A friend asked for my thoughts on this book. Here are my texts to him as I was reading it:
No complaints about the book so far.
As of chapter 7 of that book I’m starting to have problems.
I can’t remember the specifics now, but I think that’s when he dives headlong into the worst excesses of liberal protestantism. To wit: “You don’t put new wine in old wineskins, therefore how can you make value judgments that are different than the modern popular culture’s and still call yourself a Christian?”
Chapter 8 is littered with errors. I’ll probably have to go through it with a comb.
Chapter 12 is possibly the worst so far, as it basically says that if God acted now as he did in the Old Testament then he would be immoral and indefensible, but the context of those days justified his behavior. This is getting really bad.
Chapter 15 he strips Jesus of authority entirely, replacing it with horizontal morality. Not a mention of hell or the gospel.
That is, there is thus far no mention that sin and judgment are elements of the gospel, which means Christians must shy away from the reason forgiveness is necessary for fear of making people feel judged.
Finished the book. It doesn’t get better. Too bad, the guy is a talented rhetorician.
There isn’t as much blasphemy after he strips Jesus’ commands of divine authority, just bad strategy sold as good strategy.
It would be easiest for me to get the kindle book and start quoting…the main way he does this is by replacing divine command morality with “attraction”-based morality. So even God is called to account for actions that appear angry and hurtful.
Another point against Stanley:
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
In other words, we may disagree over the meaning of the parable, but one thing we can’t claim is that the new wine is better. Stanley appears to have not read the ending of the parable he appeals to dozens of times.
My primary complaint, reflected in the title of this post, is that embracing horizontal morality makes the gospel unnecessary, and thus renders the rest of Stanley’s thoughts on Christianity irrelevant. I’ll explain this in detail when I dive into the later chapters in further posts, but here is an introduction to horizontal morality in the meantime. (I haven’t been able to quickly find any articles explaining why horizontal morality must be entirely dependent upon and subject to vertical morality, so I’ll have to search for something suitable or write it myself.) This is the central conceit of liberal Protestant morality, and the reason why their leaders always end up engaging in sexual immorality:
2. Christ of culture
Christ of culture sits at the polar opposite from the previous one. Cultural expressions as a whole are accepted uncritically and celebrated as a good thing. In theory, little or no conflict is seen between culture and Christian truth. In practice, the latter is compromised to accommodate the former. This is the view espoused by classic Gnosticism and liberal Protestantism.
Focus on the Family
Christ and culture: five views
Throwing out the OT is a secondary complaint, being motivated merely by the “bad strategy” I mentioned: a defensive response to the widespread acceptance of postmodernism. Josh MacDowell explains in Evidence that Demands a Verdict:
Nevertheless, for the past forty years our culture has been heavily influenced by the philosophical outlook called postmodernism. People today question why evidence for the Christian faith is even necessary or important. There is a skepticism in our land and around the world that has given rise to the misguided thinking of the Jesus Seminar, or more recently, the New Atheists, to confuse and disorient people about the true identity of Jesus Christ.
When I first wrote Evidence, there was very limited access to information. Today there is an overload of truth claims. In the 1970s people were exposed to ideas by their parents, friends, teachers in school, and then eventually professors in the university. But there wasn’t the Internet, where people now have endless access to unfiltered information.
Also, when I first wrote Evidence, people wanted proof for their beliefs. People wanted evidence. And then it began to switch about ten to fifteen years ago. It used to be that when I made a truth claim at a university, students would say, “How do you know that’s true? Give us some proof.” But then students started saying, “What right do you have to make that claim? You are an intolerant bigot.” Culture has gravitated away from the essence of truth to the emotion of the individual. Essentially, culture has moved from valuing substance to valuing form.
It happens to be the wrong response and betrays a shockingly bad understanding of human nature for a pastor. In his defense, that’s a problem baked into Protestantism from the beginning. Since I’ll be analyzing it in detail, I’d like to take the opportunity to deconstruct a similar movement on the Alt-Right. Liberal Protestantism and Alt-White paganism are in agreement that horizontal morality (neo-Platonic in the case of the latter) requires a change in attitude toward the Old Testament. The agreement between the modern liberal Protestant movement and the Alt-White is based in their shared underlying Gnosticism, as mentioned in the Focus on the Family article summarizing Niebuhr above.
Here, we compare various passages in the Bible with current standards of morality — both secular and religious. This section lists many events in the Bible that are immoral by today’s secular standards, including: genocide, murder of people for their religious beliefs, mass murder of innocent children, transferring guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent, executing some hookers by burning them alive, etc. They are sometimes called “hard passages” because they seem to portray God as behaving in a way that would be considered highly immoral by most people today.
Some of the early Christian groups, including many in the Gnostic tradition were so offended by what they viewed as profoundly immoral actions attributed in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) to Yahweh that they rejected all of the Hebrew Scriptures and/or even lowered the status of Yahweh to that of a demiurge — an inferior deity who lacks moralilty.
Bible passages considered immoral by many of today’s theologians and secularists
Stanley’s motive is clearly stated in the introduction:
In 2007, my son Andrew, who was thirteen at the time, accompanied me on a trip to China. During our visit we were invited to tour an American-owned leather goods factory. The owner was a friend of a friend. When we arrived, he graciously insisted on serving as our guide. Before we began the tour, he introduced us to a Chinese girl in her twenties who had worked her way from the factory floor into management. He asked if we would be okay if she shadowed us during the tour.
“Pastor,” she said, “why doesn’t everyone in America go to church?” I still haven’t recovered from her question. I had no idea how to respond. I still don’t. How do you explain thousands of empty churches to a young lady who would ride two hours to attend a church in another town? A young lady who would be there every time the door was opened, if there was a door to open? The Bible study she attended was part of a network of underground churches, what the Chinese government refers to as unregistered churches. Her participation put her at risk. Owning a Bible put her at risk. Talking about attending church in front of her boss put her at risk. Imagine her shock if she were to discover that not only do most American Christians not read the Bible, in most churches there is a closetful of Bibles that have been left behind. I don’t remember how I responded. I said something entirely forgettable. But I haven’t forgotten her question. It’s bothered me ever since. Her question is one of the reasons I’ve written this book. So, why doesn’t everybody in America go to church? Why is the church so resistible? Jesus wasn’t. Once upon a time, his church wasn’t either.
The Alt-Right’s motive is not explicit, but in my opinion is transparent enough to state as categorically representative.
The New Testament Christian identity is inextricably linked to the Old Testament Jewish identity, which the Alt-Right leaders (correctly) identify as a fulcrum from which Jews have traditionally used to carve out favorable political positions in Christian societies. For example, it was often the case that only ethnic Jews were allowed to lend at interest in European countries. Alt-Righters therefore cast aspersions on the Old Testament in an attempt to sever this source of influence, calling it a monstrous, antiChristian, Jewish book and asserting that Jesus’ references to his Father are not the same as the warmongering Yahweh of the Old Testament. They claim, in short, that Jesus and his Father are European gods and the Yahweh of the Old Testament is an emergent, unrelated god of a barbaric, genocidal desert tribe who expresses all of their Semitic vices.
Their own preference for paganism notwithstanding (New Age, Jungian, primitive, etc.) , the Alt-Right’s revealed preference is for a Christianity which is resistant to Jewish influence over a Jewish-led paganism. To wit, their list of enemies ranks Jews higher than Christians, therefore they see a potential alliance with Christians to fight the Jews. That this is incoherent is irrelevant to their narrative due to a general ignorance of Christianity and the saturation of Old Testament references throughout the New Testament.