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Posts Tagged ‘liberalism’

Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Scripture’s Attributes and Importance

July 7, 2017 2 comments

In doing the 2017 Challies reading challenge, I’ve been going through my inventory of various free and low-cost books I have acquired over the last few years.  These include a free audio recording of Kevin DeYoung’s “Taking God at His Word,” a past selection from Christian Audio’s monthly free downloads (the Kindle version is currently on sale for $3.99); a recent Christian Audio free offer (The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, by Steven Lawson); and a Kindle book that was free at the time of its publication a few years ago, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism.  From reading these three books, plus the latter part of Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon, I notice one common theme, expressed in different ways: the importance of Scripture.

Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word:  I had occasionally read blog posts from DeYoung, but not any books from him yet.  The reading style is easy and straight-forward, and the introduction gave me the impression of a too-easy, too-light book.  Yet the chapters of the book – though for a general  layperson audience — provide solid material, a good overview of the Attributes of Scripture.  I especially like his acronym SCAN:  Sufficiency of scripture, Clarity (or perspicuity), Authority, and Necessity.  Four different groups of people show a weakness in one of these attributes:  Sufficiency – the “Rank and file Christian;” Clarity – Post-Moderns; Authority – Liberal Christians; and Necessity – Atheists and Agnostics.  DeYoung’s popular style relates important ideas and responses to criticism of specific scripture accounts  with current-day analogies, including reference to popular fiction such as the characters from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  A notable example here is the book of Jonah, which Jesus refers to in statements that make it clear that Jonah was not merely a nice, moral literary story, but refers to actual historical events.

Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd Jones:  The latter part of The Forgotten Spurgeon addresses the downgrade controversy and the issue at stake — the authority of the Bible and the attack from increasing liberalism/modernism.  Lawson’s The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, in dealing with London during Lloyd Jones’ preaching ministry in the mid-20th century, serves as a type of sequel to the condition of churches in London, the result several decades after the downgrade controversy that had begun in the late 1880s.

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism focuses on a quite recent attack on scripture, this one especially concerned with the sufficiency of scripture.  Specifically, this book is one of several from the last few years that address the error of fallible prophecy, promoted by Wayne Grudem.  A detailed and informative book, it considers several scriptural passages and interacts with and responds to Grudem’s errors regarding Agabus as well as many other problems with Grudem’s handling of scripture.  The New Calvinist continuationist view, with new revelation that is vague and unclear, “fallible prophecies,” considers scripture as insufficient in itself.

 

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The Church and the World: Post-Modern Responses to Modernism

April 13, 2015 5 comments

As I near the end of an RTS iTunes University course, a few thoughts on the material presented.  The later lectures include topics such as Liberation Theology, and the development of post-modernism and several ideas within post-modernism: post-liberal theology, radical orthodoxy, and post-evangelicalism. I had a basic understanding of post-modernism, but was unfamiliar with the particular names of the three latter movements.

Error takes on many varieties, yet all have the common root of unbelief, and rejection of the doctrine of inerrancy.  All of these “alternatives” to conservative evangelical Christianity (broadly defined as the basics of Christianity, everything from Reformed Theology to Arminian fundamentalism) are selective with the Bible, choosing certain favored doctrines while rejecting others, along with contextualizing and “accommodating” the Bible to our modern world.  Non-modernist philosophy and Barthian influence are also common themes.

Liberation theology, which cherry picks the Bible theme of liberation from slavery and expands the idea into a political ideology, was apparently the first idea that emphasized Bible contextualization for certain cultures, beginning among Catholics working in Latin America in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Another cultural variation of Black Liberation theology developed independently at about the same time.

The other ideas come from the post-modern worldview, as reactions against modernism.

Post-liberal theology sounds like an idea I heard of as a young Christian in the late 1980s, when the local Sunday School teacher referenced a then-recently published book (Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth) which taught that Christianity was nice as stories or myth, but it didn’t matter if the story was true or not, just the story itself mattered. Post-liberalism focuses on “the narrative” and theme of stories in the Bible, but apart from any basis in objective truth outside of the story. As the professor observed, why not just as easily pick “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” as your narrative story to live by?

Radical orthodoxy has been a recent movement at least in England – a post-modern view that supposedly goes back to Augustinian, pre-modern theology, in reaction to modernism: but with the knowledge of modernism and our world today, thus a post-modern approach, embracing also neo-platonism (which did also influence Augustine). Similar to other ideas, it rejects mainstream Christianity’s response to modernism including classical or evidentialist apologetics. (The liberal alternatives to Christianity are generally unaware of presuppositional apologetics.)

Post-evangelicalism is a reaction against mainstream evangelicalism, with a description rather similar to today’s relativistic culture of no absolutes and multi-culturalism. It seems to be mainly known by its rejection of evangelical ideas (or at least what it perceives of evangelicals) such as certainty of doctrine, emphasis on having correct doctrine; for some it means a move toward Anglicanism or Catholicism with their emphasis on liturgy.

This RTS course has been interesting and informative, and sometimes quite detailed — and some of the ideas, especially earlier lectures about Christian existentialism, difficult for me to completely grasp and understand. The professor himself occasionally noted such difficulties, that with some of this stuff, if you are normal, you are probably not going to “get it” and not going to see it as so wonderful as those who espouse it. As part of the teaching approach, after presenting each view, the professor often asks “where have we seen this before?” – and previous liberal ideas are mentioned again, showing how later liberals are influenced by earlier thinkers. Also, to consider the “positive” points in each of these ideas; false ideas usually get a few things correct, but they tend to put even correct ideas out of balance with other orthodox teaching plus mixing in non-biblical ideas.

I recommend this course, as a type of worldview, apologetics and history course with good information.  I am also looking forward to starting another RTS series soon, probably the topic of early church history.

The Church and the World: Early 20th Century Responses to Liberalism

March 3, 2015 4 comments

I am enjoying and learning a lot from ITunes University theological seminary series: first Carl Trueman’s (Westminster Theological Seminary) Reformation History series, and now “The Church and the World” from Reformed Theological Seminary (professor James Anderson). More in-depth and focused than even the best local-church “church history” series (as to be expected from Seminary courses), I especially appreciate the presentation of material that would otherwise be learned (from available online material) only in various fragments and pieces, but here all put together in sequence, to gain the overall perspective as well as how each piece relates to the topic itself.

From my recent listening in the “Church and the World” series, the following highlights:

Though the modernist view began in the 17th century and especially by the late 18th century, its impact really reached the church in the early 20th century, with significant responses to liberal Christianity from about 1910 to 1930, from three different groups:

The Fundamentals was published in 1910, by BIOLA (Bible Institute of Los Angeles): a large collection by many conservative Christian authors, sponsored by two wealthy conservative Christians. This publication drew the line in the sand, pointing out that liberalism is not Christianity, and affirming the important and essential truths of the Christian faith including the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ (which has major implications for other significant doctrines) and supernaturalism and miracles. Those who sponsored the work, and many of its writers, were of the classic dispensational view — some contributors, such as B.B. Warfield, being notable exceptions. The work itself did not really address issues which later became more identified with “Fundamentalism,” such as its dispensationalism. Later fundamentalism also tended to separatism and anti-intellectualism, again ideas not reflected in The Fundamentals.

J. Gresham Machen: Reformed / Presbyterian Response. Machen was exposed to classic liberal theology in his education, and faced with its challenges, especially in the form of real liberal individuals who really were devout, “pious liberals,” something Machen had not expected. An interesting note regarding parenting here: Machen’s father was supportive, not combative, during Machen’s youth and this time of questions and doubts, and Machen came through that experience, strengthened in his reformed faith – the opposite experience of Friedrich Schleiermacher of the late 18th and early 19th century, another young man faced with the liberal ideas taught at university. Schleiermacher’s father took a very negative, confrontational attitude toward his son during this time – and Schleiermacher became one of the three leading influential figures in 19th century classic liberalism, setting the trend followed by later liberal leaders including Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack.

Machen later founded Westminster Theological Seminary (1920s) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church denomination in the 1930s. Though Machen was briefly taught by the same liberal teachers as Karl Barth (below), Machen and Barth did not personally or directly interact – it was for Machen’s successor, Cornelius Van Til, to confront Barth and his errors.

Neo-Orthodox movement (Karl Barth)

Neo-orthodox movement, of which Karl Barth was a well-known influential figure. Barth was trained in classic liberalism, taught by Willhelm Herrmann and Adolf Harnack, and seen as the promising star of the “next generation” of liberalism.  He then rebelled against liberalism, seeing from his pastoral ministry experience that liberal Christianity was empty and did not offer anything to real people in real life; also, his liberal teachers siding with the German state in WWI and German nationalism. Barth was expelled from Germany by Hitler in 1935, for his participation in the 1934 “Barmen Declaration” against Hitler and the national church (Nazi party) movement.

A famous quote from Barth, his response to liberalism:  One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.  However, Barth’s ideas were not traditional Reformed Christianity, but more in the area of existentialism and influence from 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant (discussed in an earlier lecture), emphasizing God as transcendent and unknowable. Barth rejected natural theology and failed to distinguish between the wrong uses of natural theology and the valid use and purpose in common grace.  He rejected inerrancy (claiming that the Bible contained historical errors) and took a subjective view of the “word of God” and God’s revelation. His “Christocentric” view went to excesses in his rejection of the Calvinist understanding of election, and his idea of the atonement — unlimited in both its scope and its effectiveness — left open the door for universalism, which possibility he left open, neither confirming nor denying universalism.

The series continues past these first ten lessons, and I look forward to upcoming lectures.