Unbelief devours people, and delights in it. Unbelief can consume one person, as an edible dainty from a passing tray, or, greedy as death, it can gulp them down by the pouch full — denominations, seminaries, publishing houses, families, and cities. Grendel, it is said, could grab thirty men at a time.
And just as unbelief loves to eat souls — the bitter and envious ones have the sweetest crackle — so also unbelief is utterly hostile to that which is indigestible to it. That indigestible reality is evangelical and living faith — the only kind of faith that God gives. Faith and unbelief can recognize one another instantly — by the smell, Scripture says — and this is why Haman was giving Mordecai the stink eye from the first time he saw him. Haman was descended from Agag, and Mordecai was descended from the house of Kish. There was some unfinished business there, and they both knew about it. They both displayed their lineage — Haman by filling up with helium of vanity, and Mordecai by not bending, by refusing obeisance to the helium man.
Like termites need wood, so also unbelief needs the structures of faith that a living faith once built. They can’t get at the wood when it is still alive and growing, but once the living truth has gone through the sawmill of accreditation and become a standardized two by four of truth — watch out. A brief review will make the point — just imagine Fuller sitting in on a few classes at Fuller Seminary, Carl Henry dropping in at CT after reading the three most recent issues, or Thomas Cranmer trying to make it through the homily of the most theologically-minded dyke in the diocese. The word “scene” comes to mind.
Unbelief does not announce its atheism all at once; the thing is done by gradations and creeping inches. A doubt here, a little nuance there, a creative reading or two, and the first thing you know, you are showing all the steadfastness and loyalty of a Franky Schaeffer.
For those who build organizations and institutions — and I am in that number — the most dangerous assumption in the world is to think that because it has your name associated with it, that it will somehow be given a bye in this particular single elimination tournament. My son Nate is perhaps a bit more cynical about this than I am, but not by much. His thesis is that in any meeting associated with any institution, if said meeting goes longer than half an hour, someone will make a proposal which, if implemented, will ruin everything.
I can say this much. I have never been associated with any institution — and there have been numerous faithful ones — where I could not see the development of unbelief’s prerequisites, the opening gambits of unbelief, or plain and manifest displays of that unbelief. This is why the motto of NSA is gleaned from Cotton Mather. “For the faithful, wars will never cease.”
Chesterton tells us that if we want to keep the same white post, we will have to keep changing it. Left unchanged, it will become the black post.
Unbelief drifts. Wisdom walks, and fights as it goes.