Showing posts with label Liberal Theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Liberal Theology. Show all posts

The More Conservative The Church, The Less Likely It's True

I think a solid case can be made for the title of this post. Hopefully some conservative Christians might even be able see this themselves in what follows (but I don't have my hopes up). Consider first the differences between conservative and liberal Christianities:
Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture while attempting to achieve the Enlightenment ideal of objective point of view, without preconceived notions of the inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma. LINK.

Talbott on Progressive Revelation Versus My Claim That Theology Evolves

I have been faulted for starting my critique of Thomas Talbott's essay at the end. The claim is that I have not dealt with the substance of his critique of the OTF, and that it is found in the earlier portions of his essay. If so, then Talbott himself was wrong to title his last section as "A Fundamental Inconsistency in the Loftus Approach." (p. 20) For what does it mean to use the word "Fundamental" if it is not Fundamental? In any case, I'm going through his essay with a fine toothed comb and will get to it all, so hold your pants on.

My Review of Karen Armstrong's Book "The Case for God"

My review was just published in Philosophy Now magazine (follow the link). If the link doesn't work an earlier version is on Amazon. You'll see I made the same arguments against her liberalism that I made against John F. Haught's book, God and the New Atheism, against Cheryl Exum and Dennis MacDonald at last years annual SBL meeting, and that I make against Thom Stark's book The Human Faces of God, Robert Wright's book, The Evolution of God, and Mark Roncace's book Raw Revelation. See what you think. Let's have done with the notion that I don't understand liberal versions of Christianity. I do. I just reject them.

I Challenge Conservative Christians

You realize, don't you, that there are many more choices than just between Christianity (i.e. Evangelical Christianity) and Atheism (as I define it, the denial of all gods)?

We are poles apart, that's true, which makes it hard to discuss these issues with Christians. It's hard to make them see what we do, or to think like we think. People who are poles apart sometimes don't even use the same language. We dispute each other's facts. We have different control beliefs. We live in different intellectual universes.

The differences might be like a mountain climber who expects some person off the street to join him in climbing up Mt. Everest, or a skydiver who does tricks who expects a novice to do the same. Such things are far beyond someone not already used to doing likewise. It takes training and work and time, plenty off it. No one can expect someone to think of doing likewise, much less do it. That person might even be scared of heights! It takes baby steps. One must crawl before he can walk. And one must walk before he can run. And one must run before he can climb, and so on.

Evangelical Christians recoil from our arguments. They don't trust us. For most of them we represent the devil. A friend of mine read my book but before each time she said a prayer that God would not let her be deceived by what was in it, and you know what, she walked away still believing. Surprise! Maybe some Christian visitors do the same whenever coming here to DC, who knows. Some come to do battle against the forces of evil. They're not open to what we have to say at all. Why? Because of the distance between us and the trust factor. They "know" we're wrong from the get go.

There's nothing that can be done about this. It's just the way it is.

I just want to remind everyone that there is some sort of continuum of beliefs and the choices are not limited to just evangelical Christianity and Atheism (as defined). There are a whole range of intermediate religious views between us. This is nothing new, of course, but a reminder of this is good. Why? Because the range of Christianity begins way over to the right, with snake handlers and the KKK (yes, they claim to be Christians), to the Fred Phelps hate group, to King James version only Christians, to Bob Jones University, to non-instrumental Churches of Christ, to Pentecostals like Pat Robertson, to Evangelical minded (who often distance themselves from others to their right), to open theists, to liberal Christians of various sorts who can be described as existentialists, mainline Christians, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong types, feminists, panentheists like Marcus Borg, Liberation Theology, and Universalists. There are Arminian, Calvinist and Catholic versions of these types of Christianities, I presume. Then there are Deists, agnostics, and Atheists. This is quite a long, varied continuum of beliefs. One could probably start out a snake handler and with more and more reading go through several of the stages of thinking over the years and became an atheist. Hardly ever does the trend reverse itself, although there are probably a few rare cases, I presume.

What happens when one thinks through a theology and moves to the left isn't usually because he read a book out of bounds of what's considered possible. I remember reading John Gibson's commentary on Genesis 1-11 and rejecting it outright because it was too far from what I would consider possible. I have now come to embrace his conclusions. The stories of Genesis 1-11 are parabolic stories, myths. As I moved from being a Pentecostal to an evangelical to a liberal to a panentheist to a deist then an agnostic and finally an atheist I would only consider those books that challenged me and they were just a bit to the left of where I was. Anything farther away than that would throw up all kinds of red flags in my head.

So, if Christians here don't want to take the Debunking Christianity Challenge because it's too far removed from what you consider a possibility due to the fact that you don't trust atheist authors, then do what I did. Read books that challenge your thinking by Christian authors outside your safe zone. Read open theist literature. Read liberal Christian books. If you're in college, study with professors who will challenge your faith.

I remember when considering which seminary to attend many people thought I should go to Cincinnati Bible Seminary rather than Lincoln Christian Seminary because the liberals were there. But I went anyway and didn't find any liberals there at all! Then I went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and was told that such a college was outside the bounds of my own denomination, so to be careful, that some liberals were there who didn't think the way Church of Christ people did. But they were conservatives after all. Then I finally attended Marquette University and I finally met the liberals. But more and more I found the arguments to the left of where I was at much better.

So here's a challenge to conservative Christians. How do you know you're right about that which you were raised to believe? Challenge yourself to read outside your safe zone. See why these authors think the way that they do. You'll find they have some good arguments. See if your beliefs can withstand their arguments. There are a host of Zondervan and Inter-Varsity Press books that have four or five views of certain issues from the millennium to women to apologetics to hell to creation to atonement theories to sanctification to salvation to the Bible, and so on. Read them all, one at a time for starters. In my case my beliefs changed in the face of these other books and articles and professors. It was slow, and I faced a crisis. But the conservative Christian arguments are less than persuasive in the Christian literature.

My challenge is for Christians to begin reading the list of books Anthony provides in this post.

The reason I wrote my book is because I could not answer the arguments of the people to my left. I am an atheist because atheists have the best arguments down the line. Atheism is the position of last resort. Once all other views are eliminated it’s the one to fall back on. I would never have considered it unless I went through several theology changes by reading authors I could trust. Try it. Challenge your beliefs, not by our writings, if that’s too much to ask. Read authors outside your safe zone. If you’re a conservative then read the books of moderates. If you’re a moderate then read the books of the liberals. If you’re a liberal, then read atheist literature. See what happens. Keep stretching your mind. Do not simply read literature that you’re comfortable with. That’s not a challenge at all. Challenge yourself. See if your present views as a conservative can withstand this challenge. They didn’t with me. I suspect you’ll find it won’t with you. Test your beliefs. How do you know your theology is correct? The only way is to test it with other authors just a bit farther to your left. This is my challenge to you. It may be the best challenge I can lay down.

Liberal Christianity: A Dangerous Pretend Game.


We’ve been discussing Liberal Christianity here lately, something rare at DC. Some interesting and provocative thoughts have emerged from it. I have to agree with Wounded Ego who said this about Liberal Christianity: "It is, to my mind, like a giant role playing game - only for keeps…I think an excellent illustration of the kind of illusion you are describing can be seen in the excellent flick 'The Village.'" But let me say more...

James McGrath wrote: But when I ask myself "Why not be an atheist?", I come back to a number of things. The power of an experience that really did change my life. The teaching attributed to Jesus that we do to others what we want them to do to us. The inspiring paradigm (which may owe as much to the author of Matthew's Gospel as to the historical figure of Jesus) that there is a third way of resisting injustice that avoids either passivity or taking up arms.

McGrath knows well enough that religious experiences like he’s had are experienced by people with differing faiths, so he also knows that such experiences provide little or no evidence for his particular faith. HE KNOWS THIS! He’s playing pretend, and like the paranoid schizophrenic who thinks the CIA is out to get him, McGrath actually believes these experiences to be real without any evidence for them.

Richard M wrote: Joseph Campbell said somewhere that fundamentalists say religious stories are the truth, atheists say they are a lie, and liberals say they are metaphor.

Actually atheists say these religious stories are delusionary, or false. I do not question the sincerity of the claims of believers, just like I don’t question the sincerity of paranoid schizophrenics. They aren’t lies intended to deceive, they are simply false. And liberal Christians are simply playing pretend with these falsehoods.

Think of it this way. Christmas is coming and parents will tell their children that Santa Claus will bring presents to them. They tell their kids Santa sees if they “are naughty or nice.” When my kids were growing up I told them about Santa, but I also told them we were playing a pretend game. They might not have initial understood me when I told them “we’re playing pretend,” but as they grew older and asked me if he really existed, I would always say “No.” Children love to pretend. It’s their nature, I think. So do adults, especially if they role play while having sex. Is there value in playing pretend? Yes. It provides spice to our lives. People pretend when they think positively, too, especially sports fans who sit in the same seats, order the same food, and wear the same jerseys to the ball games, as if that’ll help their team win.

This discussion has made me think about playing pretend. I liked the movie “Toy Story,” produced by Disney. The character Buzz Lightyear actually thought he had supernatural powers and could fly. When he learned the truth he was depressed to the point where he didn’t try to help others out for a while. As the movie progresses he learned to do what he could without any of his special powers. I was going through my period of doubt when I first took my kids to that movie, and I asked myself, is Buzz Lightyear better off knowing the truth? I think so, and the reason is clear. Buzz Lightyear could’ve gotten himself killed by bouncing around on spoons and acting like he could fly through the air when he really couldn’t fly. He could’ve hurt himself…badly. The truth is always better, come what may.

Some pretend games are foolish, period. Some provide the needed spice to life. But when pretending crosses over to the point where a person actually thinks the pretend games are real, then I see dangers…many of them, depending on the game being played.

So the question I put forward is whether or not pretending the game of Christianity is playing a dangerous game. I think it is. Sure, it may provide a certain spice to life, since having a heavenly father figure can provide comfort, but it also sacrifices the intellect, encourages others to do likewise, and buttresses the claims of other religious people to maintain their faith who do evil in the name of religion.

Richard M says, “this is my main objection with the views if folks like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Much as I respect them otherwise, I think they err grievously when they lump liberal religionists with conservative ones. Atheists and secular humanists will find no better friends in the world than reform jews, unitarians, and the like -- they will be the ones who join atheists to vote for atheist candidates, push to keep ID out of schools, promote critical thinking and science education, support liberal social causes, welcome Hindu prayers in congress, support physician-assisted suicide, support same-sex marriage, ban coercive prayer from public schools, and jump at the chance to send Pat Robertson a one-way ticket to Sheol.”

Agreed! However, religious thinking adds several new areas of conflict to life. We already fight over money, our kids, our spouses, our jobs, our races, our genders, and our nationalities. But religions also provide additional areas of conflict over sacred spaces, books, traditions, leaders, and gods. Granted, the liberal is probably not going to fight over these things, so she has a benign type of faith, for which I can be thankful for. But when the liberal participates in surveys where it’s claimed, say, that 60-80% of the people believe in God, this bolsters those fundamentalists who do fight over sacred spaces and gods. There has been a great deal of harm done in the name of Christianity. So it’s like claiming to be a member of the KKK while openly disavowing the beliefs of the KKK. Why do that?

Dr. James McGrath on "Why I Am a Christian."


He writes about it here....

He says:

I am a Christian in much the same way that I am an American. It is not because I condone the actions of everyone who has officially represented America, or that I espouse the viewpoints of its current leaders. It is because I was born into it, and value the positive elements of this heritage enough that I think it is worth fighting over the definition of what it means to be American, rather than giving up on it and moving somewhere else. In the same way, the tradition that gave birth to my faith and nurtured it is one that has great riches (as well as much else beside), and I want to struggle for an understanding of Christianity that emphasizes those things. And just as my having learned much from other cultures is not incompatible with my being an American, my having learned much from other religious traditions doesn't mean I am not a Christian. Christians have always done so. Luke attributes to Paul (in Acts 17:28) a positive quotation from a poem about Zeus (from the Phainomena by Aratos [sometimes spelled Aratus].

Why am I a Christian? Because I prefer to keep the tradition I have, rather than discarding it with the bathwater and then trying to make something new from scratch.

My question is whether this is a reasonable conclusion to make. I think not. A liberal Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, could say the same things. She could say, I don't agree with the historical underpinnings of my faith, nor the intellectual reasons for my faith, but since I was born into it, I'll stick with it. Sorry to insult Dr. McGrath, but this is nonsense (again, sorry). If one no longer accepts the historical or intellectual underpinnings of her faith she should look for a different one, or none at all.

I have been dealing with Liberal theology beginning here.

To continue reading the next post in this series see here.

Part 1, The Problem With Liberal Theology


My focus is on Debunking Evangelical Christianity for several reasons outlined here. Let me stress at this point that one of the reasons I do is to dislodge the evangelical Christian off of center. I say this is the hard part because it is. Liberals will say that I’ve chosen an easy target. It’s easy only so far as the arguments are against it. But it is also extremely tough to do. Once dislodged from this center, former evangelicals can go in several theological directions. But no matter what direction they travel, they are less of a threat to people with differing opinions because they know what it’s like to realize they were wrong. They will also cease quoting a Bible verse to answer every problem, and learn to think through the issues at hand.

The evangelical already rejects many cults, liberalism, pantheism, Islam. So by leading them to reject their faith some will jump ship entirely and embrace either agnosticism or atheism. That’s not what they all do. I didn’t initially. I embraced liberal theology in varying degrees for several years first. I even described myself as an existential deist. Later on I described myself as a soft-agnostic, and later still as an atheist.

For me, once I abandoned evangelical Christianity I started on a slippery slope which ended in atheism. It’s hard to remember how long it took me because as I was struggling with my faith, I still sought to maintain it. And I kept my struggles to myself, remaining in the church. But it was several years.

Now granted, Christians on this slippery slope do not slide down to agnosticism or atheism like I did. But many do. Let me mention a few of them: Robert M. Price, Gerd Luedmann, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, William Dever, Michael Shermer, Farrell Till, Dan Barker, Ed Babinski, and me. There are other Christians who deeply struggle to maintain their faith in the onslaught of philosophical and scientific knowledge, like Ruth Tucker, James F. Sennett, and Terence Penulhum, seen here. I have also heard that Howard Van Till has rejected Calvinism and adopted “a more ambiguous position on religion.”

In a future post or two I’ll try to respond to liberal versions of Christianity and show why they should be rejected as well as the evangelical views. I won’t spend a great deal of time on this subject since to adequately do justice to it I should take on one theologian at a time. I intend instead to lump them all together for the most part, and in so doing it will appear superficial to the liberals out there, but that’s the most time I want to spend on it for reasons I’ve specified earlier. The bottom line will be that if evangelicals don’t have much by way of evidence for their faith, liberals have even less evidence to believe.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 2, The Problem With Liberal Theology


As an atheist I am no longer in the habit of telling Christians what they should believe. I tell them to hammer it out between themselves and come back to inform me of the consensus, since I’ll be waiting in the wings to debunk what’s left over. I agree with the criticisms the social trinitarians offer against the non-social trinitarians, and vice versa. I agree with the Calvinist criticisms of Arminian interpretations of the Bible as well as with the Arminian criticisms of Calvinistic interpretations of the Bible. I agree with the Protestant criticisms of the Catholics as well as the Catholic criticisms of the Protestants. And I also agree with the fundamentalist criticisms of the liberals as well as the liberal criticisms of the fundamentalists. When they criticize each others views I think they’re all right! What’s left is the demise of Christianity as a whole. After they fight out to a draw in each disputed case there is nothing left for me to debunk except their shared common belief in God (a non-trinitarian one) along with their religious experiences as a pointer to God.

When it comes to the liberal/fundamentalist debate, I thought about starting a Blog to let the liberals and fundamentalists fight it out! But then it dawned on me that the liberals would win that debate, at least in my mind (the only mind that counts is what each one of us thinks, correct?). In fact, in my book I use the writings of the liberals to debunk evangelical Christianity much of the time. They simply are on the side of truth. They have better scholars.

Without wanting to do a great amount of research at this time on liberal theology, let me begin by quoting from Wikipedia on it:

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity is not a belief structure, and as such is not subject to any Church Dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church Dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.

Liberal Christianity was most influential with mainline Protestant churches in the early 20th century, when proponents believed the changes it would bring would be the future of the Christian church. Despite that optimism, its influence in mainline churches waned in the wake of World War II, as the more moderate alternative of neo-orthodoxy (and later postliberalism) began to supplant the earlier modernism. Other theological movements included political liberation theology, philosophical forms of postmodern Christianity such as Christian existentialism, and conservative movements such as neo-evangelicalism and paleo-orthodoxy.

The 1990s and early 2000s saw a resurgence of non-doctrinal, scholarly work on biblical exegesis and theology, exemplified by figures such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Douglas Ottati. Their appeal is also primarily to the mainline denominations.

The father of modern liberalism is widely considered to be Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), and Norman Geisler’s description of his theology is good enough for now:

As the father of modern liberalism, he influenced most major liberals after him, among them Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), Critical History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation; Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), What is Christianity?, and Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918), who wrote Introduction to the History of Israel in which he defended the J-E-P-D hypothesis of authorship/ redaction of the Pentateuch.

For Schleiermacher, the basis of religion is human experience, rather than divine existence. We must have it before we can utter it. The locus of religion is in the self. The inner is key to the outer. The object of religion is the “All,” which many call “God.” And the nature of religion is found in a feeling (sense) of absolute dependence, which is described as a sense of creaturehood, an awareness that one is dependent on the All, or a sense of existential contingency.

The relation of religion to doctrine is that of a sound to its echo or experience to an expression of that experience. Religion is found in feeling, and doctrine is only a form of the feeling. Religion is the “stuff” and doctrine the structure. Doctrine is not essential to religious experience and is scarcely necessary to expressing it, since it can be expressed in symbol as well.

As to the universality of religion, Schleiermacher believed that all have a religious feeling of dependence on the All. In this sense there are no atheists. In this he foreshadowed Paul Tillich.

Being primarily a feeling, religion is best communicated by personal example. It is better caught than taught. Religion can also be communicated through symbols and doctrines. But doctrines are accounts of religious feeling. They are statements about our feeling, not about God, his attributes, or his nature. So there is an endless variety of religious expression, due largely to personality differences. The pantheistic expression results from those who delight in the obscure. Theists by propensity are those who delight in the definite.

The aim of religion is the love of the All, the World-Spirit. This is achieved through loving other human beings. The result of religion is unity of life. And its influence is manifest in morals. Religion produces a wholeness of life, but it has no specific influence on individual acts. We act with religion, not from it.

Likewise, the influence of religion on science is not direct. One cannot be scientific without piety. For the feeling of dependence on the All removes presumption to knowledge, which is ignorance. The true goal of science cannot be realized without a vision arising from religion.

No wonder fundamentalists attack the liberals for what they are left with...not much. Their attack centers on why liberals even bother with the Bible itself. Why not the Koran, especially since Hector Avalos, a Harvard trained Biblical scholar, has shown that the liberal deconstruction of the Bible has made the Bible irrelevant to modern people. He claims they have made an end to Biblical studies and they did it to themselves. I agree.

Okay so far?

For the next installment on Dr. James McGrath's reasons for being a Christian read this.