"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Evangelical Liberalism

The broader I read, the more the idea crystalizes that much of American evangelicalism today is closer to liberalism than orthodoxy. I don't mean that about everyone who uses the term. To some evangelicalism means an adherence to the gospel. But more and more evangelicalism now means an emotional experience. But then evangelicalism in this instance really has no differenciation from what, in the 1920's, they called Liberalism. I'm slowly making my way through Machen's "Christianity and Liberalism," wherein Machen contrasts Christianity and Liberalism as two different religions.

There are times, however, where I wonder if Machen is talking about some forms of American evangelicalism. Today, one might just as well distinguish this "Americanity" and Christianity. Americanity is a personal emotive experience with God that is true for the person because its their personal experience, no other basis is necessary. But, as Machen tells us:

"Salvation then, according to the Bible, is not something that was discovered, but something that happened...Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event.
Christian experience, we have just said, is useful as confirming the gospel message. But because it is necessary, many men have jumped to the conclusion that it is all that is necessary. Having a present experience of Christ in the heart, may we not, it is said, hold that experience not matter what history may tell us as to the events of the first Easter morning?...Religious experience [that] may be, but Christian experience it certainly is not.
Christian experience is rightly used when it helps to convince us that the event narrated in the New Testament actually did occur; but it can never enable us to be Christians whether the events occured or not."

-Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. pg 70-71


M. Jay Bennett said...

Americanity. Nice phrase.

Nicodemus said...

The book is very good and I too have commented on it on my blog:


If you look under "Labels" on the left and scroll down to and press J Gresham Machen you will find what I have said. I have also reviewed Herbert London's book America's Secular Challenge that you might be interested in as well. That will be under book reviews.

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

I think the core of your point is right. I would add (and I think you'd agree) that God's action rather than human "discovery" as the starting point does not discount subsequent and logically posterior ethical reflection but presents a new shape for that reflection.

Anonymous said...

Here, here! I recently visited a liberal church, and decided to weigh whether or not I'd participate in the Lord's Supper on whether any essential theology was denied. While the Law and Gospel that were preached were pretty anemic, I realized what I was hearing was not much worse than what I hear at my non-Reformed Southern Baptist Church every week. So, I went ahead.

Yes, Liberalism and Evangelicalism seems, in many ways, to be becoming a distinction without a difference.

Jared Nelson said...

Nathan -

If you speak of the revealing of God's Law in nature, I do agree. But if you refer to what constitutes the distinct essence of Christianity, namely the Gospel and the person and work of Christ, then I disagree sharply.

John -

I had a similar experience in an Episcopal church in San Fran. The sermon had more of Christ in his unique and divine office than most sermons I had heard in "evangelical" settings lately.