In Tolkien’s The Two Towers we are introduced to Grima Wormtongue who, under the pretense of caring for Theoden the King, has wickedly ingratiated himself and usurped his moral authority. Indeed, as Wormtongue’s influence over Thedoen grows, the king’s power dissipates. In the Peter Jackson film, we see this vividly in the way Theoden is depicted as a mere shell of a man, somewhat skeletal with a gray pallor and dull, glazed eyes. His counselor has a parasitic effect. It’s a dramatic link, to be sure, but I think of this relationship when I ponder the ambitions of the emergents, the neo-evangelicals, or whatever they’re calling themselves now (or not calling themselves) in seeking to commandeer the the conversation of the evangelical movement. “Christianity must change or die,” a satanic bishop wrote a few years back. His spiritual progeny are catching up to agree with new books and new publishing houses, new conferences, blogs, and talk shows. But we’ve seen the trajectory for years. They can take us no place worth going. Talking out of both sides of their mouths, we ought not be surprised when the forked tongues become more evident.
Professing to be wise, they reveal themselves to be fools. “Did God actually say?” they begin. Then they’ll tell you the answer: “No.” Before long, they insist the gospel cannot expand in this brave new world without a brave new faith that coddles disbelief and calls sin virtue. When you get right down to it, the whole enterprise is nonsensical and self-defeating. Cultural rebukes from a relativistic reading of the Scriptures and of historic orthodoxy guts any presumed authority in the rebuke from the outset. In a comment thread at one of these wormtongue-y blogs I read someone’s defense of the use of p()rnography in a marriage, arguing the need to respect differing values. The commenter also maintained that complementarian marriages were evil. “Get a brain, morans,” indeed.
The wizard Gandalf’s rebuke of the parasitic Wormtongue is fitting. In Tolkien’s book:
“Down snake!” he said suddenly in a terrible voice. “Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price?
Well, the expected reward is the same stuff they accuse prominent evangelicals of greed for: money, power, prestige. Here is the rebuke as depicted in Jackson’s film adaptation:
Be silent. Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crude words with a witless worm.
Church, only let us hold true to what we have attained (Philipians 3:16). In the days coming, a regular re-reading of the book of Jude might be in order. The talking faces of the post-evangelical Jello salad want to help evangelicals navigate the uncharted waters of post-Christendom. But Jesus gave us plenty of words about unfaithful stewards and hired hands. We can learn nothing from the heterodox about navigating “the future of evangelicalism” except how to shut the engines off and drift.