Re: The Problem of Liberal Theology

From: Terry M. Gray (
Date: Tue May 07 2002 - 12:15:34 EDT

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    I always appreciate the Christocentric and Trinitarian character of
    your posts. This is a bit off-topic, but in light of some questions a
    while back about the definition of an evangelical, I ran across
    something last night that I thought was interesting. It's a statement
    by evangelicals and endorsed by a wide-variety of evangelical
    leaders. Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn't focus on the Doctrine of
    Scripture or origins, but mostly on the Work of Christ and the
    Doctrine of Justification by Faith. Although Rome is not mentioned by
    name, I think it is incompatible with official Roman Catholic dogma
    especially as articulated at Trent. My fuzzy recollection of some of
    this is that it is in response in part to some perceived compromises
    being made by leading evangelicals on the doctrine of justification
    and the relationship between faith and works (along the lines of the
    so-called "new view" of Paul).

    The site is

    I'm wondering if you've seen it and what you think (others as well).

    WRT the sacrament question...again, I appreciate the connection that
    you are making, but in general I regard the sacraments question not
    to be uninteresting or not worth discussing, but rather simply not
    the focus of this group. FWIW, while I'm not a consubstantiationist,
    I do accept a real, spiritual presence and stand against the
    so-called Zwinglian view that I do think is prominent among many
    evanglicals. Don't know if you are familiar with Michael Horton, the
    Alliance of Confessing Evanglicals, and the Whitehorse Inn radio
    broadcaset, but there are Lutherans and Reformed folks willing to
    come together (without necessarily ignoring the differences) to
    stress a Word and Sacrament theology of worship and the church. While
    I'm a lot more tolerant of some contemporary worship practices than
    they are, I am right there with them on the importance of Word and

    > Amen to Michael's remarks. But with regard to
    >science-religion issues,
    >there is not just a problem with liberal theology.
    > I think that one major cause of the problem is a failure to focus on
    >Christ in theology & especially in connection with science. This is
    >true across
    >the spectrum of science-religion discussions, including ASA. By
    >this I do not
    >mean that people do not believe in Christ, accept him as savior &c but simply
    >that their reflection on the faith & its implications, especially
    >with regard to
    >science, does not begin with Christ & often has little to do with Christ.
    > Instead, concentration tends to be on "God" or the Bible. If
    >the former
    >then the discussion is susceptible to the idea that "we all believe
    >in the same
    >God" & anything peculiar to Christian belief becomes of secondary importance.
    >This kind of thing is very popular - indeed, seems to be favored -
    >in Templeton
    >Foundation sponsored science-religion activities. ("Spirituality" is another
    >popular ersatz Christianity.)
    > If the Bible is the focus of attention then interminable
    >debates take
    >place about the historicity of Genesis, concordism, &c & again the distinctive
    >features of Christianity do not play a major role. Even when christological
    >considerations are invoked, it is usually to validate certain ideas about the
    >Bible - Jesus "taught" that Genesis was historical &c.
    > So most religion-science discussions, including those on this list,
    >could go on with little modification if everything relating to distinctively
    >Christian faith were removed. They are theistic (whether
    >traditional, process,
    >panen, pan, or whatever) but not trinitarian.
    > How does a christological focus make any difference in practice? To
    >take just one example, in his recent debate with Blake Nelson, Glenn Morton
    >referred to the "necessity" of God in connection with belief in a temporal
    >origin of the universe (a belief which, BTW, I am strongly inclined to favor).
    >In what sense is God "necessary"? If the character of God is most fully
    >revealed in the one who "did not think equality with God a thing to
    >be grasped,
    >but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" then one can
    >argue that that
    >God as the creator should not be understood to be "necessary". As Bonhoeffer
    >puts it, God "lets himself be pushed out of the world onto a cross".
    >One of the
    >implications of this is that the world can be understood "though God were not
    >given" - i.e., the methodological naturalism which is crucial for science.
    >Thus, e.g., the true God is not to be understood as one who "left his
    >fingerprints all over the evidence".
    > Qualifications:
    > 1) I certainly do not think that I have _proven_ the claims
    >that I make
    >in the last paragraph. At this point I'm simply trying to raise the issue of
    >christological focus as fundamental. For more details on the
    >specific argument
    >see my article in the March 2001 PSCF.
    > 2) I am not trying to pick on Glenn here. The belief of
    >philosophical theism that God is "necessary" is very common.
    > 3) To say that God should not be considered as "necessary" does not
    >mean that God is simply "unnecessary" - a careful discussion of the sense in
    >which one is speaking of "necessity" is important. Juengel makes the case
    >(connecting his argument profoundly with a theology of the cross) that God
    >should be considered "more than necessary".
    > 4) To forestall the usual question, yes, I believe in the
    >resurrection. But if it isn't the resurrection of the crucified then
    >it doesn't
    >mean squat.
    >George L. Murphy
    >"The Science-Theology Interface"
    >Michael Roberts wrote:
    >> Can I put in a change of direction?
    >> Blake Nelson wrote;
    >> In fact, I think the depradations of
    >> > someone like Spong are silly, because Spong has
    >> > adopted a pastiche of modern scientific methodology to
    >> > scripture which is unwarranted and only barely misses
    >> > adopting a completely materialist metaphysic. IMHO,
    >> > those folks, generally, do as much harm to
    >> > Christianity as the YEC crowd.
    >> As I am in a broad church which covers the whole range of theological
    >> opinion - The Church of England (I was in the Church of Wales til last
    >> August and was one of the ultra-conservatives!) - I see and feel
    >>the damage
    >> done by extreme liberals.
    >> Blake cited dear old Bish Spong, who actually has not 'adopted a
    >>pastiche of
    >> modern scientific methodology ' but rather is stuck in an old
    >>mind set which
    >> is dependant on the conflict thesis of science and religion, in which any
    >> conservative theolgy has to be rejected as it is assumed that conservative
    >> means literal. We have several similar sorts in Britain, There is Bish
    >> Rcihard Holloway who delights in taking a radical position. In his 60s as
    >> the Presisding Bishop of Scotland he took drugs to see what it
    >>was like. His
    >> books sell a bomb especially among anglican clergy. I reckon every time he
    >> opens his mouth scores leave the church either to agnosticism or
    >> fundamentalism (one may as well be hung for a sheep than a loaf of bread)
    >> Then there is Don Cupitt - a Cambridge theolgian who started the Sea of
    >> Faith Movenment for people who dont believe in God but cling to
    >> Christianity. He argues for a non-realist view of God. His book
    >>"The Sea of
    >> Faith" is classic conflict thesis of science and religion and he uses the
    >> rise of science to "prove" his non-realist view of God. However
    >>he gets his
    >> history of science absolutely and utterly wrong - completley
    >> William Smith according to Torrens the Briish auhtority of Smith, parodies
    >> Hugh Miller and gets Darwin wrong.
    >> Lastly Paul Badham a Welsh theologian wrote a book 'The Challenge of
    >> Modernist Theollgy' and claimed that in 1890 there had to be modernism to
    >> provide an intellectually viable restatemnet of Christianity which accepts
    >> science to counteract the 6 day literlaism of orthodox Prots. His
    >>histroy is
    >> plain woeful to be charitable yet it has had glowing reviews except for my
    >> hatchet job in the Expository Times in 2000.
    > >
    >> And dont forget some science and religion exponents like Arthur
    >>Peacocke who
    >> though brilliant in his attack on reductionism has a closed universe which
    >> denies any miraculous. We also see in it Keith Ward who is very
    >> and like so many liberals ditches the whole uniqueness of Christ. One can
    >> also note that the atonement went a long time ago, there is no empty tomb
    >> and now the divinity of Christ is under question. Since Sept 11
    >>some feel we
    >> must be inclusive to other faiths especially islam and not try
    >>to uphold or
    >> mention the unique claims of Christ.
    >> All this is very confusing to the average Christian and tends to unsettle
    >> their faith. Blake is absolutely right to say they do as much harm to
    >> Christianity as YEC.
    >> What we are being offered by such is a general transendence in contrast to
    >> the reductionism of Dawkins et al but none of it will put fire in
    >>our hearts
    >> and is simply a featherbed to catch a falling Christian (an
    >>expression used
    >> by grandad Erasmus Darwin to describe Unitarianism)0
    >> Now there are many issues raised by liberal theology but ones
    >>which affects
    >> us on the ASA list is the portrayal of Trad orthodoxy as literalism, the
    >> conflict thesis of science and Christianity, the issue of
    >>miracles or rather
    >> the involvemnt of God in his Creation, and the necessity of Creation ex
    >> nihilo (Yes Burgy I have read loads on the subject)
    >> At the risk of offending some or rather putting a stone to stumble on, all
    >> these issues are related,
    >> Frankly in contrast to wooly liberalism Young earth
    >>fundamentalism does have
    >> its attractions!

    Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
    Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
    Fort Collins, Colorado  80523
    phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801

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