Company came calling recently at our homestead. This wayfaring couple were childhood friends of the Missus. She had attended Reformed Christian schools with the both of them. And we all attended the same Reformed church throughout our teens and early adult years and went on also to attend each other’s weddings. If they were passing through our neck of the woods we were obliged to raise the portcullis, and share a kettle. Since it was a breakfast visit my daughter whipped up a batch of cinnamon rolls and brewed up a vat of strong coffee. It was sure to be a happy reunion. So I thought.
We hadn’t seen these folks in a good many years, but they had pulled up stakes and left California roughly the same time we had. We were all Reformed Christians and White refugees removing our children from the encroaching existential threats in SoCal. Albeit I settled mine in the Idaho panhandle, which is known as the hub of the “American Redoubt,” as well as central to the proposed “Northwest Republic,” Jack’s IT work landed his clan in a Portland suburb. Portlandia, the Gate of Weird.
Whatever the cultural differences between Norida and Portland, the common denominator between them is, as everyone knows, that both are extremely White. And therefore, safe havens for the rearing of White Christian families. Relatively speaking.
But talking to them, we learned they had changed churches several times since their relocation. And though they were come of unbroken Dutch Reformed lines stretching back to the 1500s, they reported to us that they were now part of a “solidly biblical church,” a non-denominational one. At which my facial expression must have belied my surprise because he hurriedly proceeded to explain that they had “left all the traditions of men behind.”
At which I asked, “Surely, your church abides by some confession or creed?”
“Oh, no. None. Just the Bible.” was his reply. Which of course, is a sentiment I’ve heard a thousand times from evangelicals, but I marveled that such an inane thing could pass the lips of one reared on the Three Forms of Unity.
So, politely as possible, I asked, “If your church has no statement of belief how can you confirm that they teach the Bible faithfully overall? Did you attend every service for a couple years to accumulate a sufficient overview to determine it?”
Sounding a bit agitated, his speech hastened, “Our church basically follows the teaching of Beth Moore – the most biblical teacher out there today.”
I choked on my coffee.
And the first words I could formulate in reply were, “…aside from the little fact that it’s unbiblical for women to be elders or pastors?”
But before I could underscore the point with citation of Moore’s teaching Emergent theology via Zen “contemplative prayer,” her denouncing orthodoxy in favor of ecumenical unity, her lying visions, her word magic and symbolism lifted from witchcraft, or her overall Feminism, he really popped the clutch: “Love is the only important thing.” he said, “No one in the Bible ever converted someone by good theology, with maybe one exception in St. Paul’s case. God is Love. The gospel is Love.”
But because his last point was even more needful of redress than his preceding endorsement of pastrix Moore, I laid the lesser issue aside to pursue the more grievous statement: “If not to certain theological tenets concerning sin and need for salvation in the God-Man Christ, what then were those converts in Scripture converted to? Warm fuzzy feelings?”
His retort began before my question had even concluded: “We live in a diverse world and God has given everyone the right to choose what they believe. No one has the right to step in between people and God by cramming their own opinions down the throats of others! When Christians think they are God they are further than anyone from Him.”
“But,” I said, “even by insisting that Christian conversion is absent any doctrinal propositions, you posit a rigid propositional dogma, just a non-Christian one. Don’t you see that even to contend for this perspective you wind up denying it? If relaying theological propositions is ‘cramming one’s beliefs down peoples’ throats,’ aren’t you doing that very thing to me now? And when you presume to witness by it? Besides that, Christ and the Apostles commanded men, ‘Repent and be saved!’ The Scripture doesn’t share your opinion about people’s right to believe whatever they want.”
Not such a happy reunion after all. The conversation went on a long while in that fashion – repetitious flabbergasted attempts to talk sanely to madness.
I would come to learn that in the previous year his wife claimed to have had an audible revelation from God. As she tells it, she was commanded by God to leave her husband and young children for a couple months to deliver medical aid in Indonesia. No, she is neither a doctor, nor a nurse, nor a candystriper. She had no medical background but was sure God had directed her to help at a clinic in Indonesia. Having now returned, said pilgrimage was firmly cemented in her mind as a badge of self-sacrificial honor defining her as an ostensible prophetess. Never mind that she had abandoned, and risked depriving her own young children of a mother forever, she got to stumble around obtusely amongst sick antipodes, radiating Love vibes, imparting the inoffensive anti-Gospel gospel.
I realized upon hearing this that it wasn’t one thing on which we had disagreement, but everything. Excluding the fact that both our parties self-identified as Christians, there was no single point of similarity between their faith and ours. Even the most basic points of contact from which we could advance a discussion proved terribly elusive because all their values had shifted opposite ours.
The fundamental principle of modernism has been to express the spirit of the age and to adapt Christianity to it. A changing theology has been accepted because of a basic belief in an evolving truth.
Modernism and liberalism in the church has presented itself as ‘the spirit of open-minded investigation of facts without any prior assumptions or commitments. The method is defined as the empirico-inductive method of science, which is sharply contrasted with the dogmatic, deductive method of conservative theology.’ Its basic aspect is ‘humanism.’
~RJ Rushdoony, The One and the Many, p. 350
But part and parcel of that humanist shift eschewing all creeds in favor of a chaos creed of Niceness is that it often proves invisible to its adherents. Catechists in that mystical process often do not perceive themselves as having changed positions at all because they have never stopped following their inner leadings. And despite their protests to the contrary, it is evident in every Oprah-esque aphorism falling from their lips that those inner leadings are entirely governed by the zeitgeist. This is not my critique alone, but also the professed position of Emergent Church theologians falling back on the work of liberal theologue Jürgen Moltmann, who proclaimed rapturously, “The culture is guiding theology.” This was how he defined his “Eschatology of Hope.” But what might one expect from the understudy of avowed Marxist Ernst Bloch? In fact, it was Bloch’s atheist social philosophy, the “Principle of Hope,” upon which Moltmann patterned his theology.
A contemporary of Moltmann, A.W. Pink, addressed the subtler forms of this existentialist dynamic in the churches, but entirely absent Moltmann’s jubilation:
Men imagine that the Most High is moved by sentiment, rather than actuated by principle. They suppose that His omnipotency is such an idle fiction that Satan is thwarting His designs on every side. They think that if He has formed any plan or purpose at all, then it must be like theirs, constantly subject to change. They openly declare that whatever power He possesses must be restricted, lest He invade the citadel of man’s “free will” and reduce him to a “machine.” They lower the all-efficacious Atonement, which has actually redeemed everyone for whom it was made, to a mere “remedy,” which sin-sick souls may use if they feel disposed to; and they enervate the invincible work of the Holy Spirit to an “offer” of the Gospel which sinners may accept or reject as they please. The “god” who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible Conferences is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality.
~Arthur Pink, “The Attributes of God – The Supremacy of God”
Believing themselves to be living radical contra mundum lives, they actually move in lockstep with the world. As Machen said, whether or not a liberal can be a Christian, Liberalism and Christianity are very different things. My friends, while identifying as Christians, had renounced the Christian Gospel in favor of another. And while they laud Pluralism, Tolerance, and Niceness, and actually advance Heathenism, the only thing which appears to offend their sensibilities are the axioms of Law and Gospel which summarize Holy Writ. Much as it pains me to admit it, their god is not God.
Because they have lost all objective standards their daughters will continue down the Via Dolorosa of Alienism, seeking out at once new vistas of masochism and deification – by union with the social monad and integration downward into the void. It presages defilement, adulteries, miscegeny, and reprobation. If not a certainty, it is very near so. Albeit an uncomfortable one, it is a cliché.
Van Til emphasized that when engaged in dialogue with an unbeliever we should keep buying our opponent’s next cup of coffee. But the unbelievers now make up the majority even in the church and we simply don’t have enough coin to keep buying them all coffee. So we must prioritize. We are obligated to kin first under God, and then to persons of near association. Yes, keep buying the next round so long as there’s a jingle in your pocket. As the song says, “Take a cup o’ kindness yet for days of auld lang syne,” as you “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5), but do not presume souls to be ransomed with your cup o’ joe and magnanimity; else you slip, too, into the existential cult of Nice. The destiny of souls lies with God’s election alone.
But when you know them well, be they kith or kin, that affinity itself serves not just as an inducement in their case, but also as a perspectival vantage regarding the direness of every case. Only through empathy for those close can we gain any real sympathy for those remote. Thus again God-ordained familiarity gives context, and justifies charity to the alien. But laying aside the former in deference to the latter is, by loss of that context, to lose concern for all. Just as in Sharon’s case, putting aside her family, her glorying in pointless grief tourism among the sick in Indonesia is inadvertently reduced to cruelty.
Which is to say that the same dynamic has pull over both parties: sharing as we do in the human condition (not to mention peoplehood), the Emergent Churchian/Alienist/existentialist and the Christian are subject to like forces – sin and its implied corollaries, sacrifice and atonement. The character of which hinges not on our pluck, virtue, or wits, but upon God’s election. This we dare not forget; for if we do it is they who have converted us. God forbid it.
It was a sad farewell, but saying a prayer, and entrusting them ultimately to Providence, we returned to our daily rounds.