What is the gospel?
In this section Brian reveals how liberalism grows in orthodox churches. He says that at the beginning of their movement, he and his friends were “peace-loving people” who didn’t “want to needlessly upset anyone,” so they thought, ‘Maybe this new understanding can simply be added to what we already have, gradually, gently, so people won’t even notice…Maybe we can simply add this kingdom-of-God stuff as fine print on the bottom of our existing theological contracts…without upsetting anyone.”
Brian writes that “Many are still working with this hope, and I wish them luck”—which should be a wake-up call to us all. Brian says that for his part he can no longer pretend, for “the cat is out of the bag” and it’s time to be honest about his new Christianity and admit that it can’t be crammed into the traditional way the church has believed in God.
Brian’s description here reminds me of Karl Barth’s description of natural theology, which Barth equated with liberalism. Barth complains that natural theology is never satisfied until it gains a monopoly. He illustrates this with the story of Jezebel who selfishly stole Naboth’s vineyard. “In her, natural theology, which is usually so mild and easygoing and tolerant, unsheathes its claws and becomes intolerant and militant and vicious. Jezebel has seen that her Baal can never be a guest but must always be lord, that if we give him a finger we cannot deny him the hand, and then the arm, and then the whole self” (Church Dogmatics, IV/1, 455).
Here’s the lesson: the easiest time to stop liberal theology is before it flowers and gains a following. If we make room for liberal questions it won’t be long before we’ll be asked to tolerate liberal answers. The little bit of liberalism that we tolerate today will eventually grow to become the dominant view. At least that’s the plan, according to Brian. We’ve been warned.
Postscript: some have asked why my reviews of A New Kind of Christianity have been critical. Isn’t there something positive to say about it? That’s a bit like asking, “Otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” or “C’mon Paul, the Judaizers got something right, didn’t they?” (If you want to see negative, read Galatians 1, 1 Timothy 1, or anything in Jude).
Brian does rightly remind us to love each other, but this salient point is overwhelmed by his deconstruction of the Christian faith. As an evangelical elder statesman shared with me yesterday, “Brian fails every one of Machen’s tests.” This is my point in chapter 12 of Don’t Stop Believing, but you can see for yourself. Pick up a copy of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, written in 1923, and you’ll see that what Brian is saying isn’t exactly new, and according to Machen, it isn’t even Christian.