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Critique - Liberals

by John Miles

| Defining Beliefs | Critique | Response |

Dear Friends,

I want to continue my observations on the three broad groups within the United Methodist Church. Today I want to give my critique of the liberal branch of our church.

As I said in my earlier letter, liberalism is an attempt to understand the Christian faith in light of modern scientific discoveries and new understandings of how the Bible came to be. Although liberalism came into its own in the 19th century, its roots go back to the humanist movement in early modern renaissance Europe.

Although I deeply disagree with much of present day liberalism, there are things about it that I find helpful. Perhaps liberalism's most helpful insights came in the attempt to harmonize the modern scientific theories exemplified by Charles Darwin with the Genesis creation of the world. In a real sense, liberals helped us to see how we could accept many of the premises of science, for example, the age of the earth or natural selection without giving up our faith in a creating God. On the social front, liberalism also helped foster civil rights and the full inclusion of African-Americans and women within the United Methodist Church, liberalism has won the day in our denomination on these issues.

However, liberalism's continued pursuit of reason and scientific verifiability has taken modern liberals far beyond fights over evolution and women's rights.

By attempting to place Christianity within a rationalistic, humanist framework, they have systematically investigated and critiqued the bible, rejecting the supernatural and discounting it as the uniquely inspired word of God. The Jesus Seminar's pursuit of the actual sayings of Jesus is a good case in point. Liberal scholars vote on which words and events are real to the life of Jesus and which are purely mythological. Much of the gospels, including the entire gospel of John are rejected as historical. The bible becomes the book that represents the Jewish and Christian communities' quest for God not the divine revelation from God.

This deconstruction of scripture carries over into the life of Christ. Liberals reject the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, and the physical resurrection. It is no wonder liberals do not see Christ's divinity in terms of being the same substance with God but rather, spiritual unity with God.

I am reluctant to say who is or is not a Christian, being a Christian is certainly more than having proper doctrine. I think there are people who are in relationship with Christ even when their doctrine is inadequate. However, I am prepared to say that liberal doctrine, as I understand it, is no longer Christian. The divine relationship between the Father and the Son cannot be rejected. Jesus was either fully God and fully human or he was a silly man who lead people away from a true faith in God. Without some understanding of Christ's death as an act of atonement, Jesus becomes a good example and not a savior. Without the physical resurrection, the gospel story loses its primary claim that Christ has overcome death and it, in effect, becomes an elaborate hoax. In the end, the liberal's view of Christ is very much like that of the Muslims, Jews and Unitarians. Jesus was a great man who pointed us toward God.

I know this is controversial. I want to find out what you think. Next week will be devoted to your responses. If you do not want me to use your letter please note that. If you do not wish me to use your name, let me know that too.

Your Brother,

John Miles

John Miles is:

  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

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