The Long Struggle to Preserve the Gospel, Part 2
by John MacArthur
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Monday’s blog post focused on some of the past few decades of conflicts within the evangelical movement that have provoked me to preach and write in defense of the gospel. It wasn’t an exhaustive list—that would betedious, I suspect. Evangelicals as a group have shown an unsettling willingness to compromise or unnecessarily obfuscate all kinds of issues where Scripture has spoken plainly and without ambiguity.
For example, despite the clarity of 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not allow a woman toteach or exercise authority over a man”), leading evangelicals have been debating for several years whether women qualify to be elders or pastors in thechurch. Many capitulate to cultural preference rather than submitting to biblical authority on this and other similar issues. Some have tried toredefine the role and proper functioning of the family. Others seem to want todeconstruct—or simply ignore—what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage.
More disturbing yet, over the past few years someevangelicals have begun to borrow moral rationalizations from secular culturein the wake of America’s sexual revolution. For years there has been a slow butsteady softening of evangelicals’ stance against sex outside of marriage. Morerecently, and more ominously, several vocal evangelicals (including some inpositions of leadership or influence) have been tinkering with novel ideasregarding gender fluidity, sexual orientation, transgenderism, and homosexualmarriage. Those are issues that generations of believers would never havedreamed of putting on the table for debate or redefinition in the church. Butat this very moment there is a burgeoning campaign to reconsider and abandonthe church’s historic stance on LGBT issues under the banner of “socialjustice.”
Why have so many evangelicals openly embraced suchcompromises? The answer is very simple. It’s the next logical step for a churchthat is completely ensnared in efforts to please the culture. For decades thepopular notion has been that if the church was going to reach the culture it firstneeded to connect with the style and methods of secular pop culture or academicfads. To that end, the church surrendered its historic forms of worship. Inmany cases, everything that once constituted a traditional worship servicedisappeared altogether, giving way to rock-concert formats and everything elsethe church could borrow from the entertainment industry. Craving acceptance inthe broader culture, the church carelessly copied the world’s style preferencesand fleeting fads.
In my book Ashamed of the Gospel, I warned that this wasa slippery slope, because the world would not be content for the church merelyto reflect its style—it would demand to dictate the substance as well. And theseemingly endless parade of evangelical compromises bears that out. Manybelievers have long been convinced that they first have to give the world whatit wants in order to have any opening for the gospel. Evangelical style coacheshave heedlessly followed wherever the world leads them. Having thoroughlyabsorbed the world’s methods, the church is now being forced to adopt theworld’s message.
The common link in those continual compromises ispragmatism*, driven by a desire to reach the world and win its support andadmiration by utilitarian means. Evangelicals of our generation seempathologically addicted to the sin of desiring the praise of men. Indeed, thatis precisely the brand of pragmatism that I fear points people down nearly allthe paths of departure from the gospel mentioned in Monday’s post. Today it haspenetrated deep into the culture of the church, and the end effect is disaster.
Every one of those deviations from sound gospel doctrinehas been driven and advanced by evangelicals seeking acceptance in the broaderculture. Some of the errors I have singled out (seeker sensitivity and theexplosive growth of the charismatic movement) have been promoted byevangelicals who think that whatever attracts the world must be the rightdoctrine or strategy. Other errors (the embrace of psychotherapy, theecumenical drift away from Protestant principles, and—yes—the recent rhetoricabout “social justice”) reflect a fear of being thought unsophisticated or outof step with contemporary “wisdom.”
“Social justice” (in the world’s usage of that term)entails political ideas that are deemed sophisticated—namely, identitypolitics, critical race theory, the redistribution of wealth, and other radicalor socialist policies. Those ideas were first popularized and propagated in thesecular academy, where they are now regarded as received wisdom and have becomea dominating part of popular culture. Evangelicals who are chasing the cultureare latecomers to the party of those who advocate “social justice.” And I’mconvinced the dominant motives are pragmatic.
In ministry, success cannot be measured numerically or bypopular opinion. “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians4:2, ESV)—not “famous,” “fashionable,” “filthy rich,” or whatever.If attendance figures are someone’s gauge of effectiveness, there’s literallyno end to the crazy schemes that person will try to legitimize — as long as theschemes are successful in drawing appreciative crowds. That idea has beeninjecting poison directly into the evangelical mainstream for decades.
Consider this: The maestros of missionary and churchgrowth have been telling church leaders that they need to survey the unchurchedpeople in their communities, find out what it would take to get them interestedin their churches, and then give that to them. Let opinion polls tell thechurch how to preach, what to teach, and what not to say or do.
Is it any wonder that the unchurched world now expects tobe able to tell the church precisely what she should believe and how she shouldfunction and teach?
And is it any wonder that people who grew up throughseveral decades of evangelical pragmatism and have now come into leadershippositions in the church are absolutely convinced that it is essential forChristians to both heed and parrot the world’s wishes?