Theological genocide—the systematic eradication from society of a Biblical and evangelical view of God and the gospel (see part 1 here) – is not a recent phenomenon. There has always been an impulse to replace true view of God and His gospel with another.
It’s scattered throughout Biblical history. Eve was beguiled by the serpent to deconstruct God and remodel Him into another. While the Hebrews waited for Moses to come down from Sinai, they constructed a visible golden calf to worship in place of the invisible Almighty who had just delivered them from Pharoah’s hordes. Much of the prophets’ ministry was to address the syncretism of Israel, whereby they chose to follow the constructed gods of the surrounding nations rather than the Yahweh who simply exists. In every case, there was a replacement of God as revealed with a God as designed by people. Paul said this replacement impulse is the epitome of our rebellion against our King: “claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…” (Rom. 1:22-23)
In our society, the steady diminishing of a Biblical view of God and the gospel has been far more subtle than any of these events. While I know this is far too simple, let me share a broad outline of the historical moments that have contributed to where we stand today—an increasing movement towards removing Biblical, evangelical Christianity from our society’s marketplace of ideas.
+ The 1930’s saw the increasing liberalization of Protestant theology, under the influence of radical German theologians. In the aftermath of this, “the Fundamentals” were articulated by more conservative Biblical scholars. Thus, there was a schism established between scholarship and Biblical fidelity, or more simply between an approach to faith that appeals to head and to heart, between the academy and the local church. While there has been some recovery of the rightful wedding of the two, in many places, there is still a chasm of distrust between them.
+ In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, in a genuine impulse towards holiness, evangelical Christians withdrew from Hollywood and began questioning the morality of involvement with the new media. This was the first tiny step in a disastrous withdrawal of Christians from the arts and media. Think of it—how the visual media of art, movies, internet, graphic arts, video and music have become the leading edge of communication in the new millennium. And passionate Christ-followers have been largely absent. This has also led to the creation of a separate, usually laughably inferior, subculture of Christian media that most often merely mimics the best of contemporary culture.
+ The 1960’s and early 1970’s saw the Jesus Movement in the United States—and evangelicals thought that a world-sweeping revival was surely on the way. Thousands of young people came to Jesus—baptized in the ocean with their long hair and coming to church wearing tie-dye shirts and sandals and playing rock music. People walked out of my childhood church the first time the youth choir used drums. For the most part, evangelical churches missed the significance of the moment in a hasty, often angry, move to protect traditions and the way things had always been done in matters of religion. And in almost the same breath, two other events occurred. People in western Europe took major strides towards secularism and the jettisoning of biblical morality. And world religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam began their initial forays into the U.S. – with open arms and pop culture advocates (The Beatles, etc.) directly targeted at young people. Evangelicals reacted like the ostrich and largely buried their heads in the sand.
+ The 1980’s of course, brought the formation of the Moral Majority. What started as a call to evangelicals to get involved in the political process gradually morphed into the wedding of conservative politics to the concept of the Kingdom of God and even faithfulness to the gospel. At the same time, evangelicals became known for ranting against “the culture” which to most people just sounded like angry, out-of-touch church people. Because of that, many secular, non-religious people now virtually identify the Christian gospel with conservative political positions on the economy, national defense and immigration reform—and hatred for the culture they so enjoy. Therefore, when conservative positions lose favor (as evidenced by the last election), the resulting backlash is to denigrate the people of faith who have advocated it. And the distance grows.
+ The late 1980’s and 1990’s saw the development of the church growth movement and the mega-church. While there was always a concern for unreached people, much of thinking of that movement arose from the pragmatic imagination of the business world. Despite what recent studies have “reveal”-ed about the movement, the facts are that a generation of Christians grew up with little concern for gospel-centered living and an impatience with approaches to faith that are not quantifiable on a spread sheet. Thus, there is an increasing disconnection with the “cloud of witnesses” that have gone before and the ancient practices that have shaped Christians for generations.
+ Today, there are an increasing number of attempts to “officially” remove the evangelical Christian perspective from public space. (That observation is not limited to the people who keep forwarding that silly petition to stop the FCC from banning religious broadcasting. Stop, already!) Witness the squall over Rick Warren’s prayer at the inauguration. The furor was that he might dare hint at the exclusive nature of the Christian gospel. A nurse in Britain was recently suspended because she asked a patient if she wanted prayer for recovery. This article describes a similar situation in which a worker at a California children’s home was suspended because the adolescents in her charge overheard Christian music by the band Switchfoot while they were eating outdoors at the beach on a previously approved trip. There was music from secular bands like Incubus as well, but this music was classified as “exposure to unapproved religious activities.”
So, there has been a demonstrably steady diminishing of the expression of evangelical faith in the broader society and a limiting of that expression to inside the walls of churches. Over time these broad cultural-religious intersections have served to distance evangelical Christians from the culture in which they are placed. When Christians are seen as distant from their own cultural moment, it is much easier to dismiss the ideas they bring for consideration to many issues—even the important ones like the gospel itself.
Each of these movements, while small in its moment, has contributed to the increasing theological genocide of the Christian idea. But still we are not at the root. The real question is “Who is behind this?” Come back for part 3.