I am so thankful for the older generation. Their perspective and wisdom is priceless! How I wish that my generation would not throw out their counsel and teaching. I recently heard a message entitled Things Have Changed by Wayne Snyder, a Furlough Replacement Missionary with Baptist World Mission. I was blessed and motivated by his passion as he preached. I asked him to write out his perspective on the rise of liberalism in America. This is a long post but I believe it will be helpful. Furthermore, let it motivate you to stand for Jesus and follow the instruction of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timthty 3:14, “…But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of…”
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke
From the middle of the 1800s and early 1900s theological liberalism spread from Europe to the U.S. Liberalism was the result of the acceptance of reason over revelation. It took supernaturalism from Scripture. Here is a short list of the features of historic Biblical Christianity that were rejected:
1. Creation by the direct act of God, creation ex nihlo, or creation out of nothing.
2. The inspiration of the Scriptures, and with it its inerrancy and authority.
3. The historicity of
- Adam and Eve
- Noah and the Flood
- The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
- The story of Jonah
- The authorship of the Pentateuch by Moses
- The authorship of all of Isaiah by Isaiah
- The authorship of Daniel by Daniel
- All miracles including predictive prophecy
4. The Fall of Man into sin; people did evil only because of their environment
5. The Deity of Jesus Christ
6. The Virgin birth of Jesus Christ
7. The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross
8. The necessity of the new birth for every person
9. The Bodily resurrection of Christ from the Dead.
10. The existence of Hell and the eternal Lake of Fire for all unbelievers
11. The return of Christ
12. The Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit
13. The existence of Satan
Liberalism spread from Germany to England and from both to the United States. When liberalism came to the Baptist Union of England, Spurgeon vigorously opposed it in what came to known as the Downgrade Controversy. The Baptist Union censured Spurgeon voting 2000 against to only 6 for him. He paid a terrible price and left the Baptist Union because of its toleration of liberalism, but he was right. The Baptist Union had no doctrinal statement. Theological liberalism has infected every denomination in the U.S.
The Northern Baptist Convention was founded in 1901, and as far as I know, without a doctrinal statement. This permitted the acceptance of a wide range of beliefs, including the rejection of the tenants of historic Biblical Christianity. In the second decade of the 1900s there was a growing recognition that liberal theology had taken root in the Convention. Between 1910 and 1915, a series of twelve paperback books entitled, The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, containing essays on necessary doctrines of Biblical Christianity, were published. Curtis Laws, editor of the Watchman Examiner is credited with using the word “fundamentalist” to refer to those who held the doctrines of historic Christianity. By 1919 the term “fundamentalist” was used to distinguish Bible believers from liberals. It should be noted that liberals considered themselves Christians. When an attempt was made at the Convention’s meeting in 1922 to adopt the New Hampshire Confession of faith as its doctrinal statement, a liberal, Cornelius Woelfkin, submitted a substitute motion to adopt the New Testament as the Convention’s statement of faith. The motion was fiendishly clever. A vote against it was made to appear as a vote against the New Testament. The problem was that there was no agreement on what the New Testament taught. It was adopted for three reasons. Many believers saw no problem with liberal theology. Some saw the adoption of the proposal as a way to unify the Convention and solve the problem. Others realized that if they were forced to leave the Convention because of their doctrinal differences, they would lose their Convention provided retirement. Kirsopp Lake, a liberal, wrote in 1925 in his book, The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow (p.61-62), “It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the…survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians.” He concluded by saying, “The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church are on the Fundamentalist side.” This is quite an admission.
Neo-orthodoxy, another departure from historical Biblical Christianity, arose out of liberalism. Its deception was cloaked in Bible terms, with non-Biblical definitions. Christ rose from the dead, but not bodily, only spiritually, whatever that means. So a person could sound like a Christian without being a Christian in the historic sense. With such definitions, the bodily resurrection of Christ as an historical event was effectively denied. The Bible was the word of God, but not objectively, only subjectively as Scripture became meaningful to the reader. This approach left the reader of Scripture to decide what was God’s Word was and what was not God’s Word. The same passage could be God’s Word to one person but not to another.
Hermeneutics, the science of Biblical interpretation, also contributed to deviancy from historic Biblical Christianity. Origin (185-232 AD) brought the allegorical method of interpretation into Christianity. Augustine popularized the allegorical method that has been adopted by the Catholic Church, and many protestant. Walvoord (The Millennial Kingdom pp. 39-43) quotes George N. H Peter as listing advocates of premillennialism in the first and second centuries.
The allegorical method stands in contrast to the literal method which considers the tenses of the verbs, the meanings of the words as they were used at the time Scripture was written, and looks for the exact meaning of the figures of speech as the writers of Scripture a wrote while being carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:21-22). The allegorical method of interpretation gave rise to two different views of future events (eschatology), Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. Christians and liberals hold to postmillennialism. The allegorical method of interpretation is used to support theological liberalism, Catholic theology, and parts of Reformed theology. However, Dr. John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, pointed out in his book, (The Millennial Kingdom, p. 60), that a method of interpretation which supports three distinct theologies, cannot be a valid method for interpreting Scripture. The same objection can be made in use of allegorical interpretation to construct different views future events in postmillennialism and Amillennialism. The rejection of dispensational eschatology was the direct result of its rejection of the literal approach to interpreting Scripture.
The reason the allegorical method of interpretation gives such diverse results is that it makes the reader decide what the Author of Scripture says. There is no objective standard by which to determine what Scripture exactly says. An illustration will suffice. Suppose someone writes you a check for $10. Do you have the right to interpret the check was written for $100? The Bible likely has more figures of speech and varieties of literature than any other book ever written, its message must be interpreted literally. There are at least two ways in which the Bible verifies a literal interpretation. First, Jesus supported the historicity of Adam’s and Eve’s creation (Matt. 19:4-5), Noah and the Flood (Matt. 24:37-38), Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:15), Jonah in the fish’s stomach (Matt. 12:40), and Daniel as the author of Daniel (Matt. 24:15). These people and events are among the most denied contents of the Bible. Second, for prophecy to be fulfilled there must be a specific literal fulfillment for the supernatural origin of the prophecy to be seen. When Herod asked the chief priest and scribes where the King of the Jews was to be born, they understood Micah 5:2 literally (Matt. 2:5). Isaiah named the Persian King Cyrus as the one who would order the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple (Isa. 44:28 If this prophecy was given in 700 BC just after Assyria failed to conquer Jerusalem in 701 BC, then its fulfillment is after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, and after the fall of the Babylonian Empire (Dan. 5) in 539 BC. The decree by Cyrus was given a year later. Thus Isaiah announced, by name, the monarch who would order the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple at least 114 years before they were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and at least 162 years before Cyrus made his decree in 538 BC.
In 1942 the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was founded with Harold John Ockenga as its first president. The movement was facilitated by the magazine, Christianity Today, the founding of Fuller Theological Seminary, and the inclusive evangelism of the Billy Graham crusades. In the next few years those associated with the movement came to be known as neo-evangelicals or new evangelicals. Today neo is dropped; they are now evangelicals. At first fundamentalism, and neo- evangelicalism were virtually synonymous and were associated with the NAE, but gradually fundamentalists left as the movement evolved and articulated its distinctive differences from fundamentalism. The March, 1956, edition of Christian Life magazine carried an article entitled, “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Among the differences that neo-evangelicals articulated were:
A friendlier attitude toward science, meaning; we must be able to accommodate the Bible when it speaks about the origins of man to the findings of science, that is, evolution. To counter Origin of the Species published in 1859, and the subsequent claims of science, Christians sought to make the Bible fit science rather than science fit the Bible, thus the gap theory, age-day theory, and theistic evolution were offered to make the Bible conform to Science. God must have made a mistake as He superintended the writing of Scripture! It was not until the rise of men like Whitcomb, Morris, Gish, and Ham beginning in the 1950’s that science was made to fit the Bible.
A willingness to reexamine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, meaning; perhaps spiritual gifts are for today. The Charismatic Movement did not become accepted as mainstream Christianity until Billy Graham invited Oral Roberts to the Berlin Congress on World Evangelism in 1966, 65 years after the Charismatic movement began.
A more tolerant view attitude toward varying views on eschatology, meaning; Amillennialism and postmillennialism are as acceptable as the pretribulation-premillennial view of future events. Thus it is just as good to allegorize Scripture as it is to understand the Bible literally. When I served as a missionary in Cambodia, I found that the evangelicals in Phnom Penh were strongly opposed to Israel’s presence in Palestine, a reflection of Amillennialism.
A shift away from so called extreme dispensationalism, meaning; it is just as good to allegorize Scripture as it is to understand the Bible literally because dispensationalism and premillennialism result when the Bible is interpreted literally. In 1988 evangelicals met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and could not decide if hell was literal or figurative!
An increased emphasis on scholarship, meaning; fundamentalists were not scholars because they received scorn from the secular world. Many early fundamentalist were scholars of the first rank. Robert Dick Wilson was fluent in 45 languages. J. Greshem Machen, a Presbyterian wrote Christianity Verses Liberalism, perhaps the best apology for historic biblical Christianity in the first half of the 20th century. The neo-evangelicals wanted recognition from unbelieving liberals and the secular academic world. Oil and water will never mix and neither will the secular and the inspired Word.
A more definite recognition of social responsibility, meaning; churches should be engaged united efforts to oppose and resolve all social ills such as poverty, racism, abortion, and others. Today much of what is called missions does not involve the preaching the gospel, but rather digging wells to provide clean water, shelters for women in prostitution, orphanages, food for the hungry, and medical care for those who have none. How many schools and hospitals did the Apostle Paul found? Were not social problems rampant when the Lord commanded to preach the gospel to the entire world?
A reopening of the subject of Biblical inspiration, meaning; the inerrancy of Scripture in matters of history, science, and apparent contradictions need to be challenged. Harold Lindsell’s book, Battle for the Bible, exposed Fuller’s Seminary’s rejection of complete inerrancy in 1975. This “reopening” has led to the currently acceptance of the belief that there are no absolutes among many “evangelicals”
A growing willingness of neo-evangelical theologians to converse and dialogue with liberal theologians, meaning; truth is not absolute. How can the virgin birth of Christ be negotiated? How much of a virgin was Mary, 50% or 75%?
The complete break between fundamentalists and evangelicals came after Billy Graham’s New York City crusade in May, 1957, when Graham formally established an inclusivist policy in the sponsorship of the crusade that united evangelicals with liberals, neo-orthodox, and catholic churchman in the sponsorship and active conducting of his crusades. That policy remained Graham’s policy for the remainder of his ministry. By his cooperation with these above groups he has given unbelief and heresy the status as valid expressions of historic Biblical Christianity. This carried with it a depreciation of the necessity of the new birth.
In the book, Decision Points, (Crown Publishers, p. 31, 2010), the younger George W. Bush relates the following comment by Billy Graham when he was invited to the family home in Maine. “The first question was from Dad. He said, ‘Billy, some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven. Mother [my grandmother] here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience. Will she go to heaven?’ Wow, pretty profound question from the old man. We all looked at Billy. In his quiet, strong voice, he replied, ‘George, some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians. It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian.’”
The doctrines of Scripture are absolute. Just as Israel was forbidden to intermarry with the nations around them so Scripture is clear that truth cannot be mixed with deviant doctrine. Historic fundamentalism was first of all a revolt against, disconnection from, and rejection of cooperation with unbelief in ministry according to II Cor. 6:14-7:1. Without an emphasis on doctrine Christian conduct has changed in American evangelicalism and fundamentalism. What Christian would sit for two hours to listen to an expositor of the Scriptures as I did more than 50 years ago. What Christian family uses a week’s vacation to go to a Bible Conference? Where are the Bible Conferences that existed 60 years ago? Why have schools such as Moody Bible Institute and Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary changed their policies to allow moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages? Has the Scriptural command for holiness (I Peter 1:15) been rescinded? I remember when Elvis and the Beatles came on the scene. Their music was universally denounced in Bible preaching churches. Now the rhythms they brought to our culture have found their way into the churches as contemporary Christian music. The gateway into rock, the noise of rebellion, drugs, immorality, idolatry (of bands and performers) and demonism parades as worship in nearly a majority of church. Things have changed, but not for the better. I ask myself, “Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb?”