Recently John Piper made a telling statement on his blog. He was responding to an article by Joseph Bottum lamenting “The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline“. John Piper wrote:
“I pray that the younger evangelicals who are pondering where to put their energies will learn from history that doctrinal accommodation brings larger audiences in the short run but death and irrelevance in the long run. And God forbid that any should say with Hezekiah: Who cares if the death comes in 80 years as long as I have crowds and influence in my day (2 Kings 20:19) (http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1357_dying_protestantism/)”
What caught my eye in this quote was the term “doctrinal accommodation“. What this term means is the willingness of churches to sacrifice key doctrinal points in order to accommodate other churches or the society at large. Doing so often increases church numbers and maybe secular respect, but; it also has a dilution effect in that the resultant members are less “dedicated” (e.g. less dogmatic) than those in doctrinally rigid churches. In fact, a 1993 poll quoted by both Piper and Bottum stated: “the single best predictor of church participation turned out to be belief—orthodox Christian belief, and especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ…”. Duh! A firm doctrinal stand, e.g. black and white doctrine in a grey world, causes people go to church more and probably makes them more committed.
Doctrinal accommodation is both the bane and boon of Christianity. Without it seminaries won’t get academic respect and churches won’t get their mega-churches. With it, churches can gain the entertainment crowd and grow to several thousand but most of those people will be marginal at best. For those dedicated Christians sold out to their doctrinal purity, doctrinal accommodation is a horrible sin because, in their view, such accommodation compromises the very word of God for societal acceptance. Of course, doctrinal “purity” has caused countless church splits since you can’t compromise on what God’s word “clearly” states.
For atheists doctrinal accommodation is a great thing. It dilutes the zealous Christians. It dilutes their scriptures into a mere guidebook rather than the very word of God. And it dilutes their will to fight for their beliefs. For those Christian churches or denominations that refuse doctrinal accommodation, it can also be a boon for atheists and freethinkers. It isolates those churches from the more liberal Christian world and makes them seem dogmatic and unreasonable. It causes church splits and strife. And in many cases causes such churches look foolish in the eyes of the world and are therefore less effective in prostylizing. However, there is a danger here. In bad times, a black and white take on the world, which so many doctrinally rigid churches have, is very appealing to many who don’t want to think through the issues themselves.
One can only hope that continued doctrinal accommodation and a bit of reason and logic will begin to bring people out of the darkness of religion. Evangelical-Lite or Religion-Lite is a start. Here’s to the Millstone of Doctrinal Accommodation.