Data on church growth over the past several decades reveal that churches accommodating to secular culture lose members, many of them in fact. Pick any random number of churches that have lost significant membership and check out their acceptance of liberal theology, including as it relates to social issues such as same-sex marriage (notable American examples are the United Methodists, Episcopalians, and United Church of Christ). In Canada, the United Church of Canada, the formerly large Protestant denomination with strong evangelical roots, is now on life support dealing with a massive loss of church membership (in 2012, average weekly church attendance across Canada was less than 159,000).
Sadly, today there is a sizable group of young people raised in evangelical homes promoting the redefinition of marriage and other ideas more acceptable to secular humanists. Even at the cost of declining church memberships and weakened evangelical institutions, they are apparently fine with the idea of evangelical churches and schools traveling down a path inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. If the evangelical anarchism of these young evangelicals takes over, one can expect fewer Bible-believing institutions in the future. Seriously, why would Bible-believing parents seeking a biblical foundation for their children support churches, schools, and colleges which do not honor the authority of Scripture?
One young evangelical who seeks to expose cunning and harmful liberal ideas in the church community is Chelsen Vicari, evangelical director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Her book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith (2014) is a welcome introduction on how “progressive” leaders are deviating from historic, biblical Christianity. The stakes are high since a passive response to the undermining of biblical truth means giving “up on the next generation’s walk with Christ” (7).
In an engaging manner, Vicari covers a broad number of topics in three parts: The Crisis, Digging Into the Issues, and Preventing the Collapse. Early in the book, one learns that Vicari grew up in an Assemblies of God church and fell under the spell of liberal Protestant “feel-good” doctrine during her college years. A dazzling Christianity replaced “old-fashioned” conservative evangelicalism.
Classic Christian orthodoxy was less appealing: “Millennials’ religious practices depend largely on how the actions make us and others feel, whether the activities are biblical or not” (5). Much like liberal cultural elites, they will not tolerate intolerance: “Popular liberal evangelical writers and preachers tell young evangelicals that if they accept abortion and same-sex marriage, then the media, academia, and Hollywood will finally accept Christians. Out of fear of being dubbed ‘intolerant’ or ‘uncompassionate,’ many young Christians are buying into theological falsehoods” (6).
Several “progressive” Protestants that Vicari identify include Brian McLaren, leader of the emergent movement, Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, lobbyist Richard Cizik, feminist Rachel Held Evans, Oprah Winfrey’s colleague Rob Bell, and ethicist David Gushee. I am best acquainted with the writings of Wallis; for a previous book project, I read hundreds of Sojourners articles to discern if these people had any understanding of basic economics or if they had any interest in evangelism. Read some of their articles and you will easily find the answer. In Distortion, one sees Wallis accepting $450,000 in grants from leftist billionaire George Soros who bankrolls abortion organizations and same-sex marriage activism. Of course, Wallis is free to accept such money for Sojourners, but it is revealing that he attempted to cover-up the fact (39).
Vicari devotes a chapter to same-sex marriage, a position proudly promoted by liberal Christian leaders. Her discussion begins with a Francis Schaeffer quote: “People drift along from generation to generation, and the morally unthinkable becomes thinkable as the years move on” (57). Recognizing the difficulty of the issue, she encourages “compassion without compromise”; Christians are “to love and minister to our gay neighbors while still upholding God’s model for sexuality, marriage, and family” (59). We should care about “cultural stability” and also the souls of all human beings. As sinners, Christians engaging the issue of same-sex marriage must do so prayerfully. Vicari points out, “The reality is that all of us are by nature fallen and broken and in need of redemption and forgiveness” (74).
Another helpful chapter is on the “Social Justice Façade.” Some of us who care about poverty and the fewer employment opportunities for people of all ages are bewildered about the inroads of “sheepskin socialism” in church circles. At a campus church, Vicari heard all about the evils of the capitalist system. Liberals armed with their buzzwords such as “justice, inequality, and marginalized” show no evidence, in my opinion, of actually reading books or evidence-based research exposing the myth of socialism. The strategy to gain followers for a leftist political agenda is to add the word “justice” to left-wing political ideas “and hope no one notices” (81). And this happens at Christian colleges, pitched by “Christ-professing faculty and staff” (84).
Chapters on both feminism and abortion are warnings of the bad theology of liberal Protestantism. Vicari argues that “Christian women are already liberated not by ideology or a worldly status but by Jesus Christ” (108). As for the issue of abortion, fortunately many millennials are recognizing “abortion’s deadly reality” (112). Religious liberty is an important theme discussed in the chapter on Christian persecution. Bible-believing Christians must stand strong in the face of attacks by atheist activists and government legislation that forces faith-based institutions to compromise their biblical position: “When God is removed from society, something takes His place – and that something is not peace, justice, or unity” (132).
Vicari concludes Distortion on a positive note, presenting brief profiles of six young evangelicals living out their faith boldly. As one millennial declared: “we can see God working powerfully through His Spirit in the hearts of Christians and unbelievers alike, drawing us to take part in His glorious kingdom purposes” (194) Our challenge, one we can tackle with the grace of God, is straightforward: “arming ourselves with Scripture, prayer, and courage; keeping our compassion yet never compromising our convictions; and representing Christ even when it’s inconvenient and costly” (196).
For Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, Chelsen Vicari is an encouraging example that there are young Christians willing to speak and stand for biblical truth in the face of cultural pressures demanding appeasement.