My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you shall be no priest to me: seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.
All this reveals a disastrous failure of evangelical discernment. It is hard not to conclude that theological discernment is now a lost art among American evangelicals — and this loss can only lead to theological catastrophe. . . The popularity of this book [The Shack] among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us — a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.
When I finally get around to publishing my screed as to why I repudiate Evangelicalism, the Christianity Today conglomerate of magazines will be enumerated among my Letterman Top Ten List. I peruse Christianity Today, not with any great expectation of learning any significant theological or pastoral insight. Rather, perusal of “evangelicalism’s flagship magazine” is mandated by the need to keep tabs on the current state of degeneracy of the American church; the historical heartland of the Evangelical movement.
Most of the articles are of the feely-goody supercilious type; often self-adorning paeans to the Bride, which invariably makes her open to flattery and whoredom. Apparently, it is “the local church [which] is the hope of the world.” And here I was under the delusion that it was the Christ.
So, being the ever theologue, I was intrigued by what appears to be a more serious piece, namely “Ten Reasons Why Theology Matters” by David W. Congdon and W. Travis McMaken. Before continuing with this rant, I would seriously invite the reader to peruse that article. I would further invite the reader to scribble a 100 word (or less) impression of the piece as a thought experiment.
. . . fingers tapping desk . . .
If you had not been forewarned, I would suspect that any seriously minded Christian would give this intelligent and intelligible piece near full approval, with perhaps a few quibbles. Certainly, it has more than its share of biblical citations (9) than one would find a typical modern-day theological dissertation, let alone a piece in a popular Christian magazine. And Congdon & associate sought to bolster their credibility with an ample supply of name dropping of past and present giants of the Evangelical stream (10); some of which, to my shame and wounded pride (LOL), I have not hitherto heard. And in truth, his argument and arguments are apropos in general and pertinent to the times, and can be found in the orations and writings of many of the gatekeepers of Evangelical orthodoxy.
But alas, my ever scrupulous disposition, for which I have unceremoniously been given bona fides credentials, and to which I must sheath my hypersensitive ears and heart with a condom for the sake of my own equilibrium and sanity, let alone those of the preachers I encounter, got the better of me. The line, “A second look at the New Testament calls into question the notion of two wills in God” piqued my interest as to where this credentialed author was coming from.
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And what did I discover; even to my surprise? Well it seems that our young and sexy Wheaton College and Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, author, Associate Editor of Academic Books at InterVarsity Press, and would-be counselor to Evangelicals is a “Christian Universalist,” and has been of such persuasion for well over a decade. Those, following the Rob Bell saga, know that the major plank to which Bell was metaphorically expelled from the Evangelical camp was his denial of a permanent hell. That is, Bell expected that even after expiration in this life, a person could repent, even from the “the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14), and be instantly translated into the presence of God in Christ.
But whereas Rob Bell was chameleonic and cowardly about his true belief; David Congdon, at least, respects his interlocutors in honestly declaring his convictions (and the how and why) in his newly published book, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch.
The purpose of this book is to develop a Christian dogmatics in light of the universality of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. . . There are soteriologies that entail the actual salvation of all people. . . Thus all individuals will in fact be saved. . . The only real difference between “potential universalism” and evangelical universalism is that the former places a limit for conversion at the time of death, while the latter rejects such a limit.
This book had its genesis in 2006, when I came to the realization that universal salvation was the only account of Christianity I could find credible. . . as I was seeking to flee my evangelical identity in favor of universalism.
Christian universalism has been explored in its biblical, philosophical, and historical dimensions. For the first time, The God Who Saves explores it in systematic theological perspective. In doing so it also offers a fresh take on universal salvation, one that is postmetaphysical, existential, and hermeneutically critical. The result is a constructive account of soteriology that does justice to both the universal scope of divine grace and the historicity of human existence.
What is Salvation?
Salvation, in other words, is an eschatological event—one that existentially destroys our old existence by crucifying us with Christ. I make this argument in conversation with recent work in apocalyptic theology (especially Ernst Käsemann and J. Louis Martyn), but hermeneutically filtered through the critical lens of Rudolf Bultmann and Eberhard Jüngel. I then appropriate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concept of unconscious Christianity to argue that the apocalypse is an inherently unconscious event. I distinguish between unconscious faith/Christianity—as the level at which God’s saving act occurs—and conscious faith/Christianity, which is the level at which religious practice takes place. Conscious Christianity fulfills its mission as it orients us toward and connects us with the unconscious faith that is its transcendent ground.
The book is the culmination of a decade long pursuit for a credible theological basis by which to justify universal reconciliation, after an earlier aborted attempt, and overcome, at least to Congdon’s own mind, some of its chief conundrums.
And had the editors at Christianity Today bothered to investigate the openly stated beliefs of this young theologian, they would have also found that the young Congdon has also appropriated most of the idioms of liberal Christianity, especially from the 20th century German schools, as well as a postmetaphysical rendering to the text.
The rise of historical consciousness names the replacement of the old metaphysical and teleological interpretation of the world and our existence in it with a historical interpretation. . . “historical” here means dynamic, evolving, contingent, spatiotemporally located, socially constructed, political, and open to ongoing criticism and interrogation. Whereas a metaphysical interpretation understands God, the world, and human existence in terms of an eternally fixed and unchangeable order, a historical interpretation understands them in terms of a historically situated and ever-changing nexes of forces. Whereas a metaphysical interpretation posits timeless essences underneath the contingencies and complexities on the surface of history, a historical interpretation denies that there is anything behind and beneath the historical that could stabilize and secure human existence in advance.
Hermeneutics is the project that understand its object in terms of its radical historicity, which means understanding it as subject to constant reinterpretation and renegotiation. Modernity is the age in which the metaphysical understanding of history was called into question thoroughly and irrevocably. It was thus in the modern era that human beings become aware of the elusiveness of truth and the necessity of hermeneutical inquiry. . . We ignore the elusiveness and ambiguity of truth at our peril, because to do so is to ignore our own historicity, that is, our situatedness within a particular cultural context. . . Sachkritik differentiates between “what is said” and “what is meant,” and it tests what is said against the criterion of what is meant. Of course, we only access what is meant through what is said, which means that interpretation is an ongoing process as we continually discern the word that is being spoken to us today in the text.
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It is not the intention here to address Congdon’s framework and arguments for “Christian Universalism.” Although a quick dogmatic sketch could likewise be marshaled to discredit his thesis, it is quite evident that the young seminarian is highly intelligent and knowledgeable, and immensely clever in a sophistic and dissembling way. Having battled Apollyon and his minions in the Valley of the Shadow of Death for decades, I can easily detect a shrewd and worthy adversary when I see it. Every “i” must be dotted and every “t” crossed, especially in view of the contemporary dynamic by which universalism and inclusivism (a.k.a. universalism lite) is permeating the Evangelical desolation, not the least inspired by the worldly, sociopolitical concerns and anxieties posed by the invading Assyrian hordes of secularism. A fuller rendering of his book would be worthwhile, if only because Congdon expertly exploits the gaping errors and deficiencies of the Protestant/Reformed/Evangelical orthodoxy, which have accrued since the Reformation or always existed and were never adequately addressed.
No. The circumscribed purpose is merely to point out the deliciously rich irony of a magazine whose senior Managing Editor countered Rob Bell’s Love Wins with a book of his own God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins. While Mark Galli contributed to the ushering of Rob Bell out the service exit of the rickety Evangelical condominium, he and his comrades-in-obtuseness welcome with open arms an ideological kissing cousin and Bell’s and unleash this canis lupus upon the current and potential faithful by failing to do due diligence. That is, if the editors of Christianity Today have not had a recent change of mind concerning the validity of their Statement of Faith.
At the end of the age, the bodies of the dead shall be raised. The righteous shall enter into full possession of eternal bliss in the presence of God, and the wicked shall be condemned to eternal death.
Having David W. Congdon and W. Travis McMaken preach the virtues of theology to Evangelicals is akin to having Liz Taylor lecture on the good of marriage. Certainly, it can be declared with straight face that both individuals are thoroughly engrossed and do more than their fair share in their respective endeavours. Less certain is whether their efforts do those endeavours credit.
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Presuming honest ignorance on the part of the Christian Today editors, I suspect that David Congdon is having a lark in pulling the wool over on the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, against whom he manifests a not too veiled disdain in his book and blog. I do not say nor do I believe that Congdon disbelieves anything that he actually declares in the article. Having redefined many of the terms, such as hermeneutics, he can technically uphold his statements and exegesis with integrity.
It is that the Evangelical reader is prone to read his words within their understanding of terms, rather than within the contextual framework of language and understanding of the author. That same error is evident in the contemporary rendering and exaltation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an Evangelical saint, who certainly is no Evangelical, and who like Congdon, doubted the existence, or more likely, the ascertainment of objective and absolute verities.
But if there is no permanent absolute truth, or it cannot be ascertained, one cannot genuinely subscribe to a personal God who is actually there and to act upon that premise. Acting upon the premises to which we supposedly subscribe is the very definitional nature of faith, not “intellectual assent” as Congdon suggests in his book (p. 25), a notion which the notorious James “faith and good works” utterly disabuses; or an irrationalist and ephemeral Barthian or NeoPlatonist moment when a person experiences “the presence of god” and are at one with this monad. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” – Hebrews 11:6.
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Hereby, when Albert Mohler castigates and declaims self-identified Evangelicals for lacking knowledge and discernment, he should first direct his glances and his pontifical disdain towards the seminarian set with whom he parlays, rather than us grunts in the pews. For certainly I, for one, cannot and will not impugn the sheep when they have idiots for shepherds.
Evangelicals might rightfully rue this year as their annus horribilis, at least from the perspective of their own self-interests. The dearth and death of discernment and utter folly publicly manifests itself among the top thinkers and systematic theologians of the Evangelical elite (e.g. Norman Geisler, Wayne Grudem) as they perform Cirque du Soleil feats of ethical contortionism to give ecclesiastical imprimatur to a crass demagogic buffoon in a Sophie’s Choice election. The termite-infested husk we call Evangelicalism has finally been nakedly exposed for its intellectual vacuity, ethical hypocrisy, and spiritual bankruptcy as the Babylonian Captivity of the American Church nears full fruition.
From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it
– Isaiah 1:6.
Unlike Roger Olson, I will be no Erasmus, lingering on in a Tradition that I know has become irredeemably deplorable. In the dissonant cacophony of imbecilic voices, modern Evangelicalism was of no use to me in my spiritual and psychological distress. Indeed, it proved to be worse than worthless; the best of counsels impeding me with sufficient doubts from surefooted and indomitable following the “way to escape” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. Like so many of the seriously minded, with an unshakable vision in their mind’s eye of the genius of God in Christ and of the glory of His Republic; our remnant remains alienated on the fringes of these silly assemblies who are self-satisfied in their self-imposed ignorance and folly, and who cockblock the endeavours of all who know and belong to the Truth.
Flee out of the middle of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance; he will render to her a recompense.
Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.
Farewell Evangelicalism. Henceforth, I shall be known as Christian.
 Albert Mohler, “The Shack — The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment,” Albert Mohler, January 27, 2010, http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/27/the-shack-the-missing-art-of-evangelical-discernment/.  Jacob Lupfer, “Why a ‘yes’ to gays is often a ‘no’ to evangelicalism,” The Washington Post, June 10, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/why-a-yes-to-gays-is-often-a-no-to-evangelicalism-commentary/2015/06/10/d8657e06-0fa6-11e5-a0fe-dccfea4653ee_story.html  Mark Galli, “Making the Local Church a Hero,” Christianity Today, March 25, 2009, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/march/29.32.html.  David W. Congdon, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch, Eugene, OR: WIPF and Stock (Cascade Books), September 8, 2016, pp. 2, 6, 8, ix.  David W. Congdon, “The God Who Saves: A Preview of My New Book,” The Fire and the Rose, September 13, 2016, https://fireandrose.blogspot.ca/2016/09/the-god-who-saves-preview-of-my-new-book.html.  David W. Congdon, “Why I Am A Universalist: A Dogmatic Sketch,” August 30, 2006, The Fire and the Rose, https://fireandrose.blogspot.ca/2006/08/why-i-am-universalist-dogmatic-sketch.html.  Congdon, The God Who Saves, p. 32.  Ibid. pp. 33, 34, 38.  Mark Galli, God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011.