02 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Two

(Part One)

One assertion Spencer makes (here), and with which I agree, I found particularly worthy of comment:

Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.


I think this is unarguably true. But I also think it must be pointed out, in all fairness, that 25 years is not as long a period of time as he seems to think, especially when the secular counterpart has been around at least twice as long, and is better financed. And, like a sick joke, evangelical taxes have comprised some of that financing.

Even with that in mind, it doesn't strike me that evangelicalism is poised for success against secularism. The reason, I think -- and I'm just spit-balling here -- is that this so-called Christian education is still really very secular. It has not been Christian paideia, the nourishing and training to full development of the Christian soul, the entire person. It's focus has been equally as secular, equally as materialistic, as any secular education. It has been Christian only by virtue of being taught by Christians to the children of Christians, and because it has included chapel services and instruction in Bible and Christian worldview. It has been secular by virtue of being relevant, that is, relevant to this world, practical in the sense of churning out worker drones, or Christian leaders. And, like all relevant education, it has largely ignored, as irrelevant, introduction to The Great Ideas, training in participation in The Great Conversation. (And where it has turned to that sort of education, it has done so after secular educationalists have done.) If it isn't going to help the student get to college so he can get a good job someday, then, being irrelevant, it will not be taught. Consequently, education has been reduced to two goals: missions and evangelism, or job training. I mentioned paideia above. If I had a nickle for every evangelical who, when discussing anyone's university major, asked, "What are you going to do [vocationally] with that?" I'd be independently wealthy.

Riddle me this: Why did the Spartans learn music and dance? What have they to do with being warriors?

Also, evangelicalism's unintentionally trite (and popularized) summation of the doctrine of justification sola fide, pits idea against idea, Christian principles against secular principles. But secularism is not first of all a set of principles. The heart of secularism is violation of the First Commandment. This is not a mere philosophical ideology. It is a matter of the heart, not the mind. We are talking about sin. This is worldliness in the Pauline sense, standing in opposition to God himself.

In reality, therefore, the popularized conception of sola fide pits a statement of faith against the sinful disposition itself. The sinful disposition isn't something one defeats with an idea. If someone commits a sin, we don't recite the Apostles' Creed! It's like flashing a crucifix at a vampire: it looks good in movies, but seriously, are you kidding me? Secularism isn't mere ideology, to be defeated, or simply replaced, with a contrary ideology. Evangelicalism's focus on teaching a Biblical/Christian worldview may thus have back-fired a bit. The Christian worldview, alone, is an ideology rather than a theology. (And by theology I mean way of life, not academic discipline.) Precisely as ideology it is, paradoxically, powerless against secularism. It could not be otherwise.

Permit me to illustrate. Let us take the proposition, God exists. Strictly speaking, a proof of God's existence is no more than a demonstration that the proposition God exists is logically derived from more basic propositions. This, in and of itself, doesn't mean that God exists. It means the proposition can be derived from other propositions. God exists, by such derivation, is not for that reason, a statement about reality. That's contentious, of course; classical apologists would disagree. The important thing, however, is this. Even under conditions which would render the proposition, God exists, a statement about reality, the proposition itself has no power. The true proposition, God exists has no power to save. The same is true of statements of faith. The assertions of a statement of faith may all be true, but there is no power in them. I can very well believe in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead. But the power to forgive sins; the power to raise the dead -- these are not in the creed.

This is not to say that statements of faith are unimportant. They are very important. They are important because they mark out doctrinal boundaries within which the Christian life is lived. But statements of faith are not the Christian life. It is the gospel (the subject of statements of faith), and not the statement of faith, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1.16). To learn the Christian worldview; to learn to articulate and defend a statement of faith -- these are not the same as to experience the power of God for salvation. They are not the same as possessing and living life in Christ. When young people are taught the contents of the Christian worldview, they are given nothing which can withstand secularism, anymore than they are given something which can withstand sinful temptations. There is no power in the Christian worldview. The power to withstand secularism; the power to resist temptation -- these powers are in Christ himself. A Christian education which teaches Bible, theology, and Christian worldview as academic subjects in which mastery is demonstrated by performance on a written test is doomed to failure.

Apart from life in Christ, the Christian worldview is an ideology. Secularism, however, is not an ideology; it is the current manifestation of the spirit of the age. Against that spirit, ideology, even a Christian ideology, is powerless. (See 1 John 4.4.) Presently, evangelicalism strikes one as an invitation to ideologically sick people to improve their ideological health by adopting a healthier ideology. In actuality the invitation is extended to dead men. (Am I suggesting, sub silentio that evangelicalism's real problem is Arminianism? Oops, my Calvinism is showing.)

Part Three

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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