Of course, modern evangelicalism and liberalism are not identical. They have differing histories, traditions, customs, and so forth. As movements, they have compromised with worldliness in very different ways, and oddly enough, that particular difference reveals their internal similarities. Whatever the external distinctions, compromise driven by unbelief always ends up looking and smelling the same.
But first a few words about the word evangelical. In the Reformation, it was frequently a synonym for Protestants, and since that time historic or classical evangelicalism has had an honored position within the stream of historic orthodoxy. But within the last century or so, the situation has drastically altered. For various reasons, our evangelical institutions, magazines, colleges, seminaries, denominations, etc. have deteriorated into what I call modern evangelicalism, or modev for short.
When we hold modern evangelicalism and liberalism side by side, we see that the liberals have sought to imitate high culture, while evangelicals have pursued popular culture. Neither was interested in living out the cultural implications of the revealed faith; rather, they were both interested in adapting to some of the options already out there in the world of unbelief. The liberals wanted to imitate Philistine violin concertos and textual criticism while the modern evangelicals wanted to ape Philistine stress therapy. But the fact of adultery is not altered simply because a man pursues a Susie instead of a Connie.
Ironically, an emphasis on effective evangelism has been a rallying cry for both modern evangelicalism and liberalism. Because liberalism is now well advanced in years, and signs of senility are not lacking, it is hard for us to recall that liberalism used to have backbone and a great deal of energy. Liberalism used to be particularly strong in the missionary movement. Many of the compromises which destroyed the mainline denominations were introduced in the name of reaching the lost. Despite the current decline of the mainstream liberals, this rationale is still alive and well in evangelical churches. The rallying cry for compromised worship is still said to be the need for effective evangelism. That is why such worship is called “seeker friendly.”
A third point in common is a zeal for syncretism. As we saw in the first point, what the two movements chose to combine with the faith has varied considerably. But the fact that both groups seek to “build bridges, not walls” says it all. Modern evangelicals have shown a tremendous zeal to combine the faith once for delivered to the saints with pop psychology, pop music, and so on. This involves more than a willingness to imitate certain cultural trends; it is a strong desire to combine the tenets of the faith with lessons acquired elsewhere.
These reasons, taken together, should show us why the so-called “worship wars” are so important. Far from being a trifling debate over the mere style of music, the issues surrounding why we worship God the way we do are very important. In the providence of God, worship is the arena in which the evangelical church will compromise or not with the unbelieving culture around us. All the early returns indicate that enthusiastic compromise is the order of the day. This concern is far more than the opinion of aesthetic elites who disparage what D.L. Hart aptly calls worship with “four words, three notes, and two hours.” Much more is involved than a mere cultured opposition to the musically trite.
I have said numerous times that so many Christian institutions have gone liberal over the last century or more that one would think we would know what it looks like by now. But every morning is a brand new day, and all those icky happenings were long ago and far away. Weren’t they? No. The new forms of worship that have arisen in evangelical churches within the last generation should be treated as the newest form of high octane liberalism for many reasons.
Consider it this way. What form of theology emphasizes experience and sentiment over doctrine? What emphasizes feeling good over feeling right? What emphasizes God as one of us? What emphasizes a realm of experience that is neutral and can be employed however men decide it should be employed? What emphasizes the authority of the seeker over the authority of God?
Most contemporary worship songs would be appropriate to sing to your girl friend. Substitute “darling” for “Jesus” and the song still works. Try doing that with “Immortal, invisible, God only wise . . .” After a generation of singing such sentimental offerings to the Lord, He then becomes a girl friend, at least in the minds of those who worship. But there is a vast difference between the omnipresent God who is everywhere present and a girl friend who is “always there.”
Returning to the example of adultery, we need to distinguish genus from species. A married man may pursue any one of a hundred women, but the activity is always adultery. One of the hallmarks of encroaching liberalism has always been confusion of thought, and those being led astray get the details of this issue or that controversy tangled around their ankles.
In the same way, while the modern evangelical church is pursuing different things than were pursued in the heyday of liberalism, the chase is taking her far away from the Word. When we look at the modern evangelical church, we should be able to say, “There goes the result of a successful seduction.”