Fighting the New WarPosted in Articles
Dr. Dan Hayden •
Continuing to fight battles that are over is an exercise in futility. A number of years ago, after the Second World War, there were reports from an island in the Pacific that a pocket of Japanese soldiers had been found who were still fighting the war. They had somehow been overlooked by the Japanese military and had not been informed that the conflict had ceased. They were fighting a war that no longer existed. Their sincere efforts were no longer relevant.
In some measure, that is a picture of some groups in the Christian church who are still fighting the battles of the past. They are sincere in their efforts, but time has passed them by and they are no longer dealing with relevant issues. I have heard it said that much of the evangelical church is ten years behind in their understanding of the crucial issues of the day.
The reason for this tends to be two-fold. First, the church has a tendency to isolate itself in its concern for spiritual purity. The moral decline in our culture and the humanistic emphasis in our institutions have effectively cloistered the church behind the walls of its fortress mentality. Second, there is obviously a greater comfort level in repeating the traditions of the past, rather than venturing into the uncharted waters of new challenges and fresh thought. As a result, the church is often more concerned with protecting itself than engaging the enemy. Therefore, it fails to notice that the enemy has a new disguise and is now boasting weapons of mass destruction.
America is no longer fighting Germans of the Third Reich, North Koreans, North Vietnamese, or Iraqis of the Middle East. Hopefully, we have learned great lessons from these conflicts that will benefit us in times to come. But there is now a new enemy, which is different from all of the others. It is the enemy of terrorism. This war has demanded new understanding, new tactics, and a new measure of wisdom.
In like fashion, the church is facing the new enemy of postmodernity and the systematic erosion of our foundations. It is actually an old enemy with a new disguise, but the arsenal of old arguments will not suffice. It is not that the Word of God has changed, or that the traditions of the past are meaningless. It’s just that the devil is cleverly deceptive and is always devising new and menacing perversions of the truth. Therefore, the church needs a new understanding of the enemy, new strategies of response, and fresh wisdom to apply the old truth in a new way.
The fact remains, if we don’t engage the enemy on the front where he is currently attacking, we have not engaged him at all.
BATTLES OF THE PAST
There have always been battles to fight throughout the history of the church. The Apostle Paul encountered serious threats to the Gospel in Judaistic legalism and Corinthian licentiousness. As time went on the Gnostic heresy become prominent, and then came the Montanists and the Docetists and a host of other challenges. In every generation, Christians have had to contend for the truth and stand against error.
The Reformation was a particularly brutal time as men like John Wycliffe, John Hus, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Zwingli and Calvin raised their voices against a corrupt system. Moral degradation among the clergy and doctrinal perversion that mutilated the Gospel were key elements in the battle of their times. Their faithfulness in that war insured for generations to come that the truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone would be preserved.
My father fought great battles, too. He was a fundamentalist who stood strong against the tide of modernism, which was chipping away at the foundations of orthodoxy. He participated in the great secessions of conservative groups from their liberal counterparts, and raised his voice in opposition to the destructive practices of the World Council of Churches. He was greatly concerned about cooperative efforts in evangelism that naively courted liberal churches in what was known as Inclusivism. And he was adamantly opposed to neo-evangelicalism. He was a great warrior who stood for the faith, and I admired him greatly.
The times were changing, though, as I entered the ministry. Those battles were diminishing and, indeed, the very terms—fundamentalist, evangelical, and liberal—were losing their significance. Distinctions were now blurred and the ecumenical spirit had gone beyond inclusivism and tolerance, to pluralism (which assumes that everybody is right, though different). Cultural and doctrinal diversity were simply seen as variations on a single truth, and what had once been a matter of tolerance had now morphed into full acceptance and affirmation. I was being told that it was no longer enough to tolerate alternate views of thought, I now had to affirm them. Evangelicals and Catholics Together was the new issue, and Charles Colson, J. I Packer, and Bill Bright were my new antagonists.
In the mid 90’s, I attended several Reformation conferences at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where men like James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John Armstrong, and Michael Horton were calling for a new Reformation. They had drawn up the battle lines with the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) and had organized themselves by establishing the ACE (Association of Confessing Evangelicals) with a document of war called “The Cambridge Declaration.” I was sympathetic toward their cause and energized by their ideas. As a Baptist teaching in a Baptist school, I found myself being drawn to the Presbyterians in their fight for the truth. Then John Woodbridge of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School brokered a truce between the ECT and the ACE and the war was over. The battle was changing again.
THE NEW ENEMY
The United States has a new enemy unlike any it has ever encountered before. It is well funded, hard to pin down, boasting of its capabilities, and entrenched within every major country of the world. The events of September 11 woke us up to the reality of this enemy living among us while plotting against us. We made a decision which we should have made a long time ago, to understand this enemy and eradicate it from the world. Former enemies (like Russia) are now our allies. We are now fighting the new war.
In similar fashion, there is an enemy among us in the Christian church that is ubiquitous in the world. It goes by many names, but we know it commonly by the term “postmodernity.” It is also well funded, hard to pin down, and boasting weapons of mass destruction. In the end of the age, Satan is reaching the zenith of his perverted genius, and we in the church of Jesus Christ need to wake up to the fact that we are under siege. Former enemies are becoming our allies as co-belligerents in this conflict. We are no longer fighting the battles of the past. It is a new day and a new war.
UNDERSTANDING THE “NEW ENEMY”
My father fought his battle with the modernists. They had attacked the central doctrines of the faith, but they did it with conventional warfare. They used logic and sought to substantiate their arguments with reasoned responses from research and literary/historical sources. My Dad and the fundamentalists did the same. It was all-out-war, but the rules of engagement were well understood and accepted by both sides of the conflict.
Postmodernity, however, is something beyond the fundamentalist battles with modernism. The rules have changed and the weapons are unconventional. Truth is no longer anchored to matters of reason and objective sources. Figuratively, truth has experienced liftoff and is now floating in mid-air. It is now possible to make truth whatever you want it to be. The answer no longer matters as long as you feel good about the response. There is, in fact, no objective truth and no standard by which to determine error. I’m right and you’re right, even though we hold to mutually exclusive ideas. Nothing else matters, except our willingness to affirm each other in our individual path of truth. According to the rules of the game, the only thing I am not allowed to do is to say that you are wrong.
This is the underlying philosophy behind pluralism—the notion that we are all right. The Buddhist is right, the Hindu is right, the Moslem is right, and the Christian is right. Ecumenism has given birth to its ultimate child and the stage is set for the humanist’s dream of peaceful coexistence on earth. The basic idea of postmodernity is simple. Eliminate objective truth as the basis of contention and you will achieve peace on earth. It is truly a weapon of mass destruction.
The insidious nature of this new enemy is truly alarming, for it has infiltrated every academic discipline and every religious perspective, including Christianity. There is a new theology and a new hermeneutic that are playing havoc with evangelical thought. The enemy is not just out there, it is in here. As with terrorism within our own national borders, the tentacles of postmodernity have entered the church. Former commitment to the objective truth of God’s Word has given way to experiential preference. Christians not only don’t know their Bibles, they no longer take their Bibles seriously. The Bible has experienced lift-off. You can make it say whatever you want it to mean. The enemy is out there in our culture, but it is also in here within the church.
DEVELOPING A NEW STRATEGY
We are not fighting the battles of the past. Those battles still matter, and whenever those enemies of Truth rear their ugly heads (i.e., as when radical Neo-Nazis seek to assert their influence), we need to remember the lessons of yesterday. But postmodernity can no longer be ignored by Bible-believing Christians, as though it were merely a peripheral concern. America finally woke up to the reality of terrorism, which has been plaguing Israel for years. We need to wake up the reality of relativism and pluralism, which has in like fashion, been undermining our faith for years. Postmodernity is the new enemy and we need to be engaged in the new war.
So how do we deal with this new enemy? Well, the answer is simple— though admittedly hard to achieve. We need to reestablish the reliable roots of objective truth found in the infallible and inerrant Word of God. Without a firm foundation for truth, we have no basis for determining error. Issues of right and wrong must have an objective standard and a reasonable/accurate hermeneutic. Questions related to biblical content are still important, but they have been seriously overshadowed by questions of reliability. Is the Bible “truth”? That is where the battle line has been drawn. For the postmodernity culture, what the Bible says and
means is practically irrelevant unless we can demonstrate what the Bible is—the unchanging eternal Word of God.
Our strategy then must include an apologetical emphasis on the reliability of Scripture as the basis for truth. The fine-tuning of doctrinal differences between various factions of the evangelical camp will always have its place. But in-fighting must give way to the more serious agenda of fighting the common enemy that is seeking to destroy us.
The postmodernity culture is succeeding in isolating us into benign pockets of self concern. We have retreated within the walls of our own ecclesiastical systems, and we rarely venture out to engage the enemy. “Believe what you want” they say, “you’re simply another point of view in our pluralistic world. But don’t come out here and tell us that we’re wrong and you’re right. We won’t tolerate that, and if possible, we will eliminate you.”
So the terrorists have made their threats. The question is, will we remain absorbed with ourselves, or will we wage the war? War has always been a matter of courage, self-sacrifice and resolve. Paul told Timothy to “war a good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18). That obviously means to engage the enemy on the front of our times. The world, as well as the church, needs to know that God has spoken and the Bible is what He said.
REORGANIZING FOR EFFECTIVENESS
We all must determine our part in this conflict. Churches and Christian organizations receive their orders from the Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ—and they must do what He tells them to do. We at Truth in Grace have been giving that serious thought, and we have made the decision to reorganize for the purpose of greater effectiveness in the cause of Christ.
Truth in Grace has been one of several ministries operating under the umbrella of the Grace Foundation. We were a coalition of ministries committed to a common theme—Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) as the foundation for truth. At the beginning of the year we decided to pool our resources for the purpose of refining our focus, and are in the process of moving thirteen families to Orlando, Florida as a result of that decision. Most of us have already made the transition and are making preparation for the launching of our collective ministry under the organizational title of Sola Scriptura. It is our mutual desire to make a significant difference in the world and in the church for Christ’s sake as we engage the battle of our times.
The showpiece of our ministry is The Scriptorium, the largest private collection of biblical manuscripts in the world. Construction is already under way for a facility that will demonstrate, through the use of this collection, the reliability of Scripture as the Word of the living God. Modern technology is assisting us in this project, and we are anticipating a Grand Opening early next summer. At this exhibit, snuggled into the wonderful Holy Land Experience in Orlando, the world will see that we are committed to the Bible as the Word of God and the only foundation for objective truth.
In conjunction with The Scriptorium, we are planning a new magazine that will supplant both this Truth in Grace quarterly newsletter and the Parousia publication of The Sign Ministries. This will, in fact, be the last issue of Truth in Grace, and I will heretofore be devoting my energies to writing for our new magazine.
I am encouraging you, as a friend of Truth in Grace, to make this transition with us, and hopefully you will be excited about our new format. We are still in the formulating stage of this new ministry. Clearly it will be an emphasis upon the Scriptures as the foundation for truth, but how each aspect of our ministry will accomplish that objective is still to be determined. As for myself, I am committed to engaging the new war. I want to remain relevant to the cause of our times and serve the church of Jesus Christ as a true warrior of the faith. Please pray for us in the days ahead, that Sola Scriptura will be effective in this endeavor as we enter the first war of the twenty-first century. ■