By Matt Auxt
In this day and age there are many hot button topics that set people off such as politics, abortion, homosexuality, and in some cases even theology. Here I want to give a warning to my brothers and sisters in Christ. And that is to beware of theological liberalism. Before I start, I must make a distinction between theological liberalism and political liberalism. We all have an understanding of political liberalism, but what about theological liberalism? First off we must understand theological liberalism from a cursory level or the fly by level. Simply put, theological liberalism understands the Bible as something other than the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God. There are many more areas on which theological liberalism will capitulate such as the person and/or work of Christ but typically they will capitulate on Scripture first. Inerrant means that Scripture does not affirm any errors while infallibility means that Scripture doesn’t have the capacity to have an error. Inspiration is the method where God, through prophets in the past and in this day, His Son has brought forth self-disclosure that is understandable to the hearer through the closed canon of Scripture. For further study, I would recommend a dive into Deuteronomy 18:18; Psalm 12:12, 19, 119; Zechariah 78:12; Matthew 1:22; John 1:1, 17:17; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Titus 1:2; 1 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:20-21; and many others.
Theological liberalism can be traced back to the Garden, where Satan comes before Adam and Eve asking them “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). The Old Testament is filled accounts where time and time again, Israel accepted a lesser view of the Words of God spoken by His prophets, and in turn, accepted something less. In Jesus’ time, there were the Pharisees and the Sadducees who elevated the word of man over the Word of God. In the early church, there were many heresies that either added to the Bible or subtracted from the Bible or doctrine, shifting certain people into heresy such as Arius, Marcion, and Sabellius. No matter how the church deals with the battle of theological liberalism, it will always sprout up again. After the world wars, there were many deists who found the doctrine of inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration problematic such as G. S. Semler, who rejected all three, and Horace Bushnell, the father of American liberalism as well. Others who followed Semler and Bushnell accepted a softer liberalism that accepted in name the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of Scripture, but also accepted that the canon of Scripture was not closed. The rise of theological liberalism in the twentieth century led in response to a group of over two hundred men creating what is known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 in response to theological liberalism.
Since then, there has been a rise of post-modernism which is the acceptance of relativity in both science and religion. Unfortunately post-modernism has permeated the church more than I think most people have realized, but that is a post for another day. Probably close to a decade ago, churches started a phrase that did more damage to the church than good, and that phrase is, “Doctrine divides.” This statement, led to churches to put aside doctrine which led to a generation of people that were, for all intents and purposes, theologically illiterate. Apologetics turned into clever “gotcha” arguments while modern Christians’ foundations were starting to crumble. Many stopped studying theology and church history so when old heresies like the attacks on Scripture arose, it had a catastrophic effect on the church. Everyone knows the stats that young people are leaving churches in droves. And it all comes back to the question of what is Scripture? During the phase of people leaving and church leaders saying that doctrine divides, churches sought out church strategists, big events, and inspirational yet shallow sermons to draw people back to church. When people faced the struggles of life they did not run to the Word of God but ran to worldly psychology. This is what would be called an abandonment of the sufficiency of Scripture.
What does sufficiency of Scripture mean? It does not mean that Scripture has the ability to heal someone of cancer or gives them an exact break down of all history. But it is the self-disclosure of God that He has given it to men to live godly in an ungodly world. It teaches people exactly how to live with cancer, it address anxiety, the mind, the desires of the world, and of course our greatest problem which is our sin problem. Scripture is not a scientific book nor is it a history book, but it is true and it is historical where it references history. Many churches will not deny the sufficiency of Scripture in words, but will do it by their works by relying on something that is inferior, whether it is events, pragmatic messages, or secular counseling. Leaving the sufficiency of Scripture is detrimental to the spiritual health to the church as it leaves the church without sustenance and foundation. There is much more that could be said about the sufficiency of Scripture but in summary, to not rely on the sufficiency of Scripture leads to the inflation of the words of men and the deflation of the Word of God.
When a church inflates man and deflates God, they end up belittling just how mighty God is. Suddenly the issue of the church transitions out of just being healthy and into an issue of authority. The church, after it inflates man and deflates God, suddenly is doing and saying things because that is what man says. This brings into question the authority of Scripture. If Scripture no longer has the sufficiency to fix my problems, it becomes isolated to just being effectual for one’s church life. This creates a dichotomy between one’s personal life and their church life which is a separation that God never made. If Scripture is separated away from one’s personal life it suddenly becomes an item for a coffee table or to hold up other books on the shelf and loses authority over one’s life. God’s Word says it pertains to life and godliness and has the power to do so (2 Pt 1:3). So if someone says it no longer pertains to life and godliness, it suddenly doesn’t pertain to anything. As soon as a church or individual comes to the conclusion that the Bible is not their ultimate authority, they have deconstructed the very faith that they claim to believe. If God has no authority over one’s life, the individual has put themselves in the place of God. This is making an idol and putting one’s own name on it or taking one’s own words as law and putting Jesus’ name on it. Deconstructionism is essentially just that making God second to an individual’s thoughts and feelings. Deconstructionism has been the current evangelical fad of this age as many top pastors have claimed to have deconstructed their faith. There are many examples of this such as the popular YouTube channel of Rhett and Link, Joshua Harris, John Williamson who started the deconstructionism podcast, Abraham Piper, and sadly many more. But each of them have one thing in common, “Me, myself, and I.” They all rely on their own feelings to tell them what truth is and they all have made themselves the authority of their lives. We cannot trust our feelings for they waver and are deceitful (Jer 17:9), but we must trust and rely on the One who never lies and falsehood does not dwell in Him (Num 23:19, Ps 5:4 Titus1:2, Heb 6:18).
Here’s my warning to my brothers and sisters: do not abandon doctrine, do not accept the lie of Satan of “Did God really say”, do not listen to one’s own feelings of a matter, but trust the Words of God, do not make yourself lord over your life, but submit to the lordship of Christ. We need to study God’s Word for it is His all-sufficient, infallible Word that diagnosis each person as a hater of God (Rom 3:23, 8:7), a sinner who is currently under the eternal just wrath of God ( Jn 3:16-17, 36, Rom 6:23). It is the Word of God that tells us that God sent His own Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty of sin (Jn 3:16, 2 Cor 5:21 1Tim 1:15-17). It is the Word of God that tells us that this day we must repent and believe that God is who He is and that we are not God (Mk 1:15, Acts 4:12, 2 Cor 6:1). It is the Word of God that convicts people of sin unto belief and convicts the believer unto sanctification (Ps 119:9-11, Heb 4:12). The denial of the sufficiency of Scripture is the first step of theological liberalism, which then leads to deconstructionism, and ultimately the abandonment of Christ. I beg of you hold true to God and His Word.
Ligonier Ministries. “Infallibility and Inerrancy: Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org: Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.org.” Ligonier Ministries, May 27, 2016. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/infallibility-and-inerrancy.
MacArthur, John, and Richard Mayhue. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.