“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”II Timothy 3:16-17
Tertullian of Carthage (160-225 AD) once wrote, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem.” He penned these words out of great concern because he was witnessing the reshaping of Christianity by the influence of the secular philosophies of his day. The faith, which had been “once for all handed down to the saints,”1 was being deformed by the most prominent and most accepted “truths” of the secular world.
This kind of syncretism2 has always been the greatest danger facing Christianity and its mission in the world. For this reason, we must always choose the Scriptures over any other voice or influence that contradicts the truths of the Scriptures or adds to them. The commonly accepted cliché that “all truth is God’s truth” seems to carry great intellectual integrity, yet to embrace it without caution and the greatest restrictions is to open a Pandora’s Box and fill the Christian faith with every sort of error in doctrine and practice. The Scriptures are the one and only infallible source of truth. They stand alone and do not require or request the assistance or approval of other disciplines. Although we may appreciate and use the great discoveries outside of the Scriptures, we must not view them as equal. History has proven that whenever a person, council, or discipline is set beside the Scripture, it soon usurps the Scripture’s authority and becomes a controlling factor in reshaping Christianity. In our day, two of the most powerful and dangerous forces that are usurping the Scripture’s authority and reshaping the church and her missionary endeavors are pragmatism and the social sciences.
It should be obvious that pragmatism has become the rule of the day in evangelism and missions. The question is no longer, “Is it biblical?” but rather, “Does it work Does it produce results?” This is a deadly rule to follow. It is a deceptive compass that has resulted in the shipwreck of many ministries. Instead of developing a biblical methodology based upon a proper interpretation of the text, mission organizations and missionaries rush from conference to conference and from book to book in search of the latest fad or popular methodology which promises success. Many of these strategies have the appearance of wisdom and may result in a brief fury of expectation and activity, but they are of little value for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. They were not birthed from the Scriptures and they do not depend upon the Spirit’s quickening. They are full of cogs and wheels but have no life. They begin with great noise and quickly grind to a halt. Afterward, they are discarded and replaced. They are Saul’s armor,3 and those who employ them are trusting in the arm of the flesh.4
The other great secular force that is reshaping Christianity and its mission to the world are the social sciences—Fallen man’s hostile alternative to the Scriptures for repairing his own brokenness. Because of Evangelicalism’s current low view of doctrine and its ignorance of theological truth, its message and methodologies have come under the powerful yet erroneous influence of the secular anthropologist, sociologist, and psychologist. Their uncertain, ever-changing, and anti-biblical theories have eaten away the very foundation of our faith, drained the power from our proclamation, and left us with little to say to the world.
We should ask ourselves the same question that Elijah was sent to ask King Ahaziah, “Is there no God in Israel that we must inquire of other gods?5 Is there no God in Evangelicalism that we must seek counsel from the very disciplines that were initiated as alternatives to the Scriptures and the Christian worldview? Would it not be wiser to follow God’s admonition to the prophet Isaiah and his disciples?
“When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”6
If we are to regain and maintain our biblical compass in missions, our doctrine and methodology must be shaped by the inerrant and immutable Scriptures through the work of the exegete, the theologian, and the church historian. We have no need of the antibiblical and everchanging opinions of the psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist or pragmatic church-growth expert. We must strive with the greatest intent and effort to draw our doctrines and methodologies from the Scriptures.
- Jude 1:3
- Syncretism refers to the merging of distinct and often contradictory religious and cultural ideas. Example: The merging of Buddhistic or Islamic teaching with orthodox Christianity, or the entrance of secular philosophy or pop culture within the church.
- I Samuel 17:38-39
- II Chronicles 32:7-8
- II Kings 1:3, 6, 16
- Isaiah 8:19-20
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer