Why I cannot accept Liberal Theology as properly Christian

A Critique of Liberal Theology
An Anglican Catholic assessment of a popular Christianity

Introduction

It is an undeniable fact that Christian Belief is declining. A quarter of Christians polled by the BBC[1] deny that the Biblical Narrative of the Resurrection is true. We could go into a discussion as to why we believe in the Historicity of the Gospel Story, but we would rather leave that to more erudite scholars. Both Dr William Lane Craig and Dr Alvin Plantinga put forward some good reasons to believe that the Gospels are part of the Historical Record. Further, even non-Christian historians such as Dr Bart Ehrmann admit that the Gospels’ record is sufficiently reliable as a historical document that it warrants careful consideration as history and not myth.

But why is belief in the West declining? In England, we have gone from a society whose faith was once described as Mary’s Dowry – a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary – to a state in which just 1% attend a Church of England service on a Sunday morning.

There are many reasons, but one underlying factor is the development of Liberal Theology over the course of the last 350 years. This has its roots in the Enlightenment and we are beginning to see the effects on the quality of Christian belief in Great Britain as the Church of England is fracturing and haemorrhaging members in the opening decades of the Third Millennium.

The point of this paper is to defend the belief of the Anglican Catholic Church which is set in direct opposition to the tenets of Liberal Theology. Many describe us as backward-looking, as well as a whole host of “-ists” and “-phobes” because of our stance. As part of the Catholic Church, our walk with the Church of England ended because of fallout from the growth of Liberal Theology. In defending our existence as Catholics who share much history with the Church of England, we demonstrate why we cannot hold to this Theology, and further why we believe it to be dangerous for the souls who hold it.

Naturally, it is necessary for us to say what we mean by Liberal Theology so that we do not set up straw men, or find ourselves misrepresenting people’s viewpoints. We must also say that we must exercise a spirit of generosity and charity in our arguments. We will therefore make the strong assumption that whoever would describe their theology as Liberal in the light of the following tenets holds that theology for the best of intentions. We also reserve the right to believe that, however noble these intentions may be, they are grievously misguided. All human beings are susceptible to the deception of the Devil, and so, in believing that these folk are misguided, we call them to repentance in the light of the Love of a God who suffers so that we might all be reconciled to Him, just as we recognise the need for repentance in our own lives.

Tenets of Liberal Theology

Tenet 1: (Relevance) To be of value, religious faith must be relevant to our lives and consistent with our knowledge in other areas.
Tenet 2: (Fallibility) No one source of information is infallible.
Tenet 3: (Foundation) The foundation of Liberal Theology is Scripture, Reason, Tradition and experience and they shed light on each other.
Tenet 4: (Humility) Whatever we believe today, we always have more to learn from others.

These four tenets are condensed from Liberal theology - what it is and why the Church needs it, a publication by Modern Church[2]. We hope that these are a fair representation of what Liberal Theology is, and ask for forgiveness and correction if they are not entirely accurate.

Tenet 1 (Relevance)

To be of value, religious faith must be relevant to our lives and consistent with our knowledge in other areas.

The first thing we must question in this tenet is the notion of value. In what value system are we operating? Is this a personal value system, a collective value system, or something else? Our value system is essentially the background information in which we judge what is good and what is not. We can make our value judgments from our own personal reasons: “Jam is good because it tastes nice, but brussels sprouts are not good because they don’t.”  Or we can make our value judgments from the authority of others: “Jam is bad for you because it will rot your teeth but brussels sprouts are good for you because they contain vitamins.”

Obviously there is a bit of a tension here. We can question our own personal value system in the light of an authority; we can question an authority’s value system in the light of our own; we can question one authority’s value system in the light of another’s; we can even question an authority’s value system against itself! Ultimately, we need to find and settle for a value system otherwise we can never make any moral decisions. If we find that we must change our value system, how are we making the decision that one value system is better than another? What is the value system in which we can judge one value system as being better than another?

Now we need to make a definition to make sure that we are all in agreement. What does it mean to be a Christian?

Definition 1:  A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God and the saviour of humanity whose coming as the Messiah (the Christ) was prophesied in the Old Testament
In this this definition, there is a statement of value which is assumed. Why do we need a saviour? Surely a saviour saves someone from something that is bad and/or places them somewhere that is good.

This means that, to be a Christian, we need to have a value-system that is coherent with this idea of good and bad. Given that Our Lord is the Son of God, surely He must know what is good and bad in order for Him to perform any act of salvation. Therefore, a Christian is rather bound to accept the value system of Jesus Christ in matters of Good and Evil. In giving Jesus this pride of place in our lives, in accepting His authority, we are making Him worth more than anything else, because in His light we see light.[3] This is what we mean by worship, putting Jesus at the centre of our lives. If we are Christian, therefore, we have a given value system. For Tenet 1 to be true, we have to show that in this system, “religious faith must be relevant to our lives and consistent with our knowledge in other areas.”

Before we continue, we need to make another definition. What do we mean by “religious faith”?
Definition 2:  By religious faith, we mean a belief in a god or in specific doctrines pertaining to belief and worship.

Clearly, if we worship Jesus Christ as God, then our religious faith is already relevant to our lives because we already hold His system of values of prime importance in our lives. So Tenet 1 is on its way to being shown to be true.

We now need to look at the second part, that our religious faith is consistent with our knowledge in other areas.

Just what “knowledge” is is a huge subject in itself called Epistemology and it continues to cause debates in academic philosophy today. There are lots of theories of knowledge all of which try to answer the question, “how do we know anything?” So, in order to hold Tenet 1, we must have a particular theory of knowledge. Well, which one? What makes one theory of knowledge any better than another? If we want Tenet 1 to be true, why not say that we subscribe to the theory of knowledge defined by our religious faith? Thus Tenet 1 becomes true, almost by definition.

Yet there is something else here. Tenet 1 is requiring that whatever our theory of knowledge is, our religious faith has to be consistent with it. In other words, knowledge must determine our religious faith. This means that if we “know” that people do not rise from the dead, then we cannot believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. If we “know” that there is no God, then we cannot be Christian because a Christian believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

If by “knowledge”, Liberal Theology means “popular knowledge” or “scientific knowledge” then we are very much faced with these two possibilities. Yet, these forms of knowledge are based on beliefs, too. If our knowledge and our faith are based on beliefs, what reason do we have for saying that one trumps the other? The only reason can be the one that we value most: isn’t that our religious faith?
There seems therefore to be insufficient reason for the second half of Tenet 1 to be true. Let’s not be too hasty, though. Of course, if we believe in an objective truth such as the existence of God then we should expect our experiences of life to give evidence of that. There is plenty of that evidence in classical Theology explained in the Bible[4], in the works of St Anselm, and of St Thomas Aquinas. Modern Theologians such as Craig and Plantinga show that our modern knowledge is consistent with our faith. But which came first? Our faith or our knowledge? Surely that is irrelevant. If we believe that God exists, then He comes first before knowledge.

Even then, our knowledge has changed over the centuries. It is always being called into question as new observations are made, new discoveries brought to light, and new theories developed around them. Liberal Theology seeks to treat religious faith in the same way. Yet it still requires us to value the prevailing knowledge of the age over what we believe. It means that those who live under a different knowledge will have a different faith from us. Will this be the same faith in the same God, and the same Jesus Christ? Will this recognise the same Good and Evil? Or will the Good of Today become Tomorrow’s Evil, and vice versa? This raises the possibility that it perfectly possible for rape, torture, and child abuse to become moral acts in a theory of knowledge where they might be in some way natural. If they can never be moral acts, then there must be some value system that trounces our experience of what is natural.

What can we conclude?

First, we see that Tenet 1 could be trivially true if we already base our knowledge on our religious faith. Second we see that, in choosing beliefs about our knowledge over religious, we find that this is not clear why beliefs that result in knowledge should trump our religious beliefs. There is no justification for making this value judgement – in fact it goes against our understanding of what religious beliefs are. Third, we see that in our experience of knowledge changing and challenging itself, Good and Evil could not be objective which could lead to the acceptance as moral of what we believe to be an atrocity today. If we are willing to concede that possibility then why can’t that possibility be here and now?

Tenet 2 (Fallibility)

No one source of information is infallible.

First of all, what do we mean by “infallible”?

Definition 3 A source of information is infallible if it is not possible for it to be shown to be false.

One could say immediately that Tenet 2 is patently false. If God does exists, then He must be an infallible single source of information, because He is a source of all things – that is what it means to be God! If it is not what it means to be God, then Liberal Theologians believe in a different God from Christianity. For a Christian to hold to Liberal Theology, there has to be a way of reconciling both positions, and this seems impossible. Perhaps, what is in question is the way in which an infallible God gives information about Himself to human beings.

It seems reasonable to say that God’s existence is not self-evident: by this, we mean that we can sort of understand why people don’t believe in God. He is not obvious, yet the existence of things does point to the distinct possibility of a Creator. If God is not self-evident, then He must show Himself to human beings in some way: we need revelation – a Theophany. If we believe that this revelation is fallible, then we don’t have good grounds to believe in God, and this would rather contradict Tenet 1 as our knowledge should inform our religious belief. Yes, it is possible that all Christians are wrong and that God does not exist, but our faith says that we do not believe that this possibility is true. Just because there is a possibility that God does not exist does not mean we should believe that it is true or even consider it to be true. Indeed, many Christians are willing to stake their lives on this conviction that He exists. This means that we have good grounds to believe that there is a source of information about God’s existence. We believe in God because there is a source of His revelation we believe to be true and thus infallible.

Thus if we believe God exists then we must believe there is an infallible source of information about His existence.

However, there is a problem with Tenet 2 and it is fairly problematic.

Tenet 2 is a single source of information. Is it infallible? If it is, then it contradicts itself unless it is backed up by another source. If it isn’t then there is at least one single infallible source of information.

So if Tenet 2 is infallible, it has to be backed up by another source which says “no one source of information is infallible.” So for Tenet 2 to be true, we must have two sources which claim the same statement. We must have two infallible sources of information, and they must agree on Tenet 2. What are these two sources of information that we would need to show this?

First, we need two ways of showing a negative statement is true. We can do show that a negative statement is true – mathematicians do so all the time – we just have to assume that a single source of information is infallible and show that such an assumption contradicts itself. That would be our first source – pure logic. But this logical test is a single source of information and, if Tenet 2 is true, cannot by itself show infallibly that Tenet 2 is true. So we would need another source to show that this logic is correct. There is no such source known as yet, and it is difficult to see what it would be.
Further, suppose put all the sources of information that show that Tenet 2 is infallible in the same book. That book then becomes a single source of information about Tenet 2 in itself, and thus cannot be infallible. Remember that the Bible itself is a collection of books about God’s revelation collated over a long period of time and bound in the same volume, so clearly we are allowed to make this compilation.

That sounds all very complicated and it is! It shows, however, that we don’t have good grounds for believing that Tenet 2 should be true unless we can perform very rigorous tests in accordance with Tenet 1.

Religious Faith holds to believing in God, or a set of doctrines. In having a religious faith, we are holding to this set of doctrines as being infallible. We believe this set to be infallible on the grounds of our faith and to believe otherwise would actually contradict our holding the faith that we have. Either we hold our religious faith, or we don’t: the middle ground that Liberal Theology holds is insincere.

What may we conclude?

First, we can see that religious faith means an acceptance of an infallible source. Second, we see that we have no reason for believing that Tenet 2 is true at all and, working out whether it is true presents enormous problems which we would need in order satisfy Tenet 1. Third, a religious believer who holds to Tenet 2 would be demonstrating an insincere or incoherent faith.

Tenet 3 (Foundation)

The foundation of Liberal Theology is Scripture, Reason, Tradition and experience and they shed light on each other.

Of course, we saw earlier that this Single Foundation of Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience can be collated into a single source of information and thus by Tenet 2 cannot be infallible.

Let’s leave that problem aside for now, and consider this in itself.

First we need to ensure we know what we mean by Reason. Scripture, Tradition and Reason are explained in the Anglican Theologian Fr Richard Hooker in his work on Ecclesiastical Polity.

Definition 4: By Reason, we mean Right Reason, namely the method by which we deduce the truth from given sources of information.

Mathematics is a form of pure reason. We deduce truth from a set of axioms – statements that don’t require proof. If we change the axioms, then we change the mathematical theory, often drastically. Many people seem to think that Reason means “whatever is reasonable”. It is reasonable that a human being should eat. It is not reasonable that a man eat a banquet in front of a starving child. What is the difference? The answer is that the first statement is a statement of biological fact. The second is that we have introduced a new condition, that of morality – we have changed the axioms so we have changed the theory. To determine what is “reasonable” requires complete knowledge of the fact. The situation will change again if we find out that the child is starving because it has been refusing to eat out of petulance for not getting enough pocket money! What seems “reasonable” is not what Reason is. This is why we speak of Right Reason.

The Catholic Church holds that Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason are the foundation of God’s revelation to us. The Church compiled the Bible according to strict rules about dating, authenticity and content and this was complete by the fourth century. The texts they compiled, these sources, all date from before 100AD and the New Testament was completed within living memory of the events they document. Scripture is the first point of revelation because it is based on eyewitness testimony as well as prophecy which the Church has recognised throughout all ages.

St Vincent of Lerins reminds us that the Church has always had a strict criterion for determining God’s revelation to us:

“Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.”[5]

It is clear that from St Vincent of Lerins that it is consensus of the whole Church from the examination of Scripture and Tradition that yields what we understand to be Theological Truth.

Further, Bishop Charles Gore says:

“First, let it be clear that the Church's function is not to reveal truth. The revelation given once for all to the Apostles cannot be either diminished or added to. It is a faith "once for all delivered," and the New Testament emphasizes the Church's duty as simply that of "holding fast" and teaching what she has "received." The apostle St. Paul claims that his converts should repudiate even him-should treat him as anathema-if he were to teach anything else than what he taught at first. It is thus of the very essence of the Christian revelation that, as originally given, it is final. Whatever is new to Christian theology in substance, is by that very fact, proved not to be of the faith....

It is not then a matter which needs proving, that novelty in revelation is equivalent to error, according to the fathers. But this evident proposition leads to an important conclusion. It follows that the authority of the Church is of a more secondary character than is sometimes supposed. She is not a perpetual oracle of divine truth, an open organ of continuous revelation: she is not so much a "living voice" as a living witness to a "once-spoken voice." [6]

In that sense, Bishop Gore is explaining that Reason is not a source of information. It is only a method by which we determine truth from what we already have. The truth is in the ground of revelation comprised of the rock of Scripture, the fertile soil of Tradition and Reason is the spade by which we dig it up.

The Church has always had a consensus from the beginning that Scripture is the rock upon which Tradition interprets and Reason clarifies. The famous “three-legged stool” so often misattributed to Fr Hooker is the wrong picture. Dr Munday[7] suggests that a tower of Reason built on Tradition built on Scripture is the better picture.

So the question is not about the presence of Scripture, Tradition, and Right Reason, but rather about the addition of “Experience” as a source of God’s revelation.

We need to be careful here, because we need to make sure what “Experience” means. John Wesley who was one of the first to include Experience with the other three sources of revelation did not mean exactly what we mean today by it.

Definition 5:  Experience as a source of revelation is the way in which we perceive God to be at work in the way around us and within us.

Now, Scripture is an objective source – it says what it says. Tradition is an objective source – it says what it says. Reason is an objective source – if the premises are correct then, if the method is applied correctly, the conclusion must be true. However, Experience can never be objective. Everyone’s experiences of God are personal, not common to the whole Church. By what means do we know that our experience is “God at work in us”? We need to test it against the other sources. But we can we test Scripture, Tradition, or Reason against our experience?

In Indiana in the year 1897, a bill was put forward by an amateur mathematician to legislate the value of Pi to 3.2. The bill convinced politicians and passed through the Indiana House of Representatives, but thankfully a professor of mathematics managed to educate the Indiana Senate who threw the bill out. If that professor had not been there, it is entirely possible that the whole of the State of Indiana would be legally obliged to accept that Pi was 3.2. Clearly, we cannot vote on the Truth based on our experience alone.

How would we test whether Scripture is wrong? Consider this.

In Isaiah xi.6, when Isaiah talks of the future time of peace in Israel, he mentions several animals cohabiting. Question: which animal lies down with the lamb? No cheating and looking up the answer or reading below.

Chances are that you would have said “the lion will lie down with the lamb,” but let us check what Scripture really says.

First, let us go to the Hebrew: the word we find associated with the lamb (kebesh) is zab. In the Greek version of Isaiah, we find the word is lukos. Both of these words mean the same thing: the wolf. Yet so many Christians believe that it is the lion that lays down with the lamb! So which is correct? Our experience, or Scripture? Which trumps what we believe? Why? If we say our experience must correct Scripture, how is that any different from voting Pi to be 3.2?

Godly experience is something that grows out of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Its subjectivity means that it cannot produce any objective truth, nor can it be used to test the others. Just because we feel something to be right despite clear objections from Scripture and Tradition, does not mean that we must change our beliefs to make it right.

Of course, one may say, wasn’t Scripture something voted on? Doesn’t Tradition come from a consensus? Aren’t those who hold to Scripture and Tradition doing exactly the same by holding to the experience of those who brought the Scripture and Tradition into being?

This is a fair point. It is the experiences of the Apostles and Evangelists that give us the New Testament. It is from these experiences that Tradition is built. Yet, the experiences of the Apostles appear in a very unique context. They walk with Jesus Christ Himself. They hear His words; they see His miracles; they witness His death and Resurrection.[8] They are reporting objective reality on which they concur. Either we accept their testimony, or we do not. If we accept their testimony, then we see Scripture formed with their testimony at its heart. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then we hold what He says as being important.

If Experience is to be a source of information which has the strength to test Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, then it must be acquired objectively and away from subjective feelings.

What may we conclude?

First, we conclude that there is an implicit hierarchy of authority within Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Second, we see that Experience has insufficient authority within itself to test any one of the other sources, even with the support of the others, because of its lack of objectivity. Third, we see that we simply cannot vote what is true into being. We can vote on whether we should believe a testimony, but this does not make the testimony true. We can only believe that a testimony is true, and then reason from that belief.

Tenet 4 (Humility)

Whatever we believe today, we always have more to learn from others.

First, it has to be said that this is not really what the Church has meant by Humility. One can read St Benedict’s ladder of humility in Chapter 7 of his Rule and see that Humility is more to do with learning to see the truth about oneself from ones monastic discipline than a distorted image that we come to believe. Humility is a statement of Truth and requires Revelation.

If Tenet 4 is true, then it is saying that one cannot trust the body of revelation that we have. We must always look beyond that revelation for the truth. So how do we decide whether a belief beyond our received Tradition is true? How do we know whether we have something worth learning from another? Surely, the assessment must come from within what the value system that our revelation gives us.

If there is something good in another religion, then we perceive that it is good because we see it in our own religion. Does that mean that we need to take on board the whole context that comes with this good? If we do, then we are accepting a contradiction into our body of revelation. Religions are different because they do not believe the same thing. While they may agree on some areas, we cannot adopt the framework of that agreement without radically altering our own framework. What gives us a warrant to alter our own framework of belief.

Yes, we learn much from living with others. We learn about them as people; we learn about their beliefs; we learn about their needs, wants, desire; we learn how we can help them. That does not mean that we need to take their beliefs into ours in order to help them. Either we believe that our faith is sufficient to help us to meet their need or we don’t. Surely they are free to take or leave what we can provide.

What can we conclude?

We see that if we accept Tenet 4, then we introduce into our system of beliefs many contradictions which prevent us from being able to discern Good from Evil. We see that it is far from being humble because it keeps changing the truth that we see about ourselves. Sooner or later we can adopt someone’s belief system that supports who we think we are rather than who we actually are.

What does all this mean?

Liberal Theology is a form of Moral Philosophy, not Christian Theology.

If we look at Liberal Theology, we often find very little mention of Jesus Christ. Often, the statements are more about morality, deciding between Good and Evil rather than expressing what the Christian Faith really is. In that sense, Liberal Theology is more of an intellectual exercise in competing theories as to what Morality really is than passing on the Good News of Jesus Christ.
What is that Good News? It is actually very simple, so simple a child can understand it.
Jesus died so that Man can be free from all Evil and finally find Eternal life with Him. All we need to do is to trust Him and obey His commandments.

The whole Bible, and indeed the entire Catholic Faith, is built up from this simple pair of statements. The Catholic Faith shows us from the revelation that it has received what Evil is, and shows us how we obey the commandments. In adhering to this Good News which we believe to be infallible, we have a system of beliefs and values which allow us to see Good and Evil independently of the society in which we find ourselves.

Liberal Theology is subjective

In basing its values on the indigenous society, Liberal Theology rejoices in producing no absolutes. Yet it is clear that this sits uncomfortably with some potential atrocities that human beings can commit and even justify themselves when they commit them. Liberal Theology loses the ground to that justification unless it really has within itself an absolute by which it can condemn acts of atrocity. If something was a sin and now isn’t, what warranted the change? Likewise, if something was not a sin and now is, how did that change come about?

For the Conservative Christian, there is a source of objectivity, namely in the person of Jesus Christ Himself and what is reported of Him by His disciples and which does find corroboration in texts surrounding the Gospels.[9] Holding to the text of Gospels requires us also to hold to all of Scripture as a source of God’s revelation to us in which the context of Jesus’ ministry is set, alluded to and supported both in the Old Testament and the New. This means that the Conservative Christian is justified in holding Scripture to be an infallible source of theological truth but does not require him to hold it as an infallible source of scientific truth. The Tradition that arises alongside the Scriptures and develops find itself ratified in the words of the Church Fathers who inherit from each other the understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures, interpretation which is ratified at Oecumenical Councils. This process of consensus from objective sources ceases when the Church formally divides in the Eleventh Century. Until the whole Church comes back together again, there can be no formal discernment of doctrine from Scripture and Tradition.

In holding to Scripture, the Conservative Christian holds the belief that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”[10] It means that His teaching does not change. It means that the Church has no authority to go against what Scripture says about Him. All this is as objective as can be.

Of course, Liberals will say, if Conservative Christianity is completely objective, why on Earth is it so divided? History shows us why, especially at the Reformation when the teaching of the Church was measured against its source of revelation and found wanting. In trying to realign the Church with its revelation, some Reformers rejected not only teaching which had arisen since the Eleventh Century, but also some of the Tradition that went before. It changed the source of Revelation, and thus paved the way for the source of Revelation to be measured from outside the faith. It is this Reformation and the development of the Enlightenment that has produced the Liberal Theology that we critique here.

Thus there are two sorts of Conservative Christian: the one who accepts the interpretation of Holy Scripture from the lens of the Reformation, and the one who does not, but rather accepts the Catholic Faith of the Primitive Church, i.e. the Christian Faith as put forward in Scripture, Tradition and Council since before 1054. Neither approach is completely arbitrary, though Catholics who hold the Catholic Faith of the Primitive Church would have the greater objectivity in that they have no value outside of the Faith to judge it. This is why Protestantism is divided into “–isms”, e.g. Lutheransim, Calvinism, Anglicanism, Zwinglism.  These represent the outside influences by which they have altered the Catholic Faith. We believe that Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglican Catholicism seek to preserve the objectivity of the Primitive Church.

Liberal Theology is insincere

If we truly believe in God, then our first duty is to Him and the obedience of His commandments. We find His commandments in our source of Revelation. Yet, Liberal Theology is always looking outside of any source of revelation it may have for a way to discern God’s will. When it finds a morality it believes ought to be true, it then seeks to re-interpret Scripture so that this morality becomes true. Yet the justification for this change comes from beyond revelation, and it is not clear whether it is truly God that is making this justification. Often the argument comes from silence and a prevailing philosophy rather than a true Theology. If Liberal Theology has a specific belief, that belief is subject to question and change according to the whims of experience and the pressures of society to conform. It cannot then be sincere to a Christianity which is counter-cultural, and for which Jesus Christ went to the Cross for His teaching that Christianity is a faith that is lived sincerely in accordance with the possibility of love.

The Liberal Theologian, Rev Jonathan Clatworthy states
“"Christianity is not, and never has been, an unchanging monolith. No dogma, no text, not even one’s favourite biblical text, is God’s command to everyone at all times. No single source is infallible. In every age we bring the resources available to bear on the issues we face. Our understanding is always limited and uncertain. The only people who are certainly wrong are the ones who claim to be certainly right. Such people become intolerant and deaf."”[11]

We notice that in Clatworthy’s theology even the commands to love God and our neighbour are completely conditional and potentially subject to change. It is possible in Clatworthy’s framework as presented that someone could say “Now is the time to hate the gays”.

However misguided the prevailing society believes the Conservative Church to be, it must recognise that it is holding to doctrines that it sincerely believes cannot be changed. This means that, in holding to a patriarchy formed from Christ’s appointment of male apostles and St Paul’s discourses talking about Bishops, Priests and Deacons in the male sex, we are often accused of sexism. Do we fit the definition of sexism, or is the definition of sexism being changed so that we do fit it? Because we believe that homosexuality is a disorder, does that mean we are actually homophobic, or is the definition being changed so that we are? Liberal Theology criticises us for not getting with the Modern Programme, but, as we see, it does not give us a compelling, objective reason why we should. Indeed, if it does truly hold those Tenets, it cannot give any objective reasons at all!

Liberal Theology is dangerous

Let us listen to the words of Jesus:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew , and beat upon that house; and it fell : and great was the fall of it. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”[12] 

Jesus is being quite clear. His words, and only His words will lead people to Heaven. Only His death will be a sacrifice that is able to save us from sin. Only He is the Son of God. As Conservative Christians, we believe these statements, especially as expounded in the Nicene Creed. Outside of the Church there is no salvation, because the Church comprises precisely of the people who worship Jesus as God and Lord and hear His words and obey them.

Liberal Theology wants us all to call the foundations of our faith into question. If we truly believe in God, we are occupied in the business of seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness. We may only assess our faith in the light of His Kingdom and Righteousness. If we start calling into question whether we actually believe in God according to the things of this world, then we could be led to believe worldly philosophies over the God. If we truly believe in God then we have to trust Him as a real being with Whom we can communicate, not treat Him as a philosophical construct. Our Faith must begin in God and accept the revelation He gives us. Liberal Theology does not seek to trust God, because God is a single source.

Liberal Theology is a source of doubt and the type of doubt that is the enemy of Faith. It erodes our faith in God. It erodes our trust in the testimony of millions of Christians and makes the whole idea of God’s Eternal Righteousness subject to time, change, and experience. Liberal Theology cannot answer questions because it must always doubt the answers that it gives. If it were of the Light, we would see things clearly, because light brings clarity. This means that it must be a Theology that lives in the gloom of half-light and dusk, with a tendency to wander in darkness.

As such, Liberal Theology is not something that will bring the soul to the Light of God’s Truth, but 
rather lead it away into accepting things of this world. We believe categorically that it is therefore dangerous and not to be trusted.

As Conservative Christians, we dare to believe that there is such a thing as infallibility, that there is an absolute, that there is a real, objective truth, and further we believe that these ideas are embodied in the Being we call God Whom we love and trust, and seek to obey that we may always dwell in the beauty of His light and holiness for Eternity. If we are na├»ve in our belief, so be it, but at least, even if we’re wrong, we will find true contentment in our belief.




[1]Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians – BBC Website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-39153121
[2] https://modernchurch.org.uk/liberal-theology-resources/what-is-liberal-theology
[3] Cf Psalm xxxvi.9
[4] E.g Psalm xix.1-4; Romans i.18-20.
[5] St Vincent of Lerins: Commonitorium, chapter 2
[6] Bishop Charles Gore, Roman Catholic Claims, pp. 38-40.
[7] Three-Legged Stool of Anglicanism  by the Very Rev Canon Dr Robert Munday
http://www.virtueonline.org/three-legged-stool-anglicanism-robert-s-munday
[8] Cf I John i.1-4
[9] See, for example, the text of the Gospel of St Thomas which is not canonical but sees to contain some words of Jesus from close to His time. It also contains much which is not accepted by Christians.
[10] Hebrews xiii.8
[11] Here we go again –Jonathan Clatworthy
http://modernchurch.org.uk/2017/february-2017/1087-here-we-go-again
[12] St Matthew vii.13-end

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