In 1923, J. Gresham Machen, then professor at Princeton Seminary, wrote the book, Christianity and Liberalism. The book was a response to the rise of liberalism in the mainline denominations of his own day.
In short, Machen argued that the liberal understanding of Christianity was, in fact, not just a variant version of the faith, nor did it represent simply a different denominational perspective, but was an entirely different religion altogether.
Put simply, liberal Christianity is not Christianity.
So insightful is Machen’s volume, that it should be required reading certainly for all seminary students, pastors, and Christian leaders.
What is remarkable about Machen’s book was how prescient it was. His description of liberal Christianity–a moralistic, therapeutic version of the faith that values questions over answers and being “good” over being “right”–is still around today in basically the same form.
Although its advocates present liberal Christianity as something new and revolutionary, it is nothing of the sort. It may have new names (e.g. “emerging” or “progressive” Christianity), but it is a rehash of the same tired system that has been around for generations.
The abiding presence of liberal Christianity struck me the other day when I came across a daily “devotional” from Richard Rohr. Ironically, it was entitled, “Returning to Essentials.” And that devotional listed out 10 principles that Rohr thinks Christianity needs to embody (his list is actually drawn from Philip Gulley’s book, If the Church Were Christian).
As I read over this list, I realized that it is essentially a confessional statement of liberalism (while, at the same time, pretending to deplore confessionals statements). It was, more or less, a “10 commandments” for progressive Christianity.
And when you read these 10 commandments, they sound not so much like they were gathered on the mountain top but rather in the university classroom. It’s less about God revealing his desires, but more about man revealing his. It’s less Moses, more Oprah.
But take note: each of these commandments is partially true. Indeed, that is what makes this list, and progressive Christianity as a whole, so challenging. It is a master class in half-truths which sound appealing on the surface until you dig down deeper and really explore their foundations and implications.
Indeed, the list shows that Benjamin Franklin was right when he quipped, “Half the truth is often a great lie.”
So, over the next few months I will be offering a blog series on these 10 commandments. This series will diagnose and critique each of these tenets, offering a biblical and theological response (and occasionally we will dip into Machen’s volume as well).
For now, here’s the list (links will be added to this list as I move through the series):
2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (eternity is God’s work anyway).