Religionless Christianity and the Myth of Neutrality

I will write in generalities here, not because I am afraid to enter the fray, and not because there are not a plethora of examples of the sort of thing I am referring to, but because those who have entered the fray tend to lose sight of the generalities here expressed, and because there are a plethora of examples of the sort of thing I am referring to. There is some fear that the grid I am supplying here may be misused and abused, but I hope rather to clarify those areas where it is being misused and abused through highlighting several basic principles. I leave the application(s) to the reader.

Nobody can be neutral. Christians should not be neutral. One is either for Christ or against him. Many Christians pay lip service to this no-neutrality principle but fail to apply it in everything they do. One of the most obvious places we see a rejection of the no-neutrality principle is the realm of noble human causes.

If Christ is Lord of all – and he is – then any noble human cause is a noble human cause because Christ says it is a noble human cause. So, for example, the pursuit of justice is a noble human cause.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

Recent dustups in the evangelical world reveal, on the one hand, a major concern for justice and, on the other hand, a major concern about the source of that concern for justice. Consistent with the former, the concern for justice is one more piece of ‘what our predecessors missed in applying the gospel to all facets of life.’ Consistent with the latter, the concern for justice is ‘theological liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, cultural Marxism, or, in some instances, liberation theology.’

Regarding the latter, well and good, because liberalism does not just show up one day; liberalism creeps in. However, a flip dismissal through theological name-calling is a problem, because (for one thing) the Bible itself is concerned with justice. Further, while labels can be helpful in an academic setting, outside of that setting labels are often left undefined, misused, and abused in such a way that they discourage critical thinking and evaluation of the merits and/or demerits of a particular position. Demonizing liberalism from head-to-toe in this manner is a surefire way to create more liberals. So, when somebody from a theologically conservative, Fundamentalist, or even Reformed background encounters liberalism for the first time and sees the ‘good’ it has to offer, he or she thinks, ‘Well, this isn’t so bad after all!’ And the more one focuses on the supposed merits of liberal theology, the more the anti-intellectualism, racism, and misogyny in supposed theological conservatism become the defining marks of that camp in the mind of the impressionable evangelical. Of course, we all know that you are not one of those impressionable evangelicals, right?

Younger evangelicals (who, I have noticed, are increasingly older) have corrected the moralism they learned from their parents and grandparents with God’s grace and have baptized – by which I definitely mean, here, fully immersed – everything in the language of ‘gospel.’ But the language of gospel is not the gospel. The language of gospel can even be applied to movements which are decidedly anti-gospel. And so evangelicals, presumably armed with the lessons they should have learned from last century’s conservative resurgences in Presbyterian and Baptist circles, as well as this ubiquitous idea that the gospel is back in style (I mean, whole conferences are named after it), are looking for something to do. Why not revisit those thinkers rejected as liberal and neo-orthodox to see whether or not they thought of anything worth redeeming? Certainly a mature Christian is up to that sort of task.

Our arguments, then, are no longer arguments about the inerrancy of the Bible, because the battle for the Bible was won, and the victors carry a lot of baggage, and that baggage does not look very much like what secularists approve of, culturally speaking, and so we should keep that discussion at the back of our noble human causes. And we are not altogether interested in what the Bible says anyway, since exegesis is just a Christian thing, and is not at all appealing to the secularist we are attempting to befriend for the sake of our noble human causes. The Church is not much help here either, because, well look at her, and do not forget to take a good swing at her on your way out of that relationship.

On pages 913-914 of his Christian Theology (Second Edition) Millard Erickson writes,

In recent years, however, a different response has increasingly been adopted by Christian theologians. That is to regard secularism not as a competitor but as a mature expression of Christian faith. One of the forerunners of this approach was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the final years of his life he developed a position that he referred to as “religionless Christianity.” The human race’s coming of age is not rebellion against God, but is God’s educating his highest earthly creature to be independent of him. Just as wise parents help their children become independent of them, so in secularization God has been striving to bring the human race to a point of self-sufficiency. The effort of apologetics to refute secularism is, in Bonhoeffer’s view, an attempt to put adults back into adolescence, forcing them to become dependent, exploiting their weaknesses.

Well-meaning Christians are concerned about creeping liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, cultural Marxism, liberation theology, and the like, no matter how misguided they may (or may not) be with that worry. However, Bonhoeffer’s view is further down the foundational line of thinking for those appropriating the baptized secular thinkers of the aforementioned camps. One must remember these are not Christian camps, although they often tout the label. Perhaps that comment bears repeating. Liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, liberation theology, et al. are not Christian, they are other religions. One of the reasons this move toward acceptance of the leading proponents of such views as leaders for Christian causes looks so good is that it seemingly does not deemphasize the teaching aspect of what Jesus gave us or reduce the gospel to evangelism alone. Whereas evangelicals once shunned activities not associated in some way with evangelism, they now shun activities not associated in some way with secular thought. The apologetic of evangelicalism is accomodationalism.

On pages 24-25 of his An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Second Edition), Cornelius Van Til writes,

The church will have to return to its erstwhile emphasis upon its teaching function if it is to fulfill its God-given task of bringing the gospel to all men. Its present recourse to jerky evangelism as almost the only method of propaganda is itself an admission of paupery. It is remarkable that what the church, generally speaking, still does in the way of teaching is shot through with modernism. The propaganda of orthodoxy seems to be limited almost exclusively to evangelization in the narrow sense of the term. When this propaganda turns to teaching as a means, it all too frequently employs uncritically the conceptions of “reason” and “fact” as these are understood by those who make no profession of Christianity. The result is that there is no teaching of Christianity as a challenge to unbelief. Revivalists ought to make themselves unnecessary as quickly as possible. Orthodoxy must take over the teaching function of the church anew, and do it with a better knowledge of the requirements of that work than ever before.

Van Til observed opposite extremes of error within the modernist evangelicalism of his day. While the New Atheism and some sects of Islam remain safe spaces for modernism, evangelicalism is now coming unhinged from its cracked modernist foundations and embracing the foolish postmodernism that slimed its way out of a relatively unwelcoming academy and into the populace. Combine the wildly popular postmodern hermeneutic of perception as reality with moral outrage, a democratic people, and the power to publish on a whim, then watch what happens. The prevalence of modernism in evangelicalism must give way to postmodernism as the culture gives way or else evangelicalism will become irrelevant and die.

The allure of New Calvinism is washing away. Reformed catholics are the only Christians who can keep their footing. Now, Van Til still has the solution for evangelicalism. If the difficulty with evangelism is its tendency toward reductionism, then it needs to be carried out as the gateway to an entire worldview. If the difficulty with teaching is neutrality, then it needs to be carried out as explicitly Christian. For example, justice is not a neutral concept. Metaphysically, epistemologically, ethically, logically, linguistically, and yes, theologically, justice is either Christian or non-Christian. When evangelicals use the term ‘justice’ and proceed to load us down with extra-biblical ‘insights,’ they are not expressing a term and a concept with which a Christian may materially agree, even though it appears a Christian may formally agree; they are attempting to wedge religionless Christianity into a Christian worldview.

All non-Christian concepts of justice are at home only in an anti-Christ worldview. The most significant element missing from an anti-Christ worldview is Christ, the one who makes it possible for God to be both just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Satan is perfectly fine with us being a just and moral people, so long as during the process we fail to see ourselves as a fundamentally sinful and saved people.


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