David

The Many Meanings of “Reformed”

I find it quite amusing these days to be classified by some as “Reformed”, when I’d barely heard the term for most of my Christian life. I grew up in Baptist circles that didn’t use the term Reformed. In fact, the first time I heard it used of my church was when a student attending a local Bible college told us that the lecturers there regarded our church as Reformed.

Since then, I’ve come to understand the many imprecise ways that “Reformed” is used.

First, the broadest use seems to be a kind of identifier as non-charismatic. In some circles (particularly in South Africa), the two categories of views on the spiritual gifts are not cessationist and continuationist, but Reformed and charismatic. This binary division becomes the way a person tries to categorise your understanding of spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Spirit. Of course, with the rise of the Sovereign Grace movement and the continuationist teachings of John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D. A. Carson, Reformed and charismatic no longer stand as antithetical to each other. Conversely, the vast majority of Southern Baptists and Fundamentalist Baptists would be moderate Arminians who hold to eternal security, but are strongly cessationist. One’s position on the charismata is not necessarily linked to whether or not one accepts Reformed theology.

Second, an almost equally vague use of the term identifies Reformed with a certain approach to corporate worship. If your church sings hymns and has a fairly modest worship service without disco balls and metalheads jamming with Fender StratoCasters, you will be considered by some as Reformed. Certainly, the Reformation reformed worship, and the Reformed are often associated with sober worship, but this is not necessarily the case. The Regulative Principle was championed by the Reformers, but not only the Reformed abide by it. By this loose definition of Reformed-equals-conservative-worship, A. W. Tozer, an Arminian, was Reformed. Conversely, have a look at Reformed youth conferences, or Google “Reformed rap”. And read Peter Masters’ critique of the worship in the New Calvinism. Conservative worship and Reformed are no longer Siamese twins.

Third, the slightly more accurate use of the term identifies Reformed with Calvinistic doctrine. Calvinism is really a subset of Reformed, not the other way around. Calvinism is a particular view of soteriology: how saving grace manifests. Calvinism, in its moderate, strict, and extreme forms deals with the doctrines of election, the effectual call, the perseverance of the saints, and the extent of the atonement. If you line up with the five points of TULIP, many consider you Reformed. Purists won’t accept anything less than five-point Calvinism, but the theologically informed know that Calvinism and Arminianism represent a spectrum of positions, not a binary choice. When understood this way, it is possible to be Calvinistic, without being Reformed, in the strict sense.

(By the way, the five points of Calvinism have little to do with the five Solas of the Reformation. The five solas rescued the Gospel from Roman Catholicism, and could (and should) be affirmed by anyone who holds to the gospel of justification by faith, whether Calvinist or Arminian.)

Fourth, the theologically accurate use of Reformed identifies a school of Protestant theology that involves a lot more than the five points of TULIP. Reformed theology necessarily includes covenant theology, and the form of covenant theology that requires paedobaptism. The church is understood not as an opt-in, voluntary organisation but as an opt-out, involuntary covenant community that one enters by being born into believing households that baptise in infancy. This strict form of covenant theology excludes believers’ baptism. In this very precise use of the term, Baptists cannot be Reformed: the term Reformed Baptist becomes an oxymoron. Reformed theology sees the sacraments as efficacious in some sense, and generally excludes premillennialism (eliminating Charles Spurgeon, Robert Murray M’cheyne and George Muller from its ranks). And if you think I’m making this up, get it from the horse’s mouth: Richard Muller of Calvin Seminary tells you what he thinks of Reformed Baptists: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/how-many-points/

In this very strict sense, the Reformed are necessarily Calvinists, but not all Calvinists are Reformed.

Therefore, if I am asked, “Are you Reformed?”, I will give what sounds like an irritatingly evasive answer. “Well, I am proudly Protestant, and believe in justification by faith alone. I do worship in a conservative fashion, adhering to the Regulative Principle, and I don’t subscribe to Pentecostal or charismatic views of the charismata or the baptism of the Spirit. I am a compatibilist in soteriology, and recognise sovereign election and the effectual call. But I am a Baptist, and a premillennial one at that. So, depending on your definition of Reformed, you tell me: am I Reformed?”

The Scholar-Pastor

A few years back a book came out, pointing out the need for pastors to be more scholarly and for scholars to be more pastoral. Coming from someone like D. A. Carson, the exhortation is easy to receive, given how he has modeled both. It is rare to find both scholarship and a shepherd-heart in one man. Pastors should certainly be given to intellectual discipline, and Christian scholars should see the pastoral application of their academic labour, though few men are a pure mix of both.

I respect genuine pastors. I respect genuine scholars. What I find more difficult to respect is the man who is neither, but pretends to be a form of both, and assumes the prerogatives of both.

After all, a true scholar has

  1. achieved a terminal degree in his area of study, the Ph.D. or its equivalent, mastering the tools of research, and fluent in the conventions of academic writing and argumentation: when he writes or teaches, you can hear the dispassionate tone of the humble researcher;
  2. mastered comprehensively the literature in his discipline;
  3. understood the broader conversation within and surrounding his discipline;
  4. contributed to the conversation, and submitted his work to peer-review.

That eliminates most of the self-appointed scholars right there. Truthfully speaking, most pastors have not been trained in this way, or reached this place of learning. Most don’t desire the life of a scholar, and aren’t inclined to it. Most lack the time for the kind of full-time reading and writing that scholarship requires. Scholarship is a vocation in its own right, and pastoring usually precludes being able to be a scholar. Certainly, I’m not a scholar, though I read them, and benefit from their labours.

On the other hand, a pastor has

  1. desired the office of pastor, which includes not just teaching, but leading (as an overseer), and providing an example and wisdom (as an elder) in a local church;
  2. submitted his life to the scrutiny of a local church, to whom he is accountable, so that he can be examined for the presence of the the character qualifications of 1 Timothy 3;
  3. been either recommended by a group of pastors (1 Tim 4:14) who are in a better position than most churches to test his life and qualifications, or been sent by a local church (Acts 13:3), and been consequently called by a local body of believers to shepherd the flock;
  4. given himself to the best equipping available to him, so as to fulfill his calling (2 Tim 2:15).

Not every public speaker or teacher in Christianity is or needs to be a pastor. The body of Christ is blessed with apologists, itinerant preachers, and people with particular ministries that supplement the church. I’m thankful for these, insofar as these bless the local church, as ours certainly has been by them. But the best of these teachers always admit that they are not called to shepherd the flock, but to their particular ministry focus. The most honourable of these can tell you which local church they belong to, who their teachers are and who they are accountable to. The academy has true scholars. The church has true pastors, supplemented by teachers.

What is intolerable is the man feigning scholarship, and acting like a pastor. He’ll travel around and take up pastoral duties (counselling intimate situations, installing pastors, baptising, disciplining, giving communion), but take no week-to-week responsibility for any group of people. He’ll act like a bishop over multiple churches, supposedly protecting people from the false shepherds, but he himself is submitted to no one, anywhere. He’ll cast stones at faithful shepherds, and accuse them of “heavy shepherding”, but he’s never shepherded anyone, in any real sense. And if people seem to smell a rat in his maverick ways, he’ll begin to speak academese to the unlearned, quickly reminding them that the Learned One is speaking. He conveniently switches roles so that when his scholarship appears shoddy, he pretends to be a generalist pastor, and when he appears to lack pastoral qualifications, he pretends to be a scholar on a teaching tour.

Both pastors and scholars have submitted to tough callings, and accepted both their privileges and responsibilities. You’ll notice that real pastors and real scholars accept the burdens of their callings along with the joys. They know who they are, their domains of expertise and authority and what they can realistically achieve.

But beware the man who seems claim all the privileges of both pastoring and scholarship, while dodging all the burdens of either calling: the burden of watching for the souls of one congregation or the burden of academic peer review; the burden of submitting to ordination councils or the burden of getting a terminal degree; the burden of labouring in one place for many years or the burden of mastering his discipline. Deliberately avoiding burdens is the work of sluggards and shysters. 

In short, a fair question is this: if he is a true leader in the church or the academy, then to what, and to whom, has he submitted?

Two Views on Christ’s Invitation

Below are two works of Christian imagination. Both attempt to depict what it means for Christ to invite sinners to Himself, and how sinners should understand themselves. On closer examination, however, they are nearly opposite in meaning. We do not see the same Christ, the same Gospel and the same dilemma of the sinner in both.

Read both and then ask yourself the questions that follow.

1. Have You Any Room for Jesus? (Anonymous, Adapted by Daniel Whittle, 1878)

Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin?
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinners, will you let Him in?

Refrain:

Room for Jesus, King of Glory!
Hasten now His Word obey;
Swing the heart’s door widely open,
Bid Him enter while you may.

Room for pleasure, room for business;
But for Christ, the Crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?

Refrain

***

2. The Silver Chair   (C.S. Lewis)

(Jill Pole, rasping with thirst, wants to drink from a stream, but Aslan the Lion sits on the opposite bank, watching her.)

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”…
For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken.
Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,”…
She realised that it was the lion speaking. The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst”, said Jill.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?”, said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?”, said Jill.
“I make no promise”, said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?”, she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms”, said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink”, said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst”, said the Lion.
“Oh dear!”, said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream”, said the Lion.

***

1. How is Christ depicted in each of the works?
2. What affections towards Christ do the writers wish to evoke with their respective pieces?
3. How does each author view the sinner with respect to Christ?
4. Which of the two has captured the biblical Christ?

Ten Mangled Words – “Equality”

Equality is one of those ideas whose basic meaning is understood, but whose presence is demanded where it cannot possibly be expected. After all, equality is a fairly simply concept: when two amounts are equal, neither is greater or lesser than the other. But while equality in mathematics is a simple matter, equality in human affairs is vastly more complex.

Understanding the difference between equal opportunity and equal ability seems lost in modern discussions. Equal treatment does not mean equal outcomes, or even equal beginnings.

When two people are equal before the law, neither has an advantage or disadvantage in the court before the case has been heard. That does not mean both are equally innocent, equally guilty, or will receive equally capable legal representation. It just means neither is prejudiced by the court because of ethnicity, sex, or economic state.

When it is said that men and women are equal, those words can be taken as a loose generalisation of the statement that husbands and wives are “co-heirs of the grace of life”. Both equally receive salvation, the promises of God, and His enablement for life. It does not mean that both are equally capable of defending the home or nurturing infants. It does not mean that the roles in the house must be exactly shared in equal halves. It does not mean that husbands and wives should do exactly what the other one does.

Unfortunately, equality has come to mean something very different from equality before the law, or equality of worth before God. It has come to mean that social planners must eliminate God-given differences, manipulate providential circumstances, and meticulously tinker with the scale of fairness, until they are sure that their idea of equality has been achieved.

Their idea of equality might be imagined thus. Imagine sprinters lining up for a race. Previously, equality meant that all start behind the same line, all begin at exactly the same moment, and all run exactly 100 metres. In its mangled form, equality would mean determining if one of the sprinters were previously advantaged by being wealthy enough to afford good training, and if so, putting his starting blocks back by a metre or so. If it turns out that another sprinter experienced poverty at some point in his life with a corresponding period of malnutrition, his starting blocks should be put ahead by a few metres. We then find out that one of the sprinters is unusually tall and powerful, and this seems to confer an unfair genetic advantage, so he is forced to run without shoes. One turns out to have had almost no coaching at all, so he is positioned a quarter of the way up the track. When another is discovered to be the grandson of a famous sprinter, and the recipient of inherited wealth, his starting blocks are removed, and he is given ear-muffs to slow his reaction to the gun. The starting line-up seems over-represented with people of African descent, and a truly representative running race should have some Asians and Caucasians. Four faster African athletes are removed, and replaced with four slower Asian and Caucasian sprinters.

When we now look at this ridiculous result, what do we see? An eclectic mix of men spread all over the track, in all kinds of states, and not even the fastest men on earth. The very last thing we would now conclude is that matters are now equal, and that now the race will be “a fair fight”. But our social planners would ignore the evidence of their eyes, and happily conclude that they have now “leveled the playing field”, “redressed the inequalities of the past”, and “assisted the previously disadvantaged”. Instead, all they have done is create a ludicrous situation that no longer even resembles a race. They have confused equality with Cosmic Justice, and the result is not equality. In fact, they have removed the very thing that makes a race interesting: how the abilities of one will triumph over the others, if all run an equal distance at the same moment. It is as if the social planners actually wish life to always result in a tie, where there are no winners or losers.

The problem with pursuing Cosmic Justice is its refusal to accept that some inequalities are not morally necessary to correct. Some are quite tolerable. Some actually stimulate great feats of competitive effort. Some are in the nature of things. Some are brought about by history and providence. Some have been developed through hard work. Some exist because of laziness, and self-destructive behaviour. Some appear accidental. Some are unfortunate results of living in a fallen world. Inequality has an innumerable number of reasons for its presence, and only someone with omniscience and omnipotence would be able to know when, why and how to perfectly “re-balance the scales”. In fact, Christians believe He does, and will.

But attempting to tinker with life to bring about Cosmic Justice in this way reveals a massive misunderstanding of what equality is, and what kind of equality can be, or should be, reasonably pursued.

Purchasing Without Paying

Websters Dictionary:

Expropriate
1: to deprive of possession or proprietary rights
2 : to transfer (the property of another) to one’s own possession

Compensation
payment, remuneration

Let’s try that definition in circumstances other than land. I enter your shop. I wish to transfer the goods you own and are selling (your property) into my own possession. I do so without compensating you. That is, I take them without paying. What is that usually called?

I wish to have your car. I demand that you sell it. You refuse, because you legally own the car and wish to keep it. I then confiscate your car, legally transfer the car into my own name without paying you. What is that called?

I want to own your house. I demand that you sell it. I can prove that three generations ago, another government expropriated (stole) the land from my family. You, however, did not receive it for free from that government, but bought it from another private seller, and so you refuse to sell. I then confiscate your house with no payment, because you did not accept my offer. What is that called?

Is the land issue more complicated that those examples? Yes, considerably so. Does the moral question of theft ever change? No.

Wayne Grudem:

The commandment “You shall not steal” implies private ownership of property, because it implies that there are some things that belong to certain people and not to others. The moral goodness of the idea of private property is reaffirmed in both the Old and New Testaments. Communism seeks to abolish private property, and is therefore horribly dehumanizing.

Richard Weaver:

Weaver vigorously defended the inviolable right to private property, naming it “the last metaphysical right.” He used this nomenclature to emphasize that the right to private property exists independently from, if not regardless of, its social utility. This metaphysical nature of private property rights derives from the natural connection between honor, responsibility, and the relationship of a person to property. Weaver also contended that work, honorable in itself, tends to result in the accumulation of property. Hence property becomes an extension of one’s labor—and of oneself. Weaver believed that property constitutes a great source for personal growth because of the inalienable bond between a person’s labor and property. Weaver also noted that the ownership of private property can serve as a check on the pressures of majority opinion, allowing anyone to think and to act as he or she chooses without having to appease the majority opinion to secure a place to live or food to eat. Another reason that Weaver labeled private property as a metaphysical right was to show that it is based not in the changing, temporal material order, but rather in the unchanging, eternal order of the spiritual. For Weaver, rights and obligations correlate with each other. To properly preserve the right to property, an obligation to engage in proper stewardship must also be recognized in order to prevent property from being spoiled from use by successive generations. Property rights then essentially promote a communal continuity between the dead, the living, and the unborn. Weaver never tired of advancing these convictions, always confident that these convictions truly reflected reality.
HT: Acton Institute

Nailing Your Isms to the Mast

If you have come across (or perhaps been) one of those people who boasts that he or she doesn’t subscribe to any –ism, refuses any denominational –ist, and is somehow above the fray of doctrinal positions, then Charles Spurgeon had some wise words in response.

“I like a doctrinal religionI do not believe in the statement of some people, that they have no creedA man says, for instance, “I am not a Calvinist, and I am not an Arminian, I am not a Baptist, I am not a Presbyterian…”  But this is only the licence he claims for his own habit of disagreeing with everyoneHe is one of that kind of people whom we generally find to be the most bigoted themselves, and least tolerant of othersHe follows himself; and so belongs to the smallest denomination in the worldI do not believe that charity consists in giving up our denominational distinctionsI think there is a “more excellent way.” Even those who do not despise faith, although they almost sacrifice it to their benevolence, will sometimes say, “Well, I do not belong to any of your sects and schisms.” There was a group of men once, who came out from all branches of the Christian Church, with the hope that everyone else of true heart would follow themThe result, however, has been, that they have only made another denomination, distinct alike in doctrine and discipline

“I believe in creeds, if they are based on ScriptureThey may not secure unity of sentiment, but on the whole they promote it, for they serve as landmarks, and show us the points at which many turn asideEvery man must have a creed if he believes anythingThe greater certainty he feels that it is true, the greater his own satisfactionIn doubts, darkness, and distrust, there can be no consolation

“The anchor we have is sure and steadfastI thank God that the faith I have received can be moulded into a creed, and can be explained with words so simple, that the common people can understand it, and be comforted by it.”

 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 11, sermon number 659, “Simeon”.

Prayer – George Herbert

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

God My Only Happiness

God my only happiness. Psa. 73:25

My God, my portion, and my love,
My everlasting all!
I’ve none but thee in heav’n above,
Or on this earthly ball.

What empty things are all the skies,
And this inferior clod!
There’s nothing here deserves my joys,
There’s nothing like my God.

In vain the bright, the burning sun
Scatters his feeble light;
‘Tis thy sweet beams create my noon;
If thou withdraw, ’tis night.

And whilst upon my restless bed,
Amongst the shades I roll,
If my Redeemer shows his head,
‘Tis morning with my soul.

To thee we owe our wealth, and friends,
And health, and safe abode:
Thanks to thy name for meaner things,
But they are not my God.

How vain a toy is glitt’ring wealth,
If once compared to thee!
Or what’s my safety, or my health,
Or all my friends to me?

Were I possessor of the earth,
And called the stars my own,
Without thy graces and thyself
I were a wretch undone.

Let others stretch their arms like seas
And grasp in all the shore,
Grant me the visits of thy face,
And I desire no more.

– Isaac Watts

Unicultural Uniformity

Of the little pilot-fish words that swim alongside the more commonly mangled word, culture, two of the more frequently heard are multicultural and diversity. In fact, these have become unquestioned, and probably unassailable holy-words in modern culture. A competitive company will have somewhere on its Vision and Mission statement, “Our core-values include a commitment to diversity”.

Like all mangled words, these represent a vague idea associated with an undefined good. To some, they mean, “to not unfairly privilege one ethnic group over another.” To others, they mean something like, “to populate with representatives of many religions, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations.” While everyone will agree that in a meritocracy, no one should be dismissed or favoured because of a genuinely in-born trait (such as skin-colour or gender), this is not really what multiculturalism and diversity have come to mean.

They have really come to mean that the one truth everyone must accept is that there are many truths. What everyone in secularism must bow before is the idea that no culture can be judged better than another, no religion may claim to be truer than another, no gender may be regarded as unequal in strengths and gifts to another (or even forced on one), and no sexual orientation can be claimed as normative or deviant. A commitment to multiculturalism and diversity is a commitment to religious pluralism and moral relativism.

But as is becoming clear, multiculturalism is pluralistic only with those submissive to pluralism. Those who continue to claim their religion is exclusively true, or that LGBT sexual orientations are deviant, or that males and females are just that, will soon find an aggressive response more intolerant than the most narrowly rigid ideologies. They will be excoriated in the news media, roundly abused on social media, and perhaps punished legally. It turns out that multiculturalism and diversity are quite committed to a unicultural uniformity on their view of multiculturalism and diversity. Disagree and be punished.

Furthermore, it is not enough to quietly disagree. Multicultural diversity requires you make public acts of penance for ever having held another view. These will include removing or replacing whatever sign, statement, term, practice, or object that in any way insinuates present or historical non-conformity to multicultural diversity. They will include making amends for previous non-conformity by hiring employees so as to reflect multicultural diversity, by marketing and advertising in ways that reflect multicultural diversity, and by having public relations watchdogs ready to issue apologies and offer reparations for any infringement of multicultural diversity. If they hadn’t told us of their enlightened motives, we might even think that multicultural diversity is an oppressive, tyrannical ideology. But as they remind us, it is their opponents who are Nazis. Phew.

Strangely enough, the Bible describes an altogether different kind of diversity. Revelation 7 describes a scene in heaven:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

Amazingly, this multitude made up of representatives from every historic ethnos, tribe, people group and language group, say the same thing. This group, diverse in their ethnic origins, are united in belief in Jesus Christ, in praise for His name, and in submission to Him. Here is one culture, composed of many ethnicities. Here is one religion, composed of many nations, and men and women. Here is one Bride, composed of many tribes, given to one Bridegroom. It is taken for granted that with such a group, they were saved out of their religions, out of their deviant sexual behaviour, and out of their false views. This is a uniculture, or monoculture, with complete uniformity in loves and beliefs, composed of the greatest diversity of people groups that will ever be gathered. 

The best part is that this diverse uniculture was achieved through persuasion, not coercion. No one has to become a Christian. In obedience to Christ, we do not persecute those who disagree with us, or punish them legally (Jo 18:36). It was Christianity, and Baptists in particular, that taught the world that the church cannot be a state church, nor should the state enforce religion. The very idea of allowing free men and women to worship according to conscience is a Christian idea, not the brainchild of secular atheists.

The weird paradox is then this: in pursuit of “multicultural diversity”, secularists are actually tyrannically enforcing a de facto unicultural uniformity. And Christians, in pursuit of a unicultural uniformity (in Heaven), are tolerant of a multicultural, diverse, secular order.

Christians should be committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, which will create the scene in Revelation 7. Christians should be against partiality of all forms: racism, prejudice, and chauvinism. But Christians should not burn incense to the Caesar of multiculturalism and diversity, as the world means those words. To do so will be to deny that Jesus is Lord. 

 

Pagan Culture and Apostate Culture

In discussions of evangelising the post-modern West, something is often forgotten. Those cultures which were formed by Christianity and have since abandoned it are not reverting to paganism. They are not pagan cultures. They are apostate cultures, and an apostate culture is a much scarier animal than a pagan one.

C.S. Lewis wrote on how much easier it would be to witness to a pagan culture.

“Christians and Pagans had much more in common with each other than either has with a post-Christian. The gap between those who worship different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who do not…

It is hard to have patience with those Jeremiahs, in Press or pulpit, who warn us that we are “relapsing into Paganism”. It might be rather fun if we were. It would be pleasant to see some future Prime Minister trying to kill a large and lively milk-white bull in Westminster Hall. But we shan’t. What lurks behind such idle prophecies, if they are anything but careless language, is the false idea that the historical process allows mere reversal; that Europe can come out of Christianity “by the same door as in she went” and find herself back where she was. It is not what happens. A post-Christian man is not a Pagan; you might as well think that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce. The post-Christian is cut off from the Christian past and therefore doubly from the Pagan past.”

An apostate is treated very differently in Scripture to an infidel. An infidel suppresses the truth of general revelation, but has not claimed membership with the people of God. His unbelief is to be rebuked, but he is to be patiently evangelised.

Conversely, an apostate claims to be one of the people of God, while denying and opposing the fundamentals of the faith. Entire New Testament books, such as Jude, 2 John, and 2 Peter, give the bulk of their content to identifying and responding to apostates.

What then does apostasy look like on a cultural level? An apostate culture claims to be all the things Christianity brought: virtuous, tolerant of other views, loving, respectful of human freedom, interested in human dignity, peace-loving, concerned with mercy and justice, governed by sound reason, gentle to all, etc. At the same time, it now vociferously renounces the fundamentals of the faith that gave it those things: the authority of Scripture, the deity and humanity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, the depravity of man and the need for atonement, the essentiality of faith in grace. It does not want the moniker Christian, but it wants the equivalent of the title righteous: good person, tolerant, and loving. It wishes to receive all the benefits and privileges that Christianity brought, but it would disown all the responsibilities that Christianity demands: belief, submission and love of Christ. 

We should note that this phenomenon is new, as far as Christianity goes. Israel committed apostasy, too, and the books of the prophets details what a perverted and warped effect it had on post-Solomonic Israel. But since Christianity was never rooted in one land, it took many years before one could say that Christianity had permeated a culture. And only after the Enlightenment (a misnomer, if there ever was one), do we now encounter a culture apostate from Christianity. 

We are only beginning to see the terrifying effects of this. Morality without religion soon becomes a terrifying tyranny. Freedom without grace-enabled submission soon becomes the mere power to assert one’s will. Love without a holy God becomes lust in hitherto-unseen forms. Reason unhinged from Revelation and ordinate affection becomes a perverse Pied Piper, leading souls to absurd, and yet “logical”, places. Tolerance without worship becomes coercion. When the Christian God is denied, the image of God in man must steadily be abolished, and the result is a nightmarish culture. 

Most frightening of all, unlike evangelising a pagan culture, this culture has heard the Good News. They are not in darkness, needing the light of the Gospel to free them from the chains of idolatry. They have seen the light, turned from it, and are not interested in seeing it again. Denials of Christianity’s claims are taught in the classroom, the lecture hall, the TV documentary, and often funded with tax-payer money. Our kings and princes know the culture is apostate, and would have it so. 

How do we evangelise an apostate culture? I’m yet to see the evangelism and missions books take this seriously. What does “And on some have compassion, making a distinction but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh(Jude 1:22-23)” mean, on a cultural level? Should we seek to “redeem” or “transform” the cultural equivalent of a JW Kingdom Hall? 

Perhaps we had best begin weighing up what Scripture says about those who have been enlightened but have fallen. It might influence what we do and don’t do to win the lost. It might change whether we think it appropriate to make the lost feel at home in our worship. It might change how we do apologetics as a whole.