Thursday, July 13, 2017

Friendly Theological Liberalism: A Threat in Every Age

In one era, the doctrine of sin is unacceptable; in another, it’s miracles; in another, it’s the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, or biblical sex ethics. But the theme is the same: In order to make Christianity believable, certain doctrines must be abandoned.

 

For centuries, liberal theologians have believed it their task to make Christianity palatable to “modern man.” In most cases, the modern man in question is anyone who shares the liberal theologian’s heritage and social status. The liberal theologian’s goal is to rescue Christianity by excising the elements that seem most offensive in that day.

In one era, the doctrine of sin is unacceptable; in another, it’s miracles; in another, it’s the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, or biblical sex ethics. But the theme is the same: In order to make Christianity believable, certain doctrines must be abandoned.

Two Types of Liberals

Let’s define theological liberalism as Bible interpretation unconstrained by orthodox creeds or doctrines. But we can distinguish two kinds of liberalism.

The first, the hostile liberal, hates Christianity and wants to replace it with a better religion. The second—the focus of this article—is more friendly. It hopes to rescue the faith and win its “cultured despisers.” Unfortunately, as friendly liberals attempt to save Christianity they destroy it, for their first allegiance is to culture, not Scripture.

The Enlightenment had a series of hostile liberals, men like Hume, Kant, and Voltaire, who directly opposed orthodox Christianity. For them, miracles were impossible, the doctrine of sin was repugnant, and the idea that salvation comes through Jesus violated the principle that truth is necessary and universal. For Enlightenment thinkers, religion is simply ethics.

Redefining Jesus

Friendly liberals often begin by redefining Jesus himself. Quests for the “historical Jesus” seek to distinguish the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.

This approach commonly has four elements:

  1. Jesus had no self-awareness of deity, and he never claimed pre-existence.
  2. But the church has called Jesus “divine,” so we must, too.
  3. We call him “divine” in a way the historical Jesus would approve.
  4. Therefore, we deny that Jesus is truly, fully God. He is only “divine” in the sense that a consciousness of God was present and revealed in a prototypical way. Or he is “divine” in the sense that he was totally open to God.

Let’s see how this plays out in three influential liberals on the friendly side.

Three Major Figures

1. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) considered himself a Christian and aimed to make the faith palatable by removing its most objectionable ideas—especially the supernatural elements. Schleiermacher came of age as Romanticism began to supplant the Enlightenment. He received a Pietist education, but also heard scholars who argued that Scripture accommodates itself to its times.

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The post Friendly Theological Liberalism: A Threat in Every Age appeared first on The Aquila Report.



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