I received a letter recently that illustrates how alien philosophies infiltrate today's churches. Julie, a Bible-study leader in a solid evangelical church, wrote to tell me of a discussion with moms in her church about their favorite books for children. She was appalled that so many touted books with naturalistic themes.Julie picked up one of the books—a Berenstein Bears title—and showed the moms the page that read, "Nature is all there is, ever was, or ever will be."They didn't get it. The moms were too young to remember Carl Sagan or the famous line from his book and film, Cosmos: "The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.""How do we wake people up?" Julie asked in her letter.Good question. If the polls are correct, foreign ideas have penetrated not only children's books but our most basic beliefs. Gallup reports that 20 percent of born-again Christians believe in reincarnation and 26 percent in astrology. Forty-five percent of those George Barna classifies as born again believe that "if people are good enough they can earn a place in heaven." And Wade Clark Roof in Spiritual Marketplace writes that half of born-again baby boomers believe all religions are "equally good and true," almost half have no involvement in a conservative Protestant church, and a quarter believe in communicating with the dead!Admittedly, poll data can be ambiguous, and the term born again has certainly been trivialized. Still, the data paint a shocking picture of the state of evangelical Christianity. On any Sunday, an alarming number who fill our pews are either biblically illiterate or, worse, syncretists.How can we explain this? Roof offers one answer: boomers tend to substitute feelings for objective reality, seeking self-centered spirituality over the structured demands of organized religion. With self-fulfillment their standard, they pick and choose, as if at a salad bar, from any belief system that provides comfort or meaning.The problem is that "salad-bar Christianity" often goes unchallenged by the larger Christian community. Some seeker-driven churches are reluctant to confront such syncretism and thus scare people away.The spirit of the age shuns absolutes, and this has weakened the church's capacity to raise such challenges even if we were disposed to. A seminary dean told me his students all say they believe in absolute truth, but at the same time are reluctant to "impose" their views. Serious laity are even less inclined to challenge one another in today's relativistic environment, for fear of being thought of as intolerant or bigoted. Mark Dever, pastor of Washington's Capitol Hill Baptist Church, sums up the problem bluntly: "The church has lost the capacity to judge between good and evil, truth and falsehood."Pastors I've consulted agree that there is a problem and believe the answer is in better expository preaching. That is needed, but I question whether this alone will turn the tide.To teach believers to be discerning demands a systemic effort to examine how Christianity stacks up against other claims in every area of life. When worldviews are honestly compared, the truth of Christianity (and the untruth of other views) becomes clear.It is vital that Christians become more discriminating. Discerning Christians would have clearly seen the pagan presuppositions behind that statement in the Berenstein Bears book that so many moms unthinkingly embraced. As Julie discovered, believers may understand Scripture but still not recognize naturalistic claims that undermine biblical belief.Most importantly, when we discern what is false we must have the courage to label it as such. Some seekers might be driven away, but better that than the insidious spread of syncretism within the church.The church today needs to take a lesson from one of the heroic figures of a century ago. Alarmed by the rise of modernism and false teachings spreading even in evangelical churches, New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen published a scathing attack in his classic, Christianity and Liberalism. Machen argued that the beliefs many were embracing weren't simply a new version of Christianity; rather, they constituted another religion altogether. The book was a sobering jolt to many Christians.So too we should label today's syncretism another religion. Much of what passes for born-again Christianity may suit the spirit of the age, but it isn't authentic Christianity. This truth needs to be communicated both to those in the pews and those in our pulpits as well.
For a clear statement of the essentials of the faith from an evangelical perspective "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration", is a Christianity Today document crafted by the likes of J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul and signed by everyone from Kay Arthur to Charles Swindoll. For a list of drafters and endorsers click here .You can also read CT Executive Editor David Neff's " A Call to Evangelical Unity ."Some of Charles Colson's earlier columns from Christianity Today include:A Healthy Cult (June 12, 2000) The Court's in Session (Apr. 25, 2000) The Ugly Side of Tolerance (March 6, 2000) Scouts Dishonor (November 15, 1999) What Are We Doing Here? (October 4, 1999) How Evil Became Cool (August 9, 1999) Does Kosovo Pass the Just-War Test? (May 24, 1999) Why We Should Be Hopeful (April 26, 1999) Moral Education After Monica (March 1, 1999) The Sky Isn't Falling (January 11, 1999)
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