Evangelicals Are Too Nice

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared on RealClearReligion, April 30, 2014.

Robust orthodoxy is out of fashion.

Tenuous, tempered, nuanced articulations of flailing faith appear with frequency in Christian magazines, blog sites, books, and sermons. Woe unto him who makes a declarative, propositional statement -- it's regarded as mean, dogmatic, fundamentalistic (no, not that!), harsh, lecturesome, oversimplistic, and hostile.

Let's grant that demanding and unquestioning acquiescence to a catalog of theological teachings is neither fair nor, more importantly, Christian. Beliefs accepted without probing have no root and no place other than to foster intellectual passivity and spiritual laziness in their professors.

Let's also grant that in an era where children are raised in fatherless homes, where social pathologies like wanton drug and alcohol abuse, and where philosophical confusion is seen as evidence of maturity, the audience to which American Evangelicalism speaks is more wounded, more in need of an empathetic voice than perhaps ever before.

True, true, and true again. Given. Accepted. Agreed.

But does this justify ambivalence about Christian doctrine? Have we become so anemic, so unbelieving that we cannot make confident assertions about what the Bible teaches?

On April 6, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley made a strident, earnest appeal for what is, apparently, theological and moral relativism. As noted by commentator Alexander Griswold:

Stanley likened God to a parent who lets their child bend the rules out of love. "Great parents set rules, and when they feel it's in the best interest of their children, they break their rules... Great parents decide that their children are more important than the laws that the parents set. And the parent who doesn't do that creates an orderly home that everyone can't wait to leave. And God is a perfect, heavenly Father" ... Bizarrely enough, Stanley seemed to admit that he found the implications of his own words uncomfortable. "Where will that lead? How far do you go? What extreme does this take us? I don't know." Towards the end, Stanley was even more direct: "...I don't want you to ask me how to apply it."

If Griswold is quoting him accurately, in this sermon Stanley expressed dangerously false teaching. In theology, logic, and expression, his teaching was errant. But to say these things doesn't mean I hate Andy Stanley or that I'm demanding he be excised from Evangelicalism. Is not the difference between standing against his comments and some sort of vile rhetorical warfare even a wee bit transparent?

Affirmation and niceness (in the name of not being divisive and sustaining Christian charity) have become idols which displace truth. Little children, we are not keeping ourselves from them.

What would theologians like J. Gresham Machen, Carl Henry, Kenneth Kantzer or Gleason Archer make of the rhetorical tenor of American Evangelicalism? In our time there is no shortage of orthodox theologians, but the proclamation of the Gospel, of Christian doctrine and its relevance to the needs of our time, is often so tentative as to be rhetorically servile.

We have bought into the language not only of our critics but our opponents. Honest self-examination is substituted by lugubrious self-loathing. We internalize everything thrown at us and are reduced to saying, in as many words, "Please, please don't think I hate women because I'm against elective abortion! My mother was a woman, and I have sisters -- I'm a big fan of women. Oh no, I'm SO sorry if my being pro-life offends you! What's wrong with me?" Uriah Heep would be proud.

If the Gospel is the highest expression of both truth and love in all history, why do we not advance it with joy, humility, assurance, and grace? We will offend some people, however tactful and artful and graceful our tone and words, when we tell them they need to embrace the sacrifice of One who hung on a blood-drenched cross and, that if they don't, eternal punishment awaits. Yet not to herald this news in its fullness is to show a lack of love to the multitudes who are perishing.

Winsomeness, patience, forbearance; quickness to listen, compassion, true meekness: all should be present as we tell men of their Eternal Rescuer. But so must honesty, fidelity to Scripture, confidence in its assertions, and a basic moral courage that empowers an unwavering stance for and with the truth.