Posted by: thebylog | August 7, 2005

More on Total Truth

Nancy Pearcey does a quick-but-fascinating historical sketch of the evangelical church in America, highlighting themes that have a direct impact on the current lack of worldview thinking in the church.

The traditional protestant denominations had a rich history and solid system of ritual, teaching, and intellectual scholarship in place, and while this is not necessarily good (theological scholars tend to drift – or run – left, for instance), there was a great value in this accumulation of Biblical knowledge.

The evangelical movement arose as a reaction to what was viewed as the deadness of the traditional protestant church. Their religion was seen as lifeless, and as a result this new movement emphasized the spiritual experience: a personal, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.

But in doing so, and because traditional Christianity was seen as inferior and without life, centuries of Christian thought and theology as fleshed out by the great minds of the past were essentially discarded in favor of an experiential and individualized religion.

And that is why, Pearcey believes, that this worldview battle is so salient and relevant to the evangelical church at the present. They reacted, and lost something. Granted, I’d rather be a passionate evangelical than a spiritually lifeless protestant theologian, but the point is that while something valuable was gained, something valuable was lost.

And then I hear a foot-stomping Southern Gospel tune about “not having church until the Holy Ghost shows up” or about a hell-fire and brimstone preacher, and it makes sense. SG is an entity whose roots almost assuredly (I’m just guessing, I don’t really know) come out of this reaction to the dead religion of the nineteenth century, so it focuses on experience isn’t of the more rational parts of the faith.

These insights helps me understand where people come from and why they are the way they are.

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Responses

  1. Dear Byran,

    Thanks for your insightful comments on my book, Total Truth. You have presented very well the balance between the strengths and weaknesses of evangelicalism, as I sought to explain them in the book. Ronald Knox once described it as the balance in religion between “inspiration” (personal experience) and “institution” (thoughtful, orderly expression of the faith, along with the structures necessary to teach and transmit it to the next generation). You might be interested in seeing the study guide edition of Total Truth, due out in September, which expands on this point.

    Nancy Pearcey

  2. I wonder… could the Evangelical movement also have been a reaction to Darwinian teaching in American schools? British people faced a spiritual/intellectual crisis when Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published followed by his The Descent of Man. They were forced to acknowledge the supposed discrepancy between science and religion since science apparently proved the truth of Darwin’s theory. As Lee Strobel so aptly puts it in The Case for a Creator, evolution, if accepted as factual, “leaves no meaningful role for God […] evolutionary process is by definition undirected […] that automatically rules out a supermatural deity pulling the strings behind the scene” (Strobel 22). Accepting evolutionary belief as fact left no room for Britons to believe in God intellectually.And if my memory serves me corectly, an Evangelical revolution similar to the one in America, sprang up in England through the leadership of John and Charles Wesley. Hmm…

    I think the intellectual aspect Christianity must have vanished because it was deemed either extinct, or nonexistent since the “science” of evolution was accepted as fact . As a result, people depended solely upon their own emotional experiences of God to provide evidence of His existence rather than solid facts (the historicity of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection here on earth) coupled with their experiences of God as Christians in years gone by had done. Because if God does not even exist, as can be inferred from the theory of evolution, then it is impossible that Jesus could have been God Incarnate come to earth to restore a relationship between Himself and us– He could have done nothing of the sort because He would have been nothingness. And nothingness is exactly what a belief in evolution (macro, that is) gets you.

    It certainly is biblical to love God with your mind, but the exercise has tended to be neglected in some of our Christian circles. And I think it just might be because an insidious idea has crept into our thinking which says that loving God with your mind is less spiritual than worshipping Him with your heart (core of your being) or soul (emotions). And I think that idea has lodged itself in our minds so readily because modern day “science” declares itself to be fact (appealing to the intellect) and we know that leaves no room for God. So, we run in the opposite direction and rely on spiritual and emotional experiences to provide us with affirmation that there is a God.

  3. Thank you much for your comment Mrs. Pearcey.

    And thanks for the other comment, anon. That’s good stuff.


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