What is theological liberalism?

On the Everlasting Trusth website and radio broadcasts we have made periodic references to theological liberalism. The category theological liberal is important, but often neglected, distinction. Theological liberalism has nothing to do with American politics. Liberal politics are usually associated with the democratic party, but liberal theology is a category that refers to what someone believes about God and the Bible.

Liberal theology began to gain ground in America during the late 1800’s. Soon there was conflict in the major denominations between liberal and conservative groups. Those early battles were fought over the inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus and the genuineness of miracles in the Bible. The liberals denied all these. The theological conservatives strongly defended them.

A theological liberal elevates the authority of science and reason to be equal or greater than the authority of the Bible. In the 1800’s when reason declared miracles were not possible, the liberal agreed. When science concluded the world evolved over a long period of time, the liberal began to explain Genesis in ways that accommodated millions of years of evolution. The meaning of Scripture is shaped for the liberal by science, experience, modern philosophy, psychiatry and contemporary morals.

Sometimes the liberal theologian denies outright the truth of the Bible, but often he is more subtle. Many liberal theologians reinterpret a passage by manipulating the historical context. For example, since Paul was writing into a culture that did not value women’s rights, therefore his statements about a wife’s role in marriage have to be understood through the cultural grid of Paul’s day. The liberal theologian believes that if Paul were writing today he would agree with the progressive view of gender roles.

Liberal theology is frequently shaped by a single ethical ideal that is elevated over the rest of Scripture. This ethic becomes the interpretative grid through which everything else in the Bible is understood. For example, in liberal theology the truth that God is love reinterprets the Biblical commands regarding marriage and sexual purity. A loving God would never condemn loving relationships, no matter who were involved. Modern ethical concerns seem to dominate the focus of liberal churches. Usually the ethical standards of theological liberalism are closely aligned with the ideals of political liberalism. The liberal theologian is often concerned with promoting racial justice, economic equality, environmentalism, access to abortion and acceptance of homosexuality. These ethical concerns outweigh doctrinal concerns. Dealing with social injustice is far more important than preaching the Biblical truths of Jesus and salvation.

The great danger of liberalism is its denial of the authority of the Bible. By denying the truth of Scripture, the liberal effectively denies the gospel. Those who deny that Jesus is God, that Jesus was a perfect man and that Jesus rose from the dead deny key truths that must be believed to be saved. A message that ignores these core truths of the gospel is not a Christian message. Theological liberalism is not just a different viewpoint about certain difficult or minor doctrines. Theological liberalism rejects historic Christian doctrine and it rejects Biblical doctrine. Though it claims the name of Christian, theological liberalism is not Christian.

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