By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published April 26, 2008
Welcome the Disciples of the New Humility
Strange noises have issued from certain quarters of evangelicalism ever since the election of Bill Clinton. Some of the very Christians on the vanguard of vocal support for the advancement of the Christian faith in the “secular public square” and opposition to entrenched evil in public and social life – abortion, homosexuality, permissiveness, and so forth – have changed their tune dramatically. They have argued that the presidential election of the new democrat (read: old liberal) heralds a change in strategy in addressing the problems of social evil. Further, they have argued that those retaining the strategy they themselves have, by and large, employed for the last fifteen or so years are proud, pharisaic and divisive.
These evangelicals contend that the election of Clinton somehow indicates God is not pleased with our public, pronounced opposition to societal evils, and that we should repent of our causticity and pride and practice a degree of humility in dealing with the new regime in Washington. Some have gone so far as to extol the virtues of this new king, insisting his evident “waffling” on the issues is a sign of his sensitivity to the “Lord’s leading.” We must, the converts to the new humility assert, follow 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ironically the same text they used in the 70s and 80s to justify their return to the political sphere) and repent of our pride in trying to alter political structures and humble ourselves before God.
True humility is obedience to God
This new evangelical opinion, noble in tone, is nonetheless another example of the ubiquity of muddled thinking in modern evangelicalism. To be sure, humility is a requirement of the people of God: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5,6). We are warned of the consequences of pride: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). If we as the people of God, who of all people have the least justification for pride (Eph. 2:8,9), nonetheless entertain it in our lives, we stand under divine sanctions.
But the disciples of the new humility are confounding apples with FAX machines. For “humility” in the face of evil is not evidence of virtue, but proof of compromise of God’s honor. Indeed, says Solomon in Proverbs 25:26, “A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.”
The converts of the new humility do not recognize that humility before God and neighbor requires fierce resistance to the wicked and their tyranny. They do not perceive that we cannot exercise humility before God if we refuse to guard His honor. Would the converts of the new humility depict Elijah’s taunting of the prophets of Baal, John the Baptist’s confrontation of Herod, and Paul’s denunciation of the Judaizers as humble? They should. Like Moses, the meekest man in the earth (Num. 12:3), courageous individuals in Scripture were so concerned to protect the honor of God that their humility toward Him required their vocal confrontation of evil and evildoers. They were so vocal and confrontational precisely because they were truly humble.
The disciples of the new humility, by contrast, seem infected by two ideational diseases: kenosis and experientialism.
- Kenosis – a conviction that self-abasement is inherently more “spiritual” than lack thereof. It tends to dominate Oriental conceptions of spirituality. The disciples of the new humility somehow seem to think groveling in the face of murder and aversion to God’s law as an approach to the wicked is preferable. They believe we should be humble before, not contend with, law breakers. Possibly this trait is due to a century’s influence of antinomian liberalism; but whatever its cause, its effect has been the emasculation of the evangelical church and the concomitant escalation of evil in the private and public spheres.
- Experientialism – the idea that rigorous theological reflection and a resultant sound theology are unnecessary and distasteful and do not contribute to real Christianity: feeling good and getting excited about Jesus. In the case of the disciples of the new humility, the approach is having disastrous consequences.
The revival of social and political activism among evangelicals over the last two decades was basically and ad hoc endeavor: they perceived the pervasiveness of unrighteousness and loss of liberty in the United States and, acting instinctively and intuitively, devoted their time energy to combating these evils. They were not on the whole acting on theological grounds, for their theology, especially their social theory and eschatology, would not permit such activism, at least not with consistency. They overlooked the inconsistency their activism posed to their theology, and plunged in. When they discovered that the election of Reagan and Bush to the presidency did not significantly reverse the social depravity and that the war they waged was extensive and laborious, and especially when they saw what many of them interpreted as a defeat with the election of Clinton, they largely threw in the towel as far as activism is concerned.
There is a simple reason for this abandonment. They did not possess a solid and robust theology (including social theory and ecclesiology) by which long term activism will be sustained; therefore, their instinctive and reckless activism was short-lived. An activism not supported by a sound theology will always be short-lived.
If they are to become effective in their activism, the disciples of the new humility may take up two powerful weapons.
1. A social theory undergirded by a conviction of the relevance of divine Biblical law which in its applicability to modern society may serve as an instrument of dominion.
2. A victorious ecclesiology that sees the church as presently reigning with Christ (Ephesians 1:20-23;2:5,6) and therefore not merely privileged but under compulsion to combat evil in all earthly spheres with the confidence of success by the hand of God.
In their pietism, conversely, the discplies of the new humility have a confidence that God has predestinated Satan’s kingdom to defeat Christ’s kingdom in the present age and that all their activistic endeavors to oppose God’s predestination of Satanic success are doomed to failure. The conversion of the disciples of humility indicates they are perhaps seriously considering abandoning their activism and becoming consistent with their pietistic theology: they wish to be humble before the godless and are uncomfortable around those who wish to be haughty before the godless in order to be humble before God.
We wish the activistic evangelicals would make up their minds: either retreat into their haven of fatalistic pietism or champion the cause of biblical revival and reformation by which they can sustain a long-term and successful campaign against Satan’s kingdom.
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