Sunday, December 21, 2008

Schwarzenegger and the Emergent Church

Hey, did you know we just had some elections? If so, you probably heard that the Republicans got smoked. Lost the presidency, bigger deficit in the House, and thiiiiis close to not even having the theoretical threat of a filibuster in the Senate. One of the main questions that naturally arises is: where do they go from here?

The governor of California, Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had some comments on this during an interview with Brian Kilmeade. (Unfortunately, the clips I could find online didn't have him saying it, only Kilmeade relaying the quote. It's part 2 of the interview, during the closing 30 seconds or so.) The Terminator says that for the Republicans to return to power, "they should move away from some of their core principles, those conservative principles, and start spending on programs Americans want." I find this response fascinating because of how it relates to current (and historical) ideas in the church. But before getting to that, there are at least two problems I see with it.

First, as many have pointed out, his prescription is largely how the Republicans got into this problem in the first place. This would be more than a post of its own (I'm sure there are a few books detailing it), but suffice to say that the mere existence of the term RINO (Republican In Name Only) shows much of the problem. These guys speak the conservative message to get elected, then govern like liberals. Unconscionably high spending is but one symptom. They just nominated the most "moderate" Republican in decades and he got destroyed. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, I don't think that becoming more liberal in a country that is largely conservative is a recipe for success.

But there's an even more fundamental problem with this idea. You would hope that these guys are conservatives because they believe that the conservative worldview is the best way to govern. They believe that these principles are the best thing for the nation, for the states, for the individual people living under that authority. They are convinced that if these principles are enacted, the country will benefit; if liberal policies are enacted, the country and its people will suffer.

Given that, here is a rough paraphrase of Ahnold's vision. "You believe that conservative principles are the best way to govern the country - best for the nation, best for the people. But you may have a better shot of getting elected if you abandon those principles. So you should intentionally do what you believe to be detrimental to the nation and harmful to people, so that you can have more power."

Am I the only one who has a problem with this? How could someone even think about doing such a thing in good conscience? If one truly holds that his view is beneficial and the opposing view is harmful, how ghastly must he be to change positions just to get into power? What Ah-nold is suggesting as the future for Republicans is utterly reprehensible (at least, it is for the actual conservatives in the party - for the RINO's it'd actually be a refreshing bout of honesty).

To see just how ridiculous this is, take one of the pet liberal causes and suggest the same thing. Think back to 2000, when the Republicans have just won the presidency and clean majorities in both houses. The Democrats were no doubt searching for ideas to get back into power. Imagine someone suggested in all seriousness: "You know, we believe that a woman has a fundamental right to abortion without restriction or negotiation. But the R's oppose abortion, and they're kicking our butts. So maybe we should switch sides on this issue, oppose abortion, and maybe then we'll win more elections." Is it even possible to imagine this conversation happening? Would it not be absurd for them to take a core value and speak/work/govern in opposition to it in order to win elections? Yet here is a prominent Republican, suggesting in all seriousness that this is not only a viable option, but their only choice. Unfortunately, there's no sign he was joking (and based on the way he's governed, he's quite serious).

In the political arena, this idea is an absolute joke. How could someone even think of abandoning core principles like that in order to be more popular or powerful? If someone could even consider this, would it not show that he doesn't really believe that position and/or doesn't consider it very important? Or if he does really believe it, and believes it to be highly significant, yet is willing to oppose it for personal gain, how utterly despicable would that person be?

But enough about politics. Hopefully it's obvious why such an idea - abandoning core principles to have better "success" - is either ridiculous or reprehensible in the political arena. But how about in the church? Would the foolishness/wickedness not be exponentially greater, since the issues at stake are of eternal significance?

And yet, this is a constant refrain within the church today. The culture is postmodern, we are told, and so the church must embrace postmodernism. People don't like truth claims, so we need to stop saying the Bible is true. People are offended by talk of sin and hell, so we need to stop talking about them. They don't want doctrine, so we need to forget about that and just tell stories (from which they can make their own meaning). We need to stop preaching the gospel and just meet their felt needs. People don't like hearing about the exclusivity of Christ, so we need to pretend all paths lead to God. And if we do these things, our churches will be full and we'll have all kinds of influence!

This nonsense is coming most strongly today from the emerg* camp - Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, etc - who claim we need to abandon Christianity and embrace postmodernism (or a pomo/Christian syncretism). A century ago the claim was that the church needed to embrace modernism. Before that... It seems there's no worldview so anti-Christian that the church hasn't been told - by well-meaning individuals, no doubt - that it must abandon the gospel and embrace the unbiblical teaching. If it insists on the gospel, the church will fade into irrelevance. But if we just stop insisting on Biblical truth and embrace the current prevailing worldview/fad, well, the church will really be strong and be able to reach a lot of people!

So here's the question I have for them. Let's just say we do create the perfect Christian/postmodern blend they want, and we reach a lot of people with it. What exactly are we reaching them with? Because it sure isn't the gospel. And if the gospel is true, abandoning it to "reach" them just leaves them in their sin and under God's wrath. So what, exactly, is the point of doing so?

Logically, there are only three possible reasons someone would suggest setting aside the gospel in this manner.
(1) They don't believe the gospel is true. This is no doubt the case for some if not all of them. For instance, it's really hard to believe that Brian McLaren actually believes pretty much any part of the gospel, let alone the whole thing. Of course, given the pomo view of truth, it's tough to say that any of the emerg*s actually believe anything.
(2) They don't believe it's important. I guess it's possible that someone believes the gospel, but just doesn't think it's significant enough to be beyond compromise. I'm not sure how someone could actually believe the gospel - that we are sinners facing God's wrath, who can only be reconciled to God by embracing the life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf, resulting in a life of increasing holiness and faithful endurance to the end even in the face of persecution, and that all who reject the Son and persist in rebellion face eternal conscious torment in hell, but those who through God's grace embrace the Son receive eternal joy with God in heaven - then decide that it's not really all that important, and we can negotiate it away for a good enough offer. The position I guess exists logically, although I would suggest that anyone who would fit here really fits #1.
(3) They are more concerned with personal gain/power. In this position, someone is convinced that the gospel is true, that it's the only hope for people about to be on the receiving end of God's eternal wrath - but they would rather have a full church or sell some books or something. The wickedness of this position is unspeakable.

The idea that the church needs to embrace the latest cultural trend, even though it means abandoning the gospel, is presented by many as the loving way. But upon even cursory analysis, it's obvious that it's either a total lack of faith in the gospel, or an utterly wicked decision to grab personal status at the cost of their souls. There is absolutely nothing loving about abandoning or compromising the gospel. At best it's a sign that the person doing so is still lost in their own sin; at worst it's a sign that they're both lost and really hate people with unspeakable hate. When politicians talk about doing this, it's ridiculous. When people ostensibly representing the church do so, it's a reprehensible evil.

No comments: