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New Liberalism and the Southern Baptist Convention: Fruits and Roots

This post is the fifth in a series addressing New Liberalism and the Southern Baptist Convention. “New Liberalism” is a catch-all term for what some see as a theological threat similar to the liberalism of the previous century. This series does not assume that New Liberalism is in the SBC, but is intended to more clearly delineate the concept of New Liberalism in relation to the SBC.

Psychology and sociology most often function as all-encompassing, transcendent, ideological approaches to understanding the world, operating upon assumptions decidedly opposed to God. One sees this as much in Jordan Peterson as one sees it in Critical Theory. The conclusions may be different from one another, but their foundations are the same. Scripture appears in both, but not as Scripture appears in conservative Christian theology. The difference between secular psychological or sociological approaches to Scripture and conservative Christian theology is not the use of Scripture and religious language, or lack thereof, but the way in which Scripture and religious language are used as either building upon a secular theory or as bedrock for an explicitly Christian theology. We are not saying that those promoting the former set of ideas are not Christian. We are saying that what they promote is not Christian. And we are concerned about which will be preached from our pulpits.

Anyone seeking to thrust secular psychological and sociological categories upon every facet of the Southern Baptist Convention is not so foolish as to throw out Scripture or commonly accepted religious language in the meantime. Rather, New Liberalism insists upon incremental criticism of those institutions supposedly built upon biblical foundations through calling into question their history of hermeneutics, using otherwise biblically-based terms with very different meanings from the ones they once had, in order to do so. Entire institutions, traditions, and histories are thus effectively cast away with an eye to their immorality. Through this sense of justified chronological snobbery, we look back on our theologically conservative predecessors with no small amount of disdain. Everything we have assumed or inferred which correlates to past traditions must be subjected to such critique. Every moral failing is cited as warrant for throwing the whole anti-progressive project into question, and it seems increasingly apparent that those moral failings abound.

Speaking in terms of political philosophy, the new left is illiberal for this very reason. Classical liberalism in the political realm is thought to be inherently racist. But then so is white evangelical theology. In fact, evangelical theology is thought to be so thoroughly white supremacist that this wicked ideology taints everything with which evangelicalism comes into contact. The same is certainly true of Reformation theology and the theology of the Conservative Resurgence. New Liberalism raises suspicion that the real issue with the CR is not so much its sorry fruits in terms of racism and misogyny and abuse, but its very roots. New Liberalism takes a Biblicist approach of rejecting the aforementioned roots and getting back to the Bible.

Thus the past ten years or so have proffered an overemphasis on the pragmatic approaches of ecumenism, theological triage, and apologetics by accommodation. The drumbeat is one of retreat to the supposed essence of Christianity. But those who propagate such a move miss that the ‘inside’ of Christianity is not safe from suffering the same fate as the supposed non-essential, ecclesial tenets of the Christian faith.

Ecumenism, theological triage, and apologetics by accommodation are all means, not of contending for the faith, but of conceding those tenets we believe are less important than others. These three tools are merely tools of concession, and concession cannot conquer an enemy. One or the other ‘side’ in any theological conflict will ‘win.’ To say that a particular theological view is perfectly acceptable for the sake of unity regarding some supposedly greater social cause, or because it is merely a ‘secondary’ matter, or because we must compromise with cultural change, is to accept that view as a Christian view, consistent with the creeds and confessions, and consistent with the essence of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Yet we cannot sever the muscle and fat of Christianity from its bones and expect it to stand. We cannot simply give up on what we started out to defend and think we have progressed in our proclamation of Christ. What we must do instead is push the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought in every realm, taking every thought – not just the catholic ones, not just the primary ones, and not just the culturally acceptable ones, but every thought – captive to the obedience of Christ.

What is the alternative here? The alternative is not recognizing God in all our thoughts. Giving way to New Liberalism is not only not Christian, it is not scientific, psychologically or sociologically speaking, because psychology and sociology can only find their truth and goodness and beauty in meaning and usefulness in relation to God within a Christian understanding of the world, and not in relation to something else. And so we do not seek to merely criticize or critique the apparent opposition, but to show that the answers we all seek are still found primarily within a traditional understanding of Christianity and its institutions, not outside of them.

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