Why I am not Theologically Liberal

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Sometimes “you can’t win for losing.” Fundamentalist Christians would consider me a liberal for not being a strict inerrantist on scripture–yet I have far more in common with a Fundamentalist Protestant than a theologically liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic. Definitions are important–a theological liberal will not be an inerranist on scripture, but that is not what makes him a theological liberal. Theological liberalism is an attempt to update Christianity for the contemporary period. Such updating may include substantial changes in Christian theological teaching, such as the denial of the full divinity of Christ, His bodily resurrection, His virgin birth as well as a denial of any subjective afterlife for human beings. Liberals may also accept substantial revisions to the doctrine of God such as, for example, denying that God knows the future and believing that God grows along with the universe. Some deny that God can utterly destroy evil. On moral issues, theological liberals tend to accept the rightness of abortion, premarital sex, homosexual practice, and trangenderism. All the above beliefs would be, to any traditional Christian, heretical. While liberals’ acceptance of social democratic economic liberalism is not heretical, one can argue that it is wrongheaded. In some cases, economic Marxists deny that human beings are fallen creatures, and such a belief is heretical.

Theological liberalism has its roots in the eighteenth century Enlightenment. During the age of reason some philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, held that religion should be bound “within the limits of reason alone.” The French were divided between deists such as Voltaire, who believed in a God that created the universe and let it run like a clock; there is little or no divine providence in such a doctrine. Later, in the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to make biology like Newtonian physics–free of any need for a deity. In addition, modern Biblical study methods revealed that Moses did not write the first five books of the Old Testament, and the Biblical books in general are neither historically or scientifically without error. If Christians had read the church fathers such as Augustine, they would have known that earlier Christians recognized the Bible was not a science book. Instead, they hunkered down and accepted a modern, literalist interpretation of the Bible, making it something it was never intended to be. Theological liberals were correct in opposing the Fundamentalists’ strict views on inerrancy.

Theological liberals meant well. Friedrich Schliermacher, the “father of liberal Protestantism,” wanted Christianity’s “cultured despisers” to be open to a revised Christian faith that placed an emphasis on a “feeling of absolute dependence” rather than on specific dogmatic claims. Social Gospel liberals emphasized helping the poor and often supported a social democratic economic system, but some of them rejected the transcendent claims of Christianity about Christ. More recently, theological liberals have tended to become deeply politicized and influenced (though they may be unaware of the source) by the Cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School (Herbert Marcuse and his de facto disciples such as Saul Alinsky). They rejected the traditional moral teachings of Christianity on sexual ethics, holding that they are remnants of an earlier, outdated social and moral system. Their emphasis is on “social justice,” where “social justice” is defined in terms of the social democratic Left. Many of these do not accept the fundamental teachings of traditional Christianity about God and Christ I mentioned above.

I cannot accept theological liberalism. Without its traditional doctrines of God as Trinity, Christ as God incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary, raised from the dead, and the general resurrection of all people and restoration of the universe at the end of time, Christianity collapses into a watered down social gospel with little theological content. While Process Theologians try to insert more theological content, their concept of God is too limited to support the traditional doctrines of Christianity. St. Paul said if there is no resurrection, “we are of all men most miserable” (in I Corinthians 15). Theological liberals who deny the resurrection except in some vague “metaphorical sense” are indeed, “most miserable” even if they deny such.

The theologian most admired by liberal theologians is Paul Tillich, according to polls of theology professors. Yet Tillich, which interesting, was a mix of Schelling’s philosophy with a watered down version of Christianity. His concepts of religion as ultimate concern and his method of correlation, in which philosophy provides the questions and faith the answers, while not wholly original, are helpful. But overall he was a heretical thinker wedded to some kind of belief in a vague “transcendent.” It is sad that his experiences in World War I destroyed his traditional view of God.

Catholic liberal theology is pretty much a variation on liberal Protestantism with some Catholic language added.

Recently, there have been some new theological liberals who accept the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection from the dead–Jurgen Moltmann and Ted Peters, for example. However, they do not necessarily accept the moral views of traditional Christianity–Peters does not, for example. They are moving in the right direction, however.

It is clear that Jesus Christ made divine claims, even in the Synoptic Gospels, and such claims are central to Christianity, as the Church Fathers also recognized. I cannot call myself a Christian without believing this doctrine. The church’s teachings on sexuality are essential to the integrity of marriage and the bearing of children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The rules are there because they support the human good. To deny these teachings is not only to deny the natural law; it is to deny Christ.

I am grateful for the vibrant Evangelical movements in some of the liberal mainline Protestant churches. I am grateful for Roman Catholic traditionalists (though the legalism of some of them is unfortunate). I am grateful for my own church, the Anglican Catholic Church, which affirms the traditional doctrines and moral teachings of the Christian faith without lapsing into Fundamentalism on scripture (a few priests here and there may be that way, but the bishops are not). Hopefully we can live the faith better–faith is not merely an intellectual exercise–Satan is theologically orthodox–but it is a way of life, loving God and loving neighbor. Both doctrine and practice, truth and love, are essential to the teachings of Christ and His Church.

 

 

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The Midwest Region Leadership of the Society of Christian Philosophers, Richard Swinburne, and Homosexuality

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Distinguished Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne spoke at the Midwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Christian philosophers and defended the view that homosexual acts were objectively disordered and morally wrong. This has been the traditional Christian position from the beginning, until pseudo-sophisticated contemporary “Christians” decided to oppose traditional Christian morality. For Swinburne’s sin against “diversity” and political correctness, Michael Rea, president of the Midwest Region of the SCP, on his Facebook page, sharply criticized Swinburne, stating that Swinburne’s views “are not that of the SCP” and that he (Rea) is committed to “diversity” and “inclusion.” Disappointingly, the Evangelical philosopher Tom Morris and the Thomist, Eleonore Stump, praised Rea’s post. The latter is a particular disappointment, for I have long admired her treatment of St. Thomas, and in the past she was wholly orthodox (with a small “o”) in her beliefs. I hope I am misunderstanding her point.

Rea’s statement that Swinburne’s views do not reflect those of the SCP is misleading–Christina van Dyke argued in a response to Rea’s post that the point was that the SCP does not have official positions on issues.  Van Dyke’s statement is disingenuous, since the tone of Professor Rea’s message was clearly negative toward Professor Swinburne’s positions, and the sense was that any member of the SCP should agree with Rea’s commitment to “inclusion” and “diversity.”

It is a shame that Christian philosophers have decided to exclude people because of their positions on issues, clearly a form of exclusion and a denial of diversity. I hope that orthodox Christians are not forced to form their own separate organization for the protection of their academic freedom, but they may be driven to that point.

So here is my own heresy against political correctness on the issue of homosexual practice: Homosexual orientation itself is not sinful, but is contrary to nature (objectively disordered). However, acting on homosexual desires is morally wrong and a sin against God. It is not the worst of sins; people who hate homosexuals are sinning far worse than homosexuals who act on their feelings. But bad behavior by Christians who oppose homosexual behavior does not make homosexual practice right. That has been the historic teaching of the church, and despite Pope Francis’ ambiguous statements, it is still the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches and a number of conservative Protestant denominations. I will never apologize for this position.

 

Reason, Emotion, Rationalization, and Forsaking Christian Faith

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After three years in seminary, in 1986, I had temporarily moved from faith in God to agnosticism. At the time, I thought that decision was purely intellectual, based on the reasonable challenges to traditional Christian faith I had found in my readings in seminary. When I later returned to orthodox Christian faith I reflected further on my temporary loss of faith and realized that it was not due to pure reasoning inside “the view from nowhere,” but that I was rationalizing some emotional struggles I was having at the time. There is no need to spill personal details other than to say that often, when a male seminary student loses his faith, the first question someone should ask is, “Who is she?”

First of all, let me make clear that this is not an argument against unbelief and for Christian faith. It only reflects some observations I have made over the years in response to my own personal struggles as well as knowing a number of people who have lost their Christian faith.

Whether the emotional struggle be a relationship gone sour between a man and woman, a loved one dying of cancer or in a horrific car accident, or emotional struggles stemming from a bad childhood, it is easy to idolize these contingent circumstances into a god that takes away any room for the “very God of very God.” Some believe they have the right not to suffer, that if God exists, He has given us a raw deal, that the God of Christianity is, as Bertrand Russell put it, “a fiend.” That reaction may be understandable in someone who has lost a loved one to a slow, painful death from cancer or is dealing with a history of childhood sexual abuse. We all know that suffering a romantic disappointment can be so painful that it trumps all reason and leads one to question the order of the world, including questioning God. As a temporary reaction to pain and suffering, doubting one’s faith is something human beings–and, I think, God–understands. It is an honest reaction to circumstances that seem overwhelming in one’s life.

Some people, however, in the aforementioned circumstances lose their Christian faith entirely. Others give up their faith due to pride, an arrogance that refuses to bow down to any transcendent being. Such individuals may not become atheists but may prefer a more immanent deity such as the universe, that is not threatening to their egos. That also can be an honest, albeit wicked, reason for throwing away one’s Christian faith.

What is not honest is rejecting faith for reasons that are fundamentally emotional and then rationalizing in such a way to claim that reason is what resulted in the loss of faith. This is the case, I would guess, in the vast majority of cases in which human beings have forsaken their Christian faith. It is a form of self-deception, of lying to oneself, and the person who does this is morally culpable for such self-deception.

Now an opponent could argue that the argument can be turned on its head and applied to Christian believers–that they accept faith out of emotional reasons. That probably is true–human beings are not Vulcans from Star Trek, and emotions are part of the way humans interpret the values and dangers of things and events in the world. It would be dishonest for a Christian who believes out of primarily emotional reasons to falsely claim that intellectual reasons are why he believes. I can only speak for myself and my own experience with people, but this seems much rarer than the nonbeliever’s rationalization of a decision that is fundamentally emotional.

I agree with Augustine that the primal sin is pride, and I have found most intellectuals that have lost their Christian faith to be filled with the pride that Satan had when he told God, in Milton’s story, Non serviam–“I will not serve. Intellectuals are especially prone to fall into this trap, and often the arrogance masks a deep emotional pain that led to the loss of faith in the first place. The vehemence and defensiveness of some nonbelievers who were formerly Christians reveals a bitterness toward their former faith and often toward God–and it also masks insecurity. The nonbeliever is forced to ask himself, if he is honest, “What if I am wrong?” Being wrong would bring back the God whom the unbeliever either considers to be an evil fiend or a judge setting limits on his behavior–or someone to serve, which the unbeliever will not do.

Christian believers should avoid pride as well–knowing my own history, when I see someone who has lost his faith, I pray for the person, but I also say, “But for the grace of God were I.” Human beings are fallen, and although as a Thomist I believe that human reason was not destroyed by human sin, it can be easily distorted and misused. It can be use to cover up what is really going on inside oneself. It can be used to rationalize one’s way out of the limits of Christian morality, out of the specific claims of Christianity, and out of belief in the Trinitarian God. I made that mistake once, and all Christians should be willing to realize with me that “But for the grace of God were I.”

A Critique of the “Emerging Church” Movement

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The term “emerging church” identifies a loose collection of individuals from both Evangelical and Liberal Christians traditions who want to go beyond current ideological divisions between the two groups. They tend to be “postmodern” (or “ultramodern,” as I prefer to say), and are often willing to place all Christian doctrines as contingent and changeable given sufficient dialogue between Christians and between Christians, adherents of other religions, and agnostics/atheists. In a way they are radically individualistic, holding the Kierkegaardian view that people must find their own path to Christian faith. However, many also focus on small groups and house churches in order to build community. They believe that worship styles must adapt to the current chaotic postmodern world. Many also tend toward socialism or social democratic liberalism, which they include under “social justice,” though many emerging church adherents participate in projects to better their communities. They emphasize spirituality and spiritual formation, using an eclectic approach with resources from different Christian (and sometimes non-Christian) traditions.

Although my focus will be on critiquing the movement, I first will focus on positives. A major strength of the emerging church movement is its emphasis on spiritual formation. In the past, churches have de facto ignored spiritual development, and seminary training was intellectualistic with little room for developing spirituality. Although the New Testament, particularly the Pauline letters, emphasize all of a Christian’s life as part of spirituality, surely there is room for prayer, meditation, and other forms that help draw a person closer to God in his whole being, not just in his head. Good spiritual formation should help in moral development, including the habituation in good actions that leads to moral virtue.

Another positive is the works of mercy performed in communities by Christians in the emerging church. They put their labor where their mouth is, and work at homeless shelters, at educational programs for disadvantaged youth, and for programs trying to transform crime-ridden communities into communities of virtue.

There are a number of theological difficulties, however, with the emerging church movement. First, the theology is amorphous, varying widely fro individual to individual. There may be a loose unity of thought, but even then there lacks a commitment to the finality of any dogmas the church has pronounced. Influenced by the epistemological relativism of postmodern thought, these Christians flounder about as they seek their own personal theologies. How far a person drifts from traditional orthodox Christianity is left up to the individual. There is no firm theological ground on which a person can stand. What if someone, in his personal journey, denies the bodily resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth? What if someone challenges traditional sexual ethics on marriage, which has already been tried by some emerging church members, including scholars who have influence on young people? If such conclusions are part of one’s “personal jouney,” do they apply to others? If so, this is inconsistent; if a person denies consistency as an epistemological norm, there is no room for further discussion. The Christian who accepts the bodily resurrection of Christ, is on the postmodernist account of knowledge and belief, no better off than the person who denies it. There is no metanarrative, no “Truth” with a capital “T,” The result is theological chaos, and William Butler Yeats cry, “the cenre cannot hold” becomes reality. Even spiritual formation, rather than using approaches in one tradition that can only be adequately understood within that tradition, takes A from the Eastern Orthodox, B from the Roman Catholics, C from the Baptists, and so forth, to some up with suggestions for members to find their individual methods of spiritual formation. The loosening of tradition to the point that it has no meaning can only lead to significant numbers of Christians leaving the faith and turning to Buddhism, Hinduism, or some other non-Christian religion. Others may turn to Humanism. What could be wrong with that on the emerging church’s conception of truth?

Of least importance, but deserving to be mentioned, is the political naivety of the emerging church movement. It assumes that the best way to gain “social justice” is by a socialistic or left-wing social-democratic system of government and economics. “Social justice” is often considered to be synonymous with “socialism.” This view ignores other alternatives to the greedy corporatism dominating America – examples include redistributionism what encourages more local ownership of  property or agrarianism. Usually the best efforts to aid communities are small scale, within an individual community, where those who help are the residents or know the residents well. The Roman Catholic principle of subsidiarity surely applies here.

Overall, I believe the emerging church movement is more of a negative rather than a positive for Christianity. A creative recovery of tradition is a better alternative to the individualistic theological chaos of the emerging church movement.

Which is the “Christian Nation” Now?

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() - Emblems of belief available for placement...

() – Emblems of belief available for placement on USVA headstones and markers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the great ironies of recent history is that Russia, the quintessential atheistic society when it was the largest part of the Soviet Union, is returning to Eastern Orthodoxy. While much of its population retains its atheism, the government of Vladamir Putin strongly supports the Orthodox Church and has increasingly supported a traditionally Christian society. Like the African churches (outside of South Africa), the Russian Orthodox Church is theologically and morally conservative, much more so than mainline American churches.

Although the United States was originally more deist and agnostic than religious, after the Second Great Awakening in the late 1700s it, in effect, became a Protestant Christian nation. There was a general understanding held by the vast majority of Americans, including Roman Catholics and Jews, that a fairly conservative traditional morality was to be followed. This morality included opposition to abortion (abortion, over time, was made illegal in most states during the nineteenth century), opposition to premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual activity, and support of a traditional conception of male and female roles in the family. Going to church (or synagogue) was considered a commendable thing to do. Prayer and Bible lessons took place in both private–and public–schools. Although many people violated the common morality, even the violators, for the most part, believed they were committing morally wrong acts. Church attendance remained high. The last religious revival in the United States continued through 1965.

There were precursors to the destruction of the Protestant consensus before the 1960s, but it was after the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, that social change rapidly occurred. The intellectual classes, already quite liberal, did not have the intellectual nor the cultural resources to halt the tide of radical activism. David Horowitz, who participated in much of the activism, was a red diaper baby, a crusading Communist, and he points out that despite the claims of those reacting against the late Senator McCarthy, the radicals behind the 1960s revolution were openly Communist. As such, they were atheists who also opposed the Protestant consensus that included a common morality. The advent of artificial contraception was used as an excuse to defend “free love,” a movement that began as early as the Kennedy years. The late 1960s saw the apex of the debate over the morality of abortion that led to the January 1973 “Roe v. Wade” Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. With marriage effectively separated for childbirth combined with easy divorce (which had been a staple of some states since the late nineteenth century), marriage was seen as a way for someone to become happy rather than as a sacrament and a permanent commitment. Once marriage became separated from the right to have sexual intercourse, it became more and more a civil arrangement–and it was a small step to support same-sex marriage. Given that climate, one wonders how long it will take before American society supports incestuous marriage or pedophilic marriage. Once the foundations of a social order are destroyed, the house quickly follows.

Many of the Christian Churches, especially the mainline Protestant denominations, have more or less yielded completely to the new social norms. The Evangelicals, tied up for years in gimmicks rather than in Biblical teaching, development of Christian character, and the beauty of traditional worship, are rapidly given ground on traditional moral positions regarding sexual ethics. American Roman Catholics remain deeply divided after radical priests and bishops fundamentally changed many churches during the late 1960s and 1970s. The Fundamentalists remain faithful to traditional theology and morals, but too often focus on minutia rather than on the cultural war that they have, in effect, already lost. Stating traditional Christian positions, already a crime in the UK and in much of Western Europe, is becoming socially unacceptable in many American circles. Eventually, stating traditional positions on sexual morality or defending the exclusive nature of Christian claims will become hate crimes in the United States if current trends continue.

The United States is no longer a Christian nation. To claim that is is denies the obvious transvaluation of values that has taken place during the last 50 years. Russia is the last major superpower that can claim, at least at the level of government policy, to be a Christian nation. If the common people of Russian embrace the Orthodox faith again, it will be Russia that will be a shining light to the world, with the United States a decadent shell of its former self.

The Supreme Court Abuses Power Yet Again

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English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...

English: The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2009. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin G. Scalia, and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I can understand why the Supreme Court would invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act (marriage has been traditionally a state, rather than a federal, matter), I do not understand its voiding of California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. That act was passed by the majority of the people of the state of California–yet the majority of the Supreme Court (with Justice Kennedy getting up on the left side of bed this time) once again imposed its radical view of morality onto the American people.This ruling is a clear violation of state’s rights (if the term has any meaning left after being gutted by the federal courts). With the 14th Amendment imposing de facto slavery on the states to federal decrees, any other state that tries to ban same sex marriage will probably not be able to do so without its law being overturned by dictatorial decree. Any attempt to defy federal law via nullification will result in a stiff monetary–or worse–penalty by the overarching federal government onto the states. The United States is, in effect, a dictatorship in which the majority of people have been overwhelmed by elitist academics, Hollywood radicals, and their supporters in government. The federal government has the long arm of power enforced by tax policy, by federal law enforcement agencies, and by perhaps one of the greatest threats to American freedom, a large standing army.

The Supreme Court ruling affirmed a lower court ruling that described moral views on marriage as private matters not to be imposed on all people. To call marriage, a fundamental institution of all human societies, a private matter and not a matter of public policy is absurd. The radical individualism ensconced in the Enlightenment has finally come home to roost.

Traditionalists of all religions and ideologies who oppose this ruling may find themselves subject to persecution in the future. In academia, such persecution is already in place in some colleges, universities, and in the public school system. The radicals who, since 1969, have been pushing a homosexual lifestyle down the American people’s throats (pun intended), have won politically. They should focus on changing the culture, and if persecuted, pray and live virtuous lives, as the ancient Christians in the Roman Empire attempted to do. At least Christians know that evil–whether it be the evil of federal abuse of power or of radicals finishing off the destruction of traditional marriage that had already begun with easing divorce laws in the nineteenth century–will not finally triumph over good.

In a fallen world, even the best of intentions for good government go wrong over time. The United States has outspent its time as a republic, and with the virtue of people falling and the family failing, the end of the nation as those of my age has known it is only a matter of time (and a short time, I believe). May God strengthen those who have not bowed their knees to Baal.

On the Pope’s Resignation

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Pope Benedictus XVI

Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Roman Catholic Church must look to the future for a long-term pope. It was good that after the papacy of John Paul II that the church chose to maintain stability with Joseph Ratzinger. Like his predecessor, Ratzinger is an excellent scholar, and I hope that he has some time during his last years to write more.

There is always talk in the West about the Roman Catholic Church appointing a more liberal Pope. This almost certainly will not take place. Roman Catholics in Western Europe and in the United States forget that they are not the only Roman Catholics on earth. Their ignoring other Roman Catholics in the world betrays the ethnocentrism of Western elitists. The church is growing fastest in South America and in Africa, where the bishops are more theologically and morally conservative than many American and European bishops. With more cardinals coming from those regions, the possibility of an African or South American pope is real. While I am not a Roman Catholic, I believe another conservative pope would help the church continue to root out heretical bishops in the U.S. and in Europe, and perhaps make sure that Roman Catholic institutions such as the University of Notre Dame are not openly opposing the teachings of the church. The damage done by the 1960s and 1970s to the Roman Catholic Church in the West was partially reversed by John Paul and by Benedict. Much more needs to be done. Africans and South American bishops in both the Anglican and Roman communions often think of themselves as missionaries to a secular, rebellious Western society. The Roman Catholic Church in Europe and in the United States needs missionaries, and a pope from South America or Africa who does not compromise on matters of faith and morals would be a good start.

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