Friday, September 14, 2007

Are we all Liberals Now?

This is spinning off something David Wells wrote in God in the Wasteland. According to Wells, Schleiermacher (in many ways the founder of modern theological liberalism) argued that God was as we experienced him in ourselves. Wells argues that the church today has essentially followed Schleiermacher on that.

That got me thinking. What if the three main traditions today - evangelicalism, charismaticism and catholicism - complete with their weaknesses and so on, can all be explained by saying that they are all essentially liberal?

I'm not suggesting for one moment that those three traditions are mutually exclusive - there are certainly plenty of people who are within at least two of those traditions, or even all three.

What if the essence of modern catholicism is that it says that God is as we experience him in the Eucharist? Does that explain what is often the narrowness of approach, the insistence on doing things our way? Does it explain the doctrinal paucity and growing emphasis on inclusion? It seems to.

What if the essence of modern charismaticism is that it says that God is as we experience him in worship? Does that explain the uncritical acceptance of passing trends? Does it explain the way that language is often used suggesting that God is not experienced by people who worship in different ways? Does it explain the exaltation of the worship leader? It seems to.

What if the essence of modern evangelicalism is that it says that God is as we experience him in the Bible? Does that explain the narrowness of vision, the rejecting people who think differently even if they seem to base their opinions on Scripture? Does it explain the hugely cerebral nature of so much and the exaltation of the preacher or the Bible scholar? It seems to.

As Wells points out, God is bigger than we think he is. He is bigger than our experience of him. He is transcendent. And it seems that when we forget that, we are essentially idolaters. Maybe we are all liberals now. We certainly need to recover our sense of God's transcendence and holiness.

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