Evangelicalism’s New Face (Or, Learn A Lesson From The Coywolf)

By Dr. James P. Steel

The inevitable mashing of evangelicalism’s two strongest movements is well underway.   Unless we take extraordinary measures to warn and educate our children, there will be no turning back.

Evangelicalism is molting once again, and its new face is emerging while we sleep. The evidence is pervasive. Unless the Lord graciously opens our eyes we will soon see a composite expression of  evangelicalism meld into the one unified movement perfectly suited to complement the mystery of iniquity.  

While we slept a new culture was put in place.

Understand the general mood of our times. We see both evangelical and fundamental churches becoming saturated in the postmodern millennial mentality. The performance and mood driven millennial generation is increasingly incapable of separating fantasy from reality. Its distracted masses are becoming less capable of concentrating for long periods and have little inclination to embrace absolutes. It is a generation which has often masked these deficiencies by shoaling and flocking with “great” leaders, entertainers, or movements, be they in Hollywood, Washington, or in the church.  We have a duty to love and engage this distracted core. As God enables, we’ll soon post a Biblical Minute that offers genuinely helpful suggestions for engaging millennials.  Presently, we are simply acknowledging the issues which are influencing our canvass. 

While we slept, the landscape changed.

In a recent Bible conference a man of God who is the world’s most well known theological conservative suggested that there are three significant classifications of believers. In his words, we are witnessing two great revivals, and between them we see an evangelical “lawn” or “landscape” of churches in yet a third group.  In his words, there is the charismatic revival, there is the reformed revival, and there are the “need driven” emotionally centered, non expositional folks who make up the broad intervening landscape, mostly in small churches.  By both direct statement and implication he would have us believe that expositional teachers may only be found in his favored group, the reformed revival. [Those who wish to dig deeper into those comments are invited to consider the following link, noticing especially minutes 3:30 to 10:00 or thereabouts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYulTGso804.%5D  

That was a description of our present landscape. While this author personally would never use the term revival to describe the reformed and charismatic resurgences, he does concur that they represent two of our most dynamic evangelical  forces.  Further, to that aforementioned speaker’s shame, there remain millions (not thousands) of non reformed, non charismatics who have plenty of expositional churches among them.  Finally, while we would highly dispute that everyone else belongs in his suggested “landscape” group, we quickly agree that a large need-focused, biblically shallow movement does exist alongside the other two movements.  So, for our purposes we’ll let these three general groupings represent a good many evangelicals. Hold this thought.

While we slept a new hybrid moved into town!  

We’ll use a brief analogy to help us see how things are playing out.  Recently PBS aired a Nature episode focusing on the coywolf. The coywolf or eastern coyote is a well documented “hybrid” which has emerged as a result of the unheard of breeding between Canadian wolves and coyotes. This was a marriage of necessity as wolves and coyotes have long been supposed natural enemies.  Until recently the coyotes were seen as a food source only.  As wolf numbers decreased, coyotes re-entered their northern territories and, to everyone’s surprise, the depreciating wolf population mated with them. The end result has been a larger, stronger, more predatory, and more intelligent beast which is very capable of thriving almost unnoticed in populated areas. It represents a blend of the best survival traits of both wolf and coyote. This aggressive coy has now spread from coast to coast and is particularly at home in our neighborhoods! A few years ago we thought such a hybrid could be impossible. Most significantly, this happened before our very eyes without our notice!   

While we are certainly not representing anyone as wolves or coyotes, a new hybrid has arisen in evangelicalism which shares some unique parallels with the coywolf. Like the coywolf, this hybrid was thought impossible until just a few years ago, it is a marriage of supposed opposites, it has spread across our country at a rapid pace and has gone virtually unnoticed. Like the coywolf, it shares the strongest traits of both its parents. Unlike the remarkable coywolf, this hybridization is not of God.  

The father of this new offspring is the reformed resurgence and its mother is the charismatic resurgence. The result is the reformed charismatic movement. We’ll refer to it as the RCM.  While its origin was seen as early as 1965 and it became more observable in the 1970’s, it is now coming into its full blush, to the chagrin of both conservative reformed leaders and conservative charismatic leaders.   

Do not underestimate the size of this movement. While leaders such as Mark Driscoll and his fellow travelers openly claim to be in the RCM, the truth is that most mega-churches are so by default. Remember, mood always precedes open declarations. The unique identifiers of each separate group are both now openly welcomed and cultivated in their mega circles.  Great segments of evangelical Christianity are already morphing into this evangelical expression.  

Why this birthing seemed so impossible.  

Historically, blending reformed and charismatic theology, would have seemed less likely than mating a dog and a cat.

How then, is this marriage between reformed and charismatics coming about?

These are only very basic comparisons, but clearly, east was east and west was west, and never the twain would meet.  The wolf with its fearful howl and the coyote with its melodious night songs were worlds apart…or so we thought

First, understand that likes do attract. As the culture changed the new millennials began populating both reformed and charismatic camps.  This new blend was unlike their evangelical fathers who crossed doctrinal lines primarily for evangelistic purposes. The millennials were also unified by their love for music, performance, and evangelism. This millennial penchant for generational music and performance styles began dominating in both groups, simultaneously diminishing doctrinal distinctives. In fact, churches began overtly obscuring their roots and doctrinal views.Try to find what a church believes by its name! Keep in mind that millennials do want to be seen as doctrinally sound, but not as doctrinally divisive. Millennials rarely unify along doctrinal lines.  We moved doctrine down in our list of priorities, below evangelism, worship, and fellowship.  

Equally as important, millennials in both camps have replaced their truth filters.  Understand their dilemma. There is simply too much data and too much information to assimilate, (especially when we can devote so little time to it) and so we have reverted to shoaling and flocking around our perceived experts.  We want our profiles to identify with those “experts” whom we emulate and bask in their glow.  We want our vestigial doctrinal distinctives to be delivered in sound bytes that will not interfere with worship or fellowship. Reality now resides in image, not substance.  

Opposites also attract.  The cold objectivity for which the reformed have often been known has left a vacuum.  At the same time, what charismatic wants to be viewed as the emotional, non-thinking, face of Christianity?  In the RC movement, we can have a blend of opposites. We can make claims to the great theological footings of the church fathers, and still be as nurturing as a stay-at-home daddy in the nursery. Isn’t it time we brought these two extreme personas together?  In their world we can do this through common worship and celebration and we can do it in a palpable, community sensitive context.

There is no doubt in this pastor’s mind that the Reformed Charismatic Movement will be the dominant force in evangelicalism as it moves toward its final expression. And, in the end, it will morph in the direction of more “spirituality” and less biblical exposition than ever before.  But this dangerous hybrid is to be feared for more than its eventual contribution to the ecumenical movement.   

The Danger is Real 

Some may see this new offspring as a beautiful thing, combining the strengths of reformed thinking with the warmth and vitality of the charismatic movement.  The problem is that we have also amplified the negative trait of both parents.  This hybrid is more dangerous to the soul than either of the extremes it represents.   

If  reformed and charismatic theology were packaged and found together on the store shelf, we would assume they were exact opposites. However, we might miss the point that both packages contain the same active ingredients.  By noticing what these two movements have in common we can protect ourselves from some dangerous carcinogens. These ingredients are always found together.

First, there is the matter of works based thinking that nullifies the doctrine of pure biblical grace.  Both reformed and charismatic systems are pregnant with performance based thinking.  The Bible states simply and clearly, 

“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” – Romans 11:6.  The number one enemy of the church has been with us since the days of Paul. It is represented by those who would mix works back into the grace formula.  Paul rebuked the Galatians with the strong words: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” – Gal 3:3.  Salvation is by grace alone, (Ephesians 2:8,9) and sanctification is by grace alone.  Both function on the same faith dynamic. We are saved once and for all by appropriating the promise of God, and we are victorious in our Christian walk by the one and same process.  We appropriate the promises of God as we reckon ourselves already dead unto sin and alive unto God (Rom. 6:11).

Here is the short of it:  Works never produce grace. Grace always produces works. Victory is always the result of appropriating what God has provided.  The grace which saves us (Ephesians 2:8,9) is the grace which creates us unto good works (Eph. 2:10). Where grace does not abound, bondage in one form or another follows.  

The Calvinist says otherwise.  Of course, he believes grace saves, but in his mind, we are not saved simply by agreeing with God about our sin and appropriating His promise for salvation by faith.  The Calvinist says we must own the Lordship of Christ completely, we must surrender every aspect of our life to Christ completely, and count the cost  – before being saved. Not only are those acts impossible, they leave us hopelessly wondering if we really are one of God’s elect.  Have I repented enough?  And if I fall into sin and do not persevere for a given amount of time, was I really saved?  Any time we mix works into the grace formula we nullify grace. No pure Calvinist can say with absolute certainty that he is one of God’s elect because he does not know if he will fall. Thus he works to assure himself of his election.  Such a man is in bondage to fear.

The charismatic also says otherwise. Like the Calvinist he believes we are saved by grace through faith, but in his mind, grace is like an umbrella that we can step out from under. We can lose our salvation by sinning.  Again, we’re never told how much sinning this requires (and charismatics differ among themselves regarding this), but the majority of them agree, we can forfeit our salvation, our new life in Christ, our position in Christ, and our sonship by willful disobedience.  In short, though we are saved by faith we must maintain our salvation by works.

Friend, as long as you are wondering (with the Calvinist) if you really were saved, if you are really saved now, or (with the charismatic) if you may soon fall and lose your salvation, you are not basing your faith on the clear and certain promises of God.  You are in bondage to fear.  Satan wants you neutralized. He wants you to know how unqualified you really are.  Friend, your only merit is in Christ and in the righteousness He gives.  You can do nothing to qualify for it, keep it, or lose it.  When you fall into sin He will deal with you, but he will never forsake you.  Confess your sin and get on with claiming the promises of God and let the grace of God work through you and you will find true victory in Christ.

It’s time to come out!

Why is this hybrid so dangerous?  Because it has moved into our neighborhoods.  Further, these ingredients may be in your yard.  For instance, if your pastor says he is reformed in his soteriology (doctrine of salvation) but dispensational in his eschatology (doctrine of future events) you are pointing down a dangerous path toward a works based system. Five point Calvinism has been subtly imported into dispensational circles in both the Baptist and Bible church movements.  At the same time, if your church is known for its performance based ministry and the expositional teaching of God’s Word is secondary to that, you are in even deeper trouble.

The Bible has much to say about generational values and every generation is tested.  Your test, dear millennial, has to do with your willingness to let the Bible speak, to embrace it openly, to stand on the pure doctrines of God’s Word, and not to be swept along with highly popular generational values..

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