A few nights ago, I caught the end of a primetime special where Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the Left Behind series, were being interviewed. Tim Lahaye, in particular, represents the more literal view of Scripture. He believes in taking the book of Revelation very literal. Opposed to Tim Lahaye is the author of the new book The Last Disciple, Hank Hanegraaff. Hanegraaff is a partial preterist who takes the view that most Biblical prophecies were fulfilled in the first century. These two men represent two very visible sides of the debate in evangelical circles. Because of the media’s love for anything that makes evangelicals look bad, the debate has been widely publicized.
Lahaye’s views, however, go far beyond viewing the book of Revelation as literal. The deeper question focuses on how one views the Bible as a literary work. Lahaye chooses to ignore the big picture and instead focuses on a very literal interpretation of events. Unfortunately, men like Lahaye are generally intolerant of anyone within evangelical circles that may disagree with him. Of course, one cannot say too much about Hanegraaff either who has been brought into the debate and lowered himself to Lahaye’s level.
This debate is far bigger than simply eschatology. This debate reaches into the very nature of each school of thought. Although Lahaye may be characterized as an evangelical, he most closely resembles a fundamentalist. The word “fundamentalist” in and of itself is not a bad word. It represents the school of thought that countered Protestant Liberalism that occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the word has evolved and has come to represent a militant group of believers, usually dispensational Baptists that insist on a greater separation between “the world” and the Christian. They also tend to be very dogmatic on many issues evangelicals would not consider essential. Evangelicals, on the other hand, believe mostly what fundamentalists believe, but they do not place such an emphasis on separation and even will engage the culture on many levels. Orthodox evangelicals will not go so far as so-called neo-evangelicals in their engagement with culture, but they will not withdraw themselves so far into a Christian subculture that they become irrelevant. The biggest difference, however, between evangelicalism and fundamentalism is attitude. As the old joke goes, and fundamentalist is an evangelical who is really mad about something.
There is, however, a new breed of evangelicals that characterize a growing number of Christians. This group of Christians would consider themselves evangelicals, but on the conservative side of the group. They would believe all of the fundamentals of the fundamentalists and may even be dogmatic on certain issues that most evangelicals would consider non-essential, but they would not be as big on the issue of separation, except when it is obvious that the Christian should be separate. These Christians may or may not be dispensationalists; they may or may not be Baptists. This group of people would believe that evangelicalism has gone too far in its acceptance of questionable theology such as any theology influenced by postmodernism. In my experience and research I am unable to find a name for such a people, but I have come to believe in recent months that I am one of these people.
Although I respect Tim Lahaye, my eyebrow is raised at the whole idea of the Left Behind series. It has nothing to do with my being a dispensationalist or not. It has everything to do with Lahaye’s arrogance and insistence that he is right and everyone else is wrong. Now before you go and say that I have been influenced by postmodernism, step back a second. I believe that there is a right and wrong and I believe that Lahaye is either right or wrong. But fervent belief is no excuse for being rude and virtually killing any dialogue by misrepresenting your opponent’s views. I do not like Lahaye’s dogmatism. But I do respect it. After all, I have become rather dogmatic on some issues that most evangelicals would say are not essentials for unity. I disagree with Lahaye, but I do respect him. He has the guts to stand up and say that these series of books represent his beliefs.
I do believe that evangelicals, in their quest to be relevant, have started to become just the opposite. By not insisting on some beliefs, they have allowed other beliefs, like the influence of postmodernism and open theism, to come into the evangelical fold, beliefs that should not be there. The term “evangelical” has been watered down by the media and by evangelicals themselves. As an evangelical, I feel like I am part fundamentalist. I am getting mad.
Unlike the big difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists, I no longer see this new breed of Christians as simply being separated by anger. These new breed of Christians seem to be gathering the troops. Rather than be on the defensive, they are preparing for the offensive. They are armed with the Great Commission and are committed to showing that the gospel has never lost its relevancy and does not need reinterpreting or improvement.
I’m not sure where this army is, but I somehow feel I have joined it.
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