space. God took the initiative as the only source of ultimate truth. Biblical inspiration has to do with words (graphe—that which is written down concursively), not simply the message. Revelation has to do with the process of getting God’s Word into time, but inspiration has to do with the end result of revelation. The Holy Spirit under God’s concurrence supernaturally guided the writing of each word of Scripture so that it is without error.
Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, from Fuller Theological Seminary, challenged the inerrancy of Scripture.254 They consider that the idea of inerrancy was of recent origin theologically. They view the historical position on Scripture as accommodation to human form, so biblical facts might fail but God communicated general ideas of truth effectively. It is generally recognized among scholars that John Woodbridge laid bare their faulty approach to history by showing their selectivity in choosing materials and their use of secondary sources for their own purposes.255 Even Clark Pinnock (an errantist) concedes that Wood- bridge’s analysis was right.
Rogers and McKim view themselves as evangelicals like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer, James Orr, C. S. Lewis, Donald Bloesch, and I. Howard Marshall because these figures did not accept the doctrine of factual inerrancy (although they cannot substantiate this claim for Calvin and Luther). Their argument is that, because these figures did not believe in inerrancy yet were accepted within the evangelical camp, why do evangelicals today not accept errantists into the camp?
The issue of inerrancy is a safeguard against inadequate views of Scripture but not a ground for totally negating errantists’ identity as evangelicals. It is necessary, therefore, to classify errantists as an aberrant form of evangelical. However, postevangelicals who relinquish the idea that the Bible is totally accurate cannot be classified as clearly with the evangelical camp.
Correspondent View of Truth—Stability of Identity
Postevangelical postmodernism rejects the correspondent idea of truth—that is, that facts must correspond to assertions in Scripture. They do not define truth in relation to reality but in relation to community or culture: “What is true for you is not true for me.” This is blatant rejection of the exclusivity of truth and leads to rejection of objective truth independent of anything else. There are only beliefs and opinions but no independent truth. There is no universal certainty but only “narratives” (worldviews) of perspectives (atheism, Christianity).
This makes “truth” relative and makes the self absolute. Tolerance becomes the controlling norm for discernment. Refusal to pass negative judgments has a problem with making judgment on those who hold true beliefs.
Liberals for years have claimed that the Bible contains the word of God but that it is not the Word of God in its words. Some portions of the Bible are sheer cultural expressions, they contend. So-called evangelicals began to adopt this position as indicated by Fuller Seminary professor of theology Paul Jewett in his book Man as Male and Female.256 Jewett believed that Paul imbibed his view of women through rabbinic tradition so that Paul’s passages on the submission of women were not the Word of God.
Fuller Seminary launched a committee to investigate Jewett’s views,
and a majority concluded that Jewett was wrong in his interpretation of Paul. They also indicated that they believed that Jewett was sincere in his subscription to the school’s affirmation that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.257
The only way Fuller Seminary could conclude that Jewett could affirm “the Bible as the only infallible rule of faith” was that the seminary itself denied factually inerrant Scripture. It became apparent in later years that Fuller would hold to a coherentist view of inerrancy rather than a correspondent view; that is, the Bible gets its idea across but fumbles in the facts.
Change View of God and Salvation—Loss of Identity in Beliefs
Postevangelicals changed their view of both God and salvation. Clark Pinnock’s writings support a belief in a limited God in some sense; that is, God does not know choices men will make in the future.258 Pinnock thinks that evangelicals embraced an omniscient God through Greek philosophy.
Others no longer believe in justification by faith alone. Some advocate that evangelicals move away from the substitutionary atonement, imputed righteousness, and forensic justification by faith alone. They believe we should reject the doctrine of hell and the traditional view of God. Because of this, it is time to draw lines. D. A. Carson gives four reasons for doing so:
(1) truth demands it
(2) the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy models it
(3) the plurality of errors calls for it
(4) the entailments of the gospel confront our culture—and must be lived out259
Differentiating Evangelical Viewpoint from Other Viewpoints—Keeping our Identity
Every “breed of cat” now wants to call itself “evangelical” because evangelicalism has gained a place in North American society. If evangelicals do not define themselves by Scripture, what is their norm for defining themselves? If it is tradition, then evangelicalism will lose itself in the wash of the plethora of viewpoints. If it revolves around sola scriptura, then the Word of God defines the evangelical as the legitimate source of truth. Postevangelical authority rests in the church’s recognition that the Bible is inspired and thus authoritative, but epistemology based on tradition is tenuous.
Under postmodernism, evangelicalism’s desire to be true to the doctrines of the Bible will undergo great pressure, for postmodernism is at heart anti-doctrine. Associated with this is diminished certainty based on the Bible. Postmodern evangelicals look askance upon exposition of propositions of Scripture and question objectivity in Scripture. They challenge truth itself. Postevangelicals view claims of exclusive truth as odd because postevangelicals are subjectivists in approach and thus question the need for teaching or exposition. Pressure for tolerance of other ideas and for openness to aberration put evangelicals into the obscurantist viewpoint. Presentation in propositional form, such as use of The Four Spiritual Laws, will become more difficult.
All of these issues create obstacles of communication between truly biblical Christians and non-Christians. Methods of communication that focus on openness to others will get a hearing. The need to help non-Christians see the philosophical assumptions of philosophical tolerance will be imperative. We need to challenge such statements as “I believe everyone has a right to believe what they want” and “How dare you judge what someone else believes?” We need to help non-Christians view truth as more than someone’s subjective opinion. They have to see something of the absoluteness of God and therefore the existence of absolute principles for life. They need help in seeing universal truth and that this truth delimits their freedom of ideas. They should see what biblical freedom really means and that true freedom must of necessity involve critique of other viewpoints. A strong conduit to postmoderns is biblical spirituality and integrity of walking with God. They must see how genuine Christianity works in day-to-day life.
Christian leaders who minister to culturally postmodern Christians will undergo a difficult task. Christianity without doctrine will be a vacuous affair. There will be few norms or principles whereby Christians differentiate themselves as biblical believers. People will do what their subjective opinion drives them to do. They will do what is right in their own eyes as long as it is “true for them.”
Postmoderns are changing the doctrinal content of evangelicalism because they are caught up in culture; culture dominates their doctrine. Evangelicals are gradually losing their identity by losing commitment to truths of Scripture. The badge of identification is no longer biblical belief but “spiritual experiences.” This anti-truth mentality is a desire for assimilation and accommodation to culture. They do not want to be viewed as people at odds with the prevailing ideas of society. The question at hand is, Do we allow culture to set the agenda, or does the Word of God set it?
Old fundamentalism rejected both the good and bad of society because it wanted to set up an antithesis to society, making Christianity distinctive from the world. However, in doing so, fundamentalism developed cultural aberrations and taboos not consistent with biblical truth. It developed a legalistic and biblically distorted separatist worldview. Evangelicals distanced themselves from this viewpoint. Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry made the break from fundamentalism. A new danger came with this change—the old fundamentalists carried hostility to culture but the new evangelicals accommodated assimilation into culture.
Today’s evangelicals think they can rush to embrace postmodernism with impunity. By pragmatism they change the transcendent God to an almost immanent god, losing the sense of his majesty. The church loses its message by taking its cues from the world and becomes indistinguishable from the world system. Spiritual dissipation results from such wandering. If this happens, the church will lose its distinctiveness and, thus, its relevance to society and individuals. The church will have little to offer non-Christians.
Postevangelical postmoderns simply formalize what culturally happens in evangelicalism. The prime example of this is Stanley Grenz’s writings. According to him, the Christian has three sources for theology: Scripture, tradition, and culture. His adaptation to culture is raw subjectivism and cultural pragmatism.
Gauging Evangelical Identity
David Wells shows the difficulty in defining an evangelical in the twenty-first century:
In the 1950s and 1960s, defining evangelical faith was not hard, because evangelicals were anxious to say exactly who they were and what they believed. But in the 1990s, when the movement has become a sprawling empire in which the left hand has no idea that the right hand exists, definitions of who the evangelicals are frequently reflect the movement’s disintegration and, on occasion, the special interest of the authors who offer the definitions.260
Western Christianity has historically defined an evangelical by the Reformation (sixteenth century); that is, essentially by justification through faith alone. Now some evangelicals want to change the identity of an evangelical to one who does not necessarily believe in justification by faith.261 Some believe this definition is judgmental and fear mongering.
A complicating factor in evangelical identity is the third-world evangelical perception of what is an evangelical. Third-world Christians deem Western evangelicals to be adherents to individualism and philosophy (rationalism). Many Western evangelicals believe the West is out of touch with post-Chris- tians so they want to redefine what an evangelical is. This could fragment evangelicalism into syncretism, which would cause the movement to lose its identity and doctrinal distinction.
Alister McGrath, in defining six distinguishing doctrines of evangelicalism, leaves out justification by faith.262 Kwame Bediako draws on history to show that Christianity formed its identity as a reaction to second-century philosophy and that the situation in Africa is not that different from that of the second century.263 Michael Cooper, of Trinity International University, has moved into postevangelical postmodernism by re-identification with the Christian past and with world Christianity. These arguments are irrelevant to the arguments of Romans and Galatians, which define a believer as someone who is justified by faith. In other words, identifying the evangelical by justification by faith is not a cultural issue but a biblical issue. This issue of discontinuity with false doctrine from other cultures is irrelevant to the Word of God. The solas should define evangelicalism (sola fides, sola gratia, sola scriptura, sola Christus, sola Deo Gloria).
Use of the term “evangelical” requires responsibility to define the term. It is important to know what it is to be evangelical. Frank Beckwith recently resigned as president of the Evangelical Theological Society because he believed the Roman Catholic Church was more in line with the early church fathers, which he calls “the great tradition.”264 This placed him outside the framework of an evangelical because he no longer believes in justification by faith alone or by grace alone. He said that he still considers himself an evangelical but no longer a Protestant. A key issue for him was that his personal virtue counted for something in justification. He said in a Christianity Today interview, “I just think if you hold to a highly cognitive, almost legal model of justification, there is no component for God’s grace working out salvation within you.”265 In the Associated Baptist Press, he said,
I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries.266
Evangelicals since the Reformation defined themselves as those who believe in justification by faith alone through Scripture alone. These two doctrines are the irreducible minimum of being an evangelical. If evangelicals lose these two doctrines, they will go down into a bog of accommodation to this world system. Accommodation of truth will take evangelicalism down a very dangerous road in its churches, parachurch movements, denominations, and academies.
We can see the Evangelical Theological Society’s commitment to Scripture in their doctrinal statement: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written, and hence free from error in the autographs.”267 However, even this organization—using word games—allows errantists and open theists into their membership. Evangelicals have formally fought for the inerrancy of Scripture for a quarter of a century, since the International Council for Biblical Inerrancy.
Postevangelicals now challenge the two fundamental doctrines as essential to their identity. They apparently want to identify with evangelicals but change the foundation upon which evangelicalism stands. They challenge the idea of propositional, objective truth. All that remains is our own personal, subjective viewpoint on truth. This is a crisis of enormous proportion. Postevangelicals fear the label of intransigence in standing for truth. They value cooperation at the sacrifice of truth because in a postmodern culture it is hubris to claim to have a final answer about anything.
The Bible is the standard by which true evangelicals measure truth. Postevangelicals want to go back to tradition as a measuring stick for the church. Evangelicals have always valued history and tradition, but they never conceded that tradition held any ultimate authority for belief.
Some extremely right-wing evangelicals (fundamentalists) connect present customs with Scripture. This is not an acceptable standard to define evangelicalism. There are differences among fundamentalists, evangelicals, neo-evangelicals, and postconservatives who are so-called evangelicals. We can draw a huge boundary around the first three to separate them from the last. Some postconservatives are no longer evangelicals by the definition of justification by faith alone and by Scripture alone.
David S. Dockery also addresses this subject as editor of Southern Baptists and American Evangelicals.268 Carl F. H. Henry admonishes evangelicals that if they do not answer the issue of what an evangelical is, they will be nothing more than a cult in the wilderness in a secular society with no more significance than the outcast Essenes living in a remote part of Israel near the Dead Sea.269
Inability to Stand on Truth
Postevangelicals are unable to take a stand on truth because they have lost their identity in postmodernism. They guide by consensus of the group, for there is no objective authority that speaks to the group. Rather, the group speaks to authority, even the authority of the Word of God. They yield to the autonomy of the self or group subjectivism. This is the coup of the audience. The listeners are sovereign because they reject objective authority. Their authority is prevailing public opinion. Validation comes from the authority of self and the public. This is what the Bible calls worldliness—conformity to the values of culture and the satanic world system. There is no fundamental or obvious truth. Values find authority in the market. The only right is the right of pluralism, where everyone advances personal perspective. Heaven forbid that anyone study the Word of God in such a fashion as to speak with authority about it. This is apostasy to a therapeutic community of believers. Wells deals with this issue:
In these three decades [1959–1989], the laity had apparently moved from a doctrinally framed faith the central concern of which was truth to a therapeutically constructed faith the central concern of which was psychological survival. Christian truth went from being an end in itself to being merely the means to personal healing. Thus was biblical truth eclipsed by the self and holiness by wholeness.270
Again, Wells shows how evangelicals are losing their identity to culture:
Therapeutic spiritualities which are non-religious begin to look quite like evangelical spirituality which is therapeutic and non-doctrinal.
These two developments—the emergence of the postmodern ethos and the growing religious and spiritual diversity—are by no means parallel or even complementary but they are unmistakably defining American culture in a significantly new way. And they are defining the context within which the Church must live out its life. Already there are some signs that this engagement with culture is not exactly going the Church’s way. It was certainly noticeable that following September 11 the Church was mostly unable to offer any public reading on the tragedy which did anything more than commiserate with those who had lost loved ones. There was virtually no Christian interpretation, no wrestling with the meaning of Evil, little thought about the Cross where Christians contend its back was broken.271
The idea behind this is what they deem as universal authority in truth. Because postconservatives have lost their identity in postmodernism, they wallow in the authority of culture, a universal authority in truth. However, not everyone understands the Word of God equally, and not everyone can lead the Christian community equally. Christianity by its very nature is authoritative, and those who have the responsibility of leading it have authority by nature of position, have an inherent grasp of truth, and have ways to deliver that truth to society. Not all viewpoints of evangelicalism are equally valid or true, and thus are not all equally useful. Legitimacy of leadership does not rest in the community but in the objective Word of God.
Evangelicals often distort what “servant leadership” means. They take it to mean lack of leadership, which somehow appears more pious than having authority based on knowledge of the Word of God and a role that comes from God. Biblical leadership involves the right to lead without consulting the prevailing opinion in the evangelical community. True Christian leadership does not put the finger to the prevailing wind. It must at times go counter to culture and counter to prevailing Christian opinion. The Christian leader’s responsibility is first to the God of truth and all that he represents. Truth prevails over experience and triumphs over self-ruled faith. Principles of truth via biblical exposition prevail over autonomous opinion. An autonomous faith driven by the desire to kowtow to culture will generate a subjective church without norms for life. It takes a stand on truth to lead properly.
Truth cannot be enslaved to any individual or group. But this is the problem of both evangelicals and postevangelicals—they are held captive by the world system. Christian truth is not a means to an end; it is the end. Truth is the source from which we do ministry. The dominant worldview should never take the Word of God captive; the Word should take the world system captive. Confor- mity to the world system undermines truth; it does not advance it. As Wells says,
Without theology, however, there is no faith, no believing, no Christian hope. And the Church’s loss of preoccupation with theology goes a long way toward explaining its current weakness: it has inadvertently exchanged the sensibilities of modern culture for the truth of Christ.272
Tolerance—The Controlling Identity
Tolerance is a core belief of postevangelicals, and this belief becomes the controlling norm for discernment. Refusal to pass negative judgments has a problem with making judgment on those who hold true beliefs. Postevangelical authority rests centrally on tradition of the church; an epistemology based on tradition is tenuous.
Under postevangelical postmodernism, desire to be true to the truth will endure great pressure, for postmodernism is essentially anti-doctrine. This philosophy will undermine certainty based on the Bible. Postevangelicals look askance upon exposition of propositions of Scripture. They question objectivity in Scripture. They challenge the certainty of truth itself. These subjectivists view claims of exclusive truth as odd. Pressure for tolerance of other ideas and open- ness to aberration will put evangelicals into the obscurantist viewpoint. David Wells indicts the evangelical world for accommodating its distinctive identity to the world:
Without a sharp, cogent, differentiating identity, evangelicals, no less than the Liberals before them, are simply absorbed into the conventions of the modern world in which they live. It is no mystery, therefore, why they are failing to out-think their cognitive opponents. The reason is that they are not that different from these opponents, and the motivation to out-think them is no longer compelling.273
Wells calls truth-diminishing evangelicals “amicable partners” with society because they are banishing “theology from its place in the center of evangelical life and relegating it to the periphery,” going on to say,
Behind this banishment is a greatly diminished sense of truth. Where truth is central in the religious disposition, theology is always close at hand. As theology has become dislodged, contemporary evangelicals have become progressively more remote from their forebears in the faith whose courage and fortitude produced the rich heritage of historic Protestant orthodoxy. They are, in fact, now beginning to retread the path that the Protestant Liberals once trod, and they are doing so, oddly enough, at the very time when many of the descendants of the Liberals have abandoned this path because of its spiritual bankruptcy.274
Unless evangelicals closely identify with the truth of the Word of God, they will end on the ash heap of subjectivity, uncertainty, and loss of aggressive belief and evangelism.