Some Evangelicals believe Scripture is totally inerrant and that there are no mistakes whatsoever in the Bible. They are therefore negative towards biblical criticism, believing that to accept there are errors in the Bible means that the whole of Scripture is in danger of collapsing like a house of cards. Other Evangelicals do not believe that any mistakes in secondary areas in the Bible undermine the great truths about Jesus and salvation. They accept that teaching can be historically conditioned just as history is never totally objective. They accept that passages like the early chapters of Genesis convey wonderful theological truths in symbolic terms. However that is very different from accepting a full-blown liberal approach to Scripture including denying aspects of creedal beliefs.
The liberal “Gospel” strikes me as irrelevant to real life. Take for example the liberal view that the supernatural, miracles etc., are an embarrassment to the man in the street. In reality, vast and increasing numbers of people are exploring the supernatural but often in the world of the occult. Occult films and literature are all the rage. Thousands consult mediums for healing or messages from “the dead”. Many search for spiritual experience through various “New Age” groups. A rationalistic church, infected by liberal theology, has failed them.
And where have these theologians been during the history of the Charismatic Renewal when God has renewed the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the church? Of course, there are always some inaccurate accounts, some naive acceptance of bizarre messages and behaviour in such movements. But there is a mass of evidence that the Renewal Movement has brought genuine blessing and transformation of human beings. So I have no difficulty with the concept of miracle, not only from a theological viewpoint but because they happen today! Embarrassment with the supernatural is out of date.
Liberal theologians claim people want to be free-thinkers, unshackled by external authority such as the authority of scripture. Why then are many ordinary people, including intellectuals, drawn to religious groups which emphasize authority e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, housechurches or, sadly extreme cults. I am not justifying authoritarianism but I believe these facts reveal a genuine search for authoritative truth in religion. This is not just an immature desire to find security in an external authority. Rather it speaks of an innate awareness that God is a God of Revelation who has revealed himself authoritatively.
Many people are proving that true freedom and growth in maturity come through submission to Christ and his Word. “His service is perfect freedom”. Instead of this the liberal “gospel” offers the illusory freedom of liberal theology which may be intellectually stimulating but is spiritually repressive. It means being bound by the limits of the human mind and human wisdom which Scripture describes as foolishness. Ultimately it proves frustrating to the many who seek something beyond the boundaries of the human intellect.
The liberal contention that the idea of God as Judge is outmoded is out of touch with the thinking of many a man in the street. True, some of this thinking is crude and superstitious. But not all. One man was converted from atheism to belief in God through the York Minister fire in 1984. He saw it as God’s judgement. Even if you disagree with his opinion at least it illustrates an innate idea of God as Judge in the minds of those outside the church. Actually this opinion of the York fire is shared by many other non-church people. And if God is not Judge why was the Cross necessary? We have to remember too that justice is at the heart of the concept of God as Judge.
Some liberal theologians are embarrassed about intercessory prayer. This is bound to have undermined the faith of some ordinary people that “prayer changes things”. Again these liberal theologians seem unaware of the tremendous growth in intercession by individuals, groups and societies throughout the nation recently. Christians have reached new depths of prayer. There are countless verifiable stories of remarkable answers to prayer for individual, national and international issues. At best the liberal view is irrelevant. At worst it undermines this vital ministry of intercession. Besides what on earth are we doing in our liturgical intercessions in church – just spinning the prayer wheel for fun?
But the liberal “gospel” does greater damage. Good Christians when fed liberal theology at theological college can experience very serious spiritual difficulties or even lose their faith. This can happen to people in the parish too. Knowing that church leaders deny aspects of the creed can put off those enquiring about the Faith and confirm unbelievers in their unbelief, The fact that people outside the church feel these leaders are being dishonest by not believing what they should doesn’t help either.
Some claim liberal theology brings people to faith. It is true that it is faith in the divine Christ crucified for us that saves us, not orthodox doctrine. People may not work out the logical implications of e.g. denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. Consequently a person might come to Christ in a reasonably liberal context. After all, God can use many different circumstances to bring a person to Christ but that doesn’t mean those circumstances were right in themselves. And I would want to know a person claiming to have come to faith through liberal theology was truly, supernaturally born again through believing in the Jesus of Scripture, not a man-made image of Him. But it is, I believe, a fact of life that many, many more people are brought to faith through a straightforward, orthodox presentation of the traditional, biblical message.
The liberal “gospel”, in so far as it significantly deviates from the plain teaching of Scripture, is at best irrelevant to the spiritual needs of ordinary people. At worst it is destructive to genuine faith. Ultimately I’m convinced the liberal, watered-down “gospel” will blend readily with other Faiths producing a one-world religion which will be a total denial of salvation only through the Cross of Christ.
See the books in this and the Interfaith section for more about Liberalism
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction