Ryrie shows his hand at the book’s conclusion. His narrative of a Protestantism willing to jettison even the Bible in the name of protecting the Gospel allows him to conclude that the churches’ opposition to the sexual revolution is culturally maintained and that the Biblical texts on sexual morality will go overboard, just as slavery did, when the rejection of traditional sexual morality is ubiquitous. For Ryrie, both sides of the current debates on gender and sexuality rending Protestant communions (such as the Anglicans) are “driven by society, not theology.” In his view, Protestant theology is little more than the ratification of social trends, a bit after they have been normalized in the rest of society.
Is this often the case? Yes. I have spent most of my life arguing against a kind of nominal, cultural Christianity that embraced slavery and Jim Crow and often was (and is) made up of what I’ve called “slow-motion sexual revolutionaries” — those who accept such social trends as premarital sex and divorce culture 20 or 30 years after the outside world. That is hardly unique to Protestantism (see some of the moves of Western European Roman Catholic bishops on communion for the divorced and remarried). It also, though, is far from the whole story. Even Ryrie concedes that abortion is an exception, as the more orthodox versions of Protestantism continue to buck the cultural consensus.
Moreover, what Ryrie misses is that this is often the case within conservative Protestantism (and other orthodox forms of Christianity). Luther’s Reformation was not limited to cultural trends, heart-religion, or the bucking of ecclesial authorities. Luther’s stand launched a movement that (Ryrie concedes this fact but leaves it underdeveloped) shaped global culture virtually alone, by rediscovering the truth about God and man found in the Biblical Gospel. The slave trade and Jim Crow segregation were dismantled, despite being a cultural given, at least in some parts of the world, and at least in part (again, Ryrie concedes this but does not integrate it into his argument) because figures ranging from William Wilberforce to Martin Luther King Jr. pointed to a Gospel that teaches individual human dignity and a Bible that announces that there is no partiality with God. R
Ryrie’s arguments here notwithstanding, his chapters on King and Billy Graham are perhaps the best parts of the book, and constitute exceptions to his sola-sociology viewpoint….