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What is Evangelical Syncretism?

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by Cameron Buettel


Among evangelical Christians, the word syncretism usually conjures thoughts of third-world missionaries who blend their religion with the indigenous pagan practices they encounter.


A visitor to my home church related a conversation he’d had with a Roman Catholic missionary while touring South America. The priest wore his syncretistic practices as a badge of honor, boasting of how he intentionally incorporated native religious observances into his worship services. He was critical of Protestant missionaries who refused to likewise accommodate the paganism of the people they ministered to.


Syncretism is nothing new for the Catholic church. They have a long history of adopting and assimilating elements of indigenous religions into their missionary efforts—it’s why Catholic faith and practice, while supposedly united under the Pope, looks dramatically different in South America, Africa, and Europe. Put simply, Catholicism is a lie that easily absorbs and accommodates other lies.


God’s truth is far more resistant to mixing with error. And yet today, even among conservative believers, there are many preachers, teachers, and scholars who are working hard to make the church and the Bible more accommodating to contradictory worldviews. While they might outwardly affirm the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, their actions betray a lack of confidence in God’s Word. Intimidated by cultural agendas and eager to find favor with the unsaved world, these men and women capitulate to blending truth with all sorts of error—evolution, feminism, psychology, and ecumenism, just to name a few.


Are these people heretics? Usually not, but that actually makes what they’re doing all the more dangerous. By syncretizing truth and error, they encourage others to join them on the slippery slope of compromise, exposing them to erroneous doctrine and corrupt worldviews. That compromise encourages believers to allegorize, explain away, or ignore altogether the plain teaching of Scripture.


You can see the devastating effect evangelical syncretism has on the authority, inerrancy, perspicuity, and sufficiency of Scripture—it fosters dangerous skepticism. Why are so many theologians intimidated by the moving goalposts of Big Bang cosmology and “evolutionary science” when God has given them a clear and unchanging account of creation? Why do so many evangelicals gladly join hands with Rome when Catholics still subscribe to the same damnable errors that they did during the Reformation? Why should we trust the seeker-sensitive pastor who preaches from a Bible that actually says nobody seeks after God? And how did so many biblical scholars abandon biblical views of male headship in order to appease the Baal of feminism?


Theologians have never been charged with the responsibility of shielding cultural norms from biblical assaults, yet that is precisely what many do. While syncretism rarely begins in the classroom, too often there are scholars willing to redefine the biblical text and find convoluted ways of accommodating the culture.


If biblical standards become subjective, then it makes inerrancy meaningless. What is the point of God speaking without error if each interpreter is allowed to adjust divine revelation to his own personal preferences? Clearly, the church continues to fall for Satan’s deceptive skepticism about what God really said (Genesis 3:1)?


The church cannot allow the prevailing winds of culture to bend the sword of the Spirit. God’s Word is fully equipped to inform our view of culture, but cultural ideals have nothing to contribute to our view of the Word of God.


In the days ahead we’ll examine some of the most prominent forms of evangelical syncretism. We have two primary goals for this series. First, our ultimate desire is to point those under the sway of syncretism back to the true north of biblical fidelity. Secondly, we want to equip the church by pointing out major areas of compromise to avoid.


In order to encourage comments and conversation about these crucial matters, we’re making it easier to comment on our blog. Readers will no longer need to create an account to comment but we will still require a full name and email address.


We invite you to read this series, share each post with others via email and social media, and engage in the conversation.

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There is a valid question here. How far can we go in adapting to local cultures?


At the beginning the Church was entirely Jewish. Jesus was Jewish and so were the apostles. They had to learn to adapt to non Jewish cultures.


The Church is a worldwide. It has to adapt to local cultures.


It’s not Jewish – and it’s not American either!


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There is a valid question here. How far can we go in adapting to local cultures?

We should adopt all local cultural practices that aren't contrary to what the Bible teaches. Anything related to local religions should be rejected but all nonreligious practices should be examined in the light of the Bible.


There is one danger we must be aware of. Sometimes the way we practice Christianity is influenced by our own culture and we don't always recognize this fact. We can reject a local custom as being contrary to the Bible when in fact it doesn't conflict with the Bible itself but with our cultural interpretation of the Bible.



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I think Theo makes some good points but I don’t go along 100%. I think there may be cases where we could convert a pagan practice into a Christian one. That sounds dangerous but let me give you a made up example.


Theo, you say “Anything related to local religions should be rejected”.


I think “harvest festivals” are very common in many religious denominations. People bring various items that represent the fruits of the autumn harvest (grain, vegetables, fruit etc.) and they give thanks to God for his goodness and provision.


Suppose pagans did that (perhaps they did that before Christianity came along) but were offering to a pagan God. When converted to Christianity it could be explained that it is the one true God who gives us all we have and the festival could be then made an occasion of thanksgiving to the one God. The offerings could then be distributed to widows and orphans (cf Acts 6:1-4) with a sermon about loving your neighbour.


It's worth remembering that pagans buried or cremated their dead long before Christians did the same thing. But we adopted those practices.

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