Home > Brandenburg, Culture, Separation, Worldliness, Worship > Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: The Embrace of Neutrality

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: The Embrace of Neutrality

April 14, 2010

Nobody is really neutral.  Paul writes in Romans 1:18:  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”  The word “hold” means “suppress.”  Whoever does not receive the truth suppresses the truth.  Everyone starts from a position of knowing the truth.   Paul elaborates a little further in v. 25 by saying that these truth suppressors “change the truth into a lie.”

You might be thinking, “well, they suppress the truth about God, but they don’t suppress all the truth.”  Wrong.  When you suppress the truth about God, you have also suppressed all the truth.  Why?  Without God there is no absolute truth, no objective truth.  Without God, everything is random and haphazard.  Someone may say that he believes the truth about something, but he cannot qualify it as truth without some standard of truthfulness, a standard that does not exist without God.

Now you might be thinking, “well, someone can say that an object is the color red without God.”  Wrong again.  There would have to be the idea of color, and someone can’t know there is color and that a color is red unless an idea can exist and that someone could think.  Without God, everything is essentially molecules indiscriminately meeting and bouncing off of one another.  Why is that color?  And how could it be red?  Without God, everything is subjective.  What’s happening on earth is of no more consequence than what is occurring on Neptune.  Chemical processes and colliding matter can’t think or make value judgments.  They’re just accidents moving toward ultimate entropy.

So for all truth, we start with God.  And everybody knows that even if they do suppress it.   Since God began everything, He defines everything, and He determines reality.   We know God and we know because of God.  We don’t really know without Him, so what we know, including what is true, beautiful, and good, is based on Who He is.  And there is no neutrality.  We all begin with God.  It’s just that one admits it and the other suppresses it.

Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, however, have embraced neutrality.  This is a trick of Satan, a shell game that he plays with men, so that they will begin to look at life on his terms.  He would like men to think, in contradiction to God’s Word, that everyone starts out on even ground or with a blank slate in the development of his beliefs and the determination of what is true or false.   With neutrality, revelation is personal so theological knowledge is ambiguous, requiring a response to evidence.

WHERE WE SEE AN EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM

This embrace of neutrality is seen in the evangelical and fundamentalist explanation of beauty.   Beauty has been reduced to a mere mechanical response to sensory input.   This neutrality denies intrinsic or inherent beauty or any absolute standard of beauty outside of man’s personal choice.  While once Christianity accepted an objective standard of beauty that started with God, evangelicalism has fallen prey to the world view espousing man as the arbiter of beauty.  This is manifested today in the evangelical embrace and fundamentalist acceptance of anything-goes in music.  Objective beauty, sacred and unprofaned, has been sacrificed on an altar of modern and post-modern culture.

I expect evangelicals to deny this, which, of course, they’ll especially have the right to do in their contemporary realities, dogmatic in their tolerance.  Modernism broke down traditional institutions through secularization and urbanization, giving numerous opportunities of pleasure and self-fulfillment.   Men then looked at life on their terms.  Instead of concentrating on what God expects, churches focused on what people thought or felt they were missing.  As modernity stripped life of meaning, which begins and ends with God, men have turned to self to explain.  The individual became the ultimate adjudicator of what is beautiful.  Evangelicals have accepted this.

In many ways conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have objected to doctrinal relativism.  They have held the line to a certain degree at certain fundamental truths.  They seem to be proud of this.  However, they have embraced neutrality in relationship to aesthetic values—what is beautiful—and all absolute truth to maintain their credibility in a post modern world.  This embrace of neutrality is seen in the rampant subjectivity in music for worship both personal and corporate, in the casual and coarse, often immodest, apparel, the vast slippage in the realm of entertainment values, and in the wide-ranging acceptance of doctrinal ambiguity, which includes a shunning of the doctrine and practice of separation.  God has been marginalized by having far less importance in man’s actual life.

When you watch evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about doctrine, you hear the damage that their own embrace of neutrality has caused.  They pander post-modernity with their theological reductionism, relegating truth to essentials and non-essentials.  This plays right into the attack on meaning and the self-autonomy of interpretation.  Men are on a quest for knowledge, whose progress is slowed by the oppressiveness of unequivocal and authoritative conviction.  Certainty violates personal viewpoint and self as source of meaning.  This has reduced the church to a shop for religious consumers.   The message must be contextualized to the shopper for accomplishment of mission.

With a conformity to post-modern culture, unity has become the highest value of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  You hear this narrative in today’s political speech, the era of post-partisanship.   Political operatives vie for the admiration of the independent voters, a mass of humanity in the ambiguous middle, who are proud for not having made up their minds.  Uncertainty is elevated to a sacramental place in American culture with few exceptions, such as food and celebrity.   Evangelicals and fundamentalists won’t hold your differing belief and practice against you.  You can join in by agreeing to disagree and all getting along based on the supreme injunction of unity in the body; well, with the exception of a few essentials that even in those it’s probably just going to be a matter of interpretation.   The embrace of neutrality is witnessed in the compliance to this view of unity.

THE RESULTS OF THE EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM

Evangelicals and fundamentalists proclaim the supremacy of the gospel.  I don’t mind an emphasis on the gospel.  But the point of the gospel, the worship of God, is often lost with this embrace of neutrality.  God is seeking for true worshipers (John 4:23-24).  The profane, desecrated music that evangelicals especially, but also fundamentalists, offer as worship results from their aesthetic neutrality.  They have forsaken an objective beauty and worship is the casualty.  God doesn’t accept the ugliness they have decided is acceptable to Him because they have forsaken an absolute standard of beauty.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists have devalued aesthetics, resulting in heteropathy.  And as they relate to God, they can’t separate doctrine and practice from affections.  Without the proper affections, our relationship to the Lord can’t be right, even if we happen to be doctrinally and practically orthodox.  The imitation affections, actually passions, desires mistaken for love, are more blasphemous to God than if He had received nothing, no affection, no passion, no nothing.

The product that is devised and delivered by churches today and called worship blasphemes God by its deviation from beauty.  It is often profaned by its fleshly stimulation, its banality, or its kitsch.  Like animals churches have become driven by their desires, needs, and appetites, and have treated God and worship itself as an instrument to fulfill those things.  God is to be the end in itself of worship, the worship to be governed by devotion to Him and not those things that are the means to us.   In his book, Beauty, Roger Scruton has called this profanation that he has seen the “Disneyfication of faith.”  He has also written, and I agree (pp. 176, 182):

Desecration is a kind of defence against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims.  In the presence of sacred things our lives are judged and in order to escape the judgment we destroy the thing that seems to accuse. . . . One cure for the pain of desecration is the move towards total profanation:  in other words, to wipe out all vestiges of sanctity for the once worshipped object, to make it merely a thing of the world, and not just a thing in the world, something that is nothing over and above the substitutes that can at any time replace it.

What people really love is themselves and the world.  They know that’s not right.  Their true love they profess is about God is really still about them.

Almost all evangelicals and fundamentalists would say they love the truth.  But truth can’t survive their embrace of neutrality.  Some truth, sure, but truth as a whole won’t make it with the accession to modern and post modern culture.  It does start with certainty about the Words of God.  Evangelicals and fundamentalists can’t know that because they have elevated reason above faith in line with modernism.  And then meaning of Scripture comes crashing down close behind, because how can we know what words mean if we aren’t sure what they are.

The next victim of the embrace of neutrality is discernment.   With the forsaking of objective beauty, what is goodness and true must also necessarily fall by the wayside as well.  The certainty here all comes from the same source.  When you change the basis of your conclusion to make way for your own opinion, you lose the ability to decide with any authority.  Various factions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism stand at various stages of deterioration, but none will survive their embrace of neutrality.

In the end, perhaps what is lost more than anything is obedience to God.  God is not pleased.  His truth is not respected.  His ways are not kept.  And the churches are not so concerned.

CONCLUSION

If your whole life has been lived in a bunker, it will be hard to see the world with any other perspective than the bunker in which you live.  That’s what will make this essay hard to accept for evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Most will likely never understand because they will refuse to separate themselves from the bunker.   If they hear this in a post-modern way, influenced by the world and the Satan’s work to that extent, they will hear this about how Bill Clinton listened to Ken Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  I’ll be the villain like him for attempting to impose my oppressive and narrow moral narrative on their unity and their freedom.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be thought to be kooky right wing fringe who attempts to dictate my personal preferences to others.

The barbarians are not standing at the gate any longer.  In many ways, we’ve become the barbarians.  We have allowed the Philistines to have their way.  Churches have lost their will to contend.  We’re at a very serious time for the truth, for Scripture, for obedience to God, for true worship, for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.  Please do not dismiss this.  Do not take it lightly.  Don’t marginalize it.  Don’t be fooled.  I ask that you consider whether it’s me or it’s you.

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  1. April 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Kent,

    Did you miss it, or did you intentionally want us to dig for it? Here’s a verse that came to my mind, while reading here…

    Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalms 29:2)

    Holiness as defined by God’s character and Word is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if I think it is or isn’t beautiful, it IS beautiful. And, if it is holy, by God’s definition, it IS holy, and IS beautiful. Can anything be beautiful that is unholy? Oh yes, it can stimulate admiration in my humanity and even desire. But, if it is not holy, it is not beautiful.

    As an illustration, some evangelicals think that the warm-fuzzy feeling they get from the music they use in worship. But, could they be mistaking natural reactions for true godliness. I think so.

    Thanks for the post. Thought provoking.

  2. April 14, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    It’s true Don, what you’re saying.

    And yes, I did it intentionally.

  3. d4v34x
    April 14, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    There’s some “fundamentalists” who have yet to bow the knee to an unholy beauty in worship and entertainment. Although I’m not sure where you feel free verse poetry fits into all that. I’d be interested to hear.

  4. Anvil
    April 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    For what is true and right, we have the scriptures that tell us exactly. What scriptural passages do you use to evaluate a work like say, Mozart’s 40th Symphony, or perhaps the tune “AUSTRIAN HYMN” behind both “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” and “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” (the German National Anthem) and say that God finds them beautiful (or not)?

  5. April 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I don’t mind getting into evaluation of specifics. I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily the one that can best explain the music, by using musical terms. The people writing the music, however, I believe, can do so and using terms like chromatic and diatonic, inflection, progression, modulation, and intervals.

    I believe the evaluation of beauty as it applies to free verse poetry and Mozart would be the same. We use scriptural principles and then the truth that we can evaluate the fulfillment of those principles in the real world. Harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic movements produce meaning and mood. Whatever the meaning or mood that these communicate must be judged by scripture. We can also trace beauty by the response the music elicits. We should assume that we can do that. There is no sound button on scripture, but we know that the communication of music can be corrupt and fleshly.

    I’m not attempting with this article to get into that discussion. I don’t mind doing it, but I’m not going to do that here. I’m starting with just the idea that beauty is objective. I believe that the objective standard is God, His nature and His Word, but I’m not going to judge Mozart and Glorious Things.

  6. david
    April 19, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    To Mr. Heinz: Excellent observation.

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