The Moving Word

Writer, Preacher, Bookworm, Student of the Word

Implications of Liberalism, Part Two

liberal-conservative1

See Part One:

“The idea of a progressive gospel seems to have fascinated many. To us that notion is a sort of cross-breed between nonsense and blasphemy” (Charles Spurgeon).

“A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, and committal read. But somehow the corpse never stays put” (Bernard Ramm).

Labels can be divisive. Their inexact nature can obscure the truth of the doctrines of men. Doctrines require healthy examination if they will lead to the salvation of souls. God’s truths are the only firm ground that exists (Psalm 119).

Everything has a name, despite the imperfections of language. Our experiences, prejudices and worldviews, whether for good or ill, make us who we are. These combine to create the perspective through which we view the world.

The labels “liberal” and “conservative” are usually inadequate descriptors. Often in our language, misuse ruins words or their meanings have changed.

However, someone is not a liberal because they disagree with any certain person. Our beliefs and opinions are not the standard. Scripture is to be our guide in everything (2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 12:48).

We must all be more humble and precise in our language. Save the word “liberal” for those who adhere to certain philosophies and doctrines. It is a word with meaning, not a grenade.

The term “liberal” will be used in the academic, classical sense of one involved in a particular movement built on certain presuppositions.

Introduction to the Progressive Movement

The term “progressive” and “liberal” are genuine terms based on established ideologies. Those who fall within these parameters have earned the labels “liberal” and “progressives.” They are real philosophies rather than verbal weapons.

Since these ideologies are real, we can examine what they mean to the view of Scripture and what their ultimate goals are for the Church of our Lord. Progressivism seeks to answer the following question, “What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?” [1]

J. Gresham Machen concludes that, “despite the traditional use of Christian phraseology modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.” [2]

Liberalism and Progressivism

Conservatism and Progressivism are vastly different. In fact, the presuppositions of Progressivism are so different from Conservatism that they are beyond consensus, as they presently exist.

The Center of Progressive Christianity offers the following main points to describe their beliefs. [3]

First, they “are repelled by exclusivist beliefs. They reject the concept that only their branch of their religion has the entire monopoly on truth.”

Second, they “value the search for truth, even though it can never be fully possessed. They view it as more important and challenging than the acceptance of those fixed beliefs found in the past by others and embedded in church creeds.”

Third, they are “chaos tolerant.” They can handle a degree of disorder, uncertainty, and ambiguity in life and want to be “partners in the exciting search for tentative but satisfying answers to the most pressing problems of existence.”

Fourth, they “believe in the Ethic of Reciprocity: that how we treat other people is more important than the specifics of what we believe about God, humanity and the rest of the universe.”

Fifth, they “have the ability to absorb rapid change in their beliefs, as they integrate findings from social and physical sciences.”

The Center for Progressive Christianity offers the following illustrative story to explain their mindset.

“It involves a Sunday school teacher and a class of 9 or 10 year-olds. Even at that age, some were skeptical of the inerrancy of the Bible. They felt that many events recorded in the Bible never happened. Rather then try to convince the children otherwise, the teacher suggested that they read Charlotte’s Web instead about a bashful pig named Wilbur who befriended a spider named Charlotte. The class enjoyed the book. After some great discussions, the teacher interjected the thought that pigs and spiders cannot talk. The kids protested: “Well, it’s a story.” The teacher asked whether the story was true. They decided that it was sort of true. And in a way, it was true. So the teacher suggested: All right, well let’s look at the Bible in the same way.” [4]

This despite the words of Scripture,

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

If the Bible is not true, then all its teachings are spurious, at best. We are, to paraphrase Paul, men to be most pitied for following a book of lies (1 Corinthians 15:19). If God is not powerful enough to ensure the validity of Scripture then he cannot save our souls, either.

Liberals often prefer the label “progressives” today. There is a great antipathy in Christianity and politics toward the name liberal. J. Gresham Machen wrote, “The movement designated as ‘liberalism’ is regarded as ‘liberal’ only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts.” [5]

“Regarding the relation of liberal and progressive, many religious thinkers employ these terms interchangeably. This usage has historical weight, because for many years liberalism was the progressive tradition in theology. The idea of a progressive Christianity was first imagined and developed by theological liberals. However, I believe that “progressive” should be treated as a wider category than “liberal” and that the fundamental divide in Christian theology is between various forms of conservative orthodoxy and progressivism.” [6]

“Liberalism no longer owns the progressive designation, but it remains the historical and theoretical touchstone for all progressive theologies, and the future of progressive theology as a whole rests heavily on the fate of its liberal stream.” [7]

“I do believe that Protestants should stop wasting their time trying to carry on dialog with conservatives in hopes to unify the church. They should now use their time, energy and resources to build up the Protestant church based on a Progressive Protestant Theology.” [8]

These are very serious matters as we move into the future. The progressive movement is not slowing down but moving rapidly with an agenda of change.

If “Progressive Christianity” denies the transcendence of God, original sin, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, Christ’s atoning death on the cross, his bodily resurrection and ascension, miracles, prayer, and the authority of Scripture, one must ask what of “Christianity” is left?

Indeed, “Progressive Christianity” is not Christianity at all.

Progressive Christianity seems exotic to most. The Center for Progressive Christianity accepts

“….all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to): believers and agnostics, conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, those of all races and cultures, those of all classes and abilities, those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope.” [9]

These individuals are those who “stress justice and tolerance above creedal beliefs.” They are bringing their social agendas to their religion and seeking to plug into a movement that will accept them as they are. God calls for a total change (John 3:3-5) while Progressive Christianity simply assimilates them, as they are.

The Apostle Paul wrote that we must undergo a complete transformation (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 12:1-2). A standard less than the call of discipleship issued from heaven is superfluous. It leads men to the same goals they already attained. A lost man led to further confusion is just more lost, not saved.

Citations

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1923), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.religioustolerance.org/prog_chr.htm

[4] Ibid.

[5] Machen, 2.

[6] Gary Dorrien, Cross Currents; Winter2006, Vol. 55 Issue 4, pages 456-481.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Article no longer online. Accessed in 2007

[9] Article no longer online. Accessed in 2007

 

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4 thoughts on “Implications of Liberalism, Part Two

  1. Pingback: Implications of Liberalism, Part Three | The Moving Word

  2. Pingback: Implications of Liberalism, Part Four | The Moving Word

  3. Pingback: Implications of Liberalism, Part Five | The Moving Word

  4. Pingback: Series on Liberalism | The Moving Word

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