Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Destroying historic Christianity from within?

"I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2

"So many Christians today identify themselves with some 'single issue' (a concept drawn from politics) other than the cross, other than the gospel. It is not that they deny the gospel. If pressed, they will emphatically endorse it. But their point of self-identification, the focus of their minds and hearts, what occupies their interest and energy, is something else: a style of worship, the abortion issue, home schooling, the gift of prophecy, pop sociology, a certain brand of counseling, or whatever. Of course, all of these issues have their own importance. Doubtless we need some Christians working on them full time. But even those who are so engaged must do so as an extension of the gospel, as an extension of the message of the cross. They must take special pains to avoid giving any impression that being really spiritual or really insightful or really wise turns on an appropriate response to their issue.

I have heard a Mennonite leader assess his own movement in this way. One generation of Mennonites cherished the gospel and believed that the entailment of the gospel lay in certain social and political commitments. The next generation assumed the gospel and emphasized the social and political commitments. The present generation identifies itself with the social and political commitments, while the gospel is variously confessed or disowned; it no longer lies at the heart of the belief system of some who call themselves Mennonites.

Whether or not this is a fair reading of the Mennonites, it is certainly a salutary warning for evangelicals at large. We are already at the stage where many evangelical leaders simply assume the message of the cross, but no longer lay much emphasis on it. Their focus is elsewhere. And a few, it seems to me, are in danger of distancing themselves from major components of the message of the cross, while still operating within the context of evangelicalism. It is at least possible that we are the generation of believers who will destroy much of historic Christianity from within -- not, in the first instance, by rancid unbelief, but by raising relatively peripheral questions to the place where, functionally, they displace what is central. And what shall the end of this drift be?"

D. A. Carson, The Cross & Christian Ministry, page 63.