Andrée Seu of WORLD Magazine made a boo boo. She’s supposed to say that, as an evangelical, she disapproves of Mormonism but the temperature of Glen Beck’s religious fervor is so high that it wins the day. She writes:
But it was obvious to me that Beck wasn’t into the extra money or fame. It was obvious to me that he was a new creation in Christ. I know he’s Mormon and all that. I also remember reading a book by Professor Harvey Conn decades ago that said that you have to be very careful when judging a person’s salvation—some people with lousy theology have their hearts right with God, and some people with impeccable theology are cold toward God.
So, let’s get this right. What counts is religious experience? Am I getting that right? I’m likely to get into trouble with the evangelical politeness police but I’m going to say it anyway: this is what the love affair with the first and second great awakenings gets us. This is what happens when religious experience trumps religious confession. Carl Trueman is right: this is religious syncretism.
The Athanasian Creed (which was not written by hard-nosed, unregenerate, Reformed confessionalists) says: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity…” By his own profession, Glen Beck does not hold that faith. The Athanasian Creed doesn’t think that Glen Beck is a Christian.
Look, “loving Jesus” just isn’t enough. Many (theological) liberals love Jesus but which Jesus? Whose Jesus? The Athanasian Creed says that the only Jesus catholic Christians confess is the Jesus who is consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit and who became incarnate, who became true man for us and for our salvation.
It’s not our job to judge whether Glenn Beck can be saved but it is our job to measure his profession of faith against an objective, historic, ecclesiastical summary of God’s Word and I’m a lot more interested in the truth of Beck’s profession than I am in the heat of his experience. Doesn’t anyone know the history of Mormonism? Doesn’t any know that Mormonism is ALL ABOUT a burning in the bosom, apocalyptic (revelatory) experience? Hello? Joseph Smith stuck his head in a hat, used magic glasses given to him by an angel named Moron and created an American version of Islam on the soil of the Second Great Awakening.
Seu’s post embodies much of what is wrong with right-wing evangelicalism today and demonstrates that, at bottom, it’s no different from left-wing (emergent) evangelicalism. They’re just different aspects of non-confessional Christianity in search of a kind of certainty or a kind of religious experience that Scripture, as confessed by the Reformed churches, doesn’t promise.
Her post also demonstrates what happens when we ignore the distinction between the two spheres in which God administers his sovereignty in the world. The civil, common life that believers share with non-believers is not the place where God has promised to administer his salvation. Believers have a duty to serve God and obey his moral law in all that they do but there is a distinction between the service to God they render in the common sphere, under the sovereign Lordship of Christ, and the service they render as believers in that sphere established by Christ for the administration of salvation and the means of grace. When the common sphere trumps the sacred sphere, in which salvation is outwardly administered, then the latter gets short shrift. We see that here in Seu’s post. She doesn’t really care about Beck’s profession not only because his temperature is right but also because his politics are right. This isn’t just about religious syncretism but it’s also about a theological latitudinarianism and political precisionism. The religious/evangelical right and left (e.g., Jim Wallis and Sojourners) are precisionist where they should be latitudinarian and they are overly tolerant where they should sticklers for the truth. This is a confusion of the Kingdom of Heaven with the kingdoms of this world. Christ is Lord over both but he administers them distinctly. The kingdoms of this world will pass away but the Kingdom of Heaven shall not. Indeed, it cannot.
This episode also illustrates the problem of Evangelical niceness. Some of the responses to Seu’s column are simply too sweet. Why is it morally necessary to begin every criticism, even when we are criticizing something that strikes at the vitals of religion, to borrow a phrase, with a paragraph of happy talk about how wonderful someone or something is? We don’t have to nasty but why must we preface everything we say with happy talk? I understand that some folk just won’t listen today if we don’t obey this new law but why won’t they listen? What are those who won’t listen assuming? Should we just submit to this law or should we challenge it? Here’s a thought experiment:
A fellow says he loves Jesus with a passion, he really does but he just doesn’t think that Jesus can be truly God. He can’t see how that can be. How can God take on human nature and still be God or a human still be human but he loves much of what Jesus said and what he stood for, the way he died, and even that he might have been raised from the dead.
Does the Apostle John preface his remarks to such a fellow with happy talk, with praise for this fellow’s devotion, such as it is? Can we imagine the Apostle John writing the sort of happy talk that is now de rigueur among the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd? Can we imagine Augustine passing the new rhetorical test? Calvin? What would Luther have written about this essay? Do we really want to think or assume that we are morally superior to them because it’s now considered impolite or bad form to speak about error or opponents of the gospel the way they did? In this regard It’s good to see that Machen is being invoked in this discussion. He’s exactly the right paradigm for this. He was civil but he was also unequivocal. He was valiant for the truth. He was fortiter in re, suaviter in modo.
I’m glad that Seu published this essay. It exposes aspects of evangelicalism that need to be see the light of day: the priority of religious experience over Christian truth, kingdom confusion, and the new law of niceness being imposed on us all.