Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
So far, I have posted:
- An introduction, in which I stated the premise that the term “Evangelical” has become increasingly meaningless.
- A baseline, providing J.C. Ryle’s definition from the mid to late 1800’s.
- A summary of some critical points from Ryle’s extensive definition.
In this final post in the series, I hope to make some useful observations about the average modern Evangelical compared with the bygone definition.
Let’s start at the top level. Researchers say that about a quarter (25%) of the U.S. population is comprised of Evangelicals.
Given the trends of revolutionary cultural change which are sweeping over our nation, largely unopposed, can it be that 25% of our citizens, (1) hold the Bible as the supreme source of truth, (2) believe that mankind is by nature thoroughly ruined and in desperate need of salvation, (3) look to Jesus alone as the savior from God’s good and right condemnation of us, (4) see the work of the Holy Spirit as utterly necessary to change our warped and rebellious hearts and minds, and (5) insist that no one is born again who isn’t being transformed into the likeness of Jesus over time.
Never! Such a people could never be bystanders while the teachings of Scripture are so comprehensively abandoned.
In fact, the things Ryle said spoil the Gospel – substitution, addition, interposition, disproportion, and confusing and contradictory directions – are more the rule than the exception in modern Evangelical circles.
On balance, the things Ryle said Evangelicals are, we aren’t, and the things Ryle said Evangelicals aren’t, we are. Times they have a’changed! Ryle wouldn’t recognize us, not as Evangelicals anyway.
What in the world happened?
Here is what I think.
The compromises that erode the foundation were made decades ago, so that Evangelicals have said “We trust the Bible,” while finding creative ways to justify compromise with the world in many categories, including origins, gender roles, and family and church life.
Those creative ways are now simply being used to make this next group of compromises with the world, making it that much harder to say “We trust the Bible” with a straight face, the farther we slip down the slope.
It is really simple hermeneutics. Because the door was opened for compromise through creative Bible interpretation, cleverly skirting around and explaining away what Scripture actually teaches, the plain meaning of any text is now vulnerable to anyone and everyone who wants to employ the same clever techniques to advance their own pet compromise.
Simple as that.
So what should we do? Two things.
1. Cling to our Bibles.
Whatever it says, believe. Whatever it commands, do. Whatever it forbids, flee. There are portions hard to understand, but we will never understand unless we abandon any willingness to use clever techniques to skirt around or explain away the real meaning.
2. Fight fair, but fight hard with modern Evangelicals.
People who fit the mid to late 1800’s definition of an Evangelical have to understand that the ship is well advanced in her sinking. We should salvage what we can – who we can – knowing that real live Christians sometimes make compromises which should never have been made (like the ones you and I have made with humiliating frequency), but can return to faithfulness. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, OF COURSE, but the Spirit is often pleased to use human channels, and we should want to be used for such a purpose.
Make the case that much of modern Evangelicalism isn’t historic, biblical Christianity at all, using the Bible and sound, careful principles of Bible interpretation. Expose clever, unsound interpretations of Scripture for what they are – unworthy of people who love their Bibles.
And pray for the church. May she arise as the faithful, trusting bride of the Lord Jesus Christ.