Neo-Liberals?

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Adrian Warnock has taken to calling a certain movement within the church "Neo-Liberals". I might possibly be a part of this group. He considers the movement's primary purpose to be to "make the church somehow more acceptable to today's culture", and it has attempted to do so by jettisoning various objectionable doctrines and replacing them with more acceptable ones, e.g. "disposing of a sovereign all-knowing God replacing it with so-called 'open theism', replacing the atonement with what I am still not sure or replacing punishment in hell with annihilationism".

As far as I can tell, Adrian has fixed upon the term "Neo-Liberal" in order to draw a parallel between the "Neo-Liberals" and the liberal church. The two features of the liberal church that he is focused on is 1) the liberal church's focus on acceptance by the rest of the world, and 2) a low regard for the Bible. The first is made evident by his claim that the goal of Neo-Liberals is to "make the church somehow more acceptable to today's culture". The second is made clear when he says "I don't have the luxury of chucking out portions of the bible like [Neo-Liberals do] as I do believe it is the word of God".

I can't comment on the first very well as the group in question is rather nebulously defined and is certainly unorganized so the motivations for this movement are likely various. But the second is almost certainly wrong.

Adrian has given Open Theists as an example of Neo-Liberals. While I disagree vehemently with Open Theism, one thing I would never accuse them of is a low regard for the Bible. Pinnock et al believe what they believe precisely because they have a high regard for scripture. When the Bible talks of God repenting or of God changing His mind, they take that extremely seriously. At the same time, they find no mention of the atemporality of God, and thus do not require it of their theology. Contrary to Adrian's assertions, they do believe that God is both sovereign and all-knowing. For open theists, God's sovereignty and omniscience do not extend into the future as the future does not exist, but He is sovereign and all-knowing nonetheless.

Critics of penal substitution have also fallen under Adrian's label of Neo-Liberal. Yet most of these critics that I know of (and I myself am one) do so because they feel that penal substitution is not entirely biblical and that some other model is more biblical. [My attack on penal substitution to come in subsequent posts.]

I assume that Universalists would also fall under the Neo-Liberal label. Yet one can be a Universalist and still consider the Bible the Word of God. In fact, Jeremy has linked to an article where the author is a Universalist because he believes that that is what the Scriptures demand.

As a result of examples like these, I would advise Adrian to either change his terminology, or else make it clear that Neo-Liberals do not necessarily hold the Scriptures in low regard. Also, since it is very hard to accurately assign motives, I'd also advise him not to assume that all who question traditional doctrine do so out of a desire to conform the world.

If Adrian is content to define Neo-Liberals as those who are questioning or disagreeing with curently held evangelical doctrine, then I that is a definition I can agree with. Going beyond that is probalby going too far. I myself would call such a group "progressive evangelicalism", except that I see that Tony Campolo has used the term already and I am reluctant to use already extant terms which may carry connotations that I am unaware of.

[Note: I am rather unhappy with the current trend of accusing those who disagree with you with denying inerrancy. Just because someone disagrees with you on an issue of theology doesn't mean that that person doesn't think that the Scriptires are the inspired Word of God. For example, ETS recently tried to kick Pinnock out of ETS on the grounds that he denies inerrancy. This is ridiculous. Pinnock has interpreted various passages of Scripture differently than most of the rest of the ETS, but he still considers the Bible to be authoratitive.]

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Pinnock admitting to having denied inerrancy by implication. The ETS focused in on a few statements he made in his open theism book, one of which they and he both concluded requires denying inerrancy. One thing he said in that book was, "contrary to Paul, the second coming was not just around the corner". That seems to me to be a denial of inerrancy. As far as I can tell, with most of the others he was able to show how he didn't mean it to deny God's truthfulness in prophecy or anything like that, but he realized he couldn't get around this one. He did deny the claim and was asked to revise that statement in his book, which he did. What this shows is that he didn't want to deny inerrancy, but he agreed that his statement had done so by implication, and other statements had seemed to do so by their unclarity. The ETS Executive Committee recommended dropping the charges after their clarificatory session with him. Their report is here.

For some direct statements from Pinnock on what he takes inerrancy to be and what kind of inerrancy he would agree with, see here. Geisler is uncareful in his interaction with Pinnock's views and gives headings for the statements that aren't necessarily implied by them, so I don't endorse the headings. I do think it's a good collection of out-of-context statements by Pinnock, and a quick skim of them shows that most of these statements don't seem at all problematic, depending on how you take them. His language in many of them could be taken in different ways, and the context is missing (and may not help anyway). There are a couple that do seem to me to be at least on the edge of denying inerrancy, though, but I'll put my discussion of those into its own post.

Pinnock has changed his views on inerrancy since he first researched it at the University of Manchester, largely on the grounds that it is exegetically untenable. Someone (I forget who) has published a book on his theology called 'Journey Toward Renewal' in which Pinnock writes a 'then and now' article on his views on inerrancy, and concludes that it is not actually a tenable viewpoint, or at least in the way we think it may be.

I also reckon that conservative evangelicals and liberals are essentially the same, though they would disagree with me on that.

Judging by his quotes in the piece I link to in the next post here, Pinnock seems to have said that sort of thing, but he was using the term 'inerrancy' the way liberals often do. He later realized that liberals and conservatives don't use the word the same, and he's taking a broader meaning to it that many evangelicals agree with, though not going quite as far as Warfield. In many of the ways he did this in the quotes from the piece I link to in the next post, I agree with him. I've focused in that post only on the ones I find suspicious. Many of the others seem to me to be perfectly consistent with inerrantism, despite Geisler's apparent belief otherwise.

As for conservative evangelicals and liberals, what could you possibly mean? As Wink is using the term 'liberal' here, it would include those as radical as Bishop Spong of the Episcopal Church, who flat-out says that there are false and evil things taught by the Bible. It would include those who deny hell but not on the grounds that scripture teaches it but simply because they couldn't bring themselves to believe in it. It would include those who deny penal substitution but not because they think scripture teaches otherwise but simply because they don't like the idea. Conservative evangelicals, on the other hand, believe the Bible and take it as they believe it was intended. I just can't see how those two things are essentially the same.

Glad to see someone is taking the bait as it were. I hope we can have a good natured blog to blog conversation about all this and others will jump in. do pop over to my blog where I have interacted with your post and pointed out an exegetical error in your interpretation of my post!

My remark about conservative evangelicals and liberals being essentially the same was slightly tongue in cheek ;) However, I will say two things on the matter: They are both trying to occupy the same ground by using the scriptures to absolutise their own positions (and maybe that's why they fight so much?) and secondly they both seem to identify Christ with their own culture.

It is of course a broad generalisation, but one I see particualry in North America. The 19th Century German liberals like Schleiermacher and von Harnack and Co. essentially de-historicised Jesus and adapted him to their own culture. Jesus of Nazareth became the greatest German. Many Conservative Evangelicals relate Christ to their culture in the same liberal way. In the US for instance, Jesus becomes a defender of individual rights, an opponent of terrorism and a defender of the right to bear arms. Jesus is again dehistoricised and assimilated into a culture, he is the greatest American - but is he the real Jesus? This is a liberal way of relating Christ to culture that the conservative evangelicals have bought into without even realising hehehe.

Spong doesn't use scriptures to absolutize anything. He rejects scriptures he doesn't like and uses ones he likes, often modifying them from its original intent.

I've never met anyone who dehistoricizes Jesus in the ways you're talking about. I've been among evangelicals my whole life.

I didn't have Spong in mind when discussing liberals. Spong is a fringe lunatic. Anyhow, modifying scriptures from their original context to mean something completely different is the kind of thing I mean, because to take scriptures away from their context is to strip them of meaning and to dehistoricise them.

Conservative Evangelicals do do the same thing, though perhaps not in the same way. Though my accusation that they have a lot in common with liberals was based on the way they assimilate Christ into their culture by stripping him of his historical personality. Without wanting to stir up a separate political debate, President Bush is an excellent example of this in the way he has allied God to US policy. Similarly the way the British missionaries of the 1800s saw British culture as synonymous with Christianity and imposed British culture upon their african converts.

At the core of such practices is the belief (explicit or implicit) that Christ is synonymous with one particular culture over against all others. Jesus in fact belongs to 1st Century Judaism, it is key to who he is. To remove him from this context when trying to understand him is to de-historicise him in effect.

A liberal theologian (as Wink and Adrian have been using the term) is someone who doesn't care what the original text meant in its historical context and tries to reinterpret it to mean something different in their own context. They'll take Jesus' resurrection as a metaphor for a new beginning because they don't believe it refers to anything historical.

A conservative evangelical, almost by definition, is someone who seeks to interpet the texts as they were originally intended. It may be that every conservative evangelical fails to do this, but it's such a stark contrast that I can't see how anyone who really understands what both groups are up to could see them as anything but opposites.

You completely misunderstand Bush. He has not come up with a policy and then claimed that it's God's simply to get God to endorse U.S. policy. He has sought to do what he thinks is right and what God would want him to do, and thus by doing what he thinks God would want he thinks he's doing God's will. He's prays for guidance and then makes hard decisions, and when he believes he made a correct choice he believes God would probably approve of that decision. When he thinks it's utterly clear that something is good and a fight against a certain evil practice (e.g. terrorism), then he's more sure God is behind his opposition to that evil. That's what any serious Christian would do. All the books about Bush and God detail this quite clearly.

The missionary situation is a little more complex than you want to make it. They did confuse some cultural issues with Christianity, but it wasn't as if they were dehistoricizing Jesus or the biblical accounts. In some cases it was more that they saw the things they were teaching as genuine developments in the best interest of the people they were teaching them to. In others, it was that they simply didn't think about whether the early church didn't meet in buildings with pews all facing the front and wear clothes that Europeans would view as dressing up. This is not seeing Christ as synonymous with one culture over another, at least not directly. This is mostly seeing one culture as a progress and wanting others to experience that and partly just not thinking about what cultural assumptions they brought with them. That doesn't mean they explicitly thought the early church had the same practices. They just didn't think about such things, as most people don't when first encountering another culture. This has nothing to do with the liberal theologians' deliberate reinterpretation of biblical accounts to retain some value for them while rejecting any historical validity to the accounts.

The fact that my comments about the similarities between conservatives and liberals were tongue in cheek aside, there is still a grain of truth in the statement.

To characterise liberals as people who do not care about the original context of the Bible is misleading. The liberal portrait of Jesus emerged out of an attempt to understand the historical Jesus better, although of course the conclusions that Wrede, Bultmann, von Harnack and Co. came to are of course highly questionable.

Perhaps I have misunderstood Bush, but perhaps not. He is not coming up with policies and asking God to rubber stamp them. He is doing what he thinks God would do, but I would still argue that Bush's God has a very strong American flavour to him. One of Bush's opening speeches in the war on terror quoted John 1: "A light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome." In making this statement he allies Christ with American policy, regardless of whether or not the planning and execution of his policies are remotely christ-like. I'm not a fan of Bush as you may have gathered, but if he claims to be acting according to Christ, what does that reveal about God? That God does not care about the environment? That God willingly participates in the invasion and destruction of foreign countries, killing thousands of civilians in the process? That God favours a global economy that tramples on the poor in favour of the rich?

In addition, I would argue that any Christian group that allies itself too closely to the culture in which it finds itself loses the ability to speak prophetically to it and to transform it, that goes for both liberals and conservatives.

I'm not talking about people who reject parts of the Bible as unhistorical and just don't use those parts of the Bible. That's a different way of being liberal. I'm talking about the people Adrian was talking about, the ones who distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith as if you can believe whatever you want and call it true in the realm of faith but then treat historical accounts of Jesus' life with absolute skepticism when being historical.

Bush's quotation of John 1 used language that was originally applied to Christ about something else. People do that all the time. He didn't say that the image applied to something else in the exact way it applies to Christ. He simply liked the image and used it for something else. He undoubtedly didn't write the speech, either. He may not have put something like that in if he were writing it, so it's not as if he goes out of his way to find scripture to use out of context. He obviously has little problem with using imagery from scripture for other things, as most English literature for hundreds of years has done, but it's not as if he's the one going out of his way trying to find scripture to use this way.

I'm not sure what your attitude toward scripture is, but God commanded the invading of foreign countries, requiring the killing of everyone, including women and children. There's nothing inherently wrong with that if the Bible is genuinely an account of God's actions in history. We don't have direct commands from God about any political action nowadays, but someone wanting to run a just government has to consider that invading another country might be the right thing to do, as I think it may well have been in this case.

I disagree vehemently with you that Bush does not care about the environment or that he favors a global economy that tramples on the poor in favor of the rich. Compassionate conservatism and libertarian policies on economic regulation are motivated by good principles that I to some extent agree with, and Bush seems to be coming from a similar perspective. Having a concern for the environment is compatible with seeking incentive-based ways to help that problem rather than forcing good behavior, and not being convinced that some problems are really problems is not evidence of not caring but of not knowing (assuming they're all problems to begin with or that they're as bad as some people say they are, which may or may not be the case). I'm also convinced that Bush genuinely cares more than most Democrats about the well-being of the poor and of minority groups. He just thinks, as I do, that conservative policies tend to help them more. Having such a view can't amount to a wish to trample on the poor (which my family almost is) and minority groups (which my family also is except for me), because I have no such wish.

I agree fully with your last statement and have argued at length for it in previous posts. I just don't think conservative evangelicalism does that. Certain segments of American conservative evangelicalism do, but I don't consider them representative of evangelicalism as a whole. Everyone does this, at least unwittingly, to some degree, but not everyone does it in the drastic way you're talking about.

This is becoming a separate debate now but I'll say this. Perhaps I was wrong in ascribing some attributes to conservative evangelicals that are more appropriate to fundamentalists, though I'm not sure where one begins to draw the line - although there is a distinction.

I'd be interested to know why Bush withdrew from Kyoto and ha snot (as far as I know) introduced any significant measures to combat global warming and the USA's massive consumption of fossil fuels.

I'm not a Democrat either by the way ;)

I believe scripture to be the Word of God and to be divinely inspired. This doesn't mean that I approve of war etc, but this is a question of theology and hermeneutics rather than the authority of scripture. Are God's commands to Israel transferable to any nation-state of the modern age? I would argue not, and that scripture is to be applied Christologically and interpreted through him. Jesus is the foundation of our faith after all, not the Bible. It's a subtle distinction, but a very significant one though probably for another post.

On a totally different matter...did you create your blog template yourself or did you download it from somewhere?

There isn't an absolute distinction between the group now known as fundamentalists and the group now known as evangelicals (but before the term 'fundamentalist' became applied to terrorists in the 80s would have been happy to accept the term). The main tendencies where I see a difference are excessive legalism and literalism in fundamentalism and the tendency to see certain American values as part of the gospel. Some segments of the two populations overlap, and sociologists, Christian and otherwise, disagree on whether to include pentecostals and some charismatics or to leave them as a separate category.

I didn't assume you were any political view. I was simply stating my perception of Bush's attitudes as compared with those he is often unfavorably compared with.

My point was simply that war is not inherently wrong if God can command it. We then need to go figure out when it would be ok, and Romans 13 seems to give some obligations of the state to keep justice that might allow war in certain circumstances. I don't think the specific commands to engage in war as a people of God carry through to anyone other than the nation of Israel before the exile.

My template came from one of the Movable Type defaults, but I changed the colors and some other things. It was originally black with white or yellow text. I used yellow text myself, but I can't remember if it was originally white text or yellow.

I forgot to address the environmentalism stuff. My understanding of Kyoto is that a number of people who don't deny the reality of global warming do think such measures would have little effect and do not address the more significant causes. Therefore they would just impose unnecessary restrictions.

As for fossil fuels, Bush has done a number of things to make the U.S. more energy-independent. Some involve oil, one of which was filibustered by the Senate. He has encouraged incentives to those who purchase hybrid-powered vehicles and has recommended incentives to those researching hydrogen-based power. Nuclear, as far as I know, is also a priority as a future energy source. One of Bush's biggest problems in his first term is that Congress would not work with him on his energy bill. That was one reason the energy secretary is leaving. Bush wants someone in there who will more actively push what he wants to do with the Republican leadership, and Spencer Abraham was just too tired of dealing with being at the crossroads between the president the the Republican Congress, who have different views on energy reform.

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