“Apart from the power and promise of God, the preaching of such a religion as Christianity, to such a population as that of paganism, is the sheerest Quixotism. It crosses all the inclinations, and condemns all the pleasures of guilty man. The preaching of the Gospel finds its justification, its wisdom, and its triumph, only in the attitude and relation, which the infinite and almighty God sustains to it. It is His religion, and therefore it must ultimately become a universal religion.”
19th Century Reformed Theologian
Sermons to the Spiritual Man, page 421
Large and influential segments of the Church no longer believe that Christianity is God’s religion. This can be seen in the reality that the much of the Church has abandoned the notion that the success of the Gospel is dependent upon the power and promise of God of which Shedd speaks. Instead what we find is that the success of the Gospel is dependent upon etymological legerdemain. What we are doing, with increasing rapidity, is maintaining the accidentals of the Christian language and faith while filling them with new meaning. It is as if we have emptied a bottle of wine and refilled it with vinegar all the while insisting that it is still a bottle of wine.
This can be most clearly seen recently in the Emergent Church movement, but before the Emergent Church the same thing was done with the whole Seeker Sensitive movement. This phenomenon is not unique to our times though. If one goes back to the rise of Unitarianism or Transcendentalism in this country one can find large sections of the Church retaining Christianity only by this etymological legerdemain. Similarly if one reads the Sermons or hymns of the Social Gospelers early in the 20th century or examines the same work of the Existentialists later in the same century one can find that while the language of the Gospel has been retained the meaning of the Gospel has been changed. It matters little whether we are talking about the Christianity of the Unitarian Chauncy or the Transcendentalist Parker or the Social Gospeler Gladden, or the Existentialist Niebuhr, or the Seeker Sensitive Hybels or the Emergent Rob Bell. The one thing they all have in common is this refusal to practice what Shedd calls Quixotism. All of them redefined the Gospel so as to mirror the zeitgeist in which they lived.
In considering history one finds only periodic conviction that the Gospel is supposed to be an adventure in Quixotism. Occasionally one will stumble across the Quixote’s. Occasionally one will find a Boniface with an axe in his hand or a Latimer with burning green wood at his feet or a Solzhenitsyn in a Gulag or a Machen on trial or a Lull preaching to hostile Muslims, but more often it seems what we get is ministers redefining the faith according to the prevailing zeitgeist.
Ministers today are more like Derrida then they are Cervantes. We ministers today have little intent to tilt at windmills by preaching a Gospel that “crosses all the inclinations and condemns all the pleasures of guilty man.” Instead we aim to deconstruct (my etymological legerdemain) the message so our listeners can go with the flow of the prevailing culture. After all we have market share to worry about, not to mention our 401k.
With the Church’s constant adaptation to the times it is easy to begin to wonder if there is any there, ‘there’ to the Christian faith. Does the Christian faith have a essence that is supposed to be handed down from generation to generation or are we to understand that it is just so much ideological morphism, dependent on whatever wind happens to be blowing in any given generation? May our Lord Jesus Christ raise again a generation of Quixote’s who rely on the power and promise of God.
Shoot, I’d be pleased with a few Sancho Panzas.
6 thoughts on “Quixote & The Gospel”
Excellent post… Horton talks about this ‘etymological legerdemain’ on http://christlesschristianity.org/. He nails it.
Yes, that piece from Horton was good. The problem with Horton though is that within that clip there was the idea that that there is something unnatural about teaching that Scripture gives us wisdom regarding what the sanctified life looks like.
Indeed – that is a tendency in that camp; while pietism is a tendency in ours.
I don’t have a problem with pietism if it is a biblical pietism.
The kind of pietism that withdraws and finds its meaning in no dancing, drinking, smoking, and other artificial categories is nonsense.
Where else do we find a complete lack of Quixotism than in our political decision-making?
So much of Christianity is the new, old pragmatism.
Yep, we are constantly figuring that by manipulating the process by doing evil we can arrive at good consequences. Vote Palin, even though it is clearly against God’s word, so we can get a good result from God.