Christianity continues to define and redefine itself. I continue to question Christians in these matters. Why do Christians claim to have the Holy Spirit, yet every church I go into has a racial bias? The list is long.
I do not question the biblical God, but errors of man in interpreting God’s thoughts and ways. For man’s thoughts are not God’s thought and God’s ways are not man’s ways. Christianity is dying because of Christians, not because of the rest of the world. Christians are not blameless or set apart as commanded. See Alan Wolfe's article.
Your message to Randy did not seem to include a specific question. The insightful statement that you “do not question the biblical God, but errors of man in interrupting God’s thought’s and ways” brings up the critical issue of authority, which I suspect is at the core of both your observations about the article you referenced (Albert Mohler’s web review of Alan Wolfe’s book, The Transformation of American Religion: How we Actually Live our Faith). I have not read the book in question, so I will have to rely on the accuracy of the article. Also, the terms used in the article have no definitions. As a result, I do not know who Wolfe is referring to as evangelical, Christian, church, etc. I suspect that a secularist would define them differently than I would.
Wolfe has raised some valid observations about the American religious environment; many of which true Christian believers should carefully take note. I do not agree with his conclusion that evangelical Christianity is not much of a threat to secularists.
The Bible has much to say about Christians being responsible for their testimony before men and culture; after all, they are visibly representing God. Wolfe’s observations show that the secular world is indeed watching. And the fact that he perceives the American church as not much of a threat to secularists demonstrates why God holds individuals accountable for their actions. God’s Word is in agreement with Wolfe’s views on several points; God despises the ineffectuality of preaching without content (Gal 1:8), exchanging orthodoxy for popularity (1 Tim 6:2-5), emphasizing feeling-good over thinking and acting rightly (Jam 2:15-17), placating sin with falsehoods (2 Pet 2:1), not understanding Deity (Acts 8:20; Rev 1:10-18), and making theological accommodation to culture (2 Tim 4:3).
The famous passage in Revelation 3 contains Jesus Christ’ stern words to the poor testimony of several local churches. Leaders in the Church are to have a good reputation with those outside (1 Tim. 3:7). The Christian is not to be molded by cultural values; rather, they are to be molded by God (Rom. 12:1-2). Unity (around Christ, not around palatable ecumenism) should attract the attention and testify to the world that the Father has sent the Son (John 17:23). The Church and its members are to be pure (1 Cor. 5). The Church should be salt attracting the world to drink (Matt. 5:13), a light on a hill (Matt. 5:14), but salt that has been altered by environment looses its seasoning purpose.
One flaw in Wolfe’s reasoning is found in the following quote: “If we believe, as Mohler does, that ‘religions stand or fall on the validity of their truth claims,’ there will inevitably be as many truths at war with each other as there are faiths.” This only has meaning if one redefines “truth” as somehow centering in an adherent’s approval. Wolfe would have been correct if he had said that many truth-perceptions are at war to convince an inquirer that their point of view is the truth. There is only one truth as far as God is concerned. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’” (John 14:6). There are not multiple ways to God, there is only one Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 9:2 where followers of Christ belong to “the Way”). “Intolerant” or not, the “exclusivity of the Christian gospel” is, in fact, the Truth.
Wolfe’s secularism shows up again in his assumption that organized religions are the primary method God uses in reaching the world. Biblically, the Church is not an organized system, it is a world-wide living organism of individuals whose common bond is “being called out by God’s grace through His Word to belief in Christ.” This Church is a smaller subset of the self-professed church. I will purposefully use this distinction between capitalized and lower-case church below. There are tares among the wheat. To assume that God is losing because Americans overwhelmingly say they believe in God; say they are going to Heaven; and say they are born again in Christ, yet act in a culturally-diluted manner, is to believe that God is dependent upon man. Certainly man is the instrument through whom the world hears the Word. But, it is God, not man, who builds His Church.
There are organized religions that would like to think that God is dependent upon them. But God always has believers to call upon to testify of Him no matter what condition “religion” is in. God told Elijah, who was bemoaning that he was the last person left in Israel who had not bowed to Ba’al, that He had 7,000 faithful witnesses preserved (cf. 1 Kings 19:18). Paul writes that people hear of God through an individual presenting His Word, not through organized religion. “How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Rom 10:14-15). Whether Satan attempts to thwart the Church through cultural-dilution of its testimony as in the West or through persecution as in the East, he cannot succeed. God grows His Church.
The thirteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew records Christ’s parables asserting that the Kingdom of God will grow despite any resisting power on earth. It will expand from within (leaven); it will expand to a great size (mustard seed); it will contain counterfeit followers on earth (tares instead of wheat, seed sown on unprofitable ground). Throughout the Bible God warns of accommodating the evil aspects of culture. Israel was to purge itself of false gods and their followers. Entire reigns of some of the kings of Israel catered to evil. Some local churches (especially in Corinth) were comfortable with unholy activities. Yet, God’s plan continues. In John 2:23-25, it is revealed that not everyone proclaiming that they are followers of Jesus are truly viewed by Him as believers. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.” There are entire groups today who claim to be churches or followers of God, yet their activities or beliefs betray the emptiness of their claim.
“Evangelicals” are by no means excluded from this group. Ascribing to theological orthodoxy does not automatically translate into “pure and undefiled religion before God” (James 1:27). As James asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14). Each human is responsible for how they conduct their life. Everyone, believers and non-believers alike, will stand before God and give account of their choices and actions in life. This is a separate issue from whether that person is already forgiven and free from the penalty of sin (Rev. 20:11-15).
You mentioned the Holy Spirit being present in the church. Let’s look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit as the Bible reveals it. He is involved with both believers and non-believers. His ministry in the lives of non-believers is to make them conscious of sin. John 16:8-11 details this: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” The Holy Spirit’s ministry in the believer’s life follows in the next verses (12-15): “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you.”
True believers within the church do, indeed, have the Holy Spirit indwelling them (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). But this does not mean that everything they say is from the Spirit. A true believer, more than anyone, realizes that they are forgiven sinners and that sanctification is a process. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit within the believer that will convict them and present the truth that, when lived out, produces sanctification. Believers and churches are not perfect. What is perfect is the Word of God, the Scripture, the Bible.
God has revealed Himself through two sources His creation and His written Word. Everything around us testifies of the Creator. This General Revelation is sufficient to remove any excuse that someone does not know there is a God. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:18-21). Yet, this General Revelation is not sufficient to communicate the specific issues of the essence of God, His grace with regard to salvation, and the eternal nature of His will.
What is needed is Special Revelation, and it is only found in the Bible. The Bible is the absolute authority against which man is to normalize his reasoning and guard against the drift of relativism. The God of the Bible is the One who inerrantly recorded His truth through human agents. “And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:19-21). The word “prophecy” used here is not restricted to the narrower understanding it has taken on today, that is, the idea of foretelling the future. This word literally means “proclamation” of all kinds. This is testimony by the Scriptures of its own origin, specifically saying that everything in Scripture came directly from God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is to be trusted above the independent testimony of any man.
As you pointed out, God is the final authority. His thoughts, not my thoughts, need to be normative (Isa. 55:8-9). Since He is sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, everywhere-present, holy, and self-existent, whatever He says is Truth. The essence of sin is embodied in the choice by man to move from the state where God is the ultimate authority to the state where man is the final arbiter of truth. Adam and Eve, when presented with the Serpent’s offer, did not go back to God and seek His counsel. They decided to “become like God” and make moral decisions based on what seemed most desirous to them at the time. It is foolish for ones who are essentially dependent on an absolutely perfect provider to decide to sever the relationship, but that is what each of us has done.
Every word in the Bible is literally “God breathed.” “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Here, the word “inspired by God” is literally “God-breathed” theopneustos. The Bible is Truth, words breathed out by God. Thus, both the God of the Bible, and the Bible itself, are absolute authority.
Christianity at its core is an individual and personal calling, not withstanding the Church, which is simply a called-out group of believers. Thus, someone using an excuse of perceived hypocrisy, or cultural-dilution (as in the article) observed in the visible church, is using a spurious argument to justify not responding to Christ. Each individual must consider the Bible and respond to Jesus Christ. From what Jesus said in John 3, if an individual decides not to respond he has condemned himself because he refused God’s offer of Christ. God does not condemn a person to Hell; they choose the destination. “He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil” (see John 3:15-19).
But for the believer, “... now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).