Getting into a passionate debate with a fellow MB who happens to be a pastor, the issue has come up where I’m reminded that many Christians throw around the term “liberal” in the same sense that they would throw around a generic insult. When one uses a theological term, or categorical language in general, one should be clear to understand their terms and attempt to utilize them with a clear sense of definition.
I wish people would stop using theological language inaccurately, like in this recent MB Herald article where the author suggests that in MB circles, there is a tension between Calvinism and Anabaptism. This isn’t to pick on this author, who is a man I appreciate, but only to suggest that he seems to misuse at least one term (unless I misunderstand him, which is quite possible). Historically speaking, the beliefs of Calvinism and Anabaptism don’t come into tension because they don’t address the same issues. Anabaptists simply were never known for a system of soteriology. The 5 points of Calvinism were historically a response to the 5 points of Arminianism, but not any of the beliefs of Anabaptism. It’s true that the followers of Calvin, Luther and Zwingli opposed and even killed Anabaptists, but that historic struggle was never between the belief systems. One can be a committed Calvinist and Anabaptist with no inconsistency, and when I read that article I re-read it several times trying to figure out what the author was meaning. I’m still fuzzy…
…Which brings us back to where I was going with the word “liberal”.
“Liberal”, in the proper sense of the term (as I understand it), is the outworking of philosophical naturalism that:
a. Considers God’s love as his principal and dominant virtue (and tends to ignore other attributes, like his justice).
b. Considers sinners as diseased, not depraved (i.e. sick people needing to be healed, not dead people needing to be resurrected).
c. Considers Christ as the model of the ideal man (but not Yahweh).
d. Denies the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement (and prefers the moral influence or Christus Victor theories).
e. Considers the “kingdom of God” to be a present social possibility (and hence promotes a social gospel of cultural and economic renewal).
f. Considers the Bible to be inspirational, not inspired (i.e. doubting its authority).
g. Considers the Bible to be infallible, not inerrant (i.e. doubting its truthfulness).
So, what I’m getting at is:
– People who don’t like hymns aren’t Liberals.
– People who don’t like a specific bible translation aren’t Liberals.
– People who wear jeans to church aren’t Liberals.
– People who don’t spank their kids aren’t Liberals.
– People who are dispentationalists, covenant theologians, ammillenialists, premillenialists, supersessionists, etc. aren’t Liberals.
– People who deny the existence of the rapture, or eternal suffering in hell, aren’t Liberals.
– People who deny the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of scripture, and original sin are, by a proper understanding of the term, Liberals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not Christians either, though I don’t know how you can get the gospel right if you deny its key doctrines. If you don’t have the biblical gospel, you don’t have any gospel. Galatians 1:6-9 is pretty clear on that:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
There’s only one true gospel, and if you don’t have it, I don’t see how you can believe it. Maybe someone can help me out on this.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Gospel Pedlar” Unger
***UPDATE as of Oct. 18th*** – The author of the article I mentioned has appeared in the comment section and clarified the comments made. Without changing the original post, I wanted to publically state that the issue is clarified and the misunderstanding was on my part. Please refer to the comment section to properly understand the “Calvinism vs. Anabaptism” confusion.