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:
I also recorded a five-podcast series on Liberalism on my podcast.
WHAT IS CHRISTIAN LIBERALISM?
WHAT IS LIBERALISM? (Part A, my story)
Josiah Meyer, 2008
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
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?
WHAT IS LIBERALISM? (PART B: Definitions)
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
SHOULD WE BE WORRIED?
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
HOW DO WE COMBAT LIBERALISM?
…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)
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)