Modern “evangelicalism” is a large house with many rooms. There are rooms that promote a female concept of God. Rooms that cast doubt upon the necessity of the blood atonement of Christ and eternal hellfire. Rooms where “same sex marriage” is acceptable. Rooms that promote the heresy of universalism. Rooms where Mary is an intercessor with God. Rooms that practice mind-emptying “meditation.” Rooms that are lined with books by ancient heretics.
At times those in the more conservative rooms will issue mild “warnings” about those in the more liberal rooms, but in practice evangelicalism is one big family, because the “conservative” rooms aren’t walled off from the most liberal of rooms.
There are many pathways that lead to all of the rooms, such as the pathway of contemporary praise music, the pathway of ecumenical evangelism, and the pathway of contemplative prayer.
What has brought evangelicalism to this terrible place and what must Bible-believing Baptists and fundamentalists watch out for?
The evangelical movement took a dramatic new turn in the mid-20th century, and we see the shocking fruit of it today. It is large, influential, wealthy, intellectually interesting, but it is also filled with worldly compromise and heresies.
How did evangelicalism come to the place where some of its most prominent leaders accept a novel (“The Shack”) depicting God as a non-judgmental, rock & roll-loving woman?
Following are some of the things that have brought evangelicalism to this place, and these are the very things that are sweeping into many fundamentalist Bible-believing churches.
As for independent Baptists in particular, they are at the same place today that the New Evangelicals were just a few decades ago.
Shallow Evangelism and Confusion about the Gospel
Evangelical churches are filled with nominal Christians who do not have a clear new birth testimony. At the National Pastor’s Conference in 2009, which I attended with media credentials, I asked several people when they were saved and I heard the testimonies of several of the speakers, and biblical testimonies of salvation were pathetically rare. One Lutheran pastor told me that he had always been a Christian.
In fact, the conference took its own survey along this line. Attendees were asked, “What percentage of your congregation is trying to actively live what the Bible teaches?” An overwhelming majority of the pastors, nearly 80%, replied that fewer than one-fourth of their church members are trying to obey the Bible! What is that if not a lack of biblical salvation? As the apostle Paul said, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). And the apostle John added, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
The book “Emerging Churches” by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger contains the testimonies of dozens of emerging church leaders. Only a few have any semblance to biblical salvation. Consider the following examples, which are typical:
Jonny Baker of Grace, London, England: “I loved God, or rather, knew I was loved by him, from an early age. I actually received the gift of tongues when I was just four years old” (p. 240).
Kester Brewin of Vaux, London, England: “I can point to a Billy Graham rally in 1984 as a conversion, but that was really more of a moment of STRENGTHENING A FAITH THAT HAD ALWAYS been there” (p. 248).
Roger Ellis of Revelation Church in Chichester, England: “In my late teens, I had a dynamic experience of God, an encounter of the Spirit at a crazy charismatic church down the road” (p. 268).
Barry Taylor of Sanctuary in Santa Monica, California: “In the end, I didn’t pick Christianity. I picked Jesus instead, because Jesus seemed cool and treated people kindly. From that time I sought to follow Jesus” (p. 311).
Andy Thornton of Late Late Service in Glasgow: “When I was seventeen. I prayed a prayer, which was not a problem, because I DIDN’T REALLY SEE MYSELF AS AN UNBELIEVER. I felt something warm and affirming and quite energizing” (p. 314).
In fact, many within the emerging church have decided that salvation is not an event but a process. Shane Hipps, one of the speakers at the National Pastor’s Convention, says, “... there has been an increasing acceptance of a process conception of conversion,” and, “... the categories of believer and unbeliever ... are no longer used to define a target for evangelism” (Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, Zondervan, 2005, pp. 78, 81).
Consider Robert Webber, one of the most influential voices in the emerging church. He grew up in the home of a fundamental Baptist pastor, but the thing that is missing in his autobiographical accounts is a biblical testimony of salvation. Webber argued that salvation does not have to be a dramatic conversion experience and he admitted that he didn’t have such an experience. He said that repentance “can have a dramatic beginning or can come as a result of a process over time” (The Divine Embrace, p. 149). He came to see salvation is a sacramental process that begins at baptism, and that is one reason why he joined the Episcopalian church and was perfectly comfortable with Roman Catholicism. Webber described many experiences he had with his students at Wheaton College, but he doesn’t give any examples of counseling them about personal salvation.
The very influential Tony Campolo has the same view of salvation, that it is a process rather than an event.
The purity of the gospel and personal salvation is foundational to maintaining the truth and keeping churches pure, and salvation is a supernatural birth and not a sacramental process. Those who are not saved do not have the indwelling Spirit of truth and cannot properly interpret the Bible and do not have zeal to defend it.
Fundamental Baptists are in danger here because of the Quick Prayerism technique that is so rampant. I refer to the soul winning methodology that is quick to manipulate someone into praying a prayer through salesmanship techniques even when there is no evidence of conviction and repentance and saving faith. It is then quick to give that individual assurance even though there is no evidence that he is saved. My wife and I tried to follow-up on two Quick Prayerism soul winning campaigns in past years. One church that we attended 35 years ago had a Foster Club program, and women would go out every week and return to report that some people had been “saved.” The pastor asked us to follow up on these and gave us a stack of information cards, but when we attempted to do so we discovered that these “saved” people had no interest in the things of Christ and didn’t even want to talk to us! In 2000 or 2001 we followed up on decision cards that were filled out by those who prayed the sinner’s prayer through a County Fair ministry. Again, of the many people who had been “saved,” we could not find any that were interested in attending church or meeting with us to study the Bible. The unmistakable mark of Quick Prayerism is when only a very small percentage of a church’s reported “salvations” have any biblical reality.
Some argue that at least the gospel is being preached and some people are getting saved in these contexts, but the fact is that people are actually being inoculated to the truth. When you meet a victim of a Quick Prayerism program and try to deal with them about the salvation of his soul, he will reply, “I have done that,” even though he is still living like the devil. What he means is that he has “prayed the prayer” and been given assurance by a Quick Prayerism evangelist.
This could be a major reason why the independent Baptist movement has been shot through and through with immorality, biblical shallowness, and carnality.
Churches that are not exceedingly careful about salvation and about receiving members can become filled up with nominal Christians. In our missionary work of nearly two decades we have preached to Hindus in South Asia, and their first inclination after hearing the gospel is to try to add Jesus to their other gods and become half-Hindu, half-Christian. Since we don’t want half-Hindu, half-Christians as church members, we are very careful about receiving people into membership. We deal with them patiently and carefully to try to make sure that they understand the gospel. When they profess to have repented and put their faith in Christ and we have some confidence that their testimony is real, we put them through a baptismal class to further instruct them about the gospel and the purpose of baptism. At the end of that class, they come before the church leaders and their wives and give their testimonies. If any of the leaders have a doubt about an individual’s conversion, we put off the baptism of that individual.
The reason why we do this is to protect the churches and maintain purity in the work of God in these confused and evil days.
Keeping the gospel pure and being careful about salvation and church membership are foundational to everything else that we do.
The Judge Not Philosophy; Tolerance for Error; a Positive Emphasis
Another thing that has brought the evangelical movement to its present apostasy is the judge not philosophy. When New Evangelicalism was founded after World War II, its leaders rejected the “negative” approach of the old “fundamentalism.” They wanted a more positive, less critical Christianity.
This, though, is a plain rejection of the Bible’s command to reprove and rebuke sin and error. It is a rejection of the example of the apostles and prophets who plainly exercised this ministry. John the Baptist got his head cut off for reproving the illicit marriage of a political leader of his day. The Lord Jesus Christ condemned the Pharisees in the severest terms (Matthew 23). The apostle Paul continually identified and condemned sin and heretics, as did Peter, James, and John.
When this type of judgment is left off, the devil is free to operate and sin and error spreads apace.
At the National Pastor’s Conference in San Diego in 2009 we interviewed Leighton Ford, Billy Graham’s brother-in-law. I said to him that the conference represented the state of evangelicalism today and asked him if he is satisfied with where the movement has come in the past fifty years. I reminded him that there are loud voices within evangelicalism that are questioning such cardinal doctrines as the very gospel itself, substitutionary atonement, and eternal fiery hell. This was a good opportunity for him to reply, “I am very sad that we have come to this place. Those who teach error should be condemned and not praised. Brian McLaren, for example, is destroying people’s faith with his heresies, and William Young is preaching a false god.” Leighton Ford did not say any of that, of course. Instead, he replied, “I will not criticize others” and then brusquely cut us off when we tried to follow-up on that.
It might sound very pious not to criticize one’s fellow Christians, but it is plain disobedience to God’s Word, which commands us to mark them which teach contrary to apostolic doctrine and to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Romans 16:17; Jude 3).
The “I will not criticize others” philosophy is the foundational principle that has destroyed evangelicalism. Those who believe the Bible and refuse to lift up the voice against error are traitors to Jesus Christ. They enable error to grow and prosper. They are the “useful idiots” of heretics and compromisers.
When error is not clearly identified and reproved, even the preaching of the truth can become an accommodation to error. When Billy Graham has preached in Roman Catholic Churches, for example, he has preached the gospel in a vague way but has refused to identify Romanism as false and has refused to plainly contrast Rome’s gospel with the Bible’s. As a result, his Catholic hearers typically believe that he is saying basically the same thing as their priests and go away confirmed in their error. That is indefensible.
We witnessed this same thing at the National Pastor’s Conference. Bill Hybels preached a message to that mixed multitude on “listening to God’s whispers.” He urged the crowd to take heed to what God tells them to do. What he said was not false and he made some good points, even giving a biblical-sounding testimony of salvation, but by pretending that his listeners were saved people who were sound in the faith and by not clearly identifying and reproving the heresies that were present, Hybels aided and abetted the devil and his lies. He encouraged Brian McLaren, for instance, to listen to the whispers that are telling him to redefine the cardinal doctrines of the faith and William Young to listen to the whispers that are telling him to redefine God.
Rejection of Biblical Separation
Hand in hand with the judge-not philosophy is a rejection of biblical separation. Harold Ockenga, who claimed to have coined the term “new evangelicalism” in 1948, said, “We reject separatism.” (For documentation of this see our free eBook “New Evangelism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit.”)
To reject separatism is to reject the command of God and to remove the wall of protection that God has given to shelter us from the winds of error and the wiles of the devil. No wonder the evangelical movement is filled with doctrinal confusion. The Word of God warns, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Evangelicals have long been deceived on this matter.
In this light it is frightful that there is a growing rejection of separatism among fundamental Baptists. There is a changing mood, a growing dislike for “judgmentalism.” There is growing sympathy toward evangelicals, whether it is Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, James Dobson, David Jeremiah, Kay Arthur, John Maxwell, Philip Yancey, Max Lucado, Ravi Zacharias, Al Mohler, John Piper, or a slew of others. There is a growing non-critical relationship between the members of independent Baptist churches and syndicated Christian radio programs and bookstores such as Family Christian Bookstore and Lifeway Christian Stores, which are filled to overflowing with the New Evangelical philosophy. There is a growing tendency to build bridges to evangelicalism by using contemporary praise music. There is growing tendency of fundamentalist leaders to recommend the writings of evangelicals in their blogs. (See www.wayoflife.org/index_files/review_of_chappells_church_still_works.html )
(For more about this see the articles “Dangers in Christian Bookstores” and “Dangers on Christian Radio” and “The Foreign Spirit of Contemporary Worship Music” at www.wayofllife.org.)
Biblical Ignorance and Lack of Education in the Issues Facing Us Today
The average member of an evangelical church is biblically ignorant and uneducated in spiritual issues. Very few could explain the nature of Rome’s sacramental gospel or the Mass. Very few are equipped to refute the errors of such grave spiritual dangers as Pentecostalism, Seventh-day Adventism, contemplative mysticism, and the New Age.
I doubt that the average member of a fundamentalist Bible-believing church is any better educated.
It is more imperative than ever for pastors to ground their people in God’s Word and train them to discern today’s errors. It is imperative that Bible Colleges and institutes prepare their students properly to resist this tide of error.
Too often it can be said of Bible-believing churches today what was said of Israel of old, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). In my experience, the average member of a Bible-believing church is not equipped to deal effectively with the spiritual dangers that lurk on the shelves of the typical Christian bookstore and on the airwaves of the typical Christian radio station. The average church member receives little practical warning from his pastors and teachers and has no interest in building a library of material that can help protect him from spiritual dangers.
If this situation is not rectified, the Brian McLarens of the emerging world will doubtless devour many of our children and grandchildren, just as they intend to do.
Since New Evangelicalism rejected separatism and has had the objective of communicating with modern culture, it is not surprising that it has been corrupted by that communication (1 Corinthians 15:33).
By 1978, Richard Quebedeaux observed, “In the course of establishing their respectability in the eyes of the wider society, the evangelicals have become harder and harder to distinguish from other people,” and, “... the wider culture has had a profound impact on the evangelical movement as a whole” (The Worldly Evangelicals, pp. 114, 115). Quebedeaux described how that evangelicals were “grooving on rock music,” dancing, drinking and smoking, reviewing the world’s movies, divorcing and remarrying, using profanity, viewing pornography, even using marijuana.
There has been a capitulation to the pop culture, to the world’s music, the world’s gods like professional sports, the world’s fashions, and the world’s causes such as environmentalism, feminism, and “equality” for homosexuals.
Worldliness is of the flesh and blinds spiritually. The apostle Paul exhorted us to abstain from fleshly lusts because they “war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
That which happened within evangelicalism in the 1970s is happening today among fundamental Baptists, and the result with be the same wholesale apostasy.
Modern Bible Versions
The acceptance of the modern versions has weakened the authority of the Bible among evangelicals. The versions reject the God-honored Received Text upon which the old Protestant translations were founded for the corrupt “Alexandrian” or Egyptian text, and many of them incorporate the shallow and dangerous dynamic equivalency or paraphrasing method of translation.
When I attended a service at Saddleback Church a few years ago, I observed that few people carried Bibles. As I entered the building I was given a bulletin that contained an outline of the morning service with the Bible verses typed out. Several modern versions were used in that one message, so it would have been impossible to have followed along in one’s own Bible, regardless of which version you brought.
In this environment a clear “thus saith the Lord” is replaced with “my version says such and such; what does your say?” It lends itself to “sharing” and “storytelling” rather than biblical preaching, to broadminded tolerance rather than Scriptural dogmatism.
Fundamental Baptist churches that are adopting the modern versions should consider this and not rush to disaster.
Contemporary Christian Music
Contemporary Christian Music is one of the great ecumenical bonds today. The same music is used by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, you name it. On one of my preaching trips to the Philippines I visited a Roman Catholic bookstore in Manila, and they were playing “evangelical” contemporary praise music.
This music is sensual (e.g., the hard rock back beat), usually doctrinally shallow, experience-oriented, and repetitious. It detracts from critical, solid doctrinal thinking and encourages a more emotional, broadminded approach to the faith.
And when this music comes into a Bible-believing home or church, it eventually changes everything.
The late evangelist Gordon Sears saw the beginnings of the capitulation of fundamental Baptists to contemporary praise music before he died in 2001, and he understand the issue very well. He warned: “When the standard of music is lowered, then the standard of dress is also lowered. When the standard of dress is lowered, then the standard of conduct is also lowered. When the standard of conduct is lowered, then the sense of value in God’s truth is lowered.”
Ernest Pickering gave the same warning: “Perhaps nothing precipitates a slide toward New Evangelicalism more than the introduction of Contemporary Christian Music. This inevitably leads toward a gradual slide in other areas as well until the entire church is infiltrated by ideas and programs alien to the original position of the church.”
Frank Garlock has said: “If a church starts using CCM it will eventually lose all other standards.”
(For documentation of these quotes see the book Contemporary Christian Music: Some Questions Answered and Some Warnings Given, which is available from Way of Life Literature.)
Pride of Scholarship
There is one more thing that I want to mention that has brought evangelicalism to its present apostasy, and that is pride of scholarship. Speaking at the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1971, Billy Graham said: “I believe that Christianity Today has played a major role in giving evangelicals that INTELLECTUAL RESPECTABILITY and initiative that was so drastically needed 29 years ago.”
John R.W. Stott, whose books are published by InterVarsity Press, said: “For 50 years and more, I have urged that authentic evangelical Christians are not fundamentalists. Fundamentalists tend to be ANTI-INTELLECTUAL...” (Stott, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, 1988, p. 90). The younger evangelicals in the Anglican Church, who have been influenced deeply by Stott, are on a “quest for RESPECTABLE THEOLOGY” (Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, p. 175).
The quest for scholastic respectability in the eyes of apostate Christianity and a godless secular world carries men far beyond biblical simplicity and dogmatism.
Study is good and important (2 Timothy 2:15; Titus 1:9), and preachers should be diligent students; but pride is deadly. God warns against intellectual pride. “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2).
The apostle Paul said:
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Apostasy usually begins among would-be intellectuals. This is what brought the downfall of Harvard University in the early 19th century. In their zeal for intellectual respectability they brought in an unbelieving Unitarian renowned for his scholarship to head up the school, and it destroyed the spiritual life of the institution.
The wise Bible believer is not anti-intellectual in the sense of being anti-learning and anti-education; but he understands the dangers inherent in human scholarship because of man’s fallen nature, and he is opposed to humanistic scholarship that is divorced from and antagonistic to God’s Word. Faithful Bible students are not critics of God’s Word.
God’s people are, for the most part, common; they don’t need intellectualism; they need simple and practical Bible truth. God’s truth has a basic simplicity that the common man can understand. “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Mat. 11:25).
It is the devil who complicates things. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
The New Evangelical approach to theological scholarship has corrupted those who have pursued it. The pride of intellect is a dangerous trap. The apostle Paul warned, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). To gain impressive scholarly credentials requires sitting at the feet of and affiliating closely with unbelievers and apostates, which is exceedingly dangerous and which we are expressly forbidden to do (Psalm 1:1-3; Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 John 9-11).
Pride of scholarship is a very real danger to many independent Baptists. This is one reason why Reformed Theology is spreading. And it is the would-be intellectuals who are adopting the critical Greek text.
Indeed, the emerging church is coming to independent Baptists. It is not something “way over there.” Its destructive seeds are being sown in our very midst, and ignorance and apathy and compromising neutrality will not win the battle.
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