Phil's latest post laments the demise of modern evangelicalism, sullied as it is by the waxing tide of postmoderns, Open Theists and that sinister New Perspective on Paul that NT Wright is seducing the faithful with of late. Phil wonders: How did it come to this?
Phil Johnson:It's really just the 'badness' of all these lesser Christians Phil is surrounded by, alas. They compromise their principles, don't you know. They don't -- they can't -- arrive at their positions through earnest inquiry. The Open Theist may say he's pulling his conclusions from scripture, and from logical implications that arise from that analysis. But really, Phil has traced the real cause, and that cause is slavish capitulation to the world's ways, anything at all in order to please Babylon.
The problem can be traced, I think, to a craving for academic respectability and worldly admiration. In the middle of the 20th century, several leading evangelicals proposed a whole new kind of evangelicalism—less militant, more tolerant, and (above all) shrewd and market-savvy about public relations. They seemed to operate on the assumption that the way to win the world is by making the evangelical movement and its message as appealing as possible to worldly people. In other words, let's "sell" Christianity the way Budweiser sells beer.
Why not? If they like us, surely they'll like Jesus, too.
Phil has canonized certainty here, as well, so this is pretty much a done deal. Cut and dried.
Phil draws his "tracings" through the 70s (soft on God's wrath), 80s (interest in health, wealth and success), and the 90s ("so bent on winning the world's admiration" that they just stopped talking about the Gospel at all). All the motives are as corrupt as they can be, and you know that's what the motives really were, because, remember, Phil has certainty and certainty is good.
Seriously, though, I honestly don't think it occurs to Phil that his brand of Calvinism might actually be a part of the problem. That would involve doubt, and high-impact doubt, at that, so we know that's not going to be entertained, given Phil's commitment to certainty for certainty's sake. He regularly fails to distinguish his own interpretation and take on things from the AbsoluteTruth™, a sign that Phil is a fundamentalist first, and a Calvinist second. He laments evangelicals steering around "the offense of the cross" -- which he conflates with his Calvinism.
It doesn't occur to him that Piper's reassurance to his little girl that "we all deserve that kind of death and worse, kid" when the I-35 bridge collapses in Minneapolis isn't really the "offense of the cross", but the offense of Calvinism. I know it's hard for Phil to keep those things separate -- what is the case and what he thinks is the case -- and the canonization of certainty fairly innoculates him from any reflexes that might help him out here.
But, at length, one wonders why Phil doesn't cut to the chase, and quote his hero Spurgeon, who suffered none of the temptations Phil entertains to put on the airs of reasoned polemic:
Sit thou down, reason, and let faith rise up!
Wouldn't that just be neater, cleaner, less disingenuous than all of this? You wouldn't have to assault the character of all your critics and theological opponents, and you'd own up to the organizing principle of your Calvinist worldview, in one tidy step.
Phil tries to tie things up near the end with this:
Phil Johnson:"As it's presented in scripture" Phil grabbing the high ground here for himself, yet again. Those other guys' interpretations? Bah, that's not what scripture says. How do I know?
I think it would be a mistake to conclude that the blame for evangelicalism's demise lies merely (or even primarily) with the style or character of the movement's current or recent leaders. It's actually a much bigger and more widespread problem than that. The real root of evangelicalism's problems goes back to the whole movement's blithe and chronic neglect of the gospel as it is presented in Scripture—starting several decades ago. All those attempts to tone down and tame the gospel have changed the fundamental character of evangelicalism's message. By systematically doing away with all the hard parts of the message, evangelicals have essentially done away with the gospel itself.
It's obvious. And I'm certain, doncha know.
I think the "self-knowledge" genes, wherever they may be, must be turned off in the fundamentalist constitution. How else to explain this trait, across so many fundamentalists? There's what is, and there is what I think about what is. And while these two can and should overlap, and to as great an extent as possible, they need to be kept separate, because they are separate. And sometimes, the two don't hardly overlap at all.
So Phil surveys the religious landscape, and doesn't like what he sees. Evangelicalism has not evolved in a direction that he would like. In addressing the problem, though, Phil is confronted with his own problem, a trilemma:
1) Argue your case on the merits. Everyone else is wrong, and hears the reasoned, articulated case for why.
2) Doubt that you are the conflation of what is and what you want things to be.
3) Embrace the comfortable vanity of your certainty, and just dismiss the slackers as the whores and prostitutes they are.
Now 1) seems like the obvious winner on the face of it. But (and surely Phil knows this), it's a bit of a trap. It quickly leads to stalemate, as there is no arbitration process for Biblical interpretation. In science, we can devise tests designed to provide distinctions and falsifications that provide objective adjudication between competing hypotheses. Phil's a milieu is religion, though, and it affords him none of that, such is his trade.
So, 1) has the effect of declaring a tie between all contestants, surely an insufferable outcome for Phil. What to do, then?
Well, doubt and tentatitivity seem to have a lot going for them in other areas. Application of skepticism in the sciences yields knowledge and tools that are, well, "skeptic-proof", and demonstrable as such. But Phil know's that plugging doubt is the crucial finger in the dam; pull it out, and the levee eventually gives way.
So, by virtue of elimination, Phil is fairly forced to the ad hominem explanation. I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, and he doesn't relish the kinds of disparagement he's got to dish out. But he's a fundamentalist, after all, and a Calvinist fundamentalist at that. And these are wages paid out from that path.