Warfield and Hatmaker

“If you have the truth of Jesus without the way of Jesus, you get fundamentalism. If you have the way of Jesus without the truth of Jesus, you get liberalism. We need the way of Jesus and the truth of Jesus together.”

This is what a missionary spoke me yesterday morning, and I can’t get it out of my head. I just finished two wildly different books: Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted and Benjamin Warfield’s The Person and Work of Christ, and their interplay with this missionary’s statement is rolling around in my brain.

Warfield was dealing with the liberalism that was overtaking the Protestant world in the early twentieth century, and his work labors to show from Scripture who Christ is, and that Christian religion is profoundly one of propitiation. He declared, “He who looks to be perfected through his own assumption of what he calls a Christlike attitude towards what he calls a Christlike superhuman reality—though he considers that the term “Christlike” may without fatal loss be a merely conventional designation—is of a totally different religion from him who feels himself a sinner redeemed by the blood of a divine Saviour dying for him on the Cross.” There is something beautiful about Christ’s attitude, indeed. Yet why do movements that seek to embody his attitude toward the oppressed often move away from the full gospel? In my heart, I don’t understand, but I see Warfield proved over time, that these two religions become fundamentally different.

Why do movements that seek to embody Christ’s attitude toward the oppressed often move away from the full gospel?

Hatmaker’s Interrupted is a relatively early work of hers, and it recounts her journey from Christian subculture to the mission of Jesus to the poor and marginalized. There is so much in this book that is a good and right rebuttal to conservative Christianity; she draws out Matthew 25 and Isaiah 58 as a corrective. But you can already see the seeds of drift from full gospel. In this work, the death of Jesus is affirmed as salvific, yet sin is nowhere mentioned. There were great moments to give a nod to propitiation, but she settled more for the “we aren’t perfect, we’re all in this together, Jesus is beautiful.” Warfield’s inscription is “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Hatmaker seems to pull up just shy of declaring this, ostensibly for the sake of getting there eventually.

I am agitated by this. I don’t want to be a fundamentalist or a liberal; I want to have the way AND the truth of Jesus. I feel my weakness, the weakness of my church in this. I feel the tension and the complexity, and my own sin in wanting to just reject Hatmaker outright because of slippery slope principles.

This is a good place for me to be, because I need Jesus, and I need his Spirit. As my friend once said, if dependence is the goal, weakness is an asset. None of us can stay where we are, and we need to evaluate where both growth and danger lies. We need to do it in community, and we need the Spirit. Let’s replace fear with shrewdness, and move forward.