Over on his TGC blog, Colin Hansen has posted a blog article entitled The Rise and Fall of an Evangelical Empire. Hansen posed an interesting question to us in the question over why the Christian landscape is littered with the corpses of Gospel and evangelical ministries. In his trip to Northampton, Hansen notes the apostasy of Edward's former church. and muses over the rank apostasy of formerly Christian institutions and churches, from Harvard to Yale to Princeton, the modern Methodists and other established denominations.
To this, Hansen only has for us the following advice: to "take every precaution to guard our confessions and plead with the Holy Spirit to give our descendants the new birth," while taking assurance that "God remains the same, and only God deserves our worship." "The history of redemption is littered with the rise and fall of evangelical empires," after all.
Now, Hansen's advice is certainly biblical. But his prescription is shallow, as we shall see.
First of all, the fact that God is sovereign also includes with it the knowledge that God works through means. God does not intervene supernaturally most of the time, otherwise miracles would not be termed as being exceptional. God works in the world through means, and therefore perseverance and apostasy of Christians and churches, while definitely sovereignly determined, occurs through acts and situations of which men are very much involved.
Therefore, since the sovereign will of God is not for us to discern (Deut. 29:29), our lot in life is to follow the decrees of God. And from our limited perspective, the means are important. We are responsible to work on the means without regards to what God has already foreordained of the destinies of men. Thus, we are not called to be a quietist in just letting go and letting God, but to actively engage in utilizing the means for the salvation and perseverance of believers and the church.
Secondly, the problem with evangelicals in general is their poor knowledge of history. This shows in Hansen's analysis of history. While I cannot claim to be a historian, Hansen has omitted important events in the history of the apostasy of these Christians churches and denominations. Edward's church for example was already being compromised during his day by the "half-way covenant," which ultimately led to his eviction from the church. The apostasy of the mainstream denominations including the Methodists lies primarily in the embrace of Liberalism, which was basically the adaptation of Christianity to Enlightenment thought in an effect to make the faith more acceptable to their contemporary "Enlightened" society (c.f. Schleiermacher). Liberalism is probably the most prominent example of Contextualization, and it is a puzzle to me why supposed Evangelicals want to resurrect the dead corpse of "contextualization."
George Santayana once said that those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. Today Evangelicals are committing the same mistakes as their predecessors, all the while thinking they are still embracing the Gospel. What "Gospel" exactly is being embraced? We note here that Tim Keller has no problems with theistic evolution. Is that compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? John Piper has invited Federal Visionist Doug Wilson and Purpose Driven pope Rick Warren to the Desiring God conference in 2009 and 2010 respectively. What kind of "Gospel" is being embraced if salvation by faith and works is considered an acceptable "gospel" — the "gospels" of the Federal Vision and the Purpose Driven paradigm?
Hansen speaks of "taking every precaution to guard our confessions." My question is this: What use is a confession unless it is truly confessed in the life of the church and Christian witness? Is a dead profession of belief any good if we are only interested in formal and not material orthodoxy? But if we truly desire to guard our confession, then why is the Gospel Coalition still compromised in dalliances with heretics and heretical doctrines? Is the Gospel Coalition actually serious about being centered on the Gospel, or is this all a series of play-acting for big name pastors to get more influence and fame? Is the goal more invitations to guest preach, to preach at big conferences, to "reach more people with the Gospel" while selling out the Gospel itself in order to gain the speaking privileges in the first place? Note the mute response to the selling out of basic Christian orthodoxy by James MacDonald, with a mere sorrowful response by Thabiti Anyabwile (whose ministry is after all affected by this compromise). I would love to see a rebuke of James MacDonald for his selling out of the Gospel, but I doubt that would happen. And just in case anyone objects to the language used, noting that the interview has yet to occur, please do note that the issue is not even about Sabellianism at this moment but the fact that MacDonald thinks that the definition of the Trinity is not even important. One wonders why anyone cannot believe in Isis or Baal or even just the Golden Calf since after all as long as we identify the God we worship as "triune," we can define the word "triune" to mean anything we want including making the term inclusive of all forms of syncretism.
Hansen speaks hypothetically of Bethlehem Baptist Church losing its missionary zeal, Redeemer Presbyterian going on the theological downgrade, and the Gospel Coalition losing the Gospel. Sadly to say, at least in the latter two cases, the situation is not hypothetical but actual to some extent. Until Keller clearly renounces theistic evolution, and the Gospel Coalition disciplines James MacDonald and takes a stand against the "salvation-by-faith-and-faithfulness-works" Federal Vision and separate from these heretics, Hansen's piece will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My advice to the New Calvinists therefore is very simple: "Physician, heal thyself." May God grant James MacDonald and John Piper repentance for their respective compromises. Amen.