In the 1920′s, J. Gresham Machen diagnosed not only the intellectual and theological drift of his day but of that which would continue to develop over the next 90 years. He wrote,For those of you who are not familiar with this seminal work of J. Gresham Machen, here is a link to the on-line text. I encourage all to read it carefully.
"The depreciation of the intellect, with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or of the will, is, we think, a basic fact in modern life, which is rapidly leading to a condition in which men neither know anything nor care anything about the doctrinal content of the Christian religion, and in which there is in general a lamentable intellectual decline. "(What is Faith?, p.28)
The drift away from theology, i.e. the events of the redemptive-historical drama in the Bible and their meaning (doctrine), created a vacuum that has been gradually filled with other things. And one of the main results has been the rise of both the relational and the experiential as pillars of many expressions of American Christianity."One of the reasons why I hate round table discussions as conducted in the Episcopal church today is that they are "moderated" and direct participants are instructed to avoid discussions of doctrine and scripture and instead to focus on expressions of feelings, experiences, and emotions.
To paraphrase the words of Traffic’s hit song from that same time period, a new old fashioned experiential goo was replacing the Word-based proclamation of Christ, i.e his death and resurrection for unworthy sinners in both Word and Sacrament (doctrine from above). To be built up in Christ now had more to do with being touched by someone’s testimony of their experience, accompanied by their own unique interpretation of the Spirit’s work in their life. And of course, it was incumbent upon those listening to be appropriately and relationally supportive with “amens” and “praise the Lords.” Interestingly, that’s not all too different from what one finds in any number of different support groups. The means of grace in Word and Sacrament by which sinner/saint is comforted and strengthened in faith was gradually replaced with shared testimonies of subjective experiences and mystical worship moments to attain a corporate sense of “God’s Spirit.”In the Episcopal tradition, we do not supply the "Amens and Praise the Lords" when engaging in our "listening processes". Instead, we nod and pass the tissues.
Faith, no longer pointed to nor rooted in the redemptive-historical objectivity of the gospel, was redirected toward the ever-elusive subjective. So, once again Machen’s words from the twenties presciently described what came about,Machen was exceptionally prescient. Miller reminds us of the applicability of Machen's predictions to the Evangelical church, but I think this also applies to non-evangelicals as well. It is amazing that our Bishops cannot recognize that the walk away from doctrine and headlong rush into the subjectivist goo is one of the causes of the decline of the Episcopal church.
The identifying mark of much of today’s evangelical church is the subjective/experiential elevated above the objective/declarative of the Word. And it is this modern means of grace which is deemed spiritually authentic. Speak of doctrine or objective biblical truth and eyes begin to roll in boredom. Share your experience of a God-moment and heaven has come to earth.
I mean I really feel strongly about this...