21 July 2005
Living in the aftermath of the great evangelical disaster
Time magazine's recent photo essay on "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals" would have been enough all by itself to convince me the evangelical movement has suffered a fatal meltdown. The list included people like T. D. Jakes, who denies the Trinity; former Lutheran-turned-Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus; Joyce Meyer, the jet-setting charismatic prosperity-gospel preacherette; and Brian McLaren, the postmodern pastor who dilutes almost every historic evangelical distinctive he doesn't outright deny, and whose views on the authority of Scripture undermine the concept of truth itself.
Thirty years ago, not one of those people would have been included in any list of evangelicals. They are not evangelicals in the historic sense of the word.
What has changed? The answer is clear: the concept of evangelicalism has been expanded to become virtually all-inclusive. The word evangelical has lost its historic meaning. These days it means everythingand it therefore means nothing.
So while evangelicalism may seem to be gaining clout and respectability in the eyes of secular media like Time, the truth is that evangelicals themselves are actually less evangelical. The movement has collapsed on itself.
By the way, it is clear where Time magazine thinks evangelicalism's clout is being felt the mostand it's not in spiritual matters. It's mostly in the realm of politics and entertainmentpop culture.
The word evangelical used to describe a well-defined theological position. What made evangelicals distinct was their commitment to the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. Now "evangelicalism" is a political movement, and its representatives hold a wide variety of theological beliefsfrom Neuhaus's Roman Catholicism to Jakes's heretical Sabellianism, to Joyce Meyer's radical charismaticism, to Brian McLaren's anti-scriptural postmodernism. There's only one person in Time's entire list who would remotely qualify as an evangelical theologian: J. I. Packer. And Packer himself has been on a quest for the past 20 years to make evangelicalism as broad and ecumenical as possible.
Frankly, none of the people highlighted above would even agree among themselves on any of the points of doctrine that make their respective views distinctive. They probably wouldn't even agree on the essential points of the gospel message. The one thing they clearly do agree on is that they'd like to see the evangelical movement become as broad and inclusive as possible.
But that's not really historical evangelicalism, is it? That kind of latitudinarianism has always belonged to Socinians, Deists, modernists, and theological liberals. It is antithetical to the historic principles of the evangelical movement.