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Back in 1997, Al Mohler wrote an article titled “The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology Without Theism.” You can find the full article here. I’ve written a summary of the article below, followed by my response.
Mohler, Jr., R. Albert. “The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology Without Theism.” The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, 1:1 (1997), 6–15.
The historic claims of Christianity have grown increasingly unpopular up to the 20th Century. From Nietzsche and the “death of God” at the end of the 19th Century to the radical and revisionist theology of mainline Protestantism in the 20th Century, theologians are poised to practice theology without God in the 21st Century. Evangelicals fared better at the beginning of the 20th Century, fighting for biblical historic Christianity, but the last 50 years of the 20th Century found evangelicals debating essential issues of Classical Theism. Nearing the turn of the 21st Century, the biblical theological core of evangelicalism is being threatened by the various new “theisms” of evangelical revisionists.
Today, the Doctrine of God is in crisis. In a postmodern culture, some see knowing God as oppressive, while others see knowing God as mere emotive sentiment. There is no “objective view of God,” only the creation of the image of God that works for each generation. The official atheism in the public square, whether disguised as banal spirituality or not, is the result of a century of increased secularism. In mainline Christian circles, the classical view of God is rejected. Even popular evangelicalism advocates a “user friendly” god that has little resemblance to the God of the Bible.
Furthermore, the classical doctrine of God has been broken down by some evangelical theologians. Even though evangelicalism grew out of a rejection of liberalism and modernism, evangelical theologians have come to embrace liberalism and reject biblical truth. Theological pluralism among the doctrine of God has become a normal occurrence within the evangelical movement. The crisis of evangelical theism is seen in the denial of the God of classical theism as sovereign, transcendent, omnipotent, and omniscient. The modern worldview rejects any claim of transcendence or the supernatural. Thus, the only two choices for evangelicals is to embrace the worldview of the surrounding culture and reject classical Christian orthodoxy or to reject the worldview of the surrounding culture and affirm classical Christian orthodoxy. Unfortunately, many in the church have embraced the culture and rejected the classical doctrine of God.
One prime advocate of this rejection within evangelicalism is Clark Pinnock. Pinnock rejects the classical doctrine of God and argues that God is a caring parent. He does have some Scripture on his side, but also argues for God’s openness and vulnerability. One must understand that Pinnock and others present the classical doctrine of God as if its proponents believe God is impersonal, remote, and static. This caricature is not an accurate description of Classic Theism. Moreover, Pinnock thinks Christians should force the biblical doctrine of God to answer to the modern culture. The result is catastrophic. Any culture that forms the baseline for the doctrine of God will create a god that bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. As evidenced in Pinnock’s theism, human freedom becomes more important than the classical orthodox view of God.
In conclusion, those who call for revising the classical Christian doctrine of God base their desired revisions on the changing culture’s submission to modernity. The Christian task, however, is not to ensure that our doctrine of God is culturally compelling, but biblically faithful. Those who argue for a “loving god” who resembles a deified human parent present a god who looks very little like the God presented in Scripture or who has been worshiped by Christians for nearly 2000 years. The question is whether evangelicals will affirm and worship the sovereign and purposeful God of the Bible, or shift their worship to the limited God of modernism and practice theology without theism.
I think Mohler’s quick history of modernism was helpful. His point concerning evangelicalism being birthed out of rebellion against liberalism, only to succumb to forms of old liberalism today (1997) was spot on. Mohler is correct that the crisis in evangelicalism is whether or not we will preach the Word and encourage our cultures to submit to God, or if we will seek to alter the Word of God in order to submit to our cultures.
Furthermore, Clark Pinnock was a good example of a revisionist within evangelicalism at the end of the 20th Century. Mohler’s critique was accurate that the classic view of God is often discarded, caricatured, replaced by a straw-man, and then rebutted by these evangelical revisionists. He is also correct in his description of evangelical revisionists reducing the doctrine of God to “human beliefs about God,” or a “user-friendly” god, instead of evangelical Christians affirming that God has revealed Himself truthfully in Scripture, and requires all men to submit or burn in Hell forevermore. Today, Pinnock’s mantle has been picked up by other evangelical revisionists such as Greg Boyd, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Stanley Grenz, and John Franke, plus, many others. The crisis Mohler diagnosed 15 years ago is still the same: Will evangelicals submit to God’s Word or their cultures?
In conclusion, unfortunately, Mohler is correct about his own time and culture (1997), and prophetic about the future. Popular evangelicalism has gone further away from the classic view of God. On a positive note, however, there has been a rebellion against the rebellion. Those who rebel against the classic doctrine of God within evangelicalism are being rebelled against by others who affirm the classic doctrine of God within evangelicalism. There has been a renewed emphasis, a revival of sorts, concerning the classic doctrine of God within evangelicalism. Mohler is a big reason for the growth of this rebellion against the rebellion. There are still many in evangelicalism who reject the classic doctrine of God, but the rebellion against the rebellion is growing.