26 January 2016

Evangelical Compromise and Wheaton College

While not a fan of Wheaton, this is one of those moments where the divide between Christians and the world becomes all too clear. The world is not going to understand the stance of an organisation like Wheaton in retaining 'statements of faith' as criteria for employment. Of course there are tensions present in the Christian College which attempts to maintain epistemological antithesis with the world and yet operate within it. Evangelical schools like Wheaton also seek to synthesize Christian beliefs with the world system in a way that Christians can be educated (as the world reckons the concept), but also maintain a distinct Christian identity.

It must be frankly declared that sometimes the antithesis is lost altogether. There's a real danger the synthesis sought for (in order to function vis-à-vis the world) in fact loses its Christian distinctiveness. Christian 'worldview' can all too easily succumb to being a form of sanctified worldliness.

The story of Wheaton and much of Evangelicalism is one of compromise. The rise of the Evangelical 'movement' if it can be called that in the post-war period was in many ways a response to Fundamentalism. It attempted to retain the doctrinal foundations of Fundamentalism but also engage the culture and put on a more friendly and marketable face. It sought respect and access to social institutions and in particular academia.

Even those who believe the notion was well intentioned must question its outcome. Others, like Iain Murray have (in my opinion) rightly read the attempt and resulting situation as something akin to a disaster. The movement has failed in its objectives and actually proved quite destructive in terms of the Church at large. It has compromised the Christian witness both within and without and has earned no respect in the public square.

This teacher, a theologically liberal Christian woman, who of course being a theological liberal is in fact not really a Christian at all, is right to be fired from her position. She should have never been hired in the first place. The hijab business was well intentioned if perhaps a bit foolish, but her comments regarding the 'same god' are clearly out of bounds and expose her deeper theological commitments and confusion. She may be a nice person and in some respects a good teacher but if the school is looking for Christian teachers, then she fails the test.

Wheaton of course has lost all credibility (in my book) due to its associations with a host of villains from Billy Graham to Dennis Hastert and Michael Gerson. It is one of the established faces of Evangelicalism and while many believed the installment of Calvinist Philip Ryken would boost its standing, Wheaton has continued to be a disappointment to many conservatives.

Wheaton, Illinois serves as one of the Evangelical 'hubs' in the United States. Before Colorado Springs, there was Wheaton. It's the home of the college, the NAE, Crossway publishing etc...

These organisations and the theology behind them represent the accommodation and shift in emphasis present in Evangelicalism as opposed to the earlier Fundamentalism. While there's much to criticise in Fundamentalism and in particular the direction it took, the Evangelical response has been one of compromise and corruption.

Wheaton's dilemma regarding this teacher represents the present culmination of these events. It's no great surprise. They opened the door to this long ago and now the 'shutting' of the door will prove ugly, costly and harm the reputation of the movement. The right stand Wheaton is making will not appear to be related to the gospel but to the right-wing political and social agenda advocated by Evangelicalism. Of course to be fair, Evangelicals view the social agenda as part of the gospel mission. What was once social conservatism and patriotism has morphed and has been greatly influenced by the age old heresy of Dominionism.

It is noteworthy that among Fundamentalists such questions as 'accreditation' were answered in a different way. The antithesis was far more important than social respect or access. Many of the Christians I met in Europe understood this long ago. In my opinion many of them have grasped the 'antithesis' in a way Americans have not. They don't have a political voice and in many countries to embrace Biblical Christianity is to some degree 'break' with society. Respect is not something they seek. The university system and seminaries are often viewed with suspicion, especially if they comply with social norms and accreditation.

Evangelicalism in seeking respect embraced and augmented the earlier compromises in the realm of Biblical and textual scholarship. Crossway is perhaps best known as the publisher of the ESV and the overlap between the producers of the ESV and Wheaton are striking and no accident. The ESV was but another example of Evangelicals embracing secular 'scholarship' in the realm of Biblical text studies and a rejection of historical Scriptural infallibility vs. the pseudo-scientific attempts to 'rediscover' the inerrant text. The modern doctrine of inerrancy does not believe our Bibles to be inerrant, or rather believes them to be inerrant only insofar as they align with the ever changing academic views regarding the original text. The Evangelical embrace of the Critical Text which began in the 19th century represents a desire to earn academic respect. It has failed in this regard and has left much of the Church with a Bible it can no longer fully trust.

Evangelicalism also opened the door to psychology entering the Church. Once again, seeking the respect of the world and fearing to appear less than modern and scientific the Church opened the door to a system of thinking completely antithetical to Biblical Anthropology. The presuppositions of psychology are rooted in materialist concepts regarding what it is to be human and a host of other notions that categorically reject the teaching of Scripture with regard to the state of man, what motivates him and what helps him to find meaning, peace and reconciliation.

The Christian counseling movements have sought to various degrees to reconcile and modify secular psychology with Scriptural doctrine. Nouthetic Counseling has attempted to remedy this defection but the movement has largely been compromised and even now there are many who claim to embrace it but in fact do not. In seeking respect and standing, the Evangelical movement has sowed confusion and chaos.

We could continue raising and listing off various corollary issues but to conclude the one that is perhaps most striking is the embrace of soft-feminism. The fact that Wheaton embraces the notion that Christian girls, wives and mothers will venture out into the world as 'career women' and even end up teaching at a Christian institution exposes the very spirit of compromise represented by Evangelicalism. It is admitted that there are certain ambiguities in the New Testament with regard to women working outside the home etc., but it can be easily demonstrated the idea of Christian career women and in particular Christian women in authority over Christian men is highly problematic. I know some will argue the realm of authority is only extended within the context of the Church and I will agree that all women are certainly not required to submit to all men. Yet, it is clear the role of teaching and in particular 'Christian' teaching is limited to men.

Christian colleges and the whole notion of Christian higher education have generated confusion. Worldview teaching demands that all fields of study are essentially doctrinal in nature and must be integrated into the larger theological whole. At this point, if that's what they truly believe, to embrace women professors in Christian colleges is to reject the imperatives of office in the New Testament. They have with some degree of confusion 'sacralised' the whole of education and turned all instruction into religious instruction and worship. But then in order to be at peace with the world and earn its respect it softly embraces the ideas of the world with regard to gender roles and escapes the Scriptural teaching through sociological and bureaucratic sleight-of –hand. We see the same thing occurring when it comes to Sunday School and other extra-Scriptural creations which though well intentioned once again demonstrate a lack of trust with regard to the Sufficiency of Scripture.

Sadly these arguments have been picked up by others of the Dominionist school who employ them out of different motivations and while also well intentioned often distort them by casting them within a specific Sacralist and Transformationalist framework. Their motivations are not that of antithesis for which I am arguing, but of transformation and conquest, the attempt to take over and transform the whole of society.