A * About Theological Liberalism

A * is a note, by the way, not a deleted expletive.

I’m working on an epic-scale post about Calvinists, but in the meantime I’d like to mention something I ran across when working on it: namely, attitudes towards theological liberalism.

Liberalism, in this context, generally refers to taking Biblical accounts very loosely, such as not believing that Christ really rose from the dead. Fair enough; that agrees with the basic meaning of “liberal” as “broad.” Of course orthodox Christians view that sort of theology as false. But Mark Dever of 9Marks, a ministry essentially committed to stamping out anything they perceive as theologically liberal, has a different definition:

In general, the danger of liberalism, which we define broadly as gospel-denial within the church, occurs when local churches allow the world’s demands to ring a little too loudly in our ears.

To me, that just sounds like heresy in general (theological liberalism is of course heretical, but there are plenty of heresies that don’t fall within the normal scope of theological liberalism). So why not just call it heresy? Additionally, why consistently refer to it as just liberalism, and not more precisely as theological or religious liberalism?

It’s obvious enough. Mark Dever is probably a political conservative, so he’s maintaining the word “liberal” so that he can syncretize the two relevant uses of the word–theological liberalism and political liberalism–and imply that there’s an inherent connection between the two. He’s trying to make supporting healthcare reform tantamount to denying the divinity of Christ.

By the way, what sorts of things to you think Dever considers to be heretical? I took a look at the article What’s Happening to Intervarsity:

A recent Christianity Today article chronicles the pressure a group of InterVarsity students felt to include practicing Roman Catholics on their leadership team. When the students discovered that IV’s new doctrinal statement allowed for Roman Catholics in good standing to sign on, they decided to separate from IV. The national president of IV wrote a response, but seemed defensive and never answered the question, “How many Catholics are on staff with IV?” Sadly, this was a double personal blow as one of the students on the leadership team was my son, who had looked forward for much of his life to being a part of IV on campus, but was disillusioned by the shape of doctrine in IV.

What’s happening to InterVarsity? Has the fellowship become so thoughtless about its theology that it now rejects the solas of the Reformation? I understand that Catholics can be born again. I am happy to partner with Catholics on moral issues in the political arena such as religious liberty. But to partner with Roman Catholics in gospel outreach is a confusion of the gospel. Thoughtful Catholics agree. So, why is IV confused? I worry that it is because IV is muddled about the gospel.

Wow, when your definition of “liberal” includes believing that Catholics are Christians, the meaning of the term has gotten broad indeed.

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5 responses to “A * About Theological Liberalism

  1. Mom S

    Why an epic post about Calvinists?
    I guess I don’t really understand how such an enterprise adds to the overall good. The older I get, the more reluctant I am to group people into categories that have a heading like “Calvinists” or “Romanists” or “liberals” or “conservatives.” It seems almost impossible for anyone from the “group” about which we are writing to actually respond reasonably. Perhaps this is partly due to the common human trait of becoming defensive as soon as we are labeled. Is there a way to avoid the labeling and generalizing? Or might our time simply be better spent on other endeavors? Petting small animals? Baking cookies for the neighbors? Hmmm.

  2. Doad

    My sweetie can bake cookies, pet small animals, and write blog-posts about theology, all in one day! :-)

  3. The short answer is that I hang out with a lot of Calvinists and disagree with them about, essentially, everything.
    I agree with you about grouping; it is an essentially harmful endeavor. (One post I’m planning to write soon is about complementarianism and egalitarianism, the two views on the role of women in the church, and how frustrated I am that such a complex and important issue has been reduced to two groups who hold opposite opinions.)
    But the thing about Calvinists is that *they are groupers.* In the membership class at Sovereign Grace, there was this guy who wanted to know which model of church hierarchy our denomination follows. The leader explained to him how the Sovereign Grace hierarchy works, but he wouldn’t be satisfied until the leader told him which label was the correct one to put on it.
    It’s amazing how many Reformed people identify themselves first and foremost as Reformed–rather than Christians or human beings or anything else. That’s their identity. And that’s the source of so many divisions: they think that being Reformed is the right thing, and the only right thing, to be. Pride, of course. My post covers more about this.

  4. Pingback: Calvinism and Pride « Chimaera

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