The Great Evangelical Heresy
In his book How Should We Then Live? the late evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Pragmatism, doing what seems to work without regard to fixed principles of right or wrong, is largely in control. In both international and home affairs, expediency—at any price to maintain personal peace and affluence at the moment—is the accepted procedure. Absolute principles have little or no meaning in the place to which the decline of Western thought has come.”
Schaeffer, at whose feet I had the privilege of sitting while a student in Switzerland, was right. Evangelicalism has been contaminated by the very disease it has tried to cure—secularism and pragmatism, a philosophy of life void of eternals. It is the great evangelical heresy of experience first, Bible second.
“The danger when men stop believing in God,” said G. K. Chesterton, “is not that they will believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything.” This quote aptly summarizes the point at which our modern society has devolved. The central evangelical difficulty is its experience-focused, individualistic, man-centered, anti-intellectual philosophy. For the Reformers, doctrine was central and Christian “experience” followed, but modern evangelicalism has largely reversed the picture, making human experience central and using (abusing?) Scripture to bolster what it has already “felt.” I believe this is one of the reasons why not a few evangelical churches have fallen into the grip of so-called “seeker-sensitive” practices, since such practices invariably appeal to the desire to attain the most remarkable spiritual jolts.
Only a Reformation perspective can save us from our worst enemy—our own hubris. National revival will be possible only when the Word of God is introduced into every sphere of life by those committed to the scriptural Christ. In focusing attention on the Word of God instead of the word of man, the Reformers sought to reverse the great evangelical heresy by insisting on God first and man second, revelation first and knowledge second, Gospel first and faith second, justification first and sanctification second—in a word, the supremacy of God in the first rank and man’s religious experience secondarily related to it.
Where today are the men who will stand up for this Word of God fearlessly? Belief in an inerrant message from God should make a man prophetic. He should be impelled by it to speak forth (“forth-tell”) relative to the great issues of his day. In America hardly a trace of this prophetic outlook survives. The same old pious formulas are repeated Sunday after Sunday. How lazy and beholden to tradition we have become!
Long before the controversy in the Episcopal Church, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote:
It is not surprising that the ministry should attract crackpots, eccentrics and oddities who in happier times would have appeared as characters in Waugh’s earlier novels rather than as beneficed clergymen. Scarcely a day goes by but some buffoon in holy orders makes an exhibition of himself in one way or another, more often than not on the subject of sex—that pons asinorum of our time. Can it be wondered at, then, that the Church’s voice, when heard, is more often than not greeted with derision or just ignored?
I believe it is time to reverse this trend. The start of a new academic year is an opportunity to substitute Christ-made for man-made on everything we do. Perhaps God may then grant us a national rebirth, a new era of dependence on Him and the Scripture.
The humblest student who is in the school of Christ is “wiser” than the profoundest sage whose eyes have never been opened to the reality of God’s transcendent glory. In focusing attention on God instead of man, the Reformers can lead us back to eternal standards of righteousness rather than ephemeral human traditions.
August 12, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.