Apostasy. It's a strong word. Mark Hitchcock and Jeff Kinley take it very seriously. In The Coming Apostasy: Exposing the Sabotage of Christianity from Within, they take on apostasy in the contemporary church.
Hitchcock and Kinely quote John Calvin's definition of apostasy as "a treacherous departure from God, not on the part of one person or a few individuals, but such as would spread far among a wide circle of people." So apostasy is not just theological error, but the wide spread of theological error. And that, they right, is a big problem today, when we witness a "sabotage aimed at the authority and sufficiency of the Bible and targeting the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way to God."
The make an effective case that many who today profess Christianity "drift in an age of unprecedented pseudo-Christian thought." They "profess faith but rebel or fall away from it." One's feelings become more important than biblical revelation. The gospel becomes watered down. "There is much talk about relationship but little talk about repentence. . . . celebration without sacrifice . . . . high value placed on friendship but not much emphasis on lordship." (Of course, in the next chapter, they write, "salvation is all about a relationship with Jesus Christ.")
The hard thing about apostasy is identifying and confronting it with grace. They give a few concrete examples, but mostly from fringe evangelical writers (e.g., Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans). They speak broadly against megachurch pastors and liberal denominations. Their most convincing arguments deal with moral apostasy. In a chapter dedicated to the current debate over homosexuality, they draw a bright line in favor of the historic understanding that the Bible and the teachings of Jesus leave no room for approval of homosexual behavior. In fact, approval is arguably greater than the sin itself. So does this one issue make a church apostate? Does any one issues make a church apostate?
Hitchcock and Kinley call the church to remain true to biblical faith. Yes, and amen! But I have been on the wrong end of apostate witch hunts, when my seminary became bitterly divided. The more conservative faction came after the perceived liberal professors teaching in the seminary, sending students into classes as spies and poring over every word written or spoken by the professors. In my opinion, none of them was even close to apostate. I hate to see a desire for faithful upholding of the Bible to devolve into finger pointing and narrowing of the circle of faith.
Yes, we have to continually examine our hearts and study the scripture, remaining faithful to God and his word. But there is room for disagreement in the church. The landscape is littered with churches and denominations that are convinced that everyone not in their little circle is apostate and only their congregation or denomination truly understands and practices the Bible's teaching.
The Coming Apostasy paints a bigger picture, and rightly warns that widespread apostasy is a sign of the end times. But they don't convincingly draw that line. How much error is tolerable? What are the non-negotiables that move you from mild disagreement to apostate? Can anyone answer that question and draw that line? It almost feels like an "I know it when I see it" argument. In the meantime, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength. Maranatha.
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for complimentary electronic review copy!