Who is a liberal Christian?

Someone who accepts (or claims to accept) at least some of the basic truths of Christianity, but who does not regard these truths as the most important truths in the world. In other words, a liberal Christian is someone who accepts (or claims to accept) at least some propositions that are essential to Christianity, but whose basic worldview is not Christian. The liberal Christian puts something other than Christianity first, and Christianity second—at best.

The differences between liberal and orthodox Christians become obvious when some secular practice or belief cherished by the Christian or his peers contradicts something taught by his faith. In such cases, the orthodox Christian has only one morally and rationally tenable option: He must reject that belief or practice in favor of orthodoxy. The liberal may do this, but then again he may not. If said practice or belief is more important to him than the truths of Christianity, he will gladly abandon the truths of Christianity. If naturalism contradicts Biblical inerrancy, he may drop the inerrancy; if utilitarianism contradicts the Ten Commandments, he may drop the Ten Commandments; and if innovation for its own sake is more important to him than two millennia of Church tradition, he will drop Tradition.

It is clear that liberal Christianity is an absurd position, since it is also clear that Christianity, if it is true at all, is the most important truth in the universe. It is also clear that despite what the name suggests, liberal Christians need not necessarily be very liberal. They certainly can be, and in the modern West, they almost always are. But on my definition, the Protestant Reich Church was a paragon of liberal Christianity, since it put National Socialism first, with Christianity at a distant second. This may seem counterintuitive, until you learn that it was generally liberal ministers who most readily bent their knee to the Nazis.

Does this mean that this “pro-Western Christianity” we’ve been hearing so much about is a form of liberal Christianity? Not at all; a pro-Western attitude is consistent with—and even entailed by—Christianity. As someone once said, Europe is the Church, and the Church is Europe. “Pro-Western Christianity” is as much of a pleonasm as is “theistic Christianity” or “Jesus-based Christianity.” The fact that we need to use the expression at all does not show that our beliefs are contradictory, but that the beliefs of mainstream Christians often are as contradictory as they are un-Christian.

22 thoughts on “Who is a liberal Christian?

  1. Hilaire Belloc wrote in The Great Heresies that a heresy is anything which borrows the authority of certain tenets of truth and then either removes or substitutes elements of their own warped thinking to usurp the inherent truth which they conveniently appropriated.

    In this day and age, liberal “Christians” are heretics, pure and simple. If we look at the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, I think we can safely establish many liberal christians do not adhere to certain tenets (especially on church authority), and this becomes even clearer when considering prescriptions for Christian living offered in Corinthians and Titus.

    There is a difference between interpretation of dense and apocalyptic imagery in certain books and wholesale rewriting of the Christian life. I’ve stopped giving these heretics the validity of any association at all with my viewpoint. Either you accept the Christian life or you aren’t Christian. I don’t care how many Billy Graham altar cards they can wave at me.

  2. I am reminded of the following words by Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

    In National Socialism, it is “first nature’s grace, then Christ’s grace. First creation, then redemption. This goes back to liberal theology. What is decisive is that the filioque is missing. The filioque means that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The German Christians want to introduce a nature spirit, a folk [Volk] spirit, into the church, which is not judged by Christ but rather justifies itself.” This is “German paganism”

    • There are some of us who are not great fans of the Filioque, and whose Eighth Council was held in 879, not a decade earlier.

      As concerns liberal Christians, an Episcopalian friend of my acquaintance submits that in his church “the law is not set aside for the gospel but instead substituted with an exhortation to live a life guided by the social and ethical values of the slightly-to-left-of-center Democratic Party.”

  3. I have always looked on Liberal Christianity as the heresy of mixing Christian doctrines with philosophical liberalism and/or marxism. In Catholicism, I think this is called Modernism.

    Those who call themselves Progressive Christians, on the other hand, tend to espouse leftist politics, but *can* remain orthodox from the theological point of view. In Catholicism, I think this is called Liberal Catholicism.

    However, belonging to Christianity and only living in Modernity is a hard thing. Espousing genuinely modern political ideas that have no roots in historical Christendom *can* lead to espousing heretical beliefs from Modernity, and also makes little sense to me.

    “In the Christian obsessed with “social justice” it isn’t easy to discern whether charity is flourishing or faith is expiring.” – Nicolás Gómez Dávila

  4. The key heresy of liberal Christianity is that the Muslim allah is the same as the God of Christianity and Judaism, with Arianism and Unitarianism the defining features.
    Ye shall judge them by their fruits.
    We do.
    We find them wanting.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Reaction | The Reactivity Place

    • I don’t think it’s theologically unsound, properly understood. Let’s take it in parts:

      1. Man is created in the image and likeness of God, so he is ontologically capable of doing good and he has a moral duty to do good (this part is almost tautologically inoffensive). That’s just revelation, baby.

      2. Man was redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, which means he is now even contingently capable of doing good. This is as true of atheists as it is of Christians, because Christ’s death on Calvary sufficed to pay (redeem) the debt of justice created by the sin of Adam. Redemption is available to all, but bear in mind that it is distinct from salvation, which is the application of redemption to individual men. I understand that some of our Protestant friends might object to the “even contingently capable of doing good” bit, but it’s pretty standard fare Catholicism.

      3. Since atheists and Christians are both men and therefore both redeemed, both are capable of doing good and obligated to do good, and this at least potentially creates a “culture of encounter” whereby Christians can evangelize atheists. Insofar as this is just a straightforward extrapolation of the two previous points, it’s pretty unimpeachable.

      • Proph,

        Could you please explain what you mean by “even contingently capable of doing good”? Why would some find this objectionable?


      • The Reformed (a.k.a. Calvinist) view is encapsulated in the acronym TULIP, which stands for Total depravity; Unconditional election; Limited atonement; Irresistable grace; and Perseverance of the saints.

        The relevant point here is total depravity, which means that due to the Fall, we are all slaves to sin. Everything we do is tainted by sin, so nothing we do by ourselves can be truly good. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains this far better than I can.

        CHAPTER 6

        1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

        2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.

        3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.

        4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

        5. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.

        6. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

        Copied from the website of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

      • Thanks Wm. Lewis. I figured that was what Proph was referring to; but, that phrase just seemed pdd to me and I did not know if there was some particular meaning that I would know if I read more philosphy/theology.

        Total depravity seems to me a ridiculous stance. Well, so do those four others.

      • I just noticed your follow-up comment, Mr. Nowell; my apologies for the delay.

        “Total depravity seems to me a ridiculous stance. Well, so do those four others.”

        TULIP is an acronym to get at the pithy summaries, like total depravity. This then has to be explained (or, as our leftist “friends” like to say, “unpacked”). Without this understanding, neither TULIP nor what it stands for are readily comprehensible.

        Total depravity does not mean that every human ever born is a depraved monster. That would be utter depravity: every man is as bad as he can be (again, not what this means). Rather, it means that because of the Fall, we are born into sin, and are slaves to it. On our own, everything we do will, by the very fact of its coming from our sinfulness, be corrupt. It means that we cannot choose to follow God—indeed, we will be antagonistic towards Him—unless and until the Holy Spirit regenerates our souls.

        It does not, however, negate the imago Dei; we still have goodness and are capable of doing good, but just as our souls are distorted by sin, so too are our deeds.

        This is in keeping with the Catholic position from the Council of Trent, which declared that man cannot “be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ” (Chapter XVI, Canon I).

        The foundation for total depravity is found, in part, in Genesis 6:5, 8:21; Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:10–12, 5:6, 8:7, 7:18; Ephesians 2:3–4; Colossians 1:21; and James 1:14–15.

        Are there other parts of the Bible you also find ridiculous, Mr. Nowell?

  6. It is the inconsistency that bothers me the most. If a man does not accept the teachings of a religion, then why profess to be part of that religion? I am not a Muslim because I do not believe in the teachings of Islam. It makes sense. Whenever this is brought up I discover that many liberal Christians will talk of opening the church to non-orthodox ideas, of being inclusive. That’s fine, but in the end, proponents of orthodoxy end up becoming pariah in their own church. As far as I can tell, liberal Christianity is simply a movement to supplant Christianity with progressive thought from within the church as well as without.

    • If a man does not accept the teachings of a religion, then why profess to be part of that religion?

      Cultural nostalgia. Inertia. Still having some need for belonging.

      It’s interesting to note that liberal churches are almost entirely attended by women. When men get more liberal, they just leave.

      • It is the inconsistency that bothers me the most.

        See my comment about women above.

    • “As far as I can tell, liberal Christianity is simply a movement to supplant Christianity with progressive thought from within the church as well as without.”

      Nail, meet hammer. This is exactly right.

      Liberalism is another, different, non-Christian, non-Abrahamic religion. This was explored by Lawrence Auster at View From the Right; it was most thoroughly covered in J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.

  7. “It is clear that liberal Christianity is an absurd position, since it is also clear that Christianity, if it is true at all, is the most important truth in the universe.”

    First two paragraphs of your article are very crisp and cogent. Unfortunately, beginning of the third paragraph is not. Liberal Christianity is a progressive change to accommodate our best understanding of human experiences (collective wisdom that withstood test of time) and current wisdom of morality with Christian beliefs. It is not absurd but a sincere yearning to progress orthodox beliefs to avoid absurdity.

    • I don’t quite understand what your argument is. To be clear, *my* argument is the following:

      (1) Liberal Christianity is the view that Christianity is true, but not the most important truth in the world (Definition)
      (2) It is an obvious truth that if Christianity is true, it is the most important truth in the world (Premise)
      (3) Any view that contradicts an obvious truth is absurd (Premise)
      (4) Liberal Christianity denies an obvious truth (From (1) and (2))
      (5) Liberal Christianity is absurd (From (3) and (4))

      What do you take issue with here? My definition of liberal Christianity? Presumably not, since you praise the paragraphs in which I lay out that definition. Premise 2? If so, why? I find it pretty self-evident: Christianity claims to be a complete account of the ultimate purpose of life and the ultimate meaning of the universe, and everything else sort of pales in comparison to that. Premise 3 also looks very good to me.

      Also, sincerity is no guarantee of non-absurdity.

  8. I take issue with “Premise 2”. It is not an proposition or assertion but is itself a logical argument (syllogism). Specifically my issue is with “if Christianity is true …”. You need to rewrite premise 2 as an assertion. Until then, (3) and (4) in your argument do not follow.

  9. Pingback: Feminism and a loveless future – FOR GOD AND COUNTRY


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