Liberalism, Postmodernism and (Not) Judging In the Church

I’ll admit, I couldn’t come up with a more clever title for this post. My apologies.

I’ll get right to it.  Liberal theology is terrifying.  Now, when I say liberal, I mean theologically liberal.  Please don’t equate the word “liberal” here for the word dealing with someone’s political leanings–I’m not talking politics here (Not sure I’m brave enough…)

Liberal theology lends itself to a low view of Scripture, a low view of God, a high view of man, and not much of a view on sin.  The article I just mentioned, which can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2014/07/07/farewell-john-piper/, slams John Piper, a well-known Reformed pastor from Minnesota, founder of Desiring God Ministries and author of a ridiculous number of books, for being too closed-minded about interpreting the Scriptures.  He’s apparently not loving enough, because he tweets about the biblical view of same-sex marriage and abortion and calls out heretics.

Piper’s views on Calvinism and salvation represent those of many Reformed theologians, and that, if you know anything about the Calvinism debate, is controversial to say the least.  So, no, I’m not addressing Calvinism (Again, not sure I’m brave enough…)

However, the fact that we have a so-called “Christian” blogger questioning a man’s reasons for calling out heretics like Rob Bell and standing up for biblical convictions is very unsettling.  And herein lies the first problem of liberal theology: it doesn’t have solid biblical convictions.

The debate over same-sex marriage and behavior and the debate over sexual orientation is one that has torn not just this country apart, but the church alongside it.  Conservative, evangelical Protestants affirm the biblical view, that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sexual behavior outside of marriage is wrong, whether it be homosexual or heterosexual.  But more liberally-minded theologians and bloggers find it appalling that we would “deny someone love.”  The argument typically falls one of several lines, such as, “Jesus never spoke about homosexuality,” or “The Bible is old and outdated, surely God doesn’t expect us to live by it 100% now,” or “God calls us to love first.”  I don’t have space to adequately address all three of those arguments, but suffice it to say: All of God’s Word is spoken by God.  That’s why it’s called God’s Word.  The Bible is not outdated, because it is written by an eternal, timeless God.  And yes, God calls us to love first, but you don’t love someone if you aren’t willing to tell them about hell and share the gospel with them.  You simply don’t.

Not only does this theology neglect the plain truth written in God’s Word, it goes against 2,000 years of church history.  While the truth is truth because it’s truth, not because millions of people over 2,000 years have believed it (this would be arguing based on tradition), the fact that millions upon millions of people over 2,000 years believed it warrants more than a casual dismissal.  Furthermore, if you believe that Christians are led by the Spirit of God, which is explicitly stated in Romans 8:9-17, then what you’re saying, basically, is that for 2,000 years, every single Christian, all of whom were led by God Himself….was wrong.  You are slapping God in the face, because either the Spirit led them astray and He’s just now come around, or the billions of Christians that have come before you have ALL been wrong.  Now, it’s possible for the church to be wrong.  We’re sinners.  However, the possibility that that many people misinterpreted Scripture while being led by the Spirit of God for 2,000 years is unfathomably small.  This view of church history disgraces God and it disgraces your brothers and sisters in Christ who came before you.  This liberal view says, “The Church has been wrong for 2,000 years, but me and my few hundred friends from 2014 are here to tell you we figured it out.”  Who do you think you are?  We shouldn’t assume that the Church always, all the time, gets it right, but because the Bride is led by the perfect Groom and the Spirit Himself, we shouldn’t assume that the Church is wrong, either.

The postmodern movement is wrong on a lot of levels, but the main area of focus is this nasty little statement: “Truth is relative.”  Or, put another way, “There is no absolute truth (except that).”  Why is this wrong?  Because if there is no truth, why should we believe God?  Now, put in a “Christian” context, some writers/pastors/Christians have said that we need to allow room for other interpretations, and that Christian theology needs to “evolve” with the times.  Baloney.  If God’s truth was good enough for 30 A.D, it’s good enough for 2014 A.D.  Because the nature of truth doesn’t change.  If it’s true, it’s true.  I am white.  I will always be white.  That is absolute truth.  Michael Jordan is black.  He will always be black.  That is absolute truth.  Jesus is Lord is absolute truth.  Regardless of whether you believe it or not, it’s still true.  That would be like me saying that Alabama beat Auburn in last year’s Iron Bowl, while staring at that most unfortunate missed FG return as time expired that gave Auburn the win.  I can deny it all I want, but it’s still true.  The church is built on truth.  Stand up for it.

When I was growing up, the verse everyone knew, regardless of whether or not they went to church, was John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”).  These days, everyone knows Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”)  And while I don’t expect non-Christians to do proper interpretation of the Bible and understand it’s contexts, I do expect that if someone is going to open up their mouth and say something, they know what they’re talking about.  That’s why I don’t talk about sewing and cricket.  I know nothing about it.

Here’s the problem: Matthew 7:1 addresses a Pharisaical attitude in judging.  If you look at that word in the Greek, it is close to the English word, “condemning.”  We could even say, “Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.”  And with this understanding, that verse is absolutely true.  Christians have no right to condemn non-Christians.  I cannot condemn you, that is, sentence you, to hell.  Why?  Because I’m not God.  I won’t decide where you spend eternity.  So I can’t tell you that I am sending you to hell because I’ve found you unworthy and less holy than me.  The Pharisees, self-appointed judges of the Jews, pronounced judgments on people, with a “holier-than-thou” attitude.  This is what Jesus warned against–an attitude of self-righteousness that led to pronouncing YOUR judgment on someone.  I cannot tell “Joe Smith”: “Joe, I don’t think you’re good enough (by my standards).  You’re going to hell.”  That makes me God, and that’s not right.

However, I absolutely can look at God’s Word, His revealed truth, and tell you what HE says about being in right relationship with Him.  I can tell you what HE says about sin.  It’s not my opinion that matters, you’re right.  Miley Cyrus is absolutely right–Only God can judge us.  And that should terrify you if you’re not a Christian.  While I can’t tell you that I sentence you to hell as your judge and executioner, I can tell you that you stand condemned before God if you don’t repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus.  We live in a culture where it is unpopular to love someone by telling them of their eternal danger.  That’s what’s sad.  We do have a love problem–we don’t understand what true love is.

True love means meeting someone else’s needs.  Jesus did that on the cross.  True love means telling someone when they are wrong, not in an arrogant way, but out of concern for their well-being.  God did that at the cross, by condemning our sin in the death of Christ.  Love is not emotions or affections.  Love is not primarily affirming someone.  Love is being for their greatest good, and if that means lovingly calling them out, that’s how you show real love.

We also neglect 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, where Paul tells the church to judge fellow believers.  Again, we do this with a humble attitude, recognizing that we are sinners, and we warn each other not out of pride, but out of brotherly (and sisterly!) love.

Liberal theology downplays the seriousness of sin by claiming that God’s love is “just so much greater than sin.”  Of course it is.  But the reason we even have to say that is because sin is bad.  If sin isn’t a big deal, why would we make a big deal out of God’s love being bigger?!  God’s love is meaningless, if not deserved, to me, if I’m not a sinner.  Why wouldn’t He love me?  Romans 5:8 says “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  At the cross, God condemned our sin and commanded our return to Him while simultaneously showing us how great His love is, that He would pardon us through the precious blood of His Son Jesus.

How do we respond to this false teaching in the church?

We respond by destroying the arguments and the false truth spread by liberal theology.  We affirm that there are primary, secondary, and tertiary issues when it comes to proper theology.  In primary issues, we defend them, for they make the difference as to whether or not one is a Christian.  If you don’t believe in Christ for forgiveness, you’re not saved.  If you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, you deny the truth of God, thus, you deny Him.  If you deny that the Church should exist to glorify God by going on mission, I’m not sure you understand Jesus’ last words to His disciples.  This is worth fighting over.  Early Christians gave their lives defending truth (to persecutors, not other Christians).  Christians today still do.

Secondary issues are important, and while there is still right and wrong, it’s not as important as primary issues, so we don’t label each other heretics over it.  Views on baptism and women in leadership fit in here.  I believe that if you don’t baptize by immersion, you’re wrong.  But you’re not going to hell over it.

Tertiary issues: worship music preference.  Please stop arguing over it.

We respond by lovingly calling those who affirm unbiblical doctrines, those who don’t fully understand God’s love, to repentance and we humbly, joyfully, show them the truth.

But we also respond in defending God’s Church.  We do speak out against falsehood.  We do label someone a heretic for the good of the church.  We do speak out for God’s standard and His ways, because we CARE for others, because we want them to repent and know Christ!

Liberal theology claims that conservative, traditional Christians lack love.  Quite the contrary–it is because I love God, because I love His church, and because I love those who are not yet a part of it that I affirm His truth and defend it so much.  I do pray that God would keep me, and every Christian, from defending the truth just to prove that we are right.  May we defend it out of love for God and others.

May we love God, love His truth, love His church, and love the lost, so much so that we boldly defend the truth, boldly declare His Word, and boldly share our faith.

God bless,

Neal E.

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