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Reduced to Nothing But Emphasis

March 3, 2011

“When evangelicalism wanes into an anemic condition, as it sadly has in recent decades, it happens in this way: the points of emphasis (Bible, cross, conversion, heaven) are isolated from the main body of Christian truth and handled as if they are the whole story rather than the key points. Instead of teaching the full counsel of God (incarnation, ministry of healing and teaching, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and second coming), anemic evangelicalism simply shouts its own point of emphasis louder and louder (the cross! The cross! The cross!). But in isolation from the total matrix of Christian truth, the cross doesn’t make the right kind of sense. A message about nothing but the cross is not emphatic. It is reductionist. The rest of the matrix matters: the death of Jesus is salvation partly because of the life he lived before it, and certainly because of the new life he lived after it, and above all because of the eternal background in which he is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. You do not need to say all of those things at all times, but you need to have a felt sense of their force behind the things you do say. When that felt sense is not present, or is not somehow communicated to the next generation, emphatic evangelicalism becomes reductionist evangelicalism.

People who grow up under the influence of reductionist evangelicalism suffer, understandably, from some pretty perplexing disorientation. They are raised on “Bible, cross, conversion, and heaven” as the whole Christian message, and they sense that there must be more than that. They catch a glimpse of this ‘more’ in Scripture but aren’t sure where it belongs. They hear it in hymns, but it is drowned out by the repetition of the familiar. They find extended discussions of it in older authors, but those very authors also reinforce what they’ve been surrounded by all along: that the most important things in the Christian message are Bible, cross, conversion, and heaven. Inside of reductionist evangelicalism, everything you hear is right, but somehow it comes out all wrong.

That is because when emphatic evangelicalism degenerates into reductionist evangelicalism, it still has the emphasis right, but has been reduced to nothing but emphasis. When a message is all emphasis, everything is equally important and you are always shouting.”

-Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

HT: Scott Anderson

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