By Phil Johnson(Phil Johnson is Executive Director of John MacArthurâ€™s Grace to You and teaches regularly as a lay pastor at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California)
The gospel's most dangerous earthly adversaries are not raving atheists who stand outside the door shouting threats and insults. They are church leaders who cultivate a gentle, friendly, pious demeanor but hack away at the foundations of faith under the guise of keeping in step with a changing world.
No Christian should imagine that heresy is always conspicuous or that every purveyor of theological mischief will lay out his agenda in plain and honest terms. The enemy prefers to sow tares secretly, for obvious reasons. Thus Scripture expressly warns us to be on guard against false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed (Jude 4), wolves who sneak into the flock wearing sheep's clothing (Matt 7:15), and servants of Satan who disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
Theological liberalism is particularly dependent on the stealth offensive. A spiritually healthy church is generally not susceptible to the arrogant skepticism that underlies a liberal's rejection of biblical authority. Liberalism must therefore take root covertly and gain strength and influence gradually. The success or failure of the whole liberal agenda hinges on a patient public-relations camÂpaign.
That is precisely how neo-liberals have managed to get a foothold in the contemporary evangelical movement. Consider how evangelicalism has changed in just a few short decades.
Historic evangelicalism has two clear distinctives. One is a commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The other is a conviction that the gospel message is clear and non-negotiable.
Specifically, evangelicals understand the gospel as an announcement of what Christ has done to save sinners, redeem Adam's fallen race, and usher believers into his eternal kingdom. The gospel is not a mandate for sinners to save themselves, redeem humanity, recover human dignity, safeguard cultural diversity, preserve the environment, eliminate poverty, establish a kingdom for themselves, or champion whatever social concept of "salvation" might be popular at the moment. In fact, the gospel expressly teaches that sinners can be justified only through faith in Christ alone, and exclusively by his gracious workâ€”not because of any merit they earn for themselves.
The Protestant Reformation clarified and illuminated those same two principlesâ€”sola Scriptura and sola fide. Indeed, they are sometimes known as the formal and material principles of the Reformation. But they weren't novel ideas someone dreamed up out of thin air in the sixteenth century. They are and always have been essential principles of biblical Christianity. In the long course of church history, those truths have frequently been clouded and confused, or mingled with (and sometimes overwhelmed by) bad teaching. Yet since the time of Christ and the apostles those truths have never been totally silenced. They are in fact the very backbone of New Testament doctrine.
Historic evangelicalism made much of that fact. From the dawn of the Reformation through the mid-twentieth century, few evangelicals ever thought of questioning Scripture or modifying the gospel.
With the advent of the seeker-sensitive movement, however, evangelicals began to be influenced by a new species of entrepreneurial leaders who marginalized those core doctrines by neglect. Most of them didn't overtly deny essential biblical truths; but neither did they vigorously stress or defend anything other than their own methodology.
The results were predictable: Churches are now filled with formerly unchurched people who are still untaught and perhaps even unconverted. Multitudes of children raised on a treacly diet of seeker-sensitive religion have grown up to associate the label evangelical with superficiality. Most of them cannot tell you what the term originally meant, and they reject whatever vestigial evangelical boundaries or doctrinal distinctives their parents may have held onto. But they still call themselves evangelicals when it's convenient, and many have remained at the fringes of the visible movement, decrying how out of step the church is with their generation. That, after all, is exactly what they learned from their parents.
This is fertile soil for liberalism to burst into full flower, and that is precisely what is already happening. Evangelicals are blithely following a number of trends that advance the neo-liberal agenda. Unless a faithful remnant begins to recognize and resist the neo-liberal strategy, evangelical churches and institutions will eventually succumb to rank liberalism, just as most of the mainstream denominations did a century ago.
FOUR LIBERAL TRENDS EVANGELICALS MUST RESIST
Read More: http://www.9marks.org/ejournal/neo-liberal-stealth-offensive