- Pastor John Smith
The Decline of Liberal Theology
I love my church family here at Evergreen Baptist. One of the reasons why I love them, (there are many reasons) is that they are so ready to forward their thinking pastor something to chew, reflect upon and eventually respond to. This last week was no different. Right before prayer meeting, one of the members had cut out an article written by David Haskell titled “Liberal Churches Wane As Conservative Ones Thrive” and gave it to me. Ha! What a title! Needless to say, I was hooked.
What deems a church “liberal”? For starters it has nothing to do with politics. Granted more often than not, “liberal” churches tend to be more “liberal” in their view of politics, but in reality there is no such thing as Democratic churches and the same can be said that there are no Republican churches. As I have always said, the church stands above both Republican and Democratic politics to rightly criticize them both.
When one speaks of a church being “liberal”, they are talking about their theological perspective. A liberal church holds to liberal theology which means they deny literal interpretations of Scripture, have more of an emphasis on social justice causes and less on the command by Jesus to “Go make disciples”. It is true that they are also less likely to believe in the miraculous, favoring more rationalistic or allegorical approaches to stories like Jonah being swallowed by a fish or the creation account in the book of Genesis. To put it rather simply, liberal churches, though they may read the Bible in their church, they are not built upon the belief that Scripture is the Divinely inspired, infallible and sufficient rule for all of life.
Why are we seeing a decline in mainline churches that hold to liberal theology? It isn’t because of a lack of methodology, or strategies. The fact is that they have neither a message nor any authority to proclaim a message. The Bible asserts that absolute truth exists and is the standard for all truth. Now that is a huge claim to make considering that much of our society dwells in the realm of post-modernism, where truth is relative. Consequently when the Bible and its claims are abandoned, or not taken as a whole, what makes a church’s message any different than what they can get somewhere else? If the transcendent glorious message of the Gospel is traded for mere social causes or activism, then the church has traded its purpose to make the manifold wisdom of God known(Eph. 3:10) for something far lesser in power and glory, even though it might be clothed in the brilliant trappings of religion.
Where mainline liberal churches have largely failed and it can be said this danger extends to any and all churches, is how they view Scripture primarily in relation to the world around them. The statement “Christianity must change or die” that has been espoused by liberal theologians and church-growth experts alike has behind it a wrong assumption. That is, Christianity must change the content and the basis of its message to reach a larger audience. As they say in the theater, “give the people what they want and they will come” and when churches do that, then in theory, more people will be receptive to Christianity.
However, if you change the content of Christianity or abandon the source of its primary message (the Good News of Jesus Christ), it is no longer Christianity but something else entirely. So even though you might persuade someone to be more receptive, the problem is what they are accepting hardly resembles New Testament Christianity.
Although I agree somewhat that Christianity (or at least how it is expressed in this country) must change, the direction that it needs to go is deeper into the Bible and not away from it. The God-breathed Scriptures are as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness” and should be treasured, read and explained so that “the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Mainline churches are dying. The whole world around us is dying. I ask this in conclusion, why would we ever withhold or give a dying man a cheap substitute when we have the “word of life” within our grasp?