In the end, it all comes down to this.
I was interviewed on Wednesday for a forthcoming movie about the New Calvinism. Afterwards, the interviewer commented on how kind and charitable my comments had been compared to my writings on the subject. I responded that that was of course the case – in the movie, I was speaking for and about the decent people who form the core of the movement, not those who lead it. My writings over the years have focused on the latter and the way some of them exploit the former to build their platforms. I have no time for that behaviour. But for the people who love the Lord and simply seek day by day to live out their faith – to them I am grateful for their faithful and often difficult witness in the wider world and, indeed for funding places like Westminster through their sacrificial giving. They are driven by their desire not for personal fame but simply to help train the next generation of ministers. And I am privileged to benefit from this and to do my best to teach the faith to those who will teach it to others. I live and work in a comfortable, Christian environment. Most Christians -- the Christians who fund my environment -- do not. They make their money in difficult callings and then generously give some of it to people like me so that we can help train people to lead the church into the future. I hope I never forget that.
That’s why Todd’s last post was an encouragement to me. Finally, there is evidence that I am not mad. The Big Eva world is indeed run as the personal fiefdom of a few, even if many of those decent people involved on the various mastheads are unaware of this. But cross those few, or touch their dogmatic golden calves, and you can expect the fight back to be dirty, relentless, increasingly dangerous, and by and large hidden from the watching world – the world, that is, that funds evangelicalism on the assumption that hard-earned donations go to spreading the gospel, not building personal platforms and nixing the dissidents.
I opened my first patristics lecture of the year yesterday with perhaps the most brilliant one-line summary of what 19 centuries of post-apostolic history have been about. It is from Robert Barron’s essay on Augustine:
'In the end, it all comes down to a correct description of God.'
Tragically, it has become clear that some of the most influential evangelical theologians today do not describe God correctly. It has also become clear that they have no intention of correcting their errors. As a by-product, some of these errors have been used to enable domestic abuse. This does not bode well for the future. What is tolerated in one era might very easily become the orthodoxy of the next – and there is much evidence to suggest we might be there already.
When Todd told me of the vicious attacks he was receiving yesterday, I was shocked to know the name of the person involved. But then again I was not shocked at all -- such vile attacks are part of the culture. I get them myself all the time, usually cloaked with some throat-clearing token piety at the beginning or the end. It is simply easier to attack the man than address the arguments. For myself, I simply ignore them -- hey, the man who has no enemies has no honour. Todd, however, is more sensitive.
And that’s why Todd pulled his original post about Burk’s article: the relentless behind-the-scenes attacks are tiring and discouraging, aimed at one thing and one thing only – closing down any discussion of the errors that are rampant on the doctrine of God. Not everyone can put up with them. I know the toll such attacks have taken on Todd in the past. But somebody will have to take a stand at some point or the situation really is lost -- theologically and, as is increasingly apparent, ethically.