When neutrality is a myth
Steven Wedgeworth | The capitulation of a Christian publisher
With Pride Month again upon us, the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, a book publisher known for more than a century for its ties with historic evangelical and Reformed orthodoxy, decided to advertise on its blog some of its recent Pride-related books. That announcement and a subsequent tweet promoting it went viral. The tweet generated so much controversy that it was taken down, but it has now reappeared with a string of other tweets explaining and defending Eerdmans’ decision. The publishing company is proud to promote Pride.
Eerdmans’ move to full-on LGBTQ+ advocacy is not truly surprising. The company has long broadened out from the days of its founding, and at least one of the books it is promoting was released in 2018. But the change in posture and strategy is important. So, too, is the defense it offered. The company’s latest tweets show us the movement of progressivism within evangelical institutions, from an original traditionalism to a professed neutrality and toleration to a rather obviously hollow neutrality that actually masks affirmation.
Eerdmans defends its decision in light of what it claims is an ongoing conversation or debate within the church: “We do not think it is for us as a publisher to define doctrine for the church. … Our role is to publish books, representing both settled and experimental positions, that serve the church in its ongoing deliberations.” Eerdmans is not taking a side, it says, but instead giving a platform to all legitimate voices. The publisher assures traditionalists, “Eerdmans has continued and will continue to publish books by and for people who have not come to this conclusion.” But importantly, there is one voice the publisher will no longer support: “Eerdmans does not publish books that deny the existence or ignore the voices of LGBTQ people, propagate false teaching about discredited/harmful ‘therapies,’ or in general condemn/revile LGBTQ people. Too much of that has been done over time, and we want no part in continuing it.”
Pay close attention here. Eerdmans says it is happy to host a debate. It will publish authors who support and promote LGBTQ ideology. It will also publish authors who do not. But it will not publish authors who actively oppose LGBTQ ideology. The reference to “discredited/harmful ‘therapies’” is particularly telling, as the label “conversion therapy” has now been expanded to include any care that is deemed insufficiently “affirmative.” Whether Eerdmans knows it or not, it has excluded the orthodox Christian view under the guise of freedom and toleration. This is the methodology of the fake moderate. All opinions are allowed except those that directly and effectively refute the new liberalism.
Seen in this way, it is particularly ironic that Eerdmans is still the publisher for J. Gresham Machen’s classic work, Christianity and Liberalism, first published in 1923. Machen is famous for his refusal to accept the false bargain of tolerance, and the title of his work is meant to state a clear either/or. You can have Christianity or you can have liberalism, but you cannot have both. The same is true today for sexual orthodoxy. You can have the anthropology of the Holy Scriptures or you can have the modern LGBTQ+ movement, but you cannot have both. For Eerdmans, you can have those who support Pride and those who don’t oppose it too strongly, but you cannot have those who are truly on the side of the debate held by the Christian church for almost 2,000 years.
Machen shows us this point in his ecclesiastical experience as well as his writings. In the mid-1920s, he came into direct confrontation with a different Erdman, Charles R. Erdman. Though having a reputation for being a fundamentalist, this Erdman ran for moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America expressly on a platform of peace and toleration. Machen opposed him in these words: “There are many evangelical men who … have not the appreciation of the danger in which the church stands … so it is with Dr. Erdman.” Machen added to this a stinging criticism, saying that Erdman represented “A policy of palliation and of compromise [that] will in a few years lead to the control of our church … by agnostic Modernism”
Erdman won the election, and he set up a commission to investigate potential danger in the church. The commission decided that the true cause for concern in the Presbyterian Church was not theological liberalism but overly strident conservatives like Machen. The rest is well-known history. Machen and the most vocal conservatives were eventually ousted from the church. Life seemed to continue as normal for several years, decades even, but eventually Machen was shown to be correct. The mainline Presbyterian Church no longer defends Christian orthodoxy, and it has been experiencing a total membership collapse as one predictable effect.
Like Erdman, the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company does not claim to be of the liberal party. It has a contrary history to which it can appeal. It claims to stand for peace and unity. But this is a mirage. And in the case of Eerdmans, it’s less and less convincing. In a battle for foundational truth and morality, the church does not need more Eerdmanses, or Erdmans for that matter. It desperately needs more Machens.
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