SOCIETY: Darkness At Noon: Part 1—A Post-Christian Age (051206)

SOCIETY: Darkness At Noon: Part 2—The Closing of the Postmodern Mind (051207)

SOCIETY: Darkness At Noon: Part 3—The Commission of a Post-Compliant Church (051208)

CHURCH: Sorry, Athanasius - It’s Not Over (Mohler)





SOCIETY: Darkness At Noon: Part 1—A Post-Christian Age (Mohler, 051206)


We are an affluent and comfortable people. We live in the midst of freedom as championed by those who established this nation and defined by successive generations, not only in terms of the originating vision of freedom, but now an ever-expanding understanding of liberty. We live in a time of prosperity; we live in a time of trouble. It all depends upon how you look at the world around us.


It is good for Christians to take some time to look at the trouble, for all around us are a darkening sky and gathering clouds. As we engage this culture and look at it honestly, we must sense that something has happened — and is even now happening — in our culture. These major shifts and changes will change everything we know about ministry in terms of the challenge before us and will draw out the reality of who the church is in the midst of a gathering conflict. Clouds are darkening.


We are no longer seeing the first signs of cultural trouble, but rather the indicators of advanced decay. The reality is that people now do not even know what they have lost, much less that they themselves are lost.


As a nation, we are living in the midst of an intense season of cultural, political, and moral conflict—that is no longer news. America has been through epic conflicts in the past, including a bloody civil war. Still, we must wonder if the worldview conflicts of our time may represent an even deeper conflict than those experienced in times past. We are living in a time of deep and undeniable trouble.


There is a sense, I think, in this culture that we are waiting for a signal for something to tell us which way we are going to go. Something is happening and about to happen. The landscape is changing, the skies are darkening—and this is something we know with a spiritual perception, a spiritual sense, a spiritual urgency. Something is happening that we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should see and understand. For we cannot say that we were not warned.


The prophet Joel declared: “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:30-32 ESV).


And, from the book of Hebrews: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29 ESV)


These passages describe a reality we might call darkness at noon. In these passages we confront a prophetic vision, a prophetic warning, and a haunting reality. Darkness at Noon—I borrow this title from Arthur Koestler. In 1941 he saw the Soviet Union in all of its horror and the Third Reich in all of its hateful fury, and he described this horrifying reality as darkness at noon. Our times are not the same as Koestler’s, nor are the particular challenges we face. Our central concerns and fears are not represented by totalitarian governments or foreign regimes that threaten world domination, but we must see a real and present threat on our horizon. We can hear the prophet Joel—we can hear him speak of the sun turned to darkness and the moon turned to blood on the great and awful day of the Lord. This is apocalyptic imagery—we know that. It is speaking of a judgment, of a day of the Lord that was near on Joel’s horizon, and yet distant on the horizon of the eschaton, when the Lord Himself shall come to judge the living and the dead.


The imagery of judgment in this passage — of the sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood — is a foreboding image that gives us in a graphic picture a sign of the times, and around us we can see a darkening sky that threatens a darkening sun. We can see darkness at noon on the dawn.


A central dimension of this reality is the dawning of a post-Christian age. History has been altered in so many ways in the twists and turns of human experience. But who could have expected that in our times we would see those nations that once were the cradle of Christianity become so secularized that they can only be described as post-Christian in composition, in culture, in theme, and in worldview and understanding? The post-Christian sense, the post-Christian theme, the post-Christian mentality of these cultures is such that we can look to the nations of Western Europe and see what a post-Christian culture begins to look like. We hear the language, we listen to the discourse, we see the laws, we hear the judgments, we watch the culture at work, and we realize that this is what a nation, a people, an ethnos, a generation that once knew Christianity but knows it no more, looks like and sounds like. This is how they live. And it is not just Europe.


Even as demographers, pollsters, and statisticians tell us how many Americans believe in God, and how many claim belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, still we can see the beginnings of a post-Christian mentality here in America. Look at the cultural elites—the political elites, the legal elites, the judicial, academic, and entertainment elites—look at them, and you will realize that they are largely post-Christian in their mentality.


The prophet Joel speaks of the “day of the Lord,” when the divine judgment would fall like a terrible and swift sword. In Joel 1, the prophet says, “The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the Land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.” (Joel 1:1-4 ESV)


This text speaks most directly of a crop, but it also points to a culture. Our culture has been savaged by locusts. What the cutting locust leaves, the swarming locusts eat. What the swarming locusts leave, the hopping locust takes. What the hopping locust leaves, the destroying locust destroys.


We can give evidence of this in individual words, each representing an individual loss. Consider what has happened to truth, to beauty, to dignity, love, and marriage. Consider what is even now happening in our midst. We are witnessing the dawn of a post-Christian age in our own times, in our own nation, in our own world, and among our own people. We can see the ravages that will come as the sacred things are profaned and trampled under foot. We see the evidence of this decadence and downfall in the culture—in art and music and literature. We are a people whose cultural and moral aspirations are indicated by the Neilson ratings and by the lowest common denominator of the entertainment industry. We are a nation, a people, entertained by a show called “Desperate Housewives,” by reality TV that celebrates the lowest and most base human instincts, and by entertainment that panders and is profane.


Look at what has happened to marriage and family. The idea of romantic love is now commonly reduced to lust. We have largely destroyed the purity of marriage. This central institution of civilization has been decried, denigrated, and even discarded. Marriage is under attack by those who would transform it into something it cannot be and never was, and truthfully never will be.


We see all of this and we wonder how it could have happened. And yet Scripture has told us that sinners love darkness rather than the light. Let me put it this way—in a truly post-Christian age, the saddest loss of all is a loss of the memory of what was lost. The saddest aspect of our dawning post-Christian age is that there is no longer even a memory of what was discarded and what was denied and rejected. Having lived for so long on the memory of Christian truth, without the substance of Christian truth, the culture now grows hostile to that truth.


Even the memory of what once was is now being lost in our generation. We are living in an age in which all constraints and restraints are to be thrown off—all in the name of the liberation that does not liberate, but enslaves. We are seeing the coming of a repressive post-Christian age that is packaged as an age of unprecedented liberty. We must name it for what it is — and be aware of what a challenge this represents for the believing church.


This is an edited transcript of an address given to the faculty and students of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.




SOCIETY: Darkness At Noon: Part 2—The Closing of the Postmodern Mind (Mohler, 051207)


The prophet Joel spoke of a day when the sun would be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood. This picture—besides giving us a glimpse of that terrible, coming Day of the Lord in judgment—is also a graphic picture of our own times. Even today, in the gathering clouds of our culture, we see darkness at noon.


One of the central realities of this darkness is the dawning of a post-Christian culture – and a central reality of our emerging culture is the closing of the postmodern mind. Something is happening to the worldview, the mentality, and the consciousness of this age. If we listen closely, we can hear something like the closing of a steel door — a solemn, cataclysmic slamming of a door. We have been watching the postmodern mind in its development, and it is now well developed. Not only do we see the themes of postmodernity taking hold of the larger culture, but we understand the challenge this pattern of thinking poses to Christian truth and Christian truth-telling. Tolerance is perverted into a radical secularism that is anything but tolerant. There is little openness to truth, and growing hostility to truth claims. Indeed, the postmodern mind has a fanatical, if selective, dedication to moral relativism, and an understanding that truth has no objective or absolute basis whatsoever.


The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida shaped the postmodern mind by arguing that the author of a text is effectively dead in terms of establishing the text’s meaning. One of the fathers of literary deconstructionism, his concept of “the death of the author” exerts a powerful influence on the culture at large. Derrida’s basically nihilistic philosophy suggested that texts mean nothing in themselves. In other words, it is the reader who comes to the text with meaning and determines what will be found within the text. The author is dead, Derrida proclaimed, and can no longer dictate by his totalitarian authority what the text means.


Even before Derrida’s death, new debates about deconstructionism arose in the academy. More significantly, these nihilistic philosophies have already filtered down into popular culture. Even now, for example, many of our judges are practicing deconstructionists, seeing the law not as what it was or what it was intended to be, but rather as a tool they can use for their own agenda of social engineering. In the elite institutions of American academia, deconstructionism is the order of the day. The text means what the professor says it means, and it eventually means whatever each student would have it to mean. The reader reigns supreme.


Unfortunately, deconstructionism has also found its way into many pulpits, sometimes in a hard, ideological form, but more often in a soft and seductive form. In the hard form of undiluted liberalism, it is simply the idea that this text, the Bible, may be a privileged text, but the authors are dead. Thus, it is now up to us to decide what it should mean, so we can turn the text on its head. And we can do so in the name of liberation, and freedom from oppression. We are no longer bound to the oppressive truth of the text because we can now twist the text to mean something it has never been understood to mean in the past – even the opposite of what the words and grammatical structure would seem to mean. In so doing, postmoderns seek to liberate themselves by deconstructing the text. After all, all the authors are dead.


Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that such a hermeneutic must also assume that the divine Author is dead. In its softer, subtler form, we find deconstructionism among some who would never consider themselves liberals, and who would even claim to have what they would characterize as a high view of Scripture. Yet when they encounter the text, they also deconstruct it. The biblical text, they argue, has to be understood in terms of our modern understanding. Modern psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and cultural studies have something to bring to the interpretation of the text, they argue, something to tell us which the human authors of Scripture missed. In other words, one may start with what it said, but now we ourselves can decide what it means.


In both its hard and soft forms, deconstructionism has filtered down to the popular culture, even to those who never heard of Jacques Derrida but have been nonetheless infected with this postmodern mentality and this subtle form of subversive relativism and subjectivism. You can hear Derrida in the discourse of adolescents in the mall. You can hear it in the conversation on the nightly news.


The closing of the postmodern mind is the opposite of what postmodernism claimed to be its aspiration. Postmodernism claimed that this new postmodern age—with the end of modernity, the demise of scientific objectivity, and the openness to new forms and understandings of truth—would lead to an opening of the mind. But as is always the case, the totalitarian opening of the mind always ends with the radical closing of the mind. There is nothing less tolerant than the modern ethos of tolerance. There is nothing less open than the modern idea of open-mindedness. In the darkening sky and the gathering clouds, we see the haunting closure of this supposedly open mind.


Sociologist Peter Berger reminds us that every single individual operates on the basis of plausibility structures — certain frameworks of thought that are necessary for our understanding of the world. For years, Berger and others have been telling us that the plausibility structures of most Americans have little, if anything, to do with biblical Christianity. The way most persons think about the world, the way they envision beauty, the way they conceive love, the way they understand authority and marriage and structure and principle and truth, all of these things are now basically secular in form. Not only so, but in recent years we have witnessed the acceleration of this secularism into something that is deeply dark, and increasingly nihilistic. What Karl Marx once promised would happen seems to be coming to fulfillment—all that is solid melts into air. In the world of postmodernism, all institutions are plastic, and all principles are liquid. We can reshape anything. Nothing is given. Nothing is objective.


We can take the family, for example, and we can melt it down and make it something else. In fact, we can turn it into an infinite number of liquid arrangements. We can take any institution, be it government or church, or marriage, or family, and we can make of it what we will. All principles are liquid, too. We can simply pour them out in a different way. Since there is nothing really there anyway, we can reconfigure any principle according to our desires. So we will reshape our entire worldview. We will shape our new philosophy. We will be humanity come of age, and we will do this in the name of liberation and tolerance and diversity—and open-mindedness. George Orwell never saw it so clearly, yet this is where we live. Openness becomes closedness. Freedom becomes bondage, and tolerance becomes intolerance.


The closing of the postmodern mind is not a pretty sight, nor is it friendly to human rights and human dignity. We can look to Europe, where the post-Christian age is already coalescing into a system of laws and a pattern of culture. Sweden, for example, already has imprisoned a Pentecostal pastor, Ake Green, for preaching a sermon in which he spoke of the sinfulness of homosexuality. He was recently acquitted of that “crime” by Sweden’s highest court, but the fact remains that he was arrested and convicted by a lower court – and the law remains in effect. Across much of Western Europe there is legislation in which it is can be considered a crime to speak of the sinfulness of any sexual lifestyle, and of homosexuality in particular.


In Belgium and the Netherlands, there are now official protocols for killing children and infants in hospitals. Euthanasia has advanced to the point that, in the Netherlands, the largest medical school in the country just reported that 31 percent of pediatricians have admitted to killing babies, and 45 percent of neonatologists have admitted to euthanizing infants—even without informing the parents that that is what happened to their child. And all this is done, of course, in the name of health, even in the name of compassion. Then along comes the Christian to say “We have a message about the dignity and sanctity of life,” and he is told to be quiet. We can say, “Well, that is Europe. That is a post-Christian future that is an ocean away.”


But even in the United States, we see all this coming together, and the clinched fist of a closed postmodern mind is increasingly evident. In 1995, for instance, a U.S. District Court judge in the state of Texas ruled against school prayer, afraid that some teenagers might in the course of their graduation ceremony actually mention the name of Jesus, or mention the name of God. When he handed down the ruling, the judge warned teenagers in the state of Texas, saying, “If any of you shall mention the name of Jesus or God, or any other deity, you will rue the day that you were born and will spend up to half a year in the Galveston jail.” That is not Arthur Koestler warning in Darkness at Noon of the Soviet Union in 1941. It is the United States of America in 1995. Legal observers may argue that this judge’s comments were not indicative of a universal trend, but is this truly reassuring?


In the state of California, those who would be foster parents are now required to pledge that they will say nothing that is in any way opposed to homosexuality or to any chosen sexual lifestyle. Effectively, that means that Christians can no longer be foster parents in the state of California. What a switch in ten years! Ten years ago, homosexual couples could not be foster parents in the state of California. Now it is the Christians – who would raise their children as Christians – who cannot be foster parents in that state.


A recently published book by Sam Harris entitled The End of Faith even claimed that faith itself is a form of terrorism, and that the United States can no longer afford its long cherished ideal of religions toleration and religious liberty. According to Harris, religious liberty is simply too dangerous in a world like this.


We need to take notice of these developments in order that we might understand the challenge we are about to face, because I fear that as evangelical Christians, we tend to swing like a pendulum between a naive optimism and a wrongful pessimism. In reality, we have no right to be either optimistic or pessimistic. To be either optimistic or pessimistic is to be deluded, and in some sense to deny the sovereignty of God. We cannot be pessimistic because Scripture tells us we are to be a people of hope. Of course, that does not mean that we are a naive and ignorant people of hope who close our eyes to the reality around us. No, we find a hope in something that is far more secure than anything this culture can secure.


But, on the other hand, we cannot be optimistic, either. Optimism is the message sent down from public relations. Optimism is the happy face that tells us with a chipper voice that everything is all right. Well, it is not all right, and everything will not be well, not in this age or in this life. We have no right to be optimistic, but we have no right not to be hopeful.


Evangelicals, sometimes demonstrating a nearly breathtaking naivete, swing between these pendulum extremes of pessimism and optimism, when Scripture calls us to reality. Be sober-minded, we are told. Gird up the loins of your thinking. Be ready, be alert, be watchful. Be a watchman on the wall. Have your eyes open. Be ready for action. This is our calling as Christians, even as the darkness gathers. We are to be the community of the open-eyed, the intellectually alert, the broken-hearted, and the resolutely hopeful. Pulling that off will take more than wishful thinking.


This is an edited transcript of an address given to the faculty and students of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.




SOCIETY: Darkness At Noon: Part 3—The Commission of a Post-Compliant Church (Mohler, 051208)


As the late Allan Bloom noted, a mind resolutely determined to be absolutely open is often, in actuality, quite closed. The closing of the postmodern mind will present a challenge for the church in this post-Christian age. Swirling worldviews and a reflexive relativism come together to form a mentality often closed to all substantive truth claims. Gathering clouds of darkness and the eclipse of truth present the believing church with a great challenge – will we surrender in a spirit of cultural compliance?

We must recognize that the church has been compliant for far too long, and if we are effectively to challenge the prevailing worldview of postmodern culture, the church must become a post-compliant people. What will it take for Christians in this generation to be awakened out of complacency and compliance? If we are complacent in this culture, if we are compliant in the face of its demands and expectations, then there will be no preaching of the gospel. There will be no authentic church. There will be no authentic Christian witness. We will withdraw into our Christian cave, and we will cower there. We will not witness, we will not work—we will simply retreat.


A recent debate between Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff is very revealing. In a book entitled Religion in the Public Square, Robert Audi takes the secular argument—which is the prevalent position in the academy—and argues that Christians have no right to make Christian arguments in the public square. It is fine for Christians to make arguments, he says; they just cannot show up as Christians. Following in the work of the philosopher John Rawls, Audi goes so far as to say that when we enter the public square, we must bring with us a purely secular rationale. In other words, any argument we make must be essentially and purely secular, and such arguments are to be motivated by secular concerns alone. They cannot even be spiritually motivated.


Think about what this means on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual marriage, to take just one example. I believe historians will one day point to this issue as the catalyst for a great and lamentable cultural revolution in America. The world will be categorically different the moment homosexual marriage is normalized in this country. Then we will find out how many Christians there are. We will find out how many churches there are. Who is going to recognize these same-sex unions? Who is going to solemnize these same-sex unions? Not the faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Any church that would normalize and celebrate what Scripture condemns has set itself in direct opposition to revelation, reason, and the witness of the martyrs. Those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel did not do so in a spirit of cultural compliance.


Think for a moment about this issue of same-sex marriage in the context of Audi’s secular rationale. I was in Washington recently and heard a presentation in which a very well-informed person—one of the nation’s leading researchers on the issues of the day, said, “Look, we have to understand that we are not going to be able to bring God into the same-sex marriage debate. We are not going to be able to use spiritual and biblical arguments, so you Christian people are just going to have to understand that.” I was up next to speak, so I said in response, “Here is everything I know about marriage apart from God – nothing of binding significance. Now that that is out of the way, I can tell you that everything I know about marriage, everything I know about sex, everything I know about gender, everything I know about homosexuality, I know from the Word of God. That is all I know. That is all I can know, and I am not going to not talk about it. And if we lose this battle while preaching the Scriptures, then brothers and sisters, we lose gloriously!”


There are many who will say that what must be pressed in this debate over same-sex marriage are the deleterious social effects of undermining marriage – and leave all theologically-based arguments out of the picture. That argument, however, is not only wrong in principle, it is a pragmatic failure. We will never get anywhere with that, because the people driving the movement for normalizing homosexuality really aren’t primarily concerned about those issues. A culture that will compromise itself into accepting homosexual marriage will never really be convinced by such arguments. In the final analysis, all we have is the authority of the Word of God. We Christians are the world’s most eccentric people in a postmodern age. We are committed to a faith that is structured by a book that is two thousand years old. Beyond eccentric, we are increasingly seen as dangerous. A people who live by the light of an ancient book – and who dare to call it the very Word of God – will look exceedingly dangerous to the prevailing worldviews of this age.


The entire biblical truth claim is under assault in today’s culture. We see the tightening grip in the tenacity of all this onslaught. We see a culture that increasingly loves darkness rather than the light. We can see the logic of the culture, and we can see that the church has been compliant too long. Thus, when we turn to Hebrews chapter 12, we are confronted with an exhortation that instructs is that the reality must be different for us. The prophet Joel warned of that apocalyptic day of judgment that is coming—a day when the sun will turn to darkness and the moon will be turned to blood. In Hebrews 12, we are confronted with another warning of judgment—this time addressed to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews writes of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. One represents the covenant of old, and the other represents the New Covenant in Christ. Sinai represents thunder and shaking and fear; Zion represents the festive joy of the people of God in the work of Christ, in the Kingdom of the Redeemer.


In this passage, we are also told of a shaking that is about to come. In Hebrews 12:26, the author quotes from the prophet Haggai in chapter 2, verses 6-7: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.’” Then the writer of Hebrews picks up by saying. “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)


We are now in a time of shaking, and there is more shaking yet to come. As we read the book of Hebrews, this too is pointing towards an eschatological shaking and sifting. But just as in Joel, there is both an eschatological and a present application. There is a shaking now happening in this generation, and this shaking will be followed by more and more violent shaking yet. We are about to see what remains and what falls. In this time of shifting and sifting and shaking, we are going to be tested, and we are going to find out what we are made of.


Look at Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Yes, there is a whole lot of shaking going on! But there is one kingdom that cannot be shaken, and that is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.


What does that kingdom look like? It is certainly a kingdom of victory, but it is sometimes a victory that doesn’t look to observers like victory. Look at Hebrews 11:32: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:32-38)


I think it is fair to say that to the casual, outside observer, this picture does not look much like victory. But in the eyes of faith, it doesn’t get any more victorious than what this passage declares. We don’t get to choose our times. We don’t get to choose our challenges. We didn’t choose to live in a post-Christian age. We didn’t choose to confront the postmodern mind, but this is where we are, and it is time that we become a post-compliant church. While all is shaking and shaken around us, the one thing that cannot be shaken is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this kingdom is visible in His church.


In a post-Christian age, confronted with the challenge of the postmodern mind, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a post-compliant people. Anything less is just another form of spiritual surrender.




CHURCH: Sorry, Athanasius - It’s Not Over (Mohler)


“Today heresy and orthodoxy have changed roles,” remarked Harold O. J. Brown. “It is fashionable, not dangerous, to be a heretic, and dull if not unsafe to be orthodox.”


The truth of Brown’s observation is evident as mainline Protestantism continues its slide into doctrinal oblivion. Over the past century, virtually every essential doctrine of the Christian faith has been denied by liberal theologians and church leaders, usually without sanction. Yet, difficult as it seems, we can still be shocked.


One of the latest scandals concerns the United Church of Canada, a denomination formed in 1925 through the union of Canadian Congregationalists, Methodists, and the majority of Canadian Presbyterians. Given the ecumenical nature of the union, theological precision has never been a denominational virtue for the United Church, which boasts that “there is a wide latitude of personal interpretation enjoyed by both lay members and professional ministers.” The church is about to decide just how wide a latitude it will allow.


The current controversy concerns the theological denials of the Rev. Bill Phipps, who is, of all things, the recently elected moderator of the church. Soon after taking the denomination’s highest office, Phipps granted an interview with the Ottawa Citizen and promptly denied the central doctrines of the Christian faith. In the interview and subsequent comments, Phipps denied the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the existence of heaven and hell, and, most directly, the deity of Christ.


“I don’t believe Jesus was God,” said Phipps, “but I’m no theologian.” On his last point virtually all will agree, but, theologian or no theologian, the moderator is a heretic. He continued, “I don’t believe Jesus is the only way to God. I don’t believe he rose from the dead as scientific fact. I don’t know whether these things happened. It’s an irrelevant question.” Well, this may be an irrelevant question to Rev. Phipps, but it is a question central and essential for the Christian Church.


The moderator seems to ask some questions of his own, but they are questions rooted in disbelief of clear biblical teaching. “I have no idea if there is a hell. I don’t think Jesus was that concerned about hell. He was concerned about life here on earth. Is heaven a place? I have no idea.”


A firestorm of sorts followed Phipps’ denials, and the controversy raged through the Christmas season and right into the new year. Phipps issued an official statement shortly after his notorious interview, and apologized “that the way my faith has been conveyed to you has hurt or damaged some of you.” Of course, it was not the moderator’s faith that scandalized but his denial of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.


His apology - for hurt feelings rather than for heresy - left the moderator unrepentant. In a statement breathtaking for its absurdity, Phipps claimed “I believe my faith is well rooted in Scripture and Christian tradition, although it is not frozen in the language of early creeds, for example.” Not frozen? Phipps version of Christianity is an absolute melt-down of conviction. “People have to realize that within our church there’s a wide range of faith convictions,” Phipps explains, evidently claiming room for unfaith convictions as well.


How has the church responded? Evangelicals are outraged, and have accused the moderator of standing outside both the Bible and the denomination’s statement of faith. Their outrage, however, has been lost on the United Church’s bureaucracy. The church’s General Council stood behind the moderator, noting that “Rarely, if ever, do we use doctrinal standards to exclude anyone from the circle of belonging.” Evidently, the doctrinal standards of the United Church of Canada are there for the taking or the leaving-even for the moderator.


Marion Best, the previous moderator, was absolutely bursting with excitement. “It’s quite exciting to hear the United Church think like this,” she said, adding that Phipps “is moving us into a serious discussion of who Jesus Christ is.”


Just what does Phipps believe about Christ? “I believe that Christ reveals to us as much of the nature of God as we can see in a human being. . . . The whole concept of the nature of God is wider and more mysterious than could be expressed in Jesus.” Well, this is strange language for a minister who claims that his beliefs are “well rooted in Scripture.” The Apostle Paul instructed the Colossian church that Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” It was the Father’s good pleasure, Paul explained, that “all the fullness” would dwell in Christ, and “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Perhaps Paul didn’t attend the same seminary as Rev. Phipps.


The Phipps controversy is just one more milestone in the theological collapse of the liberal churches. His heresy is no longer remarkable in itself - but we are shocked by the boldness with which he launched his attack upon the faith as the moderator of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination. The true scandal is in the church’s refusal to deal with the heresy and call the moderator to account. This doctrinal cowardice indicates just how far the church has fallen, and how empty its confession now stands.


The time will soon come when the last evangelical Christians will turn the lights out on the United Church and shake the dust from their feet. Undoubtedly, they will have to ask themselves how they stayed in so long. A church which will not defend the true deity as well as the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ is no longer a church at all - whatever it may claim for its name.


Athanasius, the great bishop theologian who opposed the Arian heretics in the fourth century, triumphed over the heresy at the Council of Nicaea with the clear declaration that the Christian faith required the affirmation of Christ’s divine and human natures, without dilution or division. Just a few years later, the heresy was back, and Athanasius wrote in despair to a colleague: “I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the synod which was held at Nicaea.” Sorry, Athanasius, it wasn’t stopped, and will not be until the Lord returns. In the meantime the church must contend for the faith - even against its moderators.