Almost a decade ago, I remember attending Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, packed with thousands of young evangelical leaders. It was there, that I first heard a young creative pastor named Rob Bell, pastor of the fast growing Mars Hill in Michigan. At the age of 25, I was finishing up seminary, but felt rejuvenated when I heard the line up of Catalyst speakers like Rob Bell, Donald Miller, and Andy Stanley. These teachers were creative but avoiding a lot of the controversial doctrinal issues that I heard from my alma mater Liberty University’s founder Jerry Falwell.
Rob Bell and these Catalyst communicators did not have pulpits, but were either walking, or sitting in comfortable chairs and bar stools. They weren’t talking about politics, or hell, or inerrancy of Scripture, or homosexuality and certainly not abortion. By no means were these guys like James Dobson or Falwell’s Moral Majority.
To me, their teaching seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to the dry doctrine. I felt burnt out on from seminary. There was excitement like the energy of a concert. I was not alone, thousands of those who grew up in non-denominational, Southern Baptist or Church of God congregations were drawn to this new kind of Church. Out of this generation, some sons and daughters of conservative Bible expositors, including Andy Stanley, Jonathan Merritt and Rachel Held Evans would drift away from their father’s evangelical fundamentalism and rise up to become today’s defenders of tolerance, social justice and gay “rights” at bakeries.
Ten years ago, at my first Catalyst conference, I did not agree with everything these younger communicators were saying, but I thought perhaps they could bring more balance. Weren’t these guys like Rob Bell and Donald Miller authentic by asking questions? We were the generation that was more about what we were “for” and not “against.” After all, there was no need for me to also always be discussing controversial things like abortion, gay marriage, doctrine and apologetics. In my young ignorance and piety, I told myself that I appreciated their “tone.”
So as a 25 year senior pastor of the SBC Immanuel Baptist Church, I got rid of the pulpit, bought some skinnier jeans began showing Rob Bell’s Nooma videos to the church on Wednesday nights. As I sipped on my Starbuck’s latte and saw an excitement from younger people, I felt relevant. I thought Bell’s teaching was authentic and fresh. But as time passed, I noticed things that concerned me. As I read the Bible and compared it to the teaching of some younger evangelicals like Bell, I did not always see correspondence. Fortunately, my seminary professors like Dr. Thomas Howe and Dr. Norman Geisler had engrained in my mind the laws of logic, the inerrancy of Scripture and the historical grammatical method of interpretation. I knew that I had responsibility to train others into the truth. Thankfully, there were several individuals who challenged my thinking when I started to get off track. As I returned to those old dusty seminary books by J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Peter Kreeft and scholastics like Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, I started rediscovering life in the truths of God. Thankfully, God saved me from the fruit loops theology of Rob Bell, Oprah and Rachel Held Evans.
In the last couple years, we have seen a steady rise of professing evangelical Christians who are no longer simply rebelling against the “Moral Morality” conservatism of the Ronald Reagan era that their parents might have taught them, but instead, have become zealous promoters of secular liberalism all in the name of Christian “love” and “social justice.” They are finding their voice through well-marketed blogs including CNN, Religious News Service, and the Huffington Post. Rather than focusing on religious liberty, classical Christian virtues, and the proclamation of the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, this group has become staunch defenders of gay marriage, social justice, global warming awareness, feminism and religious pluralism that has empathy towards Islamic jihad.
Chelsen Vicari’s new book Distortion evaluates how this progressive or savvy driven Christianity which boasts of “authenticity” and “nonjudgmentalism” have actually repackaged the Scriptures and are leading a generation astray. Through a combination of well performed emotionally led worship services and false shallow teachings, the Christian left claiming to be “real” have promoted politicians who are actually increasing abortion rights, gay marriage and Marxism.
Vicari’s new book takes to task these millennial evangelicals whose theological maturity consists of “Worship” music and Jesus Calling devotionals. Chelsen Vicari is a younger evangelical who serves at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She tells her story of how though growing up in a traditional Christian family, she left home and in college, “morphed as a full-fledged feminist, told my parents they were ignorant for not endorsing homosexuality, and bought into the distorted social justice rhetoric that confuses carrying for the poor with advancing socialist or big government systems and demonizing the United States for its free market system.” She tells her powerful story of how she realized how wrong she her new relativistic and Marxists ideas were and through an investigated journey, turned back to believing in Biblical principles. In her book, Distortion, Vicari exposes the generation of bloggers and speakers who are rebelling against the Bible-believing conservativism of their parents. Some of these writers include: Rachel Held Evans, Andy Stanley, Jonathan Merritt, Rob Bell, Jay Baker, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis. Some of these liberals used to claim “neutrality” about gay marriage, traditional morality and controversial subjects because they say, “We want to be known what we’re for, not what we’re against.” But Vicari shows that these “progressives” are not just “positive” but are vehemently against any conservative who holds to natural law, biblical inerrancy, and traditional marriage.
Rachel Held Evans is an outspoken feminist who has fueled her anger against conservatives like Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. Evans a defender of gay rights and “equality” is the daughter of a conservative Bible-believing fundamentalist who worked at a fundamentalist Bible college. Rachel Held Evans has been capitalizing by poking fun of the conservative and Biblical teachings she was taught as a youth. Vicari’s book challenges Rachel Held Evans’ for throwing out undocumented assertions against conservatives. Rachel Held wrote for CNN that young Christians are leaving the church because Christianity has become “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people…our LGBT friends to felly truly welcome in our faith communities.”
Vicari also reveals the inconsistency of Andy Stanley, pastor of America’s second largest church and son of famous traditional Bible believing preacher, Charles Stanley. Andy Stanley whose church of North Point claims to stay out of the politics of abortion and gay marriage, hypocritically goes on the attack of those who appeal to their Christian convictions that business owners like wedding cake owners should not be forced to by the law to serve a gay marriage for that would “violate their personal conscious.” Andy Stanley found that it was “offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law….serving people.” Of course Andy Stanley who claims neutrality, does not apply his own principles at his North Point Church to perform gay weddings. Yet he uses his platform to find flaws in those who promote America’s religious freedom.
Another Baptist minister’s son that Vicari mentions in Distortion is Jonathan Merritt, whose father was once president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jonathan Merritt gained great appeal with mainstream, as one coming from a conservative background but has no problem showing the errors of the Falwells, Pat Robertsons and Duck Dynasty guys. Mainstream media loves evangelicals who can write as an insider and find flaws in the conservative and Biblical ideas. Vicari wrote, “Jonathan Merritt, Richard Cizik, Rachel Held Evans, and a whole host of others on the evangelical Left assert the myth that the way to end abortion is by passing out tax-payer funded contraception like it’s candy.” (p. 115) Vicari replies, “Nice try, but the research and data are against them yet again. Planned Parenthood’s own think tank, the Guttmacher Institute, surveyed more than ten thousand women who had abortions during 2000 and 2001. The study found that a mere 12 percent of the women cited limited access to birth control as the reason for their pregnancies and subsequent abortions.” “Researchers in Spain analyzed the use of contraception and abortion rates between 1997-2007. What they found was astonishing. During that decade access and use of contraception increased 80 percent, yet abortion also increased-by a whopping 108 percent.” “Essentially greater access to contraception,” says Vicari, “led to a false sense of security. When contraception failed, as often happens, the baby was aborted.” I would comment that Vicari does not make a hasty generalization. She does not argue that all of these leftist Christians hold the same views. She cites Merritt in positive way of common agreement when talking about Christians who face persecution in Middle East. I think Vicari’s approach is reasonably balanced and fair. She also is clear to break down the topics that some progressives reject, while others may not be as extreme.
Towards the end of the book Distortion, Vicari interviews young evangelicals that are living out a bold faith and not willing to give into the trendy fads amongst hipster evangelicals. Vicari interviews Eric Teetsel who is now directing the Manhattan Declaration who talks about his experience at Azusa Christian College. He said, “I found that it was only Christian only in the sense that we would do a devotional before class and then immediately jump into the same material that they were studying at University of Southern California down the street, including all the tolerance, pro-gay, white guilt stuff.” When a same-sex speaker spoke at this college, Teetsel asked, “Wouldn’t you agree that even if you dismiss some of the specific verses that speak to homosexuality that there is broader theology of human sexuality that goes from Genesis to Revelation that affirms heterosexuality?” And the speaker said, “No, I don’t agree, and I would invite you to stop speaking.” What Teetsel experience is not unique. The Christian left while claiming “tolerance” is very intolerant those who take a stand for traditional marriage. I encourage those who understand the incoherency and dangers of the new Christian left to read Chelsen Vicari’s Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith.