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Volume 8, Issue 1: Anvil

Requiem for Modern Evangelicalism

Douglas Wilson

  • Requiem for Modern Evangelicalism

  • Militias on a Toot

  • Farewell, Greg Bahnsen

  • Just Plain Rude

    A noble experiment has failed. Modern evangelicalism is now comotose, and thoughtful observers are expecting word of its demise any day now. While historical eras cannot be divided into watertight compartments, historians nevertheless need markers to display their divisions. The close of the evangelical era will probably be marked at the time when Billy Graham passes away.
    At the beginning of the century, the rupture between unbelieving modernists on the one hand and believing fundamentalists on the other, convulsed the established churches. The modernists won, and the bruised but defiant fundamentalists retreated to their enclaves in the hills. Modernism quickly deteriorated into a veritable monkey house of fads and frenzies, while the separated fundies became increasingly combative, isolated and ignorant.
    Enter evangelicalism. The evangelical experiment sought to present "fundamentalism" with a human face. The desire was to protect basic orthodox commitments to the authority of Scripture, the Deity of Christ, His substitutionary death, and the necessity of regeneration, and at the same time to avoid the schismatic and narrow mindlessness which came to plague the fundamentalists. In all this, evangelicalism sought to maintain and defend certain historic Christian claims, and to do so in a time when it was most necessary. In the early days, Christianity Today was a magazine with doctrinal backbone and a clearly needed mission. But today the magazine is too painful even to read. InterVarsity Press used to publish wonderful books; today, the catalog is urbane drivel.
    The real tragedy is not the looming death of a noble movement. The history of the church is filled with individual martyrs, and martyr movements. The Huguenot movement in France died, but it died nobly. Our horror is that this once-noble movement, evangelicalism in America, is incredibly wealthy and frighteningly senile. The coming death is not an inspiring death at the stake for the name of Christ. We shall bid farewell to our sister as she rails mindlessly at the nurses trying to help her.
    But will not God raise the dead? Can nothing be done? The history of the church indicates not. However this history also shows us that those who survive the demise of this movement will have to land somewhere. And their only real choice is between those who will be former evangelicals, and those who will be Reformed evangelicals.


    Militias on a Toot

    By Douglas Wilson

    We have a lot of guns in this country, and some folks out in the fever swamps are starting to brandish them. Of course matters are not helped any by the monkeyshines of assorted federal agencies, but the glory of a wingnut is that he is always able to make his case whether or not the raw material is there for it. We happen to live in a time of clear and increasing tyranny in our country; and so, of course, the raw material is plentiful. The humanistic right-wing underground press is therefore able to make conspiratorial hay out of it. Identifying tyranny in a time like ours is kind of like hitting the ground with your hat, but illiterate fanatics breathlessly do so anyway. The news is over a century old.

    The politics of unbelieving modernity are defined by the terms left and right . What few realize is that the historic and practical origin of both terms came from the seating of representatives following the French Revolution. Those who sat on the right were the moderate revolutionaries, and those on the left were the radical revolutionies. But they were all revolutionaries. These categories spilled over to our country when it came time for our "French Revolution"commonly called the Civil War. In that War, the Old Republic died. The radical Republicans of Reconstruction were the left-wing revolutionaries, and Lincoln was the moderate "with malice toward none" revolutionary.
    Even to think in such terms as left and right is to grant the central premise of that Revolution. Right wing "radicals"Newt, Rush, et al claim to be fighting for traditional values when they are actually trying to return to an earlier phase of the Revolution. Why should we as Christians want to do that?
    After the Fall, God established a redemptive antithesis in the world between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between the righteousness of law and the righteousness of faith. Those we call leftists and rightists consistently misplace that antithesis, making the fundamental and undeniable division among men tribal, or economic, or ideological. Befuddled liberals in the middle deny there is an antithesis. "We're all saying the same thing, really! Maybe we should sing 'We Are the World' a few more times."
    The center of our culture is starting to give way, as all idols will, and as one wag put it during a corresponding point in the dissolution of the British Empire, "Everything is at sea except for the fleet." We are in this condition because we do not want a sure word from Godwe do not want Christ to reign over us. We love our relativism but are distressed by the fruit of it. Trying to scramble back to an earlier stage in our disobedience is no solution, no repentance, at all.
    The division is not right and left. Rather the antithesis is up and down, right and wrong, biblical and unbiblical, believing and unbelieving, good and evil. Christians are in far greater danger of being seduced by the right than by the left. Repentance is long overdue.


    Farewell,Greg Bahnsen

    By Douglas Jones

    On Monday, December 11, 1995, Greg Bahnsen passed from this life into the next, resting in the righteousness of Christ. Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen had a very powerful spiritual influence on many of us here at Credenda/Agenda, and we wanted to publicly note our deepest gratitude to God for the opportunity we had to learn from him.

    Most who know anything about Greg Bahnsen know that he had a keen mind and a deep love for the honor of Christ. They know of his devotion to Christian apologetics and his commitment to defending the eternality of God's law. But some of us also remember him for his love of adventure movies, his fondness for Chinese food, his love of laughter, his lightning fast typing skills, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of rock and roll. No one could even come close to beating him on the details of rock history.
    He was a man of passion and controversy, and his life showed those scars in too many ways. At times, he viewed himself as a romantic and idealist, describing himself as a tired Don Quixote. His heart and mind were captivated by the importance of loyalty, a virtue in the battle against the enemies of God. He also inspired loyalty and boldness -- "humble boldness" not "obscurantist arrogance," as he would put it. Though accused falsely, he was not an arrogant man. He simply knew that Christianity was true and inescapable.
    He taught many friends about simple things like organization. I've never seen anyone so effortlessly organized in office and especially in essay. His mental clarity lit up everything. But he taught us best about the antithesis between light and darkness, without losing his appreciation for non-Christian insights. (He admired Wittgenstein and even some Quine.) He taught us about careful exegesis and a fair handling of texts. And though he taught us much about the beauty and wisdom of God's commands, he at times half regretted having that banner placed on his work. He was first and foremost a Christian apologist, and sometimes he wished he could have served more in that capacity. For those close to him, who knew his strengths and weaknesses, this is an extraordinarily sad time. For so many unspeakable blessings, it will be hard to realize that he is not here anymore. The world just won't seem right.
    If you will excuse the personal for a moment, some of his current friends may object to my voicing my appreciation here as I do. They know that Greg Bahnsen and I were once very close but parted bitterly several years ago over what we both thought were important issues facing a local church. I do not pretend to anything here, except an appreciation that transcends those issues. I am eternally grateful and indebted for all he gave me in heart and mind. The spectre of death has a mighty ability to open doors, and just prior to his latest surgery, we were able to talk fondly of our one-time friendship. We had planned to meet and attempt reconciliation when he recovered from surgery.
    Greg Bahnsen greatly admired J. Gresham Machen, and he often reflected on Machen's final thoughts. Just before he died, Machen is said to have sent a telegram to John Murray expressing his gratitude for the "active righteousness of Jesus Christ." Greg Bahnsen had Machen's passion and humility, never trusting in himself but only in the purity of Christ. Because of that same active righteousness from Christ, Greg Bahnsen now bows in glory before the Lamb of God.
    I will miss you, my friend and my father in the faith. You knew and baptized my daughters, but, oh, how I regret that you never met my son. You would have really liked him. May he have your best traits. Thank you forever. I will sorely miss you.


    JustPlain Rude

    By Douglas Wilson

    Was Christ honoring the Pharisees when He called them a bag of snakes? Yesthey were created imago Dei , and He recognized their dignity through holding them accountable for their hypocrisy. He was thus courteous in a scriptural sense, although He may not have been polite according to the standards of decorum set by the Pharisaical Debating League.

    Courtesy and rudeness are defined for us in Scripture. Standards are not set by our modern tryanny of the Informal, but neither are they set by socialite manner-mongers. I have known some unpolished Christians who were truly kind, and have seen some good manners that were the functional equivalent of a thumb in the eye. When we speak, we are to honor one another. The Bible sets this requirement, but the Bible also defines what it means. When John the Baptist rebuked Herod, he was not neglecting this requirement of honor. And when certain oily flatterers came before Christ to trap Him in His words, they spoke politely enough, but their hearts were full of malice.
    Our duty then is to speak the truth, and to do so in love. That love is defined by God's law, and not by vestigial Victorian sentimentalism. To do anything else is just plain rude.

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