Saturday, October 29, 2005

Theological "Liberalism" Does Not Exist

CLASSIC LIBERALISM, in which a pastor or theologian may dismiss the Creation story, or Noah's Ark, or Jonah and the Whale, or the Resurrection of Jesus as fables, has virtually ceased to exist.

What now forms the heart of the theological left is a far more subtle and elusive beast: I call it existential liberalism.

The Old Liberalism dismissed the miracles as fables; the New Liberalism embraces the miraculous as useful myths. Its root is a profoundly different concept of Truth and History.

"Truth" is a utilitarian concept in New Liberalism. We all have our truths, and the greatest truth is that all truths are equally vaild. Therefore, the greatest offense is the claim of having discovered--or being discovered by an exclusive Truth.

So the Existential Liberal is not offended that you believe that Adam was a literal man. That is your truth. But to maintain that this truth is universal Truth--that is offensive.

When I was pastoring in New Hampshire, we had a ministerial association that ran from Unitarian to Catholic to Charismatic. I recall the pastor of the Congregational Church (all the locals called it the "Cong" Church--pronounced like the Kong in King Kong) who refered to the "pre-scientific" nature of the creation account. Honestly, I found his chronologicalism rather funny, like 2oth century people who had the termerity to call an earlier era "The Dark Ages"--this from the century that produced Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot.

That "pre-scientific" remark--made around 1987 or so--is rarer today. It was an attitude tied to modernism, and modernism has collasped into the river of Post-Modernism. As I taught at our church's Summer Bible Institute this last summer, the gist of post-modernism is caught in the words, "No Big Stories." (Except, as a a pastor friend pointed out, that is the Big Story of post-modernism.)

Biblical Christianity is incompatible with post-modernism. We believe in the Ultimate Big Story. Creation--Fall--Redemption through the Cross of Jesus.

That is why Biblical Christianity is not only incompatible with the old dying Liberalism, but also with the newer Existential Liberalism.

As a shadow of the Biblical redemptive element, one thing both the Old and New Liberalism has in common is a socio-political reinterpretation of redemption. The dominent motif of the New Redemption shifts from the Cross to the Exodus, which is seen as a paradigm of deliverance from all kinds of slavery to all kinds of promised lands. Hence the various Liberationisms as the religious-secular replacement of the Cross: Marxist, Feminist, Gay/Bisexual/Lesbian/Transgendered. These liberationisms arise unencumbered by the mere words of Scripture. What is far more relevant is the grand movement of Exodus liberation. God, we are told, is on the side of oppressed. That is all we need to know. That is as far as we are to enquire.

There is doubtless a socio-political impact of the gospel. No responsible exegete denies that. But to make that aspect the heart of redemption is a mistake. It falls short of and literally perverts the Biblical idea of redemption, which is to rescue at great cost the fallen into the love and way of the Lord--ultimately by the Cross of Jesus.

This Biblical gospel is what we contend for: the gospel of God the Father, the Creator, Jesus the Son, the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit, the Empowerer.


Anonymous said...
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Dennis E. McFadden said...

GREAT commentary! What a well thought through and well crafted blog!