Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nancy Pearcey and Chuck Colson

A friend recently was asking me about problems with the thinking of Nancy Pearcey and Chuck Colson, so I wrote the following.

Nancy Pearcey and Charles Colson are both part of a stream of Evangelicalism that has a history and that is much broader than their individual influence.

Chuck Colson

Let’s look at Chuck Colson first. His conversion, he says, came through reading Mere Christianity, and his theological perspective now seems to reflect that foundation. The problem with Mere Christianity is its lack of clarity about the Gospel. C.S. Lewis says in the book that if you don’t understand the substitutionary atonement or have problems with it, just don’t worry about it. So, right off, the clarity of the Gospel is lost within a syncretistic context.

Another problem with Chuck Colson’s thinking is connected to the fact that he is married to a Roman Catholic. I believe that as a result of that and Lewis’s influence, he has been led to try to make coalitions between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. This is especially expressed in the movement Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which he and Richard John Neuhaus (a Roman Catholic) formed together. It's very influential today. Neuhaus is a RC convert from Lutheranism. Among other things, Colson has been teaching that the conflict of the Reformation was more a misunderstanding about words than a real basic conflict about truth. This is a total distortion of church history, and trying to say that somehow the preaching of the Gospel today in Evangelicalism can be harmoniously linked with Roman Catholicism is nothing more than false teaching. Any gospel that would fit into that would have to be a false gospel. (Romans 3 clearly lays out the true Gospel.)

It is a matter of fact that the Council of Trent (1600s), called by the RC Church as a counter-movement to the Reformation, declared that to hold justification by faith alone is a heresy that leads to anathema or eternal damnation. The Roman Catholic Church has never rescinded this declaration and still promotes it today. A council like the Council of Trent is supposed to be infallible according to the Roman Catholic Church. Officially, Roman Catholics still accept that as part of the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium). And official Roman Catholic doctrine today is that justification is by both faith and works.

In order to make an alliance or coalition of these extremely different views—Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism—one obviously has to sacrifice truth. Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith alone the cardinal doctrine of the Church upon which the truth of the Church stands. Luther was willing to be burned alive rather than repudiate that doctrine. If you’re wrong on this point, any doctrines following it will also be wrong.

One other problem with Colson’s views is that he has confused civil religion, which is basically the religion of the state in U.S. history, with Biblical Christianity. In civil religion, one can have the Ten Commandments, but the Gospel is not there. Therefore, you can make alliances with anyone who is conservative and believes in moral principles (such as Mormons and perhaps even Muslims). In a recent conference leading Evangelicals, including Richard Mouw (president of Fuller Seminary) and Ravi Zacharias (an apologist), came together with Mormon leaders to proclaim their commonality and to pray together. This is one of the obvious evil fruits of this syncretistic approach to conservative religion in the United States. The idea is let’s get together on the moral issues and deal with the great enemy—secularism—and leave those sticky doctrinal issues aside. So it really turns into a battle between secularism and supernatural religion—not necessarily Bible-based Christianity.

A good example of the intellectual alliance that both Pearcey and Colson are associated with is the Veritas Forum ( This forum brings speakers to college campuses to talk about truth. However, the speakers are a real mixed bag. They include such as Madeline L’Engle (a New Age writer blindly extolled by many Christians), Ravi Zacharias (mentioned earlier), several Roman Catholics, and Dallas Willard. Willard is known as one of the “fathers” of the Emergent Church, along with Richard Foster. The forum isn’t all bad, but it’s very syncretistic, and, again, the main worldview expressed is supernatural vs. secular or materialistic. The hope of the Gospel is not the centerpiece. Instead, the centerpiece is having a “Christian worldview,” which ends up being more of a religious or theistic worldview and not necessarily a Christian one.

Nancy Pearcey

I’m not as well acquainted with Nancy Pearcey, but from what I’ve read of her books, she was strongly influenced by Francis Schaeffer. I believe Schaeffer was very aware of the dangers of syncretism in the Church, and he certainly was very wary of any kind of alliance with Roman Catholicism. He emphasized a Christian worldview based on the Bible, and with his Reformed background had great clarity on the Gospel. But Nancy Pearcey appears to have taken Schaeffer’s worldview and combined it with what I call the Anglican-Lewisian worldview (described below), which I believe Schaeffer definitely would not have favored. In fact, Schaeffer’s book The Great Evangelical Disaster warns about just this type of syncretism.

This type of syncretism is like a strategy in a war that doesn’t come down from the General but rather is done by some lower-level commanders who think they know best but who are making grave errors—especially in forming wrong alliances, which the Bible warns against over and over.

In some sense, the Anglican Church is probably the most compromising church there is. And if you know the history of Anglicanism, which I have studied in great detail, you can see the effect of this. They desperately try to keep everything under a big tent, so there are streams in Anglicanism that are totally contrary but which continue to exist side by side. Now, there are also very good things, especially in Evangelical Anglicanism. However, that compromising spirit pervades even that stream of Anglicanism. A good example is J. I. Packer, who has stood for Reformed Theology and yet will make alliances with those who actually reject Reformed Theology, and somehow rationalize it as if there’s nothing wrong with it at all!

Another example is—and this is a major one—C. S. Lewis and his satellites. This is a big topic, having to do with a major stream called Romantic Religion, of which Lewis is a part. (I've written about this extensively in other blog entries.) This stream stems from movements in both England and Germany during the 1800s, which moved away from Word-centered to image-centered religion and left the Gospel way behind. It actually preaches a form of Pelagianism, that is the belief that man really saves himself.

And yet, modern-day Evangelicals can write a book, for instance, like Life Essential: The Hope of the Gospel (Harold Shaw, 1974, edited by Rolland Hein, Prof. Emeritus, Wheaton College). This book is a compilation of the writings of George MacDonald, who rejected the Gospel and was thrown out of his church for preaching such things as the eventual salvation of Satan. Yet Lewis calls MacDonald his “master.” To say that the influence of such Romantic religion is huge today is an understatement. It permeates a great deal of popular Christianity, including Evangelicalism.

Here’s a quote from George MacDonald revealing his view of the Gospel: “I well remember feeling as a child that I did not care for God to love me if he did not love everybody: The kind of love I needed was the love that all men needed, the love that belonged to their nature as children of the father, a love he could not give me except he gave it all men” (p. 9).

You see, the point is, MacDonald is saying that all people are already children of God. They’re not made children of God by God's sacrifice; they’re already His children. George MacDonald started out in the Reform Church and then became an Anglican after the Reform Church rejected his teaching. This kind of preaching was perfectly in line with a type of Anglicanism that said, “We won’t send missionaries because Christ is already present in people of all religions.” They even used the term “the hidden Christ in all religions.”

In summary, there are tremendous conflicting movements operating within Evangelicalism today. Some, in the guise of trying to help the spread of the Gospel, are actually doing just the opposite and basically spreading another gospel—not that about which Paul said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9)

It is essential to discern carefully the influences in all teachings. John MacArthur’s new book The Truth War powerfully addresses these issues, although I’m not sure if he is aware of the great influence of Romantic religion in Evangelicalism.


parkerman said...

Richard, I know you wrote this over a year ago, but I wanted to thank you. I wasn't aware of all the info about Colson, but did notice some strange actions in his life. It makes more sense now. It seems there are many respected leaders today that are falling into compromise with contemplative spirituality.

Linda said...

Good summary and very helpful. I've been noticing these problems also.