Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Saving Christians from Liberal Theology

“If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

I want to make something very clear from the outset. My current series of blogs entitled “Saving Christians from…” is not motivated by a spirit of fear or negativism. I am a Christian in the Reformed mould,  which means that I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God and in the present reign of Jesus who is in the process of subduing this world for His own glory. I do not embrace a negative eschatology (no … I am not post millennial!) but I am absolutely convinced  about the final outcome: "Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does its successive journeys run." 

Yet, at the same time I am also called of God to be an under- shepherd with the duty to preach and teach His Word and to warn His flock on earth concerning all sorts of heretical teachers and deceitful tendencies which threaten to take them away from the gospel truth as it is in Jesus. I write of course from a Namibian perspective. 

In this blog I want to write about an ideological/philosophical movement that affects Namibians, and it is broadly termed ‘Liberalism’ (from the Latin liberalis). Liberalism is primarily a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality and mostly rooted in the French Revolution (1789). Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. Now, in and of itself there is nothing wrong with these ideals. In fact, Christians would welcome these ideals. Freedom is after all a Christian core value! It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! (Gal 5:1) 

However, here is the problem as I see it. The French Revolution not only stood for freedom from all sorts of burdensome   constraints imposed by kings, rulers and the Roman Catholic church, but the French Revolution in its quest for liberty also sought to divest itself of God and the Scriptures! It clearly threw out the baby with the bathwater and in that process the French Revolution became the exporter of pure humanism, which is a deeply flawed system. 

Liberalism then, being a worldview,  has  also   exported itself into the context of theology. As a result we speak today of ‘Liberal theology’ and of ‘Liberation Theology’ and of 'Progressive Christianity[1] and of religious ‘Modernism’ and ‘Post Modernism’. Religious liberalism is indeed   a multifaceted phenomenon, but the common denominator is, that it seeks to ‘liberate’ Christianity from the authority of Christ and the written Word of Christ.  Now, if Christ is not a real King,  and His Word not a real and true word, then what do we have?  The net  effect, I would argue, is that our Namibian Christianity has become ‘toothless’ and powerless. Sitting recently in the company  of  a group of politicians   I was told that they did not see the church  as an  effective  agent for change in Namibia.  

Many years ago a 20th century prophet A.W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) wrote an essay entitled “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches“. In  this essay  he  wrote:

"The present position of Christ in the … churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited, constitutional monarchy. The king…. is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions. On formal occasions he appears in his royal attire to deliver the tame, colorless speech put into his mouth by the real rulers of the country. The whole thing may be no more than good-natured make-believe, but it is rooted in antiquity, it is a lot of fun and no one wants to give it up."

Here is my application:  The Namibian Church ought to be very concerned about the waning authority of Christ and His Word (the Bible) in every church and denomination. This is how we know that the authority of Christ and the Bible is slipping in our churches :

1. The waning authority of Christ in the modern (new) churches:
Here reference is made to the churches that have sprung up comparatively recently (i.e. in the late 20th century ) 
  •  Much of church leadership is not Christ centered but man centered. It is men and women with big titles (Reverend , Bishop , Apostle) that rule the church by their own authority , and not under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ . 
  • Much of church worship is not Christ centered but man centered.                  Many Namibian churches engage in no serious attempt to make the Word of God known to their congregations. Much of what is called ‘preaching’ is based on the imitation of messages preached by American mega church leaders and worse still, the imitation of the American health- wealth and prosperity teachers. Messages resemble ‘motivational speaking’ characterized by modern business gurus, and ‘pop psychology’, which is a rehash of Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey and the likes , dressed up in Christian language.  Most often it is not Christ and His word proclaimed that attracts people to the church. It is music and innovative stage productions that draw people who want to be entertained. In Namibia, endless choir items, liturgical dances etc. tend to crowd out the place of the preached word. In many Namibian churches you will find no systematic and public reading of the Bible in worship, but you will find plenty of testimonies that glorify men and not God. 
2. The waning authority of Christ in the (old) mainline churches 
There is yet another form of the waning authority of Christ and His Word in the Namibian churches, and it relates mainly to the historic mainline churches. 
Some of the old mainline churches  tend to buy into the 'new and innovative  seeker sensitive Christian  fashions'  that abound in American churches like  Willow Creek and Saddleback. These are all cheap substitutes for the  true life of the church which consists in  godly wrestling with the Scriptures from the pulpit  and  in prayer. Both of these disciplines are fading  as innovation wins the day. 

My point has been that liberal theology destroys the heart of the biblical gospel by tampering with Christ and by tampering with the authority of the Bible. Here are some specific things I have seen  and heard : 
  • “the Bible is not the Word of God – the Bible becomes the Word of God as it encounters me”. This is  a position known as Neo-orthodoxy. It is not a very common teaching in Namibia  but it is there. Neo –Orthodoxy teaches that the Bible is a medium of revelation, while orthodoxy believes it is revelation. To the neo-orthodox theologian, revelation depends on the experience (or personal interpretation) of each individual. The Bible only “becomes” the Word of God when God uses its words to point someone to Christ. The details of the Bible are not as important as having a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Our comment is that this is not the historic position of the church which has always held that the Bible is the Word of God. The Word of God IS true whether I believe it or not. It stands outside of myself and it has the authority to judge me, whether I experience that fact or not. 
  • Another contemporary challenge to mainline Christian churches is the Jesus Seminar, which has some popular adherents in South Africa and Namibia. Some of the teachings of the Jesus Seminar include : Jesus of Nazareth’s mother's name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph;  Jesus practiced faith healing without the use of ancient medicine or magic, relieving afflictions we now consider psychosomatic;  He did not walk on water, feed the multitude with loaves and fishes, change water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead; Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified by the Romans. He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the Son of God;  The empty tomb is a fiction – Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead. Belief in the resurrection is based on the visionary experiences of Paul, Peter and Mary. 
Clearly, such an undermining of Christ and of the clear words of Christ in the Bible in the name of what is commonly called ‘scholarship’ and ‘academic integrity’ and ‘the new hermeneutic‘ can devastate the faith of many a simple believer, and many such believers have therefore begun to leave such churches where these things are being taught. 

In another article I would like to comment on the latest fad within the broader realm  of liberal theology - Post modernism, which builds on much that I have said here, and which needs a more thorough treatment. 

Conclusion : Saving Namibian Christians from Liberalism 

The matter at hand is extremely serious, and it shows in our society. Liberal theology in its many forms is deeply subversive, undermining the foundations of the historical Christian faith, and “if the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) 
The big problem with liberalism , both of the new and the old kind is that it robs us of the authority of Christ and His word, and  the question is  again - if we have no biblical Christ and no sufficient word, then what do we have?

We observe the impact that liberalism and neo- liberal ideas have on the church. We see how it lowers the spiritual temperature of the churches. We see it in the way in which our churches have very little real impact upon our society. We observe therefore that the standard response of churches who no longer believe in the authority of Christ and the sufficiency of His Word,  is to get churches involved in social projects that have an appearance of relevance in the community.  Nobody despises soup kitchens and the clothing the poor and the looking after orphans and widows. These are indeed the out-workings of a biblical faith, but this is not the core activity of the church. It flows from the core activity of the church, which is the preaching of the gospel, with conviction, clarity and utter confidence that Jesus will change the heart of the man or woman who will look to Him and believe in Him. 

Our churches are not primarily social clubs or social welfare organisations. Churches are life- saving stations where sinners are mended and healed to be offered up for service to this broken world in the Name of Jesus our King! 
And our service always begins with the Word of God. 

May God deliver us from liberal theology that detaches our hearts from Christ and His Word. 

[1] Progressive Christianity, a 20th-century theology of contemporary Protestant Christianity characterized by willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity with a strong emphasis on social justice or care for the poor and the oppressed and environmental stewardship of the Earth.

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