In the last post we looked at the Bible’s challenge to those who would hold both timeless truth and ministry methods in closed hands, allowing neither to change in the name of relevancy. This post is about the Bible’s challenge to the approach which opens both hands and allows both the way the message is communicated AND the content of the Christian message to change. It is done in the name of relevancy – running from the error of the two closed hands, isolation of the church, but it doing so it commits the opposite error.
The first question to ask when both hands are opened is: who gets to determine what truths stay and what truths go? The answer is the culture. When both hands are opened relevancy is raised to the highest priority and the gospel is effectively anchored to the culture. If this happens, then the culture calls the tune of the gospel a wolf has entered wearing sheep’s clothing.
The danger is this: the gospel is now a thing that must be adapted to fit the hearers, and the ever-shifting culture sits over the Bible as judge and becomes the final authority in determining what truths remain and which must be discarded. Is there something in the Bible that the culture doesn’t understand, approve of, find helpful or progressive? It can go. Does the idea of a just and holy God who has wrath toward sin offend the culture’s sensibilities? Then portray a Jesus who is nothing but love and who shares the culture’s understanding of tolerance and acceptance and moral relativity. Does what the Bible has to say about controversial issues such as gender, sexuality, and marriage seem archaic and backward? Then preach about other things and omit the God’s words on that part of the human condition. Has the culture learned a distrust of absolute truth and authority? Then reduce the Bible to “a member of the congregation” whose voice must be heard just the same as any other voice in the congregation.
It’s not hard to spot the things that would be the first to go. Postmodernism is not unique in this, every culture humans have ever created has no shortage of areas where the Bible’s truths will rub against the grain of its preferences. But why should those preferences be given the power to determine what things the Bible teaches are retained? We can look at other cultures across the history of the world and do not find it difficult to spot things we judge to be blind spots or backward thinking. We modern people look down on the gladiatorial contests of the Romans or the propriety of Elizabethan England, and feel that we have advanced beyond such things. There are as many examples of this as there are cultures in the history of the world. If we would deny any culture in history has ever had a perfect understanding of truth, why give our own that credit? Why entrust the gospel to our postmodern sensibilities? Human culture is fickle and fallen and will fail if given such a precious task as the final stewardship of the gospel. Because of this if the hand which should grip the timeless truths of the gospel is opened and the culture is given the authority over it then the seeds of error have been sown into the church.
This truth is that we become more like what we orbit around. Opening both hands sets Christianity on a course to be conformed to the culture. In that case it will cease to be Christianity at all, but will just become “paganism in Christian language.” Yes, Christianity is, in a sense, changeable, but it is also possible to change the gospel until the gospel is lost. The approach of closing both hands errs in that it produces a church that isolates itself from the world so the world doesn’t get to see the gospel. Opening both hands ends in the exact same destination; it only takes a different path to get there. This sets Christianity on a course of assimilation. The values of the culture so influence and infiltrate the church that Christianity begins to preach only those things the culture already approves. Either way the world still doesn’t get to see the gospel
The ironic thing is that it is the very impulse of compassion, to give the world a message it can understand, which tempts the church to open the second hand. But the charge before the church is not only to be understandable. The second half must not be lost: to preach the gospel. It is not compassion which enters the hurt, broken places of this world, but fails to call them to the only place there is healing. It is not love that gives the world a message it understands, but that message does not help it to understand what God has done for it in Christ. Nor is it faithfulness to be unclear where the Bible is clear, and to seek not to wound where the gospel calls us to make wounds in love. In failing to do so the church might not anger men, but it will betray God.
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