The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church by David S. Steele was published in 2019 and is available through Amazon.
A few months ago, Dr. David Steele sent me a copy of his latest book The White Flag. Being the diligent and quick book reviewer that I am, I was able to turn to this past week to read it.
First of all, I think it is good and necessary that pastors write. David is senior pastor of Christ Fellowship in Everson, Washington. This is, I believe, his third book, and the other two are on Martin Luther and John Calvin. Pertaining to the topic sentence of this paragraph, I believe that writing, on the one hand, is a good discipline for pastors. (I often cringe when I know that teachers assign themes and papers, but never write such things themselves.) But more than just the discipline and focus that writing entails, it is good for a congregation to have written messages from their pastors and leaders.
Preachers are, whether they wish to acclaim the title or not, public theologians. So, their writings need to address both doctrinal positions of their church, but also the greater cultural issues swirling around and affecting the minds of people both in and out of the congregation. Also, written articles, newsletters, and, even better, books by the pastors enable the congregation to share, evangelize, and edify those they come in contact with.
Second, David has addressed some vital topics here in this book. Scrolling through Facebook (with both the good and bad benefits of such), I am constantly made aware of heretical preachers, misleading theological deviations, denominational fights, and, in short, surrenders to the wrongful ideas that are battering the walls of the church.
The history of Christianity is a history of all too many surrenders. As a student of history, I have read many accounts of armies surrendering. Some surrenders were long overdue, but what is painful to read about is where an army surrenders unnecessarily. (I am thinking here of the British surrender at Singapore in 1942.) In contrast to the debatable historical examples, the church need never surrender its claims before the threats it faces.
The dangers can be put into two categories: Outward dangers and Inward dangers. The Outward dangers are probably the easiest to confront and are the least likely for the church to embrace. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of atheism with several key figures who are the public apologists for such positions. In my youth, that role of public atheist was carried on by Madelyn Murray O’Hair, who was something of an obnoxious buffoon. The big names today are more formidable.
The idea of a church surrendering to atheism is absurd. (That doesn’t mean that it may not have happened in some case or another.) Even the far from Fundamentalist or Evangelical churches in your community are not likely to hire an atheist pastor. In past decades, most of Christendom was pretty firmly against the then-present threats of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. There were compromises, sell-outs, surrenders, etc., but it would not be expected that a church today would tolerate swastika or hammer and sickle symbols in their presence. And thankfully, even in some of the whitest of Southern churches, the KKK is not welcome.
These outward threats, which must still be identified and confronted, do not constitute the greatest dangers. Don’t look, in other words, over the wall of protection at the raging worldlings out there. As the old Pogo cartoon character said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The key word in understanding what Dr. Steele addresses is compromise. The middle and largest section of the book examines compromises. No, neither your church nor mine will tolerate an atheist, Communist, Nazi, Mafia don, KKK member, or whatever else, but we are all susceptible to compromising what we believe, what the Scriptures teach, and what churches have historically affirmed.
I recognize that finding a balance is sometimes tricky. Maybe some issues would be easier to confront if we just adopted a full-fledged Amish approach and cut off the world and most modern gadgets. While I admire much in such separatist and pietistic efforts, I don’t think such an approach is reasonable or Biblical. On the other extreme would be an antinomian embrace of “Christian liberty” where “all things are lawful” (wrenched out of context) and we get to enjoy “all this and heaven too.” That would also allow for a libertarian Christianity that boldly proclaims in creed: Whatever!
The solution is embarrassingly simple. Adhere to the historic, creedal doctrines of what the Bible is, who God is, what Christ is, what faith is, and how we should then live and worship. Yes, we will have some brush-ups and spats between ourselves and others. Dr. Steele is a Baptist, while I am a Presbyterian. We can have a water fight at some point, but there are just too many clear and agreed upon doctrinal immovables for the two of us, and for Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Reformed, Protestant, and creed affirming Christians to join together on.
Finally, I found myself thinking, while reading this book, that I may not tend to raise the white flag of surrender, but I am all too willing to seek detente. That term, going back to the 1980s, refers to mutual coexistence. On the one hand, I don’t want to fall into the mean-spiritedness that Christian convictions can wrongly cause us to embrace. I want to have friends and connections with people on the other side of issues. I wish every solid standing Christian could have a friendly relationship with at least one atheist, Muslim, LGBTQ person, and a dozen varieties of heretics. How else can we share the Gospel with them?
But I don’t want to reach the point of affirming to myself that my friend X is Y, but I can accept that because of Z. We recently watched the movie made about the life of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist, whose life was overwhelmingly difficult because of Lou Gehrig’s disease. There were many wonderful things included in this movie about this man, including his lifelong atheism. I can’t give him a free pass because of his rejection of even a mere belief in theism. Nor can I overlook the soul killing heresies or unbelief or wrongful lifestyle choices of people around me. Compromise does not just lead to surrender: compromise is surrender.
David Steele’s book contains some vital reminders for us. It is as timely as the daily news, but its message is far more lasting.