Men and women who lack a biblical worldview tend to think of religion as the noblest expression of the human character. Popular opinion in the world at large has generally regarded religion as something inherently admirable, honorable, and beneficial.
Nearly as bad would be a shepherd whose vision is myopic. He has never seen a wolf clearly with his own eyes. He therefore believes the threat of wolves is grossly exaggerated. Even though his sheep keep disappearing or getting torn to shreds by something, he refuses to believe it is wolves that are harming his flock. He declares that he is tired of hearing shrill wolf ....warnings from others. He begins telling the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf ” to everyone who will listen. Finally concluding that other people’s “negativity” toward wolves poses a greater danger to his flock than the wolves themselves, he takes out his reed and plays a gentle tune to lull the lambs to sleep. Then, of course, there is the “hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep.” He “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and f lees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling f lees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (John 10:12–13).
Self seeking hirelings, myopic shepherds, and wannabe wolf tamers are all too prevalent in the church today. So are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Frankly, some of the postmodern lambswool costumes aren’t even the least bit convincing. But some pastors seem to have no hesitancy about unleashing these eager wolves among their flocks. Many are like the near ....sighted shepherd in my parable—convinced that warnings about the threat of wolves are potentially more dangerous than actual wolves.
Contemporary evangelicalism in general seems to have no taste whatsoever for any kind of doctrinal friction—much less open conflict with spiritual wolves. The Evangelical Manifesto I cited in the introduction to this book clearly reflects that point of view, expressing many more words of concern about evangelical public relations than it ever does for evangelical doctrinal soundness. The document confidently asserts that “the Evangelical message, ‘good news’ by definition, is overwhelmingly positive, and always positive before it is negative.”14 That’s a considerable overstatement—especially given the fact that Paul’s systematic outline of the gospel in Romans begins with the words, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Romans 1:18) and then goes on for almost three full chapters expounding on the depth and universality of human “ungodliness and unrighteousness,” which is what unleashed God’s wrath in the first place. Only after he has made the bad news inescapable does Paul introduce the gospel’s good news. He follows the very same pattern in abbreviated form in Ephesians 2:1–10.
As we are going to see, Jesus Himself was not always positive before being negative. Some of His longest discourses, including all of Matthew 23, were entirely negative.
The recent Evangelical Manifesto gives a nod of commendation to “those in the past for their worthy desire to be true to the fundamentals of faith,” but then it seems to suggest that militancy in defense of the core truths of Christianity is always to be avoided. In fact, the main reason the manifesto gives for listing “conservative fundamentalism” as one of two opposite corruptions of the true Protestant spirit (the other being “liberal revisionism”) is that certain fundamentalists have resisted the liberalizing tendency with “styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub ....Christian.”15.....
This is the polar opposite of any invitation to dialogue. He doesn’t say, “They’re basically good guys. They have pious intentions. They have some valid spiritual insights. Let’s have a conversation with them.” Instead, He says, “Keep your distance. Be on guard against their lifestyle and their influence. Follow them, and you are headed for the same condemnation they are.”
This approach would surely have earned Jesus an resounding outpouring of loud disapproval from today’s guardians of evangelical protocol. In fact, His approach to the Pharisees utterly debunks the cardinal points of conventional wisdom among modern and postmodern evangelicals—the neo evangelical fondness for eternal collegiality, and the Emerging infatuation with engaging all points of view in endless conversation. By today’s standards, Jesus words about the Pharisees and His treatment of them are breathtakingly severe. Let’s turn back to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and observe how this hostility between Him and the Pharisees began and how it developed.
I think many readers will be surprised to discover that it was Jesus who fired the first shot. And it was a shockingly powerful broadside.