In a lengthy and sobering piece in Christianity Today, “The Wrong Kind of Christian,” Tish Harrison Warren reveals that in today’s politically compromised environment there is no such thing as an evangelical of which the world will approve.
Ms. Warren is like many “moderate” evangelicals who like to operate in the “nicer than Jesus” mode, fancying themselves a cut above Neanderthal fundamentalists. They see themselves as hip, trendy, top-shelf Christians whom the world will embrace because, well, because they are not Cro-Magnon fundies.
Wrote Ms. Warren:
I thought I was an acceptable kind of evangelical.
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I’m not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement. We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice.
But Ms. Warren ran into fundamentalism of a different sort, secular fundamentalism, and discovered the hard way that any Christian who adheres to Christian truth claims and Christian standards of sexual morality has committed unpardonable sins and must be shunned, Amish-style, as a heretic.
Vanderbilt kicked Ms. Warren’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter off campus because InterVarsity was determined to reserve leadership for, well, Christians who actually believe Christianity. Vanderbilt said no, you must open your leadership to satanists and sexual deviants or you will be sent into exile. IVCF and 13 other Christian groups stuck to their principles and their consciences and found out that when secularists go on a crusade to identify and root out the heterodox they mean business.
When Vanderbilt first announced its “war on Christ” policy, Ms. Warren thought surely since they themselves were enlightened Christians and not leisure-suit wearing Falwells, a little reasoned discourse would set things right.
At first I thought this was all a misunderstanding that could be sorted out between reasonable parties. If I could explain to the administration that doctrinal statements are an important part of religious expression—an ancient, enduring practice that would be a given for respected thinkers like Thomas Aquinas—then surely they’d see that creedal communities are intellectually valid and permissible. If we could show that we weren’t homophobic culture warriors but friendly, thoughtful evangelicals committed to a diverse, flourishing campus, then the administration and religious groups could find common ground.
Nope. They were heretics, and heretics must be punished. In pondering this Gestapo-like decision on the part of the Vanderbilt administration, Ms. Warren came to two conclusions. One, while trendy and hip Christians try to get as far away from fundies as they can, as if they live in different galaxies, in the eyes of the world all Christians are the same.
I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast, and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space.
The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.
It didn’t matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn’t matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.
And secondly, she discovered that at the root of her sense of evangelical superiority was the ancient sin of pride.
That probationary year unearthed a hidden assumption that I could be nuanced or articulate or culturally engaged or compassionate enough to make the gospel more acceptable to my neighbors. But that belief is prideful. From its earliest days, the gospel has been both a comfort and an offense.
The “nicer than Jesus” crowd is often animated by a haughty, better-than-you mindset toward their more conservative fellows. “I thank you, God, that I’m not like that Bible-thumping fundy.” They want to have glowing profiles written about them in the New York Times and be featured on network news as smooth, sophisticated leaders who are a slice above. In other words, they want to be liked by all the wrong people.
But as Ms. Warren discovered, that’s just arrogance and human conceit. The truth is this, Christians: we are all in this together. We’re all on the same team. The world, because it lies in the lap of the evil one, is inclined to despise us all. If we do not hang together, we most assuredly will hang separately.
So our call is together to declare to our culture the whole counsel of God, every bit of it, without conceding even a single part of it to secular fundamentalists. We’re to do this no matter what kind of blowback we get.
But we can take heart from the reality that, in the end, light is always more powerful than darkness. As Solzhenitsyn said, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”
We have that one word of truth. And it’s our task to speak it fearlessly and without regard to whether “the leaders of this age” think we are cool or not.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.