The following blog post was originally published on February 13, 2015. —ed.
Among evangelical Christians, the word syncretism usually conjures thoughts of third-world missionaries who blend their religion with the indigenous pagan practices they encounter.
A visitor to my home church related a conversation he’d had with a Roman Catholic missionary while touring South America. The priest wore his syncretistic practices as a badge of honor, boasting of how he intentionally incorporated native religious observances into his worship services. He was critical of Protestant missionaries who refused to likewise accommodate the paganism of the people they ministered to.
Syncretism is nothing new for the Catholic church. They have a long history of adopting and assimilating elements of indigenous religions into their missionary efforts—it’s why Catholic faith and practice, while supposedly united under the Pope, looks dramatically different in South America, Africa, and Europe. Put simply, Catholicism is a lie that easily absorbs and accommodates other lies.
God’s truth is far more resistant to mixing with error. And yet today, even among conservative believers, there are many preachers, teachers, and scholars who are working hard to make the church and the Bible more accommodating to contradictory worldviews. While they might outwardly affirm the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, their actions betray a lack of confidence in God’s Word. Intimidated by cultural agendas and eager to find favor with the unsaved world, these men and women capitulate to blending truth with all sorts of error—evolution, feminism, psychology, and ecumenism, just to name a few.
Are these people heretics? Usually not, but that actually makes what they’re doing all the more dangerous. By syncretizing truth and error, they encourage others to join them on the slippery slope of compromise, exposing them to erroneous doctrine and corrupt worldviews. That compromise encourages believers to allegorize, explain away, or ignore altogether the plain teaching of Scripture.
You can see the devastating effect evangelical syncretism has on the authority, inerrancy, perspicuity, and sufficiency of Scripture—it fosters dangerous skepticism. Why are so many theologians intimidated by the moving goalposts of Big Bang cosmology and “evolutionary science” when God has given them a clear and unchanging account of creation? Why do so many evangelicals gladly join hands with Rome when Catholics still subscribe to the same damnable errors that they did during the Reformation? Why should we trust the seeker-sensitive pastor who preaches from a Bible that actually says nobody seeks after God? And how did so many biblical scholars abandon biblical views of male headship in order to appease the Baal of feminism?
Theologians have never been charged with the responsibility of shielding cultural norms from biblical assaults, yet that is precisely what many do. While syncretism rarely begins in the classroom, too often there are scholars willing to redefine the biblical text and find convoluted ways of accommodating the culture.
If biblical standards become subjective, then it makes inerrancy meaningless. What is the point of God speaking without error if each interpreter is allowed to adjust divine revelation to his own personal preferences? Clearly, the church continues to fall for Satan’s deceptive skepticism about what God really said (Genesis 3:1).
The church cannot allow the prevailing winds of culture to bend the sword of the Spirit. God’s Word is fully equipped to inform our view of culture, but cultural ideals have nothing to contribute to our view of the Word of God.
In the days ahead we’ll examine some of the most prominent forms of evangelical syncretism. We have two primary goals for this series. First, our ultimate desire is to point those under the sway of syncretism back to the true north of biblical fidelity. Secondly, we want to equip the church by pointing out major areas of compromise to avoid.
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