The lens of the future is the best measure for the past, in other unavoidably cliché words, hind sight is twenty-twenty. Looking back at the age of modernism from the age of post-modernism it is easy to see the trail that led to the current Hansel and Gretel captivity. The modernistic liberalistic thought process is really the fault of the Reformers but it is not inconsistent with scripture. As Luther stood before the counsel at worms and questioned authority, placing his trust in his understanding of scripture, he was setting a president that acted like the pinpoint hole in a large dam. Even the smallest hole in a dam, if not repaired, will lead to a total failure. There are two expressions of the liberalistic mindset that have appeared on the world stage. The first was Christian liberalism; this is clearly seen in the shift of American Christianity to voluntary communities and away from Massachusetts Bay style totalitarianism. The second stream of liberalism was secular; and this is typified in the French revolution, most specifically the constitution that was drafted from that time. The question is, did this new liberal ideology take Christianity and the world back to its roots or was this new theology? The answer is that the liberating freedom for men to think has always been at the core of the oldest Christian teaching and Paul is a great example in the Mars Hill cry to have men hear about the “unknown God”; however, with the freedom to choose comes the freedom to reject: if Christians are free to choose Christ then the world is free to shun him (Acts 17:22-31, NIV).
The idea of Christian liberalism is not a new thing. So those that might claim that it is part of modernity are missing scriptural context. There are dozens of scripture verses that place the idea of personal freedom in context. For example, the Jerusalem counsel placed very few restrictions on the new Greek believers, Paul exhorts the believers to give what they decide to without “compulsion”, and the incident at Mars Hill shows that Paul was dealing with people he expected to use their minds to understand what he was teaching (Acts 15, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Acts 17:22-31, NIV). Christian liberalism however has a distinct character that is separate from secular liberalism in that Christian liberalism does not give the man freedom to choose without making the man responsible for those choices. Carter notes that the social gospels, an early nineteenth centry invention, were better excepted outside the church than within (Carter, 2015, p. 199). This is a great example, a lens, that can be used to measure the separation of Christian liberalism from secular modern progressivism. The experience of the church in this era was that of being pressed to reconcile the authority of God’s Word with modern, liberal, scientific methods because the modern man would not live by faith alone. This was a new challenge in that even the great thinkers in Paul’s day saw no need to reconcile philosophy and theology to conform to science.
The idea of secular liberalism is best discussed from what is called modern thought. Two very good examples of secular liberalism are article one of the French Constitution and what has become the religion of Charles Darwin. Article one of the French Constitution states that France is a secular republic that respects all beliefs. Notice the very specific ideology in that statement “secular republic”. This is in contrast to the American separation of church and state. In a secular republic, secular ideas are those that rule. To translate, a secular republic is a state that wants no influence from religion in the government while, in this case, promising not to influence or harass those they choose to be religious. In the American separation of church and state, the church has no power over state business and the state has no power over church business; however, in this arrangement for one to influence the other is expected. This modern mind set seized on to the writings of Charles Darwin a “scientist whose name became synonymous with evolution” (Shelley, 2013, p. 414). Charles Darwin espoused the idea that men had evolved from other life forms so that the human race was formed by a series of genetic mutations. This is exactly the idea that the modern thinkers needed to attack the authority of God’s Word. On the one hand there are men seeking truth but on the other and all too often there are men seeking to “suppress the truth” for the purpose of not having to be responsible for unrighteous choices (Romans 1:18, NIV). The modern church is stuck right in the middle because the church must state that the Word of God is the authority and men are responsible for their choices. This is a message that the framers of the French Constitution made very clear that they did not want to here.
Christian Liberalism is the idea that men are free to serve the King or reject him. This is true liberty, and true freedom. While on the other hand secular liberalism is men seeking to be free from the responsibility of sin and this is why evolution has become the modern day secular liberals religion. Even though “the Reformers displayed remarkably little interest in cross-culture proclamation of the gospel”, the tiny hole the they poked in the dam of Christianities conscious eventually over flowed into a Protestant fervor for missions (Noll, 2012 p. 267). Liberty is at the core of Christian beliefs but where there is liberty to choose Christ there will be those that choose not to choose him. In this there will always be a distinction between Christian liberty and secular liberty.
Carter, H. W. (2015). Social Gospels Thrived Outside the Church. Church History, 84(1), 199-202. Retrived from: https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=101378852&site=eds-live&scope=site
Noll, M. (2012). Turning points: Decisive moments in the history of Christianity. (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Shelley, B. (2013). Church history in plain language (4th ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.