Programs, Get Your Programs!

In 2005, Phil Johnson eviscerated modern evangelicalism's obsession with trends and fads: "The concept of evangelicalism has been expanded to become all-inclusive. The word evangelical has lost its historic meaning. These days it means everything—and it therefore means nothing." (mp3) (PDF transcript)

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Mark_Smith's picture

On page 5 of the transcript he says "And James Dobson is the godfather of the "culture war" fad."

Does Phil really think James Dobson's effort over 40 years can be summed up as a "culture war" fad?

Bert Perry's picture

And yes, given the amount of psychology vs. that of Scripture in FOTF, it has become a culture war fad, sad to say.  it's a fad that I've used and even been blessed by, but it's driven a lot of fads.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Johnson wrote:

The evangelical movement right now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is in a spiritual condition not very much different from the medieval church just before the Protestant Reformation. Think about it. Luther had to deal with Tetzel, the charlatan fund-raiser who went through Europe promising people miracles in return for money so that the Pope could build St. Peter’s church in the Vatican. We’ve got at least a dozen Tetzels appearing daily on TBN, promising people miracles in exchange for money so that Jan Crouch can make the sets of their television studios gaudier than any room in the Vatican while she adds enough pink hair extensions to rival the Dome of St. Peter’s. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Johnson continued:

. . . in the medieval era, the gospel was in eclipse and people were so woefully ignorant of biblical truth that men in Martin Luther’s time could complete seminary and enter ministry without ever having learned “the first principles of the oracles of God.” We’re well on the road to that same situation today. Many seminaries are deliberately eliminating biblical and theological courses and replacing them with courses in business and marketing. And Christian leaders who call themselves evangelical are actually encouraging these trends. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

That is what we are called to do as pastors—not follow the fads and fashions of our culture. Not even to follow the silly parade of evangelical fads that have assaulted the church in wave after wave for two decades running. The fads and the programs are killing the evangelical movement. And I’m convinced that those who do not get back to the business of preaching the Bible will soon see their churches die—because, after all, the Word of God is the only message that has the power to give spiritual life. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

Please don't commit any logical fallacies with assumptions of yours.

Please defend that FOTF and James Dobson, with all of his parenting work (which includes some psychology) is a fad?

What is a fad? First of all.

Mark_Smith's picture

is just about a "culture war" neglects all of the other work they do, like family counseling and advice, parenting advice, etc.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, when millions of evangelicals are persuaded to hang on every word Dobson says, and that word generally proceeds more from evangelical culture and psychology than it does the Scripture, then yes, many of the things they would do would qualify as a fad, or a movement that temporarily motivates large numbers of people.

I would agree that modalist and prosperity theologian T.D. Jakes is an even more worthy recipient of Johnson's ire than are Dobson and FOTF, and also that the relatively long duration of FOTF's popularity makes it much longer-lived than most fads (e.g. disco), but in diverting evangelical attention away from the timeless truths of Scripture and towards psychology with a good touch of navel-gazing, FOTF does indeed qualify for Johnson's rebuke.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

You are talking about his psychology. Phil ignored that and said "culture war".

Mark_Smith's picture

Sounds to me like you are exaggerating, No? Can you establish that "millions" of evangelicals were blindly waiting for marching orders from James Dobson?

I think you should stick to logic my friend, and not exaggerate. Cold, calculated logic is the only thing allowed.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, take a look at the issues page of Focus on the Family and tell me that they were not fighting the culture war--modesty, abstinence, divorce, homosexuality, etc..  And yes, millions of evangelicals--there is a reason that their programs have been carried on hundreds of Christian radio stations across the country.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Millions might listen... but you said "hang on every word". That is something different. Its called hyperbole and exaggeration.

You then switched what you said. Initially, you talked about family. Now that I pointed out that the Johnson article is about "culture war" you switched your tune. Inconsistency I think.

Bert Perry's picture

No, Mark, I'm not exaggerating, and if you're going to try and tell me that family issues--which have reached the Supreme Court, ahem--are not part of the culture wars, I'm going to suggest you might need to get out more.  While certainly they don't ONLY fight the culture wars, they are a combatant, and hence when they proceed more from psychology or the "church of what's happenin' now" than Scripture (as the link I provided demonstrates, by the way), they fully deserve the rebuke Johnson administers.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

One of Johnson's main critiques is that almost all of the popular evangelical "fads" have little or nothing to do with the Gospel and it's implications for your life in this "present, evil world" (cf. Gal 1:3-4). It's about consumerism and Christian entrepreneurialism (wow, had to use spellcheck on that one!), rather than sanctification. Consider this excerpt:

And I have sat in meetings with publishers who have tried to convince John MacArthur to tone down his message, soften his hard stance on controversial issues, ignore things that are unpopular, and tell more funny stories. Publisher after publisher has tried to tell him he could broaden his audience and sell more books if he would just broaden his message a little. One publisher looked at some of his material—it was the series on the twelve apostles—they looked at it and told him, “It’s just too biblical.” I kid you not. They said it sounded too much like Sunday School material; they wanted more contemporary stories and hip language, and less Bible. That book was published anyway, without dumbing it down or removing a single Scripture reference. It was titled Twelve Ordinary Men, and despite the experts predictions, it stayed on the bestseller list for more than two years.

But that’s how all these fads are crafted. They are deliberately dumbed down, made soft and generic and nonthreatening, so that they don’t rebuke anyone’s sin; they don’t endanger anyone’s shallowness; they don’t threaten anyone’s comfort zone; and they don’t challenge anyone’s worldliness. That’s the way both the publishers and the people want it. 

Conservative evangelicalism, particularly the kind favored by silly Pastors who wear their son's polo-shirts, seems to have an obsession with catering to popular culture. This is a systemic problem, going all the way back to the now-infamous article from 1956, entitled "Is Evangelical Theology Changing?" Go into your local Christian bookstore and take a look around. I am convinced that these bookstores are very, very dangerous places. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?