Skip Navigation

Progressive (Liberal) Theology

 

The Relevance of J. Gresham Machen by Darryl G. Hart, Ph. D., visiting professor of history at Hillsdale College, MI.  Hart explains Princeton professor J. Gresham Machen's historic role in warning the Presbyterian church that the controversies that wracked the church were fundamentally between two different faiths: liberalism (progressivism) and historic Christian faith.  Sep/Oct 2012 Theology Matters, p. 1.

Christianity and Liberalism: The Bible, by J. Gresham Machen.  Sep/Oct 2012 Theology Matters, p. 9. In his book, Christianity and Liberalism, Machen details the conflicting doctrines between biblical Christianity and liberalism.  We have included his chapter on the Bible in which Machen contrasts the liberal and historic understanding of Scripture.  Even in the early twentieth century liberals sought to put human experience above the word of Scripture.  Liberals tried to argue that their authority was Christ but it was a Christ apart from Scripture and known only by their personal human experience.   Machen writes,

"the modern liberal does not hold fast even to the authority of Jesus. Certainly he does not accept the words of Jesus as they are recorded in the Gospels. For among the recorded words of Jesus are to be found just those things which are the most abhorrent to the modern liberal church, and in his recorded words Jesus also points forward to the fuller revelation which was afterwards to be given through His apostles. Evidently, therefore, those words of Jesus which are to be regarded as authoritative by modern liberalism must first be selected from the mass of the recorded words by a critical process. The critical process is certainly very difficult, and the suspicion often arises that the critic is retaining as genuine words of the historical Jesus only those words which conform to his own preconceived ideas."

Machen concludes,

"It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible.  It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men."

The Separateness of the Church by J. Gresham Machen.   Sep/Oct 2012 Theology Matters, p. 12.  The church is called to be salt and light in the world and that will never be an easy calling. Machen observes, "If the sharp distinction is ever broken down between the Church and the world, then the power of the church is gone." 

This pressure to compromise with the culture is the most serious threat to the church's calling and it comes from within the church.  Machen writes,  

"The really serious attack upon Christianity has not been the attack carried on by fire and sword, by the threat of bonds or death, but it has been the more subtle attack that has been masked by friendly words; it has been not the attack from without but the attack from within. The enemy has done his deadliest work when he has come with words of love and compromise and peace."

 

 

The Priority of Authority: Holy Scripture and Human Sexuality, by Robert P. Mills.  Mills is a PCUSA pastor and is currently teaching at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.  

Author Robert Mills begins his article by quoting the common mantra of liberals explaining why there has been such division in the church over sexuality, “We all agree on the authority of Scripture.  We just disagree about interpretation.”    Mills then exposes the fallacy of this mantra saying, “It is the first half of their statement, ‘We all agree on the authority of Scripture,” that is so obviously absurd.  For the chasm dividing evangelicals and liberals in their understanding of the authority of Scripture is, if anything, greater than that separating their interpretation of specific passages.”

Mills explains the church’s historic meaning of revelation and its relationship to Scripture,   “Theologians use the term ‘revelation’ to describe God’s communication of divine truth to his human creation.  A good, short definition of revelation is ‘the significant self-disclosure of God to man.’”

Enlightenment thinkers attacked the church’s doctrine of revelation because they rejected “supernatural revelation.”  Mills writes, “Enlightenment philosophy is the source and substance of liberal theology.  Rejecting as “unenlightened’ the very possibility of divine revelation, mainline liberals have followed Enlightenment philosophers in degrading the Bible from God’s self-revelation to a mere collection of human reflections on the religious experiences of certain groups of individuals. For such liberals, the Bible is not, nor does it contain, the Word of God.  Therefore, it has no more authority than a novel or a magazine article.”

Historically, orthodox Christians sought to understand the original author’s meaning of the text becuase the text is the revelation of God,  and then they applied that meaning to their situation.  Liberals reject the text’s authority given by the Author.  Instead, for liberals, the reader’s meaning, not the original author’s meaning, is authoritative.  Whatever insight the reader gleans is authoritative for him/her, regardless of whether it agrees with what the text says.  The shift is from the meaning of the text as a revelation of God given through human authors, to the reader’s meaning of the text even if that meaning is in direct opposition to the words of the text.  The reader’s meaning is now authoritative.

Mills explains the result of this erroneous liberal thinking, “I once heard an Old Testament professor acknowledge that there is no question that the plain meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew is that homosexual behavior is sinful in God’s eyes.  However he concluded, ‘The Bible is simply wrong at that point.’”  Nov/Dec 2011 Theology Matters p. 1

 

A Letter from the Board of Directors of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry declaring that there are some doctrines present in the church which represent a counterfeit Christianity.  Sep/Oct 2011 Theology Matters, p. 1

The Counterfeit Gospel by Rev. Dr. Randal Working, Board of Directors of PFFM. Working looks at the source of this counterfeit Gospel which at its heart is a rejection of the authority of Scripture and a substitution of one's own experience. Sep/Oct 2011 Theology Matters, p. 10

Nein! A Response to Progressives by Mark R. Patterson, p. 1--  Patterson contrasts progressive, liberal theology with historic Christian faith.  This is a primer that will help people understand the issues and conflict in the church today.  Mar/Apr 2007 Theology Matters p. 1

An Unworkable Theology by Philip Turner, p. 14 --  From his vantage point in the Episcopal church, Turner describes progressive doctrine as a theology of acceptance verses a theology of redemption.   Mar/Apr 2007 Theology Matters p. 14

Why Christology Is An Endangered Species by James R. Edwards
Edwards' argues "that we are witnessing a paradigm shift away from a theology of redemption to a theology of creation...we are witnessing a shift in theology from what God can and will do in the gospel to what God did once for all creation. Concomitant with the shift from Christology to creation is a shift away from the doctrines of sin and repentance, which according to the preaching of the cross are essential to the reception of new life in Christ.   The new theology argues that what is, is essentially good and right."  Jan/Feb 2002 Theology Matters p. 1

More Than One Way? Affirming the Uniqueness of Christ's Person and Work in a Pluralistic Culture by Dennis Okholm
Okholm, who was a professor of religion at Wheaton College and is now at Azuza Pacific, posits the uniqueness of Christ against the claims of pluralism.  He addresses: why pluralism now; the practice of pluralism, defining pluralism, responding to pluralism, what's wrong with pluralism? and asserting the 'scandal of particularity'.  Jan/Feb 2002 Theology Matters   p. 6

A Map for the Maze: Finding Your Way Through Contemporary Theology (A Guide for PNCs) by Randall Otto.  Dr. Otto is a PCUSA pastor with a Ph.D. in historical and theological studies.  Otto gives a map through the maze of contemporary theologies by contrasting them with the immanence and transcendence of God. "In his transcendence, God is eternally existent, self-sufficient and stands beyond creation. ... In his immanence, God graciously creates and upholds a world  with which to share his goodness and love..."  "Christian theology must always seek the proper balance between these tow poles or it will go astray."   Otto looks at, the revolt against immanence in Neo-Orthodoxy; the transcendence of the future--the theology of hope and political theology; transcendence with a story--Narrative Theology; immanence in experience of oppression--Liberation, Black and Feminist theologies; and the deepening of immanence--Process Theology and Openness Theology.  May/Jun 2001 Theology Matters p. 1

Asian Perspectives on Theological Pluralism by Scott W. Sunquist, W. Don McClure Associate Professor of World Mission and Evangelism at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  Singapore has significant Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu communities.  How does the notion of pluralism and religious harmony function in Singapore?  Sunquist looks at a definition of pluralism, the Asian context of Religious Pluralism, the Minority Community, the Suffering Community and Witness in Bold Humility.  Sep/Oct 1999 Theology Matters, p. 1

Jesus Wasn't a Pluralist by James R. Edwards, reprinted with permission from Christianity Today, April 5, 19999, p. 64-66.  Those who promote the ordination of practicing homosexuals argue that Jesus' message was one of inclusiveness.  Edwards writes, "In many respects, Jesus was inclusive.  he offered forgiveness and fellowship to outcasts within Judaism, and to Gentiles outside it, in a way that was unprecedented among Jewish rabbis.  But in other respects, Jesus was more exclusive than his Jewish contemporaries: he refused political alliances with Herod Antipas, the "fox" who beheaded John the Baptist; he refused to replace God with Torah and he refused to identify the kingdom of God with any of the prevailing sects of Judaism."  Edwards examines: the First Order of Business; American Church Captive; Liberating the Church.  Sep/Oct 1999 Theology Matters, p. 7 

 Cooking Up Gotterdamerung: Radical Feminist Worship Substitutes Self for God by Donna F. G. Hailson and Karelynne Gerber. Hailson and Gerber quote radical feminist Naomi Goldenberg who wrote, "Jesus, cannot symbolize the liberation of women [because] a culture that maintains a masculine image for its highest divinity cannot allow its women to experience themselves as the equals of its men.  In order to develop a theology of women's liberation, feminists have to leave Christ and Bible behind them."  The purpose of this article is to show "how radical spiritual feminist practices diverge from Bible-honoring worship, ritual and prayer."  Hailson and Gerber look at Biblical worship of the Triune God; Radical Feminist Worship of Self; Examples of Radical Feminist Worship."  Jul/Aug 1998 Theology Matters p. 1

From Father God to Mother Earth: The Effect of Deconstructing Christian Faith on Sexuality by Berit Kjos, author of several books including Brave New Schools, Your Child and the New Age, Under the Spell of Mother Earth and A Twist of Faith. Kjos writes, "This spiritual movement demands new deities or a rethinking of the old ones.  The transformation starts with self, some say, and women can't re-invent themselves until they shed the old shackles.  So the search for a 'more relevant' religion requires new visions of God: images that trade holiness for tolerance, the heavenly for the earthly, and the God who is above us for a god who is us."  Kjos examines the Masks of the Feminine Gods; Gateways to the Goddess, the Paradigm Shift; Sex and Feminist Spirituality; Unholy Tolerance; The Nature of Temptation; and From Tolerance to Truth.  Sep/Oct 1997 Theology Matters p. 1

The Human Point of View by Dr. Leslie Zeigler, Professor Emeritus of Christian Theology, Bangor Theological Seminary, Bangor, ME.   Zeigler writes, "The basic element involved in the human point of view is that our human experience becomes our norm. theologically speaking, theology becomes anthropology."  God is not the Sovereign Lord of history--a Reality Who deals with us, and with Whom we must come to terms--but a human construct, fashioned to aid and support the realization of our view of a truly human existence.  Zeigler then examines how this human point of view contrasts with traditional Christian theology in two areas--the doctrine of God and the interpretation of Scripture.   Zeigler looks specifically at radical feminist theology as one example of how this human point of view re-imagines God and Scripture.  Sep/Oct 1995 Theology Matters p. 1

Can't we all just get along?  by Frederica Mathewes-Green, syndicated columnist. Reprinted with permission from World magazine, July 15/22, 1995.  Mathewes-Green offers a brief but clear contrast between 'modernist' theology where "feelings trump truth" and historic Christian faith revealed in Scripture where "the objective events of a Friday and Sunday two thousand years ago are not projections of emotion."  Sep/Oct 1995 Theology Matters   p. 9

Doctrine and Ethics by Alister McGrath, professor of Christian doctrine and ethics at Oxford University, England.  Reprinted with permission from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol 34, No. 2, June 1991.  McGrath writes, "A recovery of Christian doctrine is fundamental to a recovery of Christian ethics...Beliefs are important because they claim to describe the way things are.  they assert that they declare the truth about reality.  But beliefs are not just ideas that are absorbed by our minds and that have no further effect upon us.  They affect what we do and what we feel.  They influence our hopes and fears.  They determine the way we behave."  McGrath looks specifically at the doctrine of justification by faith and the doctrine of original sin.   Jul/Aug 1995 Theology Matters  p. 1

Truth Creates Boundaries by Susan Cyre, Executive Director of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry.  Cyre writes "Objective truth had been trampled on university campuses by relativism promoted under the banner of tolerance, inclusivity and diversity. This problem of relativism, however, does not exist just in liberal academic corridors.  It exists in the culture and most disturbingly in the church even among Evangelicals... Objective truth is the plumb line which divides truth and falsehood creating a boundary.  Without that boundary, everything is believable."  Mar/Apr 1995 Theology Matters p. 1