I thought I would use this column to indulge in a little thought experiment. What, I wonder, if the conservative evangelical church world came to be dominated by a symbiotic network of high profile and charismatic leaders (think more Weber than Wimber), media organisations, and big conferences? What if leadership, doctrine, and policy were no longer rooted in the primacy of biblical polity and the local church? What if, in other words, all of this became a function of an Evangelical Industrial Complex?A world where charisma and clamor overcomes character, criticism, and orthodoxy. Read it. Scary stuff.
One of Trueman's points is really telling. He suggests in this "thought experiment" that in a world where celebrity overcomes other considerations, there is a key question. Does the ethic of success supplant the principle of faithfulness? Here's the idea. Instead of standing on what God says, we begin to stand on "what works", "what they like", "what is acceptable to the culture", "what brings people in" -- success. We'd keep the language of "faithfulness to the Word of God" but redefine the terms enough so that the meaning changes to correspond with the image of success.
The current BSA crisis is a fine example. The Boy Scouts of America are to meet today to decide whether the hard-earned and very expensive victories won in court and the strongly principled stance they've taken as late as last July will remain. The Supreme Court held that if the Boy Scouts believed that the exclusion of homosexuals from their group was a core conviction, an "expressive message", then they had the right to exclude them. And the Scouts claimed it was.
But that stance was expensive. They have been assaulted and boycotted, vilified and castigated, and a whole bunch of other mean-sounding words. When they sought, earlier this year, to renege on this "expressive message", the outrage made them pull that option back. So they surveyed the parents to figure out what to do. And now it looks like their plan is to keep openly-gay adults out while accepting openly-homosexual boys.
Remember, the point here is not whether or not BSA is right. The question is between success and faithfulness. The Boy Scouts of America have seen the "success" of their organization decline. They have been attacked and insulted and boycotted. That is not "success". To return to a "successful" condition, they simply need to stop being faithful to their principles. Give up their stance on morality, their "expressive message", and they can return to "success".
You see, you don't determine morality or your "expressive message" by survey and popular opinion. And the BSA has already caved to popular opinion simply by asking parents what they wanted. Thus, the BSA has defined "success" as something other than faithfulness to principles, something other than an underlying moral code. They have put principle up for a vote, which now will require all BSA principles to be in question and flux. And that doesn't seem much like success to me.
Well, they were just an example, current events to illustrate the point. Just look around at your local churches. I'm sure you can find your own current illustrations of the point. We're redefining "success" from what God defines as "success" and moving away from "faithfulness to the Word of God" in order to be more popular, more "seeker friendly", more acceptable to the world. And if that last phrase doesn't raise any alarms in your head, you ought to read your Bible more.