The following audio is a recent Telegraph interview with the former (Anglican) Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and with Damian Thompson (a former religious affairs correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and a current director of the Catholic Herald), following analysis of the 2011 British Census showing a 15 percent decline in Church attendance over the previous decade, and the growth of Islam among young Britons to 1 in 10. Nazir-Ali has much to say regarding Christianity's numeric decline, centered mostly on the Church's capitulation to a worldly secularist culture:
- “The churches have been complicit in what has been going on in culture since the 1960's...”
“Secularization... has removed the need in people to ask spiritual questions about themselves, about the world in which they live. This has to do with education... Science has made huge progress in identifying What things are... but what has not been emphasized in education is the Why? of things... and the What for?... We are wired, inately, to ask the questions of meaning and significance... If you don't have the Christian answer, you manufacture an answer... or you go into depression... or you trend toward extremism...”
“[Regarding] the assumption that there is some kind of ‘secular neutrality’ which can then replace Christianity; well, there is no such thing as secular neutrality. Secularism has its own set of presuppositions... it is its own Worldview. One of the things we have to set aside is this lie... that secularity is some kind of tabula rasa...”
“How [Christians] excuse this is by saying, ‘this is about engagement, so we must understand the language of secularity in order to make the Christian faith intelligible...’ but, what can then happen is that the language of secularity takes over, so instead of engagement, you have capitulation. This is constantly happening now in the Christian churches: the Christian Worldview is simply capitulating to a secular Worldview... The churches have generally capitulated to secular culture and therefore cannot bring a distinctive voice to public debate.”
- “I'm interested in comparing Christianity... to Islam. Christianity is really rather a complex system of belief, the relationship between Jesus and God the Father is hard to explain, the question of how you're saved is the source of continuing dispute. Islam, particularly in its more puritanical well-founded expressions, is in many ways, simpler [appears to be simpler, as Nazir-Ali emphasizes later]. It has this relatively pure concept of God, and it offers salvation through detailed and easy-to-grasp, if not easy-to-follow, rules... But also... it offers an outlet for anger. Since the fastest growing expressions of Islam stigmatize non-believers in a way that is not fashionable in Christianity anymore... religious anger in response to political grievances, which is an enormous amount, is sanctified...”
“What also strikes me is the lack of intellectual self-confidence among Christian leaders... a tremendous lack of the sort of leadership at the top of Christianity that you would find at the top of every other area of human activity.”
This podcast is taken from the May 30, 2013 edition of Telegram Religion Editorial: British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why?
(Right-click here to save MP3)
We unmistakably see the capitulation of which Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali speaks, as especially true among mainline liberal protestantism, but equally so within the Evangelical Movement, which, seeking to “grow the church” and foster unity among Christians through ecumenical and evangelical dialogue, has increasingly prescribed the adoption of worldly philosophies and methods as a panacea for the challenges of the visible church in the face of rising secularism: “If culture in its growing secularism is becoming more irreligious, well then, for the Church is to remain relevant to culture, it must speak to it in a more irreligious tone, as well.” In my opinion, the Evangelical Movement isn't really evangelical at all, anymore. It is now, thanks especially to the Church Growth Movement (CGM), just a species of liberal protestantism.
The funny thing is, “secularism,” or the idea of a complete separation of religion from society, was only ever a sociological hypothesis – one that has long been disproven, even rejected by the Austrian-born sociologist who initially posited it in 1971. Nevertheless, the idea continues to not just “hang around,” but to be a driving force – and militantly so – in politics, education and society. In a 2010 lecture I attended in Strasbourg, France, entitled “Biblical Authority of Scripture,” Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher explained:
- “Interestingly, there was a new social theory expressed in 1971, by [Lutheran] sociologist Peter Berger, that as nations become more technologically advanced they become more secular, and need to rely less on the mysticism of religion. In 1971, there was every evidence that this was true, but it had nothing to do with technological achievement – it was political. Either a nation sided with NATO or with Warsaw, and to do so required secularization. Berger renounced his own theory in 1983, as by then the data showed that his theory was false, but this theory is still repeated in the media ad nauseum. Within twelve years, the rise of evangelicalism worldwide (700,000,000 today), and the rise of Islam had proven him wrong. Peter Berger wrote in a recent article that the reason the perception exists, that the world is becoming less religious rather than the reality that it is becoming dramatically more religious, is that the ‘Three most influential groups in the world are essentially atheists: media, academics, and politicians’”
Schirrmacher, T. (July 13, 2010). Lecture Eleven: International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights. Strasbourg, FR.
One of the more notable consequences of this “Christian Capitulation” to worldly culture, according to Nazir-Ali, is a severe pedagogical imbalance which, in the name of strict secularism, completely disregards that part of the whole person which yearns for completion. Berger and other post-Modernists, try to discover and define that completion in the context of humanity itself, by inflating the impact of man's social existence to ontological and epistemological authority. Such approaches, however, do not take the whole person seriously. As with all alluring falsehoods, the compelling deception they offer rests on the fact that they are partly true. Humans were designed and created by God for a social existence: for communion with Him and with one another on account of Him. The unregenerate person – the person outside of Christ, who is spiritually dead – is incomplete without this communion. And such a person inherently knows he is incomplete – thus his search for “fulfillment” to a degree that, as the sheer volume of data demonstrates, literally explodes the secularist hypothesis: man cannot and does not exist independently of a very real yearning for communion with his Creator, for an “otherness” that his naked social, physical and intellectual existence simply cannot satisfy. In the face of an advancing secularism that is foisted on Western Society by elites in the media, politics and the universities, the people nevertheless innately reject the myth of “secular neutrality,” and continue to desperately grope about in a thickening fog for a meaning and significance that transcends the realities of their human existence. Yet, with a Western Christianity that has capitulated to secular culture and has joined it in self-loathing, what many folks find in their blind groping is simply more of the same emptiness, and with nothing to grasp, lay hold of that which conjures within man the most compelling experiences he can muster within himself as evidence of true religion: those experiences of love and hatred, of joy and anger.
The WELS is in Convention this week. The link to the online proceedings is here. In many ways, and by all visible accounts, our Synod is suffering terminal illness. Financial mismanagement of previous administrations which sacrificed Lutheran distinctiveness in exchange for the conspicuous sectarianism of the Evangelical Movement, has done more than change our practice and left us penniless: by dramatically changing how we are willing to express our doctrine, it has begun to change the very terms, and invariably with them the relationships between the terms, in which we think about our doctrine and practice. It has led to an endorsement of post-Modernism as our ideology of education and as fundamental to our understanding of language – which impacts our understanding of what it means for the Scriptures to be inerrant, infallible and perspicuous, and consequently what it means to aspire to accuracy and precision in a translation of the Bible. There are many WELS Lutherans who are – either rightly or wrongly – concerned about one doctrinal perversion or another that seems to be manifest among us. Without discounting the seriousness of those concerns, in my honest opinion, WELS is facing a much more significant and overarching concern: that of the Word of God, itself. That is to say, like the Missouri Synod faced, from the late 1930's through the mid-1970's, we in WELS are now facing our own Crisis of the Word. Why is this overarching? Simply put: No Bible, no doctrine. No reliable Bible, no reliable doctrine. Whatever other doctrinal concerns there may be, with a perverted views of Plenary Inspiration and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures, which are necessitated by a perverted post-Modern understanding of the nature of language, there is no possible way to maintain any doctrine with any clarity or fidelity whatsoever. Yet, most WELS Lutherans continue to regard matters of “Bible Translation” which issue from conflicting “philosophies of language” to be non-essential and inconsequential matters.
Will those who think otherwise make an actual show of it at this year's Synod Convention? Will they continue to nurse what by all external appearances is a terminal disease? Or will they capitulate, with little or no substantive debate, regarding the adoption of the NIV 2011 – a translation of the Bible built on a philosophy that is ultimately hostile to the fundamentals of Christianity – and in so doing announce to the rest of us in this final coup de grâce that all reasonable hope is lost, and that it is simply time to move on with a different group of Lutherans? We'll see.