The New York Times has an interesting piece today entitled, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" After reading it, I came away with more questions than answers. The main one being, should liberal Christianity be saved?
The author, Ross Douthat, did a reasonable job pointing out the decline of the liberal denominations. All of them are shrinking rapidly. When Spong wrote his book, "Why Christianity Must Change or Die," it was haled by both secular and religious liberals as the guide that would take Christianity into the 21st Century. Boy, were they wrong.
In truth, liberal Christianity is not Christianity at all. If the basic doctrines are thrown out, sin is forgotten (and even embraced), and the Gospel ignored, then there's nothing left. You can't save what isn't real. It's already dead spiritually.
Before I continue, let me address something. My position on Biblical unity is well known. I believe that we all need to be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. However, I will never advocate compromise the Gospel for the sake of alleged unity. The call Jesus made was for the genuine Body to be united. If someone is not in Christ, which includes those who deny the Gospel yet call themselves Christians, then we cannot be one with them. In those cases, our mission is to reach out with the Truth of the Word to change their minds and hearts. Evangelism, not unity, is the need here. It is very difficult to reach them, but it's still the commission we're all called to. Please not this does not apply to some doctrinal disagreements including Calvin vs Wesley, Charismatic vs Non-Charismatic, musical preferences, and other comparatively minor issues we argue about.
That said, we can move on now. Douthat accurately pointed out that there is almost no difference between secular and religious liberalism. If there's no difference, why not sleep in on a Sunday and skip the whole thing? That's exactly what's happening. No matter what so-called progressive changes they try, liberal denominations are dying.
Even in the inner-city, where Liberation Theology and its racist sister, Black Liberation Theology, are more common, attendance is down. The use of Marxism with a thin veneer of the Bible over the top has an appeal to people who have been made to feel the victim who still remember a little of their church upbringing. However, like any form of godliness that lacks its power, it too is in decline. Fiery radicals like Jeremiah Wright can still draw a crowd but overall, the pews are emptier and emptier.
I can't entirely disagree with the assessment of most megachurches in the article. Here's the excerpt:
Traditional believers, both Protestant and Catholic, have not
necessarily thrived in this environment. The most successful Christian
bodies have often been politically conservative but theologically
shallow, preaching a gospel of health and wealth rather than the full
New Testament message.
I'm not a fan of the health and wealth, feel good movement. I believe in the Gospel of Grace in its fullest. The Word is encouraging, convicting, uplifting, and challenging all at the same time. To only preach a part of it is to also deny the fullness of who Jesus is.
He does deviate from the mark about the impact of liberal Christianity. Douthat stresses their call to social justice and reform as a positive. The modern, Marxist version of social justice is not a positive in any way, shape, or form. He is correct about one thing, however. He accurately points out the fact that the Christians who started the Civil Rights Movement were "more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep
grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and
worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a
personal transcendent God ... the divinity of Christ, the need of
personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”
He is however wrong when he believes that the faith of those on the political right does not extend to caring for the poor. Giving figures for decades have shown just the opposite. Speaking as someone who has been involved in ministry to the poor for over fifteen years, I've seen the difference first hand. The churches that support these ministries the most are almost always the most conservative doctrinally and politically. They can be mainstream, Charismatic, Calvinist, or Wesleyan. The commonality between them is that they are all dedicated to the Word, prayer, and to Christ. That's the real unity. That's the real truth.
Should Liberal Christianity be Saved? No. Let those who discard the Cross of Christ and the fullness of the Word pass into the mists of history like so many other failed false religions.