Monday, November 7, 2011
The Problem with Liberal Theology
One of the strangest things to emerge from the muddled human brain is the notion that we can make up the truth. The statement is an oxymoron, of course. If you "made it up" it would not be "truth" -- it would be fiction. Yet when it comes to religion it is absolutely amazing to see how many people think that you can make up your own ideas about God!
Astonishingly, this is what passes for serious theology in many of our leading seminaries. It is generally known as Liberal Theology, and it is very widely accepted today.
How can that possibly be? The problem started over two hundred years ago. During the so-called "Enlightenment" critics attacked the credibility and trustworthiness of the Bible. Intelligent, educated people were made to feel that they could no longer believe in the Sacred Scriptures. Yet many did not want to give up their faith. It finally fell to a German theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) to come up with what appeared to be a solution. Our faith, according to him, does not rest on the findings of science or reason, but rather on an inner sense of religious truth – an inward feeling or personal experience. We know God intuitively, and therefore it does not matter whether or not the Bible is literally true.
But there is a problem here – a very serious one. If religion is a matter of our inward, subjective feelings, then what shapes the content of theology? What makes a theological statement true or false? For the next two hundred years German theologians devoted their attention to the problem, and came up with a bewildering array of answers. Yet the sheer diversity of opinion underscored the underlying problem: in the final analysis it was all made up. Most of it had little connection with anything that the historical Jesus actually said or taught.
The problem of unorthodox theology is nothing new – it was existed since the very beginning of the Christian Church. And the Church was warned against this from the very beginning as well.
The anatomy of heterodoxy is described for us vividly in II Peter 2:1-3. Here we are told that "there will be false teachers among you" (v. 1; NKJV). Ironically they will deny "the Lord who bought them" – they will claim to be Christians but will deny Christ. One might wonder, why? If one has no use for Christ (or, one thinks that the historical Jesus cannot be known) why bother with Christianity at all? Why not simply identify oneself with something else? According to the text the apparent reason is that the false teachers have ulterior motives. What drives them is "covetousness." They are in it for personal gain. In some cases it might be simply money. In other cases it might be the prestige and security of a tenured faculty position.
How, then, do these teachers operate? The text says that they use "deceptive words," or "made-up sayings," as it might be more literally translate (the NIV has "stories they have made up"). The message is tailored for the effect.
Whatever the motive, the results are devastating. False teaching causes "destructive heresies" (v. 1), and as a result "the way of the truth will be blasphemed" (v. 2). Christianity ends up being discredited because of something that really isn't Christianity.
And where does it all lead in the end?: ". . . their judgment . . . is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (v. 3, NASV).
Today error takes many different forms. Besides the liberal theologians in their ivory towers there are various cults and even fringe movements within the Evangelical community. Even everyday, ordinary people are guilty of making up their own theology. They pick and choose what they want to believe, and justify it all by saying "This is what I think." But whatever form the error takes, the end result is the same: the true gospel is not preached, people are led astray, and the church is discredited.
In effect false theology is a form of idolatry. Instead of worshipping the one true and living God, we worship the various gods of our own imaginations.
The message of Christianity, however, is not malleable, something that can be reshaped and molded at will. The objective facts stand as they are, and as they have been revealed to us. To try to invent something else is merely an exercise in self-delusion, and it dishonors God. Creativity in theology is a vice and not a virtue.