Home > Fundamentalism > CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH, OR COMPROMISING THE FUNDAMENTALS?

CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH, OR COMPROMISING THE FUNDAMENTALS?

[TBC: History demonstrates that the same errors afflicting the church today have cropped up in the past, even following the time known as the Great Awakening.]Every generation of American Evangelical Protestantism since 1800 has attempted to unite Evangelicals in common cause against the perceived theological attacks and spiritual crises of their day. In the late 1700s, the students of Jonathan Edwards, including his own son, Jonathan Edwards, Jr. promoted a theological movement known as the New Divinity Men. Their stated goal was to fight Rationalism and the Enlightenment while attempting to reconcile their recent experiences of revival in the Great Awakening with the Old Calvinism of their Puritan fathers. Their hopes were to advance the revival of the 1700s into the new century before them so that they might promote a godly population for the new American Republic. Their movement gave birth to the New School Calvinists (and later the New School Presbyterians) who believed that perpetuating both revival and social reform on a national level superseded the need for what they considered to be the unnecessary doctrinal precision demanded by the Old School Calvinists such as Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Robert Lewis Dabney. The New School Presbyterians were led by men such as Lyman Beecher, Albert Barnes, George Duffield, and perhaps the movement’s most famous advocate, Charles Finney. These men maintained that Biblical orthodoxy was not nearly as important as leading the crusade for national reform and advancing the cause of perfecting society.

This same spirit was revived in the 20th century with the arrival of the “New Evangelicals” who believed that Christian Fundamentalism had embraced anti-intellectualism and rejected the necessary social reform programs that they believed would ultimately defeat Modernism and Neo-Orthodoxy. While each of these movements may appear different in nature and scope, all three of them (New Divinity, New School Calvinism, and New Evangelicalism) illustrate how American Evangelicalism has earnestly pursued a coalition-like network to advance its theological and ethical beliefs in the hopes of stemming the tide of evil and promoting the cause of outward religion in the republic.

Since their first national conference in May 2007, the influence of the Gospel Coalition (TGC) has spread quickly through Evangelical Protestantism. Under a diverse collection of leaders, including Dr. Timothy Keller of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Dr. D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, John Piper, the ever-popular Baptist pastor and promoter of Edwards-like theology for the 21st century, and Mark Driscoll, the truly postmodern…,” the Coalition has drawn an unusual collection of theological and denominational traditions into a growing movement whose influence is spreading far and fast.

The most recent attack against the foundations of historic Christianity has come through the epistemological and philosophical movement known as postmodernism. This “new” philosophy posits that there is no such thing as an objective verifiable reality, but reality is something that is purely subjective created by individuals, and therefore, relative to what an individual makes it out to be. Apply this principle of thought (if indeed it can be called a rational form of thought) to literature, the arts, economics, politics and culture, and the result is the culture of irrationality which has characterized the first decade of the 21st century. Naturally, this philosophy does require a Christian response, and a survey of the foundation documents of TGC will reveal that this new generation of American Evangelicals is attempting to answer this philosophy, especially in regards to the nature of truth. The question the Christian must ask is, what kind of response are the men of TGC offering, and does it square with Scripture?

But the documents do not stop there. In the third paragraph, the assertion of subjective, conformable “truth,” is affirmed in an even more blatant manner: “We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God. Truth is not only a theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship…. Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart, words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit” (Theological Vision for Ministry [TVM], I.3). Truth then, according to this document is a life lived in correspondence to God. Once again, the authors have affirmed that truth is not objective, but a subjective experience formed by the sensory interactions of our lives with God, but ultimately rooted in the subject, that is, in man himself. Therefore, truth grows out of experience. The fundamental problem is that truth is subjective, not objective; experiential, not propositional; and most significant of all, it is not rational or absolute but constantly changing in terms of the dynamic of human experience.

TGC’s Theological Vision for Ministry (TVM) affirms the following in Paragraph 4 of Section I – Epistemology: “But we also reject a view of truth that sees truth as nothing more than the internally coherent language of a particular faith-community.” Truth, according to TGC then, is not a logical system of thought rooted in rational propositions of Scripture believed by the church. By this statement, leaders of TGC, and those who become members of TGC by affirming it,have not only affirmed that truth is non-propositional, they have denied that the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) must have a logical and rational set of defined terms. No matter what they may say in other statements of belief, by affirming this statement, they have denied verbal, plenary inspiration, the infallibility of Scripture, a rational and logical hermeneutic, and a coherent systematic theology. Therefore, according to them, the Christian faith is not rooted in God’s words recorded in Holy Scripture, but in an experience, a sensory experience at that, and one derived from our own subjective understanding of reality.

(Cope, “The Gospel Coalition: The ‘New Calvinism’s’ Attack on the Bible and Its Epistemology,” The Trinity Review, No. 313, Sept-October 2013).

 

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