“In my seminary teaching I appeared to be relatively orthodox, if by that one means using an orthodoxy vocabulary. I could still speak of God, sin and salvation, but always only in mythologized, secularized and worldly wise terms. God became the Liberator, sin became oppression and salvation became human effort. The trick was to learn to sound Christian while undermining traditional Christianity.” ― Thomas C. Oden
This quote from Thomas Oden, a former Methodist pastor and self-described theological liberal, reveal the agenda that has caused such a huge fissure in the Christian world — the chasm between progressive, leftist Christians and conservative, traditional Christians. Liberals embrace progressive social causes (which to the untrained eye appear patently unbiblical), then occupy space in the trojan horses of these movements in order to see the church give credence to the cause, and for involvement with the cause to give worldly credence to the church.
It hasn’t worked particularly well in terms of the advance of these liberal church. In a 2017 article in the Washington Post, David Haskell pointed out the 2015 Pew Research Center study which demonstrated that 1 million members annually are leaving mainline protestant churches. “Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline.”
This is particularly true in the global south, where conservative Christianity is spreading like wildfire. (But, lurking in the still-corrupted minds of the progressive left is the notion that those people — cf., less educated, less enlightened, behind the times, less “civilized” — just aren’t as sharp as we progressive Westerners.)
But, even with shrinking attendance numbers, the liberal Christian cause continues to have a significant effect – on society, and the church at large. As those who have fallen hook, line and sinker for the temptation to be loved by the world’s progressive elites, liberal “Christians” stand as living models of a brand of surrender that tempts even the truest of believers. We all want “smart people” to think we’re smart, too. Can we curry the favor of both God and the academy? Can we make the foolish gospel appear more, you know, wise? Can’t we call ourselves Christians, and have all men speak well of us? For many of us, though we may not have taken the leap out of orthodoxy, the contemporary rip-tides can still get the better of us … and we suffer from drift.
More to the point, our world has become downright confused. People feel the liberty to attach the name of God and His Christ to whatever they want to believe is true. So any statement that begins with “Christianity teaches” can be followed by almost anything: A little jury-rigging of some texts, and a few blind eyes to the others, and a new “Christian” truth can be proclaimed. If I were not a follower of Jesus and a student of the Bible, I would hold out no hope for myself that I could sift through the cacophany of voices and identify the pure(st) form of truth. So the challenge for today’s seeker is harder than ever.
Having muddied the waters, the have made the next step. They have tried to recenter the truth with themselves rather than orthodoxy. With their arms linked with secular progressives, yet with business cards still bearing crosses and church addresses, they together point the finger at classical Christians – who haven’t changed their theology for centuries – and say we’re the ones who are out of step. Who misrepresent the faith. Who have abandoned the “true” spirit of Jesus.
And, of coure, the irreligious world is going to like those people a lot more than the gang who still thinks sin is sin, and is willing to say so.
Martin Luther, a classical Christian himself, had this to say about untruths being propogated in the name of God: “The name of God is dragged into the affair and must make the villainy look like godliness, and the shame like honor. This is the common course of the world, which, like a great deluge, has flooded all lands. Hence we have also as our reward what we seek and deserve: pestilences, wars, famines,conflagrations, floods, wayward wives, children, servants, and all sorts of defilement. Whence else should so much misery come? It is still a great mercy that the earth bears and supports us.” (from Luther’s Large Catechism).
Attaching God’s name to ungodly content is a source of great disaster. Add to this the promise from Jesus that it is better to be drowned with cement slippers than to be found causing someone to disbelieve … the fate of those who misrepresent the faith, both corporately and individually, should literally scare the hell out of us all.
And here is where I’ll end for now (since God knows we 2020ers can’t digest but a few paragraphs – if you’re still reading this, I’m amazed!). I believe classical, orthodox Christianity. I’m not an idiot. And I’m not alone — exponentially more people in our world believe it with me than those who believe the progressive alternative. We believe this not because we’re just trying to win the arguement. We believe it is the true narrative of human existence. And, we believe this truth carries with it great blessing … and that abandoning these truths will lead to great judgment. “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6). We also believe this is true for all (the original meaning of the the term small-C catholic).
Because we believe this is true, we’ll never stop championing the classical truth of God. We love Him (God), and want to see Him honored for Who He is (not as an idol we’ve created that looks better to us). And we love the world, and want everyone to be with the thousands on the right side, the steadfast-love-side, of their creator. “This charge I entrust to you, that you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19).
Seriously, may God bless you.
– E. O.