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Liberalism, Fundamentalism, and the Gospel

Building from my time in the “Emergent” Church, in pursuit of a “postmodern Christianity” and moving to the research I have done since, this sermon highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both a “Liberal” and a “Fundamentalist” approach to Christianity, emphasizing the importance and centrality of the Gospel.

Watch or listen below. You can scroll down for the sermon notes, or download them here.





This sermon is based on the research represented in the following two research papers:

Modernity and the Roots of Modern Liberalism

J. Gresham Machen: The man who wrote ‘Christianity and Liberalism’

I also recorded a five-podcast series on Liberalism on my podcast.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my sermons podcast, my theology podcast, and my YouTube channel!



Josiah Meyer


WHAT IS LIBERALISM? (Part A, my story)

The Casket

Josiah Meyer, 2008

Gentle voices,
Kindest hands
Have raised a casket           Men who’ve been there
Raised by man                  Men who fight
                               Men with scars,
Between these walls            Who know what’s ‘right’
And roof and lid
Ten thousand young             Hid from troubles
They’ve safely hid             Hid from strife
                               Hid from poisons
Until we rise                  Safe from life
Anemic few
To seek the light             Climb through rubble,
To blossom through!            Climb through loss
                               Climb for faith
We are “Emergent,”             And Climb for cause
Scared to be
We are not perfect,
But we are free

Some Difficult Questions:

What is Truth, actually…?

(without absolute truth, might makes right)

2) How do I know what God wants, without the Bible?

How do I raise children without the church?

Is Jesus really Lord of my life?


Definition 1: “Liberalism is Christianity, studied from the outside looking in”

This is the same way that we would study Islam, Sikhism

It is an approach that denies miracles

This is the approach of most people currently studying Christianity, in the religious studies of secular universities

(By the way, studying Christianity at a secular university is probably the worst thing you can do for your faith!!) 

What are some of the implications of this?

The Bible was written by people, not God

None of the miracles happened

(So then how did the stories about miracles arise?)

Perhaps they were stories told by the religious community, developed over time, were borrowed from other religions, etc….

THE GOOD SIDE of secular, liberal studies:

It provides objective information about Christianity

It can be used in Apologetics, to prove Christianity

THE BAD SIDE of secular, liberal studies

It denies miracles

It is (very often!) used to discredit true Christianity


When you understand that they deny miracles as a starting point, then 80% of the problems disappear

A useful phrase is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

There are some serious issues which remain, which is why we need Christian scholars in the field

DEFINITION 2: “Liberalism is a form of Christianity that denies miracles”

“seriously?! There are Christians that deny miracles?!”

“yes, whole seminaries, whole denominations of them!”

According to J. Gresham Machen, in Christianity and Liberalism, this is the main difference between Liberalism

What would change if there were no miracles in Christianity?


The Bible isn’t really God’s word: it’s just people speaking about what they think God is like

The miracles didn’t happen (therefore, much of it is false)

The Bible does not transmit propositional information

Christianity is about, “the feeling of absolute dependence” (Schleiermacher) and right behaviour


We don’t really know much about Him

We can learn about Him from other religions as well

Let’s assume He is a “kind Father in the sky”


Not born of a virgin (therefore, not God!)

Didn’t rise from the dead (therefore, can’t save!)

He was a moral teacher and that is all


Jesus was not killed for our sins: that’s barbaric!

Jesus was a good example for us to follow

Salvation is basically through good works

People from all religions (or no religion) can be saved, because good works is available to everyone

Missions is a waste of time

Heaven & Hell

We have no Bible to tell us about them

Maybe they are spiritual realities

Pretty much everyone probably goes to “the good place”


Being kind, humble, and good is the most important

Sexual ethics are out!

DEFINITION 3: Liberalism is the belief that, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations (actions) of a Christ without a cross.” – H. Richard Niebuhr


…the people or the ideas…? (Eph. 6:12)

The “Liberal” and “Fundamentalist” debates

1) Sneaky Liberals

A. Changing definitions

B. Pretending to be evangelical, when they aren’t

C. Seizing power in churches and schools

D. Pressing conservatives out, keeping the building

2) Heresy-hunting Fundamentalists

A. Making lists

The inspiration and infallibility of Scriptures

The Virgin Birth

The Miracles of Jesus

Salvation through Christs’ atoning death

Jesus’ literal, bodily resurrection

B. Critique of Fundamentalism

Lists can get longer and longer

KJV, baptismal modes, end-times, long hair, dancing, etc., etc.

Can create an atmosphere of suspicion & fear

Can take the emphasis off of the Gospel

Doesn’t help with evangelism

Outsiders repulsed by fighting

The poor in spirit don’t hear the Gospel

Rather, we need to focus on the Gospel

MY STORY (continued…)

What is the Fear of the Lord?

It is the beginning of wisdom (Psalms 111:10)

God is dangerous (Mat. 10:28)

What is Wrath?

It is God’s anger, poured out on humanity, because of their sin (Romans 1:18)

It is the most important danger to the human race

It is not God’s heart to destroy: rather,
the love of God shelters us from the wrath of God

Exod. 19:21, Ezek. 18:23, 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9

What is Hell?

It is a place of conscious, eternal torment (Mat. 18:6-9, Mark 9:42-48, 2 Thess. 1:5-10, Rev. 14:9-11, 20:10, 14-15)

The most important thing in the world is helping people to avoid going there!!

What is Grace?

All other religions are man’s attempt to reach up

Christianity is God reaching down to us

God really loves us (John 3:16-18)

What is Missions?

Because there is only one way (Acts 4:12)…

We need to go to tell people (Rom. 10:14-15)

Other Resources…

Gresham Machen, Liberalism and Christianity, 1923

– This is a classic book, which is easy to read and well written 

Josiah Meyer, Modernity and the Roots of Classical Liberalism (research paper/blog post)

Josiah Meyer, J. Gresham Machen: The man who wrote Christianity and Liberalism (research paper/blog post)

Josiah Meyer, What is Liberalism? (podcast series)

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