“(Andy) Stanley’s pragmatism, in a manner analogous to the soft relativism of certain evangelical postmoderns, looks attractively plausible; yet this is only because it operates within the framework of the likely possibilities determined by the polite pieties and tasteful transgressions of modern middle America. Safe, in other words, because Stanley assumes middle America is pretty much like him and therefore unlikely to confront him or his church with anything too tasteless. After all, what’s the worst that ‘culture’ might throw at them? Homosexuality? That is being rendered thoroughly respectable even as I write. Abortion? Out of sight, out of mind. Nice clean “clinics,” a powerful rhetoric built on claims about rape, incest and victimhood, and a euphemistic vocabulary of “women’s health,” “terminations” and “planned parenthood” help make child killing just one more private and merciful medical procedure.
“So far, so middle America. The final cause of personal felicity sanctifies all. But if Stanley had the imagination to set this pragmatism in Nazi Germany or in a country where female circumcision is de rigueur, some place where middle class American tastes and preferences do not apply, then the cost of such intellectual and moral laziness would immediately become apparent. If you cannot stop culture and should not spit in it, what happens when the culture tells you that happiness comes about by gassing Jews or lacerating young girls’ genitalia? That is somebody’s culture. No point trying to resist it for that would risk irrelevance, empty pews and an isolationist Pharisaism. And we couldn’t have that, could we?
“Of course, one can already hear the pat responses of ‘It could never happen here!’ or ‘But that stuff is obviously wrong!’ Touching in its innocence and predictable in its complacency, such mewling would yet betray a shockingly shallow understanding of both human nature and history. No one in 1900 would have predicted that the most technologically and culturally advanced nation in Europe would elect a man like Hitler and be the centre of previously unimaginable genocide. Interesting what national military defeat, adverse economic conditions, and concerted anti-Semitic propaganda can do to a nation, is it not?”
(Carl Trueman reviews Andy Stanley’s new book “Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend”; “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” ; Reformation 21)