Monday, September 19

Evangelism Suffers from the "Tolerance" Doctrine

Please read this. James Emery White hits the nail on the head. Consider at the end who is goal of our affections in the church's ongoing attempt to carry the good news to a dark world? Who receives the attention? Who gets the glory?

Church & Culture
Vol. 7, No. 79

Whatever Happened to Evangelism?

In 1973, psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a book with the provocative title, Whatever Became of Sin?  His point was that sociology and psychology tend to avoid terms like “evil,” or “immorality,” and “wrongdoing.”  Menninger detailed how the theological notion of sin became the legal idea of crime and then slid further from its true meaning when it was relegated to the psychological category of sickness.

It’s time someone wrote a book for the church titled Whatever  Became of Evangelism?

The point would be how we tend to avoid terms like “lost” or “hell” or “salvation.”  It would detail how the Great Commission became the Great Rhetoric and then finally fell into the category of the Great Community.

It wouldn’t take long to lay out how it all happened.  It fits nicely into a short equation:

Virtue of Tolerance + Emphasis on Social Ministry = Diminished Evangelism

Let’s break the equation down.

First, tolerance.

There is little doubt that tolerance is our culture’s uber-virtue.  Specifically, tolerance defined as “acceptance” of other people’s beliefs and lifestyle; then, defining acceptance as “equally valid.”

This flows from a confusion of the idea of tolerance.

When we speak of tolerance, we usually mean social tolerance:  “I accept you as a person.”  Or, at times, legal tolerance:  “You have the right to believe what you wish.”  We do not, however, tend to mean intellectual tolerance.  This would mean that all ideas are equally valid.  No one believes that ideas supporting genocide, pedophilia, racism, sexism, or the rejection of the historical reality of the holocaust, are to be tolerated.  But it is precisely the idea of intellectual tolerance we find ourselves sloppily embracing under the overarching mantra of “tolerance.”

The dilemma with such a position, as T.S. Eliot rightly pointed out, is that “It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.”

Then there is our emphasis on social ministry.

In what is arguably a reaction against the previous generation’s emphasis on social morality - namely abortion and same-sex marriage - younger Christians (and now older ones as well) are giving renewed emphasis to matters of social justice, including a new interest in public policies that address issues related to peace, health and poverty.

The reason is not hard to understand.  Few eras of American Christian history are reviled as much as the Moral Majority of the 1980’s and its attempt to impose Christian values on culture through political maneuvering.  If we could only have Christians in the White House, congress, and the Supreme Court, or populating other leadership elites, then morality would be enacted and faith would once again find the fertile soil needed to establish its footing in individual lives.

The moral majority “won” through the election of Ronald Reagan as president, and his subsequent Supreme Court appointments throughout the 1980’s brought great anticipation for substantive change.  Yet there has been little real change to mark as a result.  Even the prime target – the striking down of the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion – remains the law of the land to this day.

What was achieved was cultural division and Christians feeling more vilified than ever.  The “culture wars” of the 1980’s and 1990’s is now widely viewed as one of the more distasteful episodes in recent memory, and many younger evangelicals want nothing to do with what was often its caustic, abrasive and unloving approach toward those apart from Christ.

So what is the result of tolerance coupled with a new emphasis on social justice?

We’ll buy Tom’s Shoes, but not witness to Tom.

Let’s get the necessary qualifier out of the way.  Social ministry should not be paired against evangelism.  We should extend the Bread of Life as well as bread for the stomach.

But we must never begin, and end, with the stomach alone.

I suspect some of this is tied to our need to be accepted by the secular culture.  The scandal of the cross – and humanity’s desperate need for it – doesn’t play as well as the hip work of IJM or supporting Bono in Africa.  We get a taste of doing something that plays well in culture, and we become like Sally Field at the Oscars:  “You like me!  You really, really like me!”

Lock eyes with the poor and the hungry, the sex-trafficked and the destitute.  Care for them, deeply, and serve them in the name of Christ.

But do not forget to give them Christ.

Because once this life is over, the food we gave them for their stomach will mean nothing compared to the food we could have given them for their souls.  How tragic it would be to have compassion for the immediate needs of this life, but not the eternal needs of the life to come.

So yes, buy a pair of Tom’s Shoes.

Just don’t forget Tom.

James Emery White


Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin?

T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture.

Editor’s Note

To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Saturday, September 17

Re-Post: Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

The following post comes thanks to Russell D. Moore 

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 —


This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Few Christians take Robertson all that seriously anymore. Most roll their eyes, and shake their heads when he makes another outlandish comment (for instance, defending China’s brutal one-child abortion policy to identifying God’s judgment on specific actions in the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the Haiti earthquake). This is serious, though, because it points to an issue that is much bigger than Robertson. 

Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her. 

At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave. 

The Bride of Christ fled his side, and went back to their old ways of life. When Jesus came to them after the resurrection, the church was about the very thing they were doing when Jesus found them in the first place: out on the boats with their nets. Jesus didn’t leave. He stood by his words, stood by his Bride, even to the Place of the Skull, and beyond. 

A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore. 

Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel. 

But Jesus didn’t die for a Christian Coalition; he died for a church. And the church, across the ages, isn’t significant because of her size or influence. She is weak, helpless, and spattered in blood. He is faithful to us anyway. 

If our churches are to survive, we must repudiate this Canaanite mammonocracy that so often speaks for us. But, beyond that, we must train up a new generation to see the gospel embedded in fidelity, a fidelity that is cruciform. 

It’s easy to teach couples to put the “spark” back in their marriages, to put the “sizzle” back in their sex lives. You can still worship the self and want all that. But that’s not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” 

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there. 

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

But the gospel is there. Jesus is there.

Friday, September 16

How To Describe God? Augustine's Attempt

I read Augustine on God's nature with delight. It has become most evident that the modern church is very weak in this area of the knowledge of God. Of that we have many witnesses. A. W. Tozer surfaced it fifty plus years ago. And John Piper has made a ministry of pointing it out. And  But when I read how Augustine describes God (below) I asked myself, "Would you come up with something like this on your own?" I'll leave that question unanswered. For now, let us enter into another's meditation on the most noble theme in the universe. And God help what we read to transfer to us. 

What art Thou then, my God? what, but the Lord God? For who is Lord but the Lord? or who is God save our God? Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful, yet most just; most hidden, yet most present; most beautiful, yet most strong, stable, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet all-changing; never new, never old; all-renewing, and bringing age upon the proud, and they know it not; ever working, ever at rest; still gathering, yet nothing lacking; supporting, filling, and overspreading; creating, nourishing, and maturing; seeking, yet having all things. Thou lovest, without passion; art jealous, without anxiety; repentest, yet grievest not; art angry, yet serene; changest Thy works, Thy purpose unchanged; receivest again what Thou findest, yet didst never lose; never in need, yet rejoicing in gains; never covetous, yet exacting usury. Thou receivest over and above, that Thou mayest owe; and who hath aught that is not Thine? Thou payest debts, owing nothing; remittest debts, losing nothing. And what had I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy? or what saith any man when he speaks of Thee? Yet woe to him that speaketh not, since mute are even the most eloquent.
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and E. B. Pusey, The Confessions of St. Augustine (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

Thursday, September 8

God's Immensity--Hopefully Humbling

In this God-minimizing day when man is the measure of all things, we must be jolted into reality by considering God's immensity. And since God is too little considered, I think it necessary to make this the focus of this morning's blog post. In fact, this very issue impresses my heart since the very air we breathe seems filled with the noxious fumes of man's self-exaltation. Man's very existence--from the American political machine to the Hollywood film industry exude blasphemy. Sadly, it seems, the church is not far behind. We know facts about our God, but of Him we seem sadly ignorant. I read Augustine's Confessions and find myself in there throughout, not the least of which is this entry early on in the book. Contrary to all self-imposed ignorance, God is simply immense--infinitely so--beyond comprehension, surpassing decription and trumping man's best arguments to the contrary. Read this and see if the mere consideration of God's uncontainable-ness make you feel rightfully small. That were a blessed exercise to fulfill such a role!  

Soli deo gloria.


Do the heaven and earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them? or dost Thou fill them and yet overflow, since they do not contain Thee? And whither, when the heaven and the earth are filled, pourest Thou forth the remainder of Thyself? or hast Thou no need that aught contain Thee, who containest all things, since what Thou fillest Thou fillest by containing it? for the vessels which Thou fillest uphold Thee not, since, though they were broken, Thou wert not poured out. And when Thou art poured out on us, Thou art not cast down, but Thou upliftest us; Thou art not dissipated, but Thou gatherest us. But Thou who fillest all things, fillest Thou them with Thy whole self? or, since all things cannot contain Thee wholly, do they contain part of Thee? and all at once the same part? or each its own part, the greater more, the smaller less? And is, then one part of Thee greater, another less? or, art Thou wholly every where, while nothing contains Thee wholly?

Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and E. B. Pusey, The Confessions of St. Augustine (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

Tuesday, September 6

To Test A Missionary Candidate

There can be wisdom in the unorthodox. I have always loved the following illustration for its simplicity, thoroughness, and sagacity. It's not just about this young "candidate" is it? No, who among us cannot learn how to be more submissive? How difficult is it for us to deny ourselves. For those who've read this before, I hope it comes with a renewed interest. God humble us. 

At 3:00 A.M. one cold morning a missionary candidate walked into an office for a scheduled interview with the examiner of a mission board. He waited until 8:00 A.M. when the examiner arrived. 
 The examiner said, “Let us begin. First, please spell baker.”

 “B-a-k-e-r,” the young man spelled. 

 “Very good. Now, let’s see what you know about figures. How much is twice two?”

 “Four,” replied the applicant. 

 “Very good,” the examiner said. “I’ll recommend to the board tomorrow that you be appointed. You have passed the test.”

 At the board meeting the examiner spoke highly of the applicant and said, “He has all the qualifications of a missionary. Let me explain. 

 “First, I tested him on self-denial. I told him to be at my house at three in the morning. He left a warm bed and came out in the cold without a word of complaint. 

 “Second, I tried him out on punctuality. He appeared on time. 

 “Third, I examined him on patience. I made him wait five hours to see me, after telling him to come at three. 

 “Fourth, I tested him on temper. He failed to show any sign of it; he didn’t even question my delay. 

 “Fifth, I tried his humility. I asked him questions that a small child could answer, and he showed no offense. He meets the requirements and will make the missionary we need.”

Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996).

Saturday, September 3

Anyone Need a Rest?

As Summer comes to a close, and overcome by activities and responsibilities, we often fall to fretting that we cannot get out from under the load. Young mothers no doubt come to this quite easily as do managers in companies. Too much "stuff" comes at you to get done what needs getting done. Or, too little time is left for these poor souls to get alone with their Lord. (As you can see, I am speaking of the true Christian believer). So, what is to be done? Where is this "rest?" Rest is a beautiful thought. For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) Rest can refer to the cessation of labor. True. But it is not just what you cease doing, but in what you plan to do in which rest finds its greatest virtue. Rest in Scripture often refers to actively being still in God's presence so that one can hear him and respond in kind. It is a peaceful place. Tranquil. Don't you love that word? Ah-h-h. The sighing of a heart at rest before God is the longing of the soul after God. And such will never fail to find peace. Listen to Thomas a Kempis:
WHEN a man desires a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at ease. A proud and avaricious man never rests, whereas he who is poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace. An unmortified man is quickly tempted and overcome in small, trifling evils; his spirit is weak, in a measure carnal and inclined to sensual things; he can hardly abstain from earthly desires. Hence it makes him sad to forego them; he is quick to anger if reproved. Yet if he satisfies his desires, remorse of conscience overwhelms him because he followed his passions and they did not lead to the peace he sought.

True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 11.

Thursday, September 1

Mafia Forced to Preach?!

Man imagines that he is in control. When man is spiritually blind, he cannot "see" what is really going on in the spiritual realm. Just like Elisha's servant, many do not see that armies of heaven arrayed against the Syrians (2 Kings 6). But that doesn't stop God from carrying out his plans as He wills! Read this passage and see how many unwilling prophets there were. God turns man's plans right on their head.
20 Then Saul [Mafia "Don"] sent messengers [the hit-squad] to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
Even King Saul, David's nemesis, did himself bow (unwillingly) under the power of the Spirit of God to prophesy, declaring praises to God and no doubt pronouncing self-condemning words along the way. My interest here is not to discuss how this is possible, or why God would do it this way. Rather, mentioning it simply surfaces a great reversal, an about-face for those who are in power and do not realize what kind of power they are up against!

This points out, how desperately wicked are men, who though forced to speak what is right, still choose not to believe it. It also points out how gracious God is who constrains men do what they ought to be willing to do, giving them, as it were, a second chance to come to their senses. Finally, such a story sheds light on the weakness of us sinners who could learn from their failure, turn to our Lord and find grace to help in time of need. Evermore, Lord, give us this truth, and a stomach to handle it with pleasure.