Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
“And the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
They could be right! Erwin Lutzer and John DeVries, that is, in their fourfold explanation of Satan’s strategy to deceive the nations (see SB Jan. 1, 2004). The question is: how could the mainline Protestant churches of the West be duped into accepting these strange Eastern ideas? One might be able to understand that the secular West would be receptive, or at least tolerant, of these strange Eastern ideas, but surely not those in the tradition of the great Protestant Reformation? Impossible! How can these things be?
James Herrick, Professor of Communication at Hope College, believes this has happened because,
Pluralism has come to dominate the Western religious scene in the past thirty or so years. The pluralistic perspective affirms that all religions provide unique insights into the transcendent and reflect a similar human longing for the divine. In addition, pluralism insists that no single faith can make an exclusive claim to truth and that there is no superior spiritual perspective from which other perspectives can be assessed. 1
Herrick’s evaluation rings true; especially when one considers that more and more it is claimed that all religions are just different ways to worship the same God. Less and less is there room these days for theological exclusivism, that is, the idea that there really is only one way of salvation. Herrick goes on to suggest that current religious pluralism is unified by an emphasis on mystical experiences. Whereas in the past, Western Protestantism was rooted in actual history as expressed in the infallible Word of God, now it is open to subjective religious experience as its foundation of truth. Evidence for this turn-about in religious thinking can be found in some startling statistics that demonstrate that an increasing number of evangelical youth reject the concept of absolute truth. According to a poll that was taken, in 1991 52% of these young people said there was no absolute truth. This increased to 62% by 1994, 78% by 1999, and 91% by 2002. If this is indicative of Western Protestant belief, little wonder, then, that relying on experience now dominates. If there is no absolute truth, we are left to depend on ourselves and what we experience as the basis for our decision-making. The following example illustrates the point:
…A Reformed Baptist minister in England was invited to speak at a Christian Union house-party weekend. On arrival he was informed that a young lady had claimed that the Lord had appeared the previous day and told her personally that she was to be the main speaker that weekend.
When the issue was put to a vote, most of the students voted in favor of the young lady. The visiting minister did not return home, but awaited the outcome. At the first session the young lady began, but in less than three minutes dried up.
Heads turned to see if the visitor was still present and available. He was. The rest of the weekend went according to the original plan.2
That religious experience has trumped the historical revealed Word of God as the rule for the faith and life on much of Western Protestantism is abundantly clear. Consider very briefly a few examples. In Pentecostal circles, speaking in tongues and the performance of miracles are the important thing. In the Toronto movement “holy laughter” and/or the making of animal sounds during worship works. In the Episcopal Church (and others) practicing homosexuals are fine—even in the priesthood. From many pulpits women preach because they have “felt” the call. On many an elders’ and deacons’ bench women sit because there they can best use their perceived God-given gifts. It doesn’t seem to matter what Scripture says about these practices; as long as it feels good, is fulfilling, is fun, or attracts people it must be okay.
Taking Leave of History
If Herrick is right in his assessment, namely, that “Pluralism has come to dominate the Western religious scene,” and what unifies religious pluralism is its emphasis on mystical experiences, the obvious question that follows is: how did this happen? Herrick’s answer is that Western Christianity is “taking leave of history.” He writes, “…while not denying the validity of individual experience, advocates of the Revealed Word perspective have always insisted on history—not individual experience—as the ground (emphasis mine, c.k.) of religion.”3 Herrick goes on to explain why this is so important:
Should history ground spirituality, as the Revealed Word tradition has insisted? Or should myth, allegory and private spiritual experience—each cut free from external events—provide the basis of our religious commitments? We might say that the advantage and the risk of basing spirituality on history are the same—the possibility of proof and disproof. Vulnerability to historical scrutiny imports openness and candor. When a religious claim can be examined, tested, subjected to critical review, the public being asked to accept the claim is at the very least invited to participate rationally in a process of choice. When, on the other hand, a claim cannot be tested or subjected to any of the ordinary tests of truthfulness, we are left with no recourse but to trust the probity (integrity, c. k.) of the claimant….
Does spirituality need history? The Revealed Word tradition has always answered yes; the New Religious Synthesis says no.4
All of which begs a deeper question: if Western Protestantism really has to some extent taken leave of history, how did that come about? The obvious answer is that Western Protestantism has compromised with evolutionary theory on the historicity of the Genesis account of creation. This was done by accepting the notion that Genesis merely informs us that God created, but it does not tell us how God created. That fatal concession has had devastating consequences:
It is tragic to realize that Western Europe rapidly changed from an area of strong Protestant faith to its present-day paganism. The cause was not evolution by itself, but Christians compromising to make Scripture fit evolution….
Causes have effects. As Ed Wharton notes, “Any view of these chapters in Genesis other than authentic history will necessarily regard the genealogies and the tracing of the messianic seed-line as unhistoric and unimportant. This will eat away at trust in God’s Word and cause faith’s fire to go out.”5
Sad to say, these faith-quenching compromises to evolutionary theory were not confined to Europe. Rev. Mark L. Shand traces in some detail the history of these compromises by Presbyterian and Reformed churches both in Europe and America (Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, November, 2002; April, 2003; November, 2003).
ncession on the part of theologians to the demands of geology that the crust of the earth required a great deal of time for its formation. For a while there was a measure of peace between the theologians and the geologists. However, that peace did not last, because geology began to make further concessionary demands. It soon became apparent that the problem presented by geology was not just the need for long periods of time, but there were also issues concerning sequence…. Therefore, theologians felt compelled to develop a further theory that would accommodate the new demands of geology. Geology was a demanding taskmaster, and the theologians became her compliant servants.6
The demands of evolutionary science at the expense of the historicity of Scripture continue. This can be seen from an article by Prof. David Engelsma titled, “Pulling the Plug on the Flood.” He writes, “From the science department of Calvin College have come, in quick succession, two violent assaults upon the foundation of the Christian faith in Genesis 1-11. Howard Van Till demolished the historicity of the creation-account. Now Davis Young has undermined the historicity of the account of the flood.”7 From a quote in the Grand Rapids Press concerning his rejection of intelligent design, it appears that Van Till has developed in his errors:
We will experience God as creator better by learning to see the need for God, the action of God, in everything that the creation is gifted to do. I don’t think we should look for evidence of the creator’s action in what the universe is unable to do, but rather in the remarkable things it has been gifted to accomplish.8
Two things from the above quote nearly jump off the page. In the first place it appears that our “experience” trumps history in Van Till’s perspective on origins, and in the second place, for Van Till what “the creation is gifted to do” overrules what God has done. One is hesitant to place Van Till in the Eastern camp, but his ideas are a better fit with Eastern mysticism or what Herrick calls the “New Religious Synthesis” than with the “Revealed Word tradition.”
Some Lessons for Issachar
All of which should lead modern-day Issachar to sit up and take notice. That this has happened to others in Western Protestantism should be warning enough that we are not immune. Satan’s temptations are often deceiving and attractive, even for Issachar. C. S. Lewis warned of this over 40 years ago when he wrote his classic book The Screwtape Letters. There the demon Screwtape teaches Wormwood how to lead men astray.
Keep his mind off the plain antithesis between true and false…. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the new Psychology, Christianity and the New Order…. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.9
Isn’t that exactly what is going on in the whole creation-evolution debate in the Protestant churches? All of the attempts to reconcile creation with evolution (the gap theory, the theistic evolution theory, the age-day theory, the framework theory, etc.) are in Lewis’ words attempts at substituting “for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.” It doesn’t seem to matter that Genesis 1 does tell man how God created, Christians in general and Christian scientists in particular continue to compromise on this in exchange for perceived respect from the scientific community.
Strikingly, not all in the scientific community are sufficiently impressed. Tom McIver, writer of anti-creationist articles and books, condemns Christians for trying to make Genesis fit evolutionary science. He writes: “Each (theory, c.k.) …involves critical compromises with the plainest, most literal reading of the Bible to force Scripture into concordance with scientific evidence regarding the age of the earth.”10 Another secular humanist, A. J. Mattill, concurs: “Many creationists have taken the dishonest way of lengthening the days into millions of years, but the creationists make it clear that such an approach is nothing but a makeshift and is unacceptable Biblically and scientifically….”11
Compromising with evolutionary science has serious consequences. Not only is the historicity of Scripture undermined, at bottom its clarity, reliability, and inspiration are also at stake. Which leaves Western Christianity with no more to offer than Eastern mysticism. Both are left with man’s beliefs and experiences as the basis of their religion. Which means, of course, that Christianity becomes just another belief system in the whole cartel of world religions.
But there is another temptation for Issachar in this regard. Many in the Christian, science community (Institute for Creation Research, for example) seem most interested in proving that God created the heavens and the earth. Consequently their emphasis is on what can be discovered in the creation to support their belief in creation, rather than approaching the whole issue from Scripture’s perspective. The Bible is clear: “Through faith (emphasis c.k.) we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). So let us be clear as well: neither creation nor evolution can be proved. Both are based on faith. The one is a faith rooted in man. The other is a faith rooted in God. The ultimate consequence of belief in one or the other is expressed in this simple yet profound way by Prof. Herrick, “People who have a God do not need to become one themselves.”12
Understanding these times would seem to be depressing for Issachar: both Western civilization in general and Western Protestantism in particular appear to be under the growing influence of Eastern paganism. Yet, for “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14), opportunity knocks. Against this backdrop of spiritual darkness lies opportunity for the light of truth to shine more brightly. Thus Issachar has the privilege of knowing and presenting the message of hope in an increasingly dark world.
Sons of Issachar, let us continue to grow in our understanding of the times and live.
1.James A. Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003) pp. 227-228.
2.Peter Bloomfield, “Ongoing revelation?” Evangelical Times February, 2003: 29.
3.Herrick, p. 252.
4.Herrick, pp. 252 & 257
5.Fred Wilson, “Compromises and Consequences: The Genesis Account,” Impact January, 1994: 3-4.
6.Mark L. Shand, “In the Space of Six Days (2),”Protestant Reformed Theological Journal April, 2003: 24.
7.David J. Engelsma, “Pulling the Plug on the Flood,” The Standard Bearer 15 September, 1995: 511.
8.Matt VandeBunte, “Scientist debunks intelligent design bill,” The Grand Rapids Press 8 November, 2003: B3.
9.C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1978) 43-44, pp. 115, 116.
10.Tom McIver, “Formless and Void: Gap Theory Creationism,” Creation/Evolution XXIV, Volume 8, Number 3, 1988.
11.A. J. Mattill, “Three Cheers for the Creationists,” Free Inquiry Vol. 2, Spring 1982) pp. 17, 18.
12.Herrick, p. 28.