Of all the back-and-forth that came from the World Vision imbroglio this week, there’s at least one other reason to be encouraged about their reversing course, aside from their board taking the necessary steps to correct a gravely wrong error.
World Vision says something about evangelical identity.
Criticisms of evangelicalism are unending. For some, we’re mired in whatever is the latest “scandal” of the evangelical mind. We lack a gravitational center; at least we’re told. The minimalism of the Bebbington Quadrilateral remains helpful, despite mocking from Catholic friends.
But once in awhile, we get our movement and ourselves right. Leaving aside the (valid) criticisms of para-church ministry structure and its lack of ecclesiological grounding, World Vision’s decision to reverse course from a patently unbiblical and patently unhistorical position, demonstrates that evangelicalism has boundary markers. We have core beliefs about authority. We may not always agree on what the precise boundaries are, but the World Vision event this week helps us identify the approximate boundaries, and when it has been crossed. Evangelicalism did triage this week, and did it well. We saw through the malaise of theological indifferentism and insisted that while evangelicalism remains a big tent, at some point, the canopy ends.
In American evangelicalism, you can’t believe in anything you want and call yourself an evangelical. That what Mainline Protestantism is for. That’s the route that “professional dissidents ” like Rachel Held Evans want evangelicalism to become, but that only leads to eternal pottage.
World Vision reversed course, ostensibly, from an outpouring of criticism from conservative Christians all over the United States. To the lot of us, there seemed to be something inconsistent about a Christian organization making marriage an adiaphorasomething up for negation, or compromise. And that’s why I remain skeptical at trend lines that suggest that younger evangelicals will embrace same-sex marriage. It defies precedent. In each age, intellectual surrender and compromise has stood before the church, yet she keeps on going. The faith persists. As G. K. Chesterton said that bears repeating: “Time and again, the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. But each time, it was the dog that died.”
In a day where American views of sexuality are fracturing, the World Vision episode reveals that the gravitational center of evangelicalism remains decidedly biblical. The challenge before us today is to keep it that way.
Modes of baptism may be negotiable, but even then, we all insist that it is water that must be present. The same couldn’t be said about the bitter pill World Vision was asking evangelicalism to swallow. Evangelicals know that the structure and design of human embodiment has a biblical telos to it, that marriage is something, but World Vision was saying something different.
We weren’t having it. But there were no Papal Bulls. There were no Councils. There were no Synods. There was only evangelicalism with Bibles open, recognizing that a line had been crossed.
Good for World Vision in correcting course. This episode will subside, and wounds will heal. Their integrity remains intact. Their steps to reverse a horrifically wrong stance are commendable. And good for evangelicalism to have the identity it does to know what its identity is and isn’t.