I have entitled this article purposely, having in mind the famous message given by Dr. W.A. Criswell some years ago with the same title. In that message, Dr. Criswell enumerated in great detail the dangers liberalism presents to Biblical Christianity. Theological liberalism, at least for Criswell, is akin to secularism and humanism shrouded in Christian language (and this is all I have ever known theological liberalism to be). Criswell was rather “harsh” on it when he states, “May I speak on The Curse of Liberalism? Because of the opprobrious epithet “liberal,” today they call themselves “moderates.” A skunk by any other name still stinks!”
Indeed, theological liberalism is nothing more than another religion, for it is in no way similar to Biblical Christianity. Dr. J. Gresham Machen says as much in Christianity and Liberalism, saying, “Jesus was certainly not a mere enunciator of permanent truths, like the modern liberal preacher; on the contrary, He was conscious of standing at the turning-point of the ages, when what had never been was now to come to be.” What do Machen and Criswell have in common? They enumerated something fundamental about theological liberalism: It is not true Christianity, and it is a stench before a holy God. In a word, theological liberals maintain the form of godliness, but deny it’s power (2 Tim. 3:5).
But, where does liberalism begin? What provides the necessary foundations for liberalism to flourish?
“Hath God Really Said?”
One of the reasons my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, left its former mainline church was over the issue of Biblical authority. The authority of the Bible has been questioned since the beginning of time, as we see in the temptation of Eve (Gen. 3:1). So, questioning the authority of the Bible is nothing new, but much of what theological liberalism presents is peculiar to our age.
One thing needs to be noted: Theological liberalism does not necessarily require one to openly deny the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the development and adoption of (German) higher criticism in the 1800’s, mainline churches slowly began to deteriorate. Mainline churches failed to discipline liberals calling into question the inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture, but rather disciplined conservatives calling the church to repentance. In the heat of the battle, denominations like the Northern Baptist Convention, now American Baptist Churches USA, and the Presbyterian Church in the USA, the Northern Presbyterian Church, a sermon by the famous Harry Emerson Fosdick was delivered which was entitled, Shall The Fundamentalists Win? Long story short, Fosdick answered that question with a resounding, “no.” Unfortunately, Fosdick’s sermon proved prophetic, as the liberals certainly “won” their denominations over to theological liberalism, and conservatives were forced out.
Liberalism within orthodox denominations today, however, is not as easily identifiable. Many who tolerate error maintain their adherence to the inerrancy of the Bible, the Baptist Faith and Message, the Westminster Standards, or some other confessional document. Yet, there is in some circles the toleration, and even propagation, of erroneous teachings such as critical theory, intersectionality, or “gay” Christianity. This is no surprise. Coming out of the inerrancy battles of the 20th Century, Evangelical Christianity was still largely anemic. The sentiment of “I don’t need theology, all I need is Jesus” was prevalent.
For example, the PCA as a “conservative mainline church” has never maintained a strict subscription to the Westminster Standards. Resulting in may pastors and parishioners giving verbal assent to the Standards, but never fully subscribing to them. Coming out of the old Southern Presbyterian Church, the desire seems to have been to keep all Evangelicals together in one big-tent denomination.
The result of having a big-tent denomination has left us with tolerating things like Critical Theory, Intersectionality, and Side-B Gay Christianity. The only reason it is tolerated is that those propagating these theories say they believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible. While I want to, and often do, give them the benefit of the doubt, I do question the following: Does Christ unite all people to himself? What are the standards for forgiveness if you are a Christian Critical Theorist? And can Christ remove the lusts of the flesh for repentant homosexuals? I wonder if those propagating these erroneous teachings can answer these questions fully and affirmatively; I doubt it.
The Outcomes of Innovation
The preceding discussion enumerates some fundamental flaws to those who are on the left-wing of evangelicalism:
1.) There is a lack of belief in the sufficiency of Scripture;
2.) There is a great fear of man.
The former point has already been dealt with in the discussions of Critical Theory, Intersectionality, and our questions over homosexuality. Those issues relate to wavering belief in the sufficiency of Scripture in areas of church unity and the forgiveness of sin. Ever so closely related to it, but worthy of its point, there is a great fear of man among those on the Evangelical Left. I see it clearly in a few ways:
- The constant dumping on Donald Trump;
- The desire to be as inoffensive and “tolerant” as possible;
- The perpetual self-shaming surrounding issues of race, gender, and sexuality; and,
- The lack of biblical evangelism.
All of these points are important because they reflect where the culture is currently at. For example, the culture hates Donald Trump, so Evangelicals need to show we’re willing to call him out, even when it’s unfair. The culture demands tolerance, so we must be tolerant of things that at least our fathers and grandfathers in the faith were not tolerant of in the 20th century, i.e. pro-choice Evangelicals, gay-affirming Evangelicals, etc. The culture constantly shames itself over race, gender, and sexuality, thus the church must as well. This isn’t to say there is nothing to repent over, that much needs to be said. What is true, however, is that it allows for false theories and vain philosophies to be brought in and tolerated, like Critical Theory and Intersectionality. The culture is resistant to evangelism, so being “missional” now means that showing the love of Christ is “demonstrated.” What does this look like? It looks awful as the old social gospel. The longer this stuff is tolerated in the name of being “culturally sensitive,” the more open once-great denominations are to rotting from the inside.
History demonstrates that when denominations desire to accommodate their teachings to the will and whims of the culture, the denominations capitulate. Once the proverbial horse is out of the proverbial barn, it is difficult to get it back in without tearing things up. In other words, when denominations capitulate end up rotting and tearing themselves apart, as seen with the founding of the OPC and PCA. It is possible to get the horse back in, as our Southern Baptist bretheren have demonstrated. However, it comes with a great cost. Not only do denominational boards and agencies need renewal, but so do the churches. When churches are not able to be renewed, it is only a matter of time before things go awry again. The only way to deal with it is through church discipline, and in an age like ours, church discipline is difficult to accomplish. Because of how difficult and sad it can be it never gets done, or at least not in churches I have been in. Where church discipline is not practiced, error is tolerated and allowed to make its rounds. This is no less the case with theological liberalism, which means denominational leaders ought to be clear about orthodox teachings in eras with mass confusion, and discipline needs to be brought about. Unless this happens, our denominations will be confronted with the same battle over and over again.