Let’s call him K. He is an American ex-Christian of some sort who follows these blogs and has written to me courteously at some length about my books. I have replied back, answering his questions as best I can and challenging him on his current agnosticism and the debate sporadically continues. K has an interesting take on Christianity which I think is worth sharing even if I think it is flawed.
Most of us are familiar with the standard kind of anti-Christian argument which begins “I can’t believe in Christianity because…” and then goes on to talk about our alleged views on women, science, homosexuality and so on. A major problem with this sort of argument is that it is extraordinarily naive. K’s argument is – at least on the surface – somewhat more sophisticated. To simplify his position somewhat, he claims that there are two major groups within Christianity: the hard-edged fundamentalists with their strident and uncompromising gospel and the fluffy seeker-centred ‘mainstream evangelicals’ (my term not his) with their gentle, winsome and somewhat soft-edged preaching. What K says is that he actually admires the fundamentalists more than the ‘mainstream evangelicals’. According to him they at least have intellectual consistency and some measure of honesty in their understanding of Scripture: they also are prepared to confront the world not to conform to it. For him although they adopt an unbelievable creed, the fundamentalists score in the area of integrity and ethics. In contrast, in a search for bridge building and populism the soft evangelicals have actually become so close to the world that they have lost any real integrity. Compromise has undone them.
First, I want to say that I think that there is something in his critique of seeker-sensitive Christianity that is worth considering. Let me give you one example: an old friend of mine does quite a bit of speaking on the troubled matter of ‘origins’ from a contemporary evangelical perspective that is rather sympathetic to evolution. I recently read a review of a debate he was in and the non-Christian commentator was actually quite dismissive; he detected nothing in any way distinctive in what my friend said and found it almost impossible to separate his position from that of his atheist opponent. Examples can be multiplied; for instance, it is hard for instance to separate the modern evangelical’s view of Sunday from that of anyone else. I think there is a real danger that in the interests of evangelism (or is it cowardice?) evangelicals try to blend into the world in such a way that we lose the radical difference that is perhaps Christianity’s most appealing feature. There is a tragic irony here: in an effort to preach the gospel effectively we somehow lose the gospel.
However I also want to point out that K has engaged in a clever sleight of hand. By splitting Christianity into two poles he has created two artificial positions. On the one hand are the manic fundamentalists who hold to an unbelievable creed but who are at least intellectually consistent. On the other are the jelly-like mainstream evangelicals who hold to a more believable creed but who suffer from the fatal intellectual flaw of compromise. He can’t follow the first party because they believe in manifest nonsense: he can’t follow the second because of their intellectual inconsistencies. His head prevents him from joining the fundamentalists, his conscience from joining the evangelicals. Thus doubly protected, K’s agnosticism is safe.
K’s perspective is no doubt shared widely. It is not enough to simply critique it. We have to admit that the churches are flawed; after all, they are made up of flawed people like me. Yet it is not the church that draws men and women to God, it is Christ. It sometimes seems to me that the greatest proof of the gospel is that, despite the church, men and women continue to come to God through Jesus Christ.
Have a good week.