Two questions vs. ten cannons vs. what... (part 1 of 2)

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(This is part one of two; here's the second post.)

Anyone who is familiar with Evangelism Explosion's two diagnostic questions...

  1. Have you reached the point in your spiritual life where you know for certain that if you were to die tonight you would go to heaven?
  2. If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you, "Why should I let you into heaven," how would you answer?

...knows how very effective they can be at revealing a hope of salvation based in good works rather than faith in Jesus.

When D. James Kennedy began Evangelism Explosion in 1962, America's primary Christian influences were mainline Protestantism (whose denominations had reached their numerical peak in the 1950s) and Roman Catholicism. Despite deep sociological differences, these two branches of Christianity were united in teaching a salvation by works: the social gospel in mainline churches; the infused righteousness of Roman Catholicism.

Dr. Kennedy's "Two Questions" provided a powerful tool for addressing the error of both camps.

But Evangelism Explosion (EE) entered the scene at a tipping point in American religious history. For a hundred years America's primary Christian heresy had been the works-based salvation (semi-Pelagianism and Pelagianism) of mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Yet even as EE was beginning, America's primary Christian heresy was changing. Mainline Protestantism's decline, beginning in the 1950s, coincided with Evangelicalism's decades-long rise to influence and fortune. The end result was a transformation of America's primary Christian heresy from the works-based salvation of Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism to the easy-believism, Jesus-plus-nothing approach that came to characterize Evangelicalism. 

This change in religious atmosphere had the unfortunate result of rendering EE's two diagnostic questions increasingly unhelpful. I've used EE's material for nearly twenty years now, and over this period it has become increasingly clear to me that most Americans no longer view good works as the basis of salvation. Instead, they've learned from Evanglicalism that "believing in Jesus," is Heaven's open sesame. 

If you've used EE, you've probably had an experience similar to the one I had several years ago while witnessing door-to-door in EE training. Walking through a neighborhood on a summer evening my partner and I ran across a woman with a butch haircut washing a car with LGBT, COEXIST and Darwin bumperstickers across its rear.

When we asked if she was confident of going to heaven, she replied enthusiastically, "Oh yes." When we followed up by asking the basis of her confidence she said, "I'm going to heaven because I believe in Jesus."

EE is incapable of dealing with Evangelicalism's soteriological heresy of easy-believism. If the targets of your witness know enough Evangelical teaching to claim they're going to heaven because they "believe in Jesus," EE is rendered powerless. In fact, worse than powerless, at this point EE leaves its practitioners no recourse but to commend the "proper" answer, virtually confirming non-Christians who have learned Evangelicalism's plan of salvation in their error.

Tim's and my father once wrote that Evangelicalism's sole sacrament is the "sinner's prayer," embodied in the walk to the altar of the Billy Graham crusade, the raised hand of the CCC rally (followed by a challenge never to doubt), or the Jesus prayer of the VBS program. 

This is sadly true. Praying a "sinner's prayer" is little more reliable as evidence of eternal life in America today than going through confirmation in a Roman Catholic Church. 

It's time to turn away from Evangelism's salvific nostrums. As difficult as it is to call our mother out for heresy, the Evangelical and Reformed Church we grew up and came to faith in is little more faithful to the transforming message of the Gospel than Roman Catholicism. We have become purveyors of heresy. Our church is leading little sheep away from Jesus. 

Until we take seriously Christ's unceasing insistence that the one who loves Him is the one who keeps His commandments, we will continue to lead sheep away from Jesus, away from the sheepfold, away from salvation, and into the arms of hirelings, wolves and thieves.

There is no excuse for separating belief from obedience. None. Perhaps in the early days of Evangelicalism, such a response to Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism was understandable, if not excusable. But today, with the rotten fruits of this heresy lying all around us on the ground, it's no longer even understandable. It's simply false shepherding of the flock of Christ.

Nowhere but in America under Evangelicalsim has a brassy insistence on "believing in Jesus" been employed to cover sins as deep as homosexuality and the murder of infants. Evangelicalism has failed to remove America's guilt. It is increasingly capable only of removing Americans' shame.