March 27, 2014 by J. Truett Glen
Like most everyone else in the online evangelical world, I got the news yesterday morning that World Vision had changed their policy of not hiring active homosexuals. I was disappointed, like many, but not surprised. There has been a stronger shift within Evangelicalism over the last 5 years toward a more inclusive understanding of Christianity and a willingness to work outside of normative denominational theological boundaries. Despite the fact that it looks as though World Vision has reversed its decision, expect to see more evangelical parachurch organizations redefining the theological boundaries by which they operate and market themselves. I’m sure there is a web of reasons that this is occurring, but let me point a few reasons I think are strongly influencing this paradigm shift.
First off, all intellectual and social movements take time in their trickling down into the various subcultures found within a society. Despite the fact that postmodernism is old news in the academy and pop culture; there was still fallout of postmodernism that was yet to surface. The effects of deconstruction and pluralism have so saturated the lives of Gen X-ers and Millennials that even their understanding of Christianity has been shaped in the image of postmodernism. A great symptom of this fact is what Christian Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This “we believe in being nice” religion is making its way into all religions within American culture, not just the “liberal” ones. People like Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, and Justin Lee are preachers of this new religion that frame Christianity in terms of liberal views of social justice rather than biblical orthodoxy. It was telling what drives individuals such as Rachel Held Evans when she championed World Vision after they changed their policy, but apologized for raising more funds for them after they reversed that decision. Rachel gave the impression in some of her communication on the subject that supporting World Vision should be about supporting the children anyway. However, if it was always about the children, why hasn’t Rachel been blowing up social media on World Vision’s behalf all along? Because it isn’t completely about the children; it’s also about furthering a new religion that has been cased in Christian language. To be precise, it’s not really a new religion, but rather an old and constantly tempting deviation from truth that gains public popularity at different times and in different places.
Another factor in these circumstances that also grows out of postmodernism and pluralism is a growing movement identified as the “common good.” Now, I know that the term “common good” has historically meant a lot of different things, but in contemporary evangelicalism it has a meaning that is becoming synonymous with finding common ground with those that differ, and pursuing a relationship with each other that centers on those common principles. Within certain parameters the idea of finding a common good to define a cooperative relationship is a noble thing. However, there is a tendency over time to make the center of your shared community the center of your own foundation. Over time a sub culture then begins to weigh all of its tenets according to whether they correspond to the common good. Thus, the common good begins to simply be seen as “the good.” As the larger culture shifts with the energy (and sometime ungodliness) of new sociological movements, so does the “common good” on which differing peoples feel the need stand. If you deviate from the common good grounding that has been equated with love, kindness, and progress, then you will either be ostracized or actively attacked until you submit to the culture.
With this reality in mind, it becomes incredibly important for Christians to articulate very carefully what they mean by “common good” and how they are willing to relate with those that share such a common good. You can’t cater a gutted gospel to people over and over again and expect them to know and love your Jesus. Unfortunately, there are some movers and shakers in evangelicalism that have focused on a common good that avoids discussion of an biblical understanding of sin and guilt. I realize that this is an evangelism strategy for many Christians, but there are unintended consequences to pushing a gospel that is void of the gospel. The common good becomes the good news to younger generations that are watching and listening. Those younger generations then base their understanding of faith in God on the publicly discussed common good.
It’s not too hard to understand then why philanthropies, that want to garner as much support for their noble cause as possible, would be tempted to succumb to the institutional standards validated by the common good. As I mentioned to a friend on Facebook today, mission statement has a lot to do with the moral boundaries of an institution. If it did not refer to itself as a “Christian” humanitarian organization then it might have better grounds to stand on. However, because the “parachurch” organization is by nature an extension of the Body of Christ, the morals of the Body of Christ are still extremely relevant. By the very nature of their identity as a “Christian” organization they are suggesting that they are seeking to share Christ through their particular form of philanthropy or ministry. To consistently act counter to Christ, while saying you represent Christ, is not appropriate for anyone in any organization that bears the identity of a “little Christ” organization.
So, I’ll partner with all sorts of non-Christian organizations that are facilitating work that reflects the heart of God for his creation. But I will not pretend that we are ultimately doing it for the same reason. We are not. Nor will I sit by and watch as organizations with a distinctively Christian identity begin to hand that identity away so that those that hold to a shell of Christianity can feel as if they share in the purposes of the Body of Christ.