March 15, 2011

R C Sproul on the myth of bridge building... er... influence [ADDED podcast link]

I was sent some good stuff by R C Sproul this morning which got me googling for some writings of W Robert Godfrey.

Robert Godfrey recently made an appearance on Westminster Seminary's Office Hours
An excellent podcast.

an article here by Godfrey:
The Myth of Influence

some snippets from this excellent post by Godfrey (all emphases added):
For a long time, I have felt that the cause of biblical Christianity has been undermined in our time by sincere people who engage in unbiblical activities for the sake of being an influence. The sad and ironic result of those actions has been harm to the cause of Christ and little or no good influence has actually occurred. The myth of influence seduces Christians into believing that by compromising important theological truths more people can be influenced for Christ.
Now I am not opposed to the idea of trying to be an influence. The Christian community should not isolate itself from discussion with anyone or from common action with non-Christians where the faith is not compromised. Christians should hope, pray, and work to be a godly influence wherever they can in this world. Christians need to recognize that certain kinds of compromise can be appropriate. Christians and non-Christians can unite to oppose abortion, for example. And Baptists, Reformed, and Lutherans can join the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to promote some basic truths of the Reformation.
The danger comes, however, when Christians adopt a notion of influence derived from the world of politics or business. That world sees influence in relation to power, money, numbers, and success. Compromise, cooperation, and intentional ambiguity are all methods used to achieve influence in this world. But should Christians adopt strategies and set goals that compromise basic elements of their faith in the name of influence?
He then traces the course of compromise that occurred in the life of Billy Graham.  In doing this he makes a very compelling case against compromise.
Many other examples of the myth of influence could be mentioned. The church growth movement, for example, has eviscerated Christian worship in the name of evangelism. On a smaller scale, think of a pastor praying in public and not using the name of Jesus so as not to give offense. But the baleful effects of the myth of influence are everywhere.
What leads so many evangelicals to accept the myth? Part of the motivation is the American fascination with respectability, success, and numbers. But such attitudes actually show that American evangelicals have never really left behind their nineteenth century postmillennialism. They still with great optimism look forward to the restoration of the "Evangelical Empire" of the last century. They dream of being again the "mainstream" of American religion and culture as they were before the rise of liberalism and the immigration of Roman Catholics.
An even deeper cause of the attraction of the myth of influence, however, is theological. Evangelicals who succumb to the myth of influence do so in part because of their own flawed theology. They have developed theologies which depart from the rich biblical theologies of the Reformation.

Some evangelicals have embraced the myth of influence out of an Arminian view of salvation. Since salvation ultimately depends on the consent of the free will, many theological compromises are justified in order to gain a hearing and move the unbeliever. Other evangelicals are motivated by a defective doctrine of the church. They see the church, not as an essential institution in God's economy founded on and regulated by his Word, but as a helpful support group for the individual Christian in his walk of faith.

Some contrasting gems from Rick Warren:

Rick Warren
Are u WILLING to be judged & even slandered by religious folk in order to build bridges of love to unbelievers? Jesus was!

Sure he was, Rick.

This myth is what prompts good teachers to tell us that Rick Warren is a brother with whom we can charitably dialogue, despite our disagreements with him. 

R.C. Sproul from his book Willing to Believe, pp. 19-20:
Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminar in Escondido, California, recently suggested that I write a book about “the myth of influence.” I was startled by the suggestion because I did not know what he meant. He explained that this phrase refers to the modern evangelical penchant to “build bridges” to secular thought or to groups within the larger church that espouse defective theologies.

The mythical element is the na├»ve assumption that one can build bridges that move in one direction only. Bridges are usually built to allow traffic to move in two directions. What often happens when we relate to others is that we become the influences rather than the influencers. In an effort to win people to Christ and be “winsome,” we may easily slip into the trap of emptying the gospel of its content, accommodating our hearers, and removing the offense inherent in the gospel. To be sure, our own insensitive behavior can add an offense to the gospel that is not properly part of it. We should labor hard to avoid such behavior. But to strip the gospel of those elements that unbelievers find repugnant is not an option.

Martin Luther once remarked that wherever the gospel is preached in its purity, it engenders conflict and controversy. We live in an age that abhors controversy, and we are prone to avoid conflict. How dissimilar this atmosphere is from that which marked the labor of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. The prophets were immersed in conflict and controversy precisely because they would not accommodate the Word of God to the demands of the nation caught up in syncretism. The apostles were engaged in conflict continuously. As much as Paul sought to live peaceably with all men, he found rare moments of peace and little respite from controversy.

That we enjoy relative safety from violent attacks against us may indicate a maturing of modern civilization with respect to religious toleration. Or it may indicate that we have so compromised the gospel that we no longer provoke the conflict that true faith engenders.

(all emphases added)

Dr John Macarthur on the myth of influence at Ligonier 2003
The Power and the Glory: 2003 National Conference  Message 9 "The Myth of Influence"

The Power and the Glory: 2003 National Conference  Message 13, "The Myth of Influence" (Part 2):