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Be Not Blown About By Every Fad

Be Not Blown About By Every Fad

By BJ Newman
February 29, 2024

The need of the day for American Evangelicals is spiritual maturity.

Much like teenagers, American Evangelicals adopt a new identity every year -- quick to jump on board each new fad conjured up by the cool kid elites. Trendy worship styles, innovative theological claims, hipster preachers, and gimmicky programs all feature prominently in Evangelical church life. From the olden days of WWJD bracelets to the recent "He Gets Us" Super Bowl ads, the marks of immaturity are legion.

In his foreword to Leland Ryken's book Worldly Saint: The Puritans As They Really Were, J.I. Packer addresses why one would even bother with the Puritans. His answer is timely. "[T]he suggestion that we need the Puritans...may prompt some lifting of the eyebrows... What could these zealots give us that we need? it is asked. The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don't." Packer touches the problem with a needle.

Mike Sabo highlights this dynamic well in his recent piece about the cage-stage phenomenon. "Theological cage-stagers can become puffed up with an assortment of facts but have little wisdom... They spend their days in fruitless 'debates' in Facebook groups, hammering away on their phones as dust gathers on their Bibles." With an abundance of knowledge at our fingertips, many are able to parrot and mimic the newfound argument. What they lack, in most cases, is what they need most -- maturity borne from experience.

This was true of me. Unlike many, I never had the cage-stage Calvinist experience, but I did come down with this malady regarding presuppositional apologetics. From my earliest days in the faith, apologetics was a passion. It was not long before stumbling upon John Frame, and from there Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen. After a few Bahnsen debates and a few hours of Jeff Durbin on the streets, there was no stopping me. I will spare you the details, but prideful immaturity was abundant.

Over time, my outlook changed. Chewing through work by Augustine, Ambrose, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, etc. revealed the undeniable gap between my approach and theirs. Then came the beginning of lay ministry. The institutional work of the church tempered my hard edge and slowed my impatient pace. The face-to-face plodding of ministry matured me. While I am still persuaded by much of presuppositional thought, I realized how futile it was to keep repeating, "By what standard?" in a debate or asking ordinary people for epistemological justifications.

In the same way that I had to grow past my sophomoric naivety, my beloved Evangelical brothers must do the same. Particularly, there are three places that need attention: Recovering our tradition, Reading the battlefield, and Building institutions.

Many Evangelicals wear labels of which they know little. Whether Reformed or Baptist or Anglican or Lutheran, most have only the barest notion of what the title means. Most are clueless about the history of the tradition. As a result, they end up with a truncated view of their own faith which leaves room for serious theological error and an impotent cultural engagement.

The recent uproar over Stephen Wolfe's The Case For Christian Nationalism illustrated this perfectly. Whether one agrees with him or not, Wolfe is working squarely within the Reformed heritage. His interlocutors, conversely, were operating with something closer to postwar liberal assumptions that do not exist within their own tradition. Unless the Evangelical church rediscovers its glorious inheritance, most will continue mouthing enlightenment platitudes about freedom, democracy, and equality with a Jesus blanket thrown on top.

One reason Christians today are losing the cultural battle is that they are fighting on yesterday's front. Athanasius was fighting for Christology. Luther fought for soteriology. The fight today is over anthropology. Yes, all truth everywhere matters, but the battle today rages over what is a human. This issue has implications for sexuality, natural law, education, medicine, and more. The world does not know what a woman is, because it does not know what a human is or what a human is for.

Many Evangelicals are also tempted toward the proliferation of niche debates about ever more obscure doctrines. Discussing the church calendar, head coverings, the Nephilim, demons, cessationism, Bible translations, approaches to apologetics, etc. are all fine. These issues are important, but they are not the frontlines today. The ROI on topics such as recovering godly masculinity and femininity, political theology and cultural engagement, and catechism and education of our children is far greater than most. Plus, success in these areas leaves a hole in the secular juggernaut the Evangelical church is up against.

The final place where this lack of maturity manifests is in the loss of institution building. Engaging on social media, having an online presence, and speaking in the public square are all key features of influence. However lasting influence and cultural change do not occur through individual popularity. Unless one is building organizations and institutions with visions that go well beyond the current leadership, the influence will be fleeting. Planting churches, starting schools, organizing publishing houses, and building community businesses will solidify our influence in ways that social media never will. Building this way is slower and less glamorous, but the effect of this type of building will be far more glorious.

The need of the day for Evangelicals is maturity. May we heed the admonition of Saint Peter, "Long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation" (1 Pet. 2:2).


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