Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Two Different Religions

In a post yesterday on his blog, Albert Mohler pointed out that we've reached a point where liberal and conservative Protestant denominations are truly representing two "radically divergent worldviews," with the fundamental dividing line being the authority of Scripture.

Mohler wrote: . . .

Observers of Christianity in America have suggested in recent years that the most interesting controversies of our times are those within denominations. That generalization may be generally accurate, but the other big story is the great and widening division between liberal and conservative denominations. In reality, these two visions of Christianity represent two different religions. This was apparent to J. Gresham Machen and others early in the twentieth century. Now, it must be apparent to any honest observer.

Monday's vote by the United Church of Christ [UCC] endorsing same-sex marriage makes this point clear. The UCC has been moving steadily leftward over the last several decades, and the main trajectory of the denomination has been consistent in rejecting the authority of Scripture. Yesterday's vote did not emerge from a vacuum. A line of doctrinal accommodation and theological compromise necessarily produces such a development. Without the norming authority of Scripture,
anything becomes possible, if not inevitable. If the Bible does not serve as the authoritative norm, anything can be normalized--even what the Bible condemns.

Hat tip to News! For Christians.


At Wednesday, July 06, 2005 11:07:00 PM, Blogger manofredearth said...

It's disturbing to see how Christians who are opposed to the actions of other Christians word things in such a way as if they are the "true" believers and that God is fully on their side. For instance, the assertion that some people are abandoning the authority of the scriptures, when the factual statement would be that some people are abandoning some other peoples' interpretations of the scriptures. The wedge and discord are not being driven by the accused, but by the accusers. It won't be too long (sadly, honestly) before many Christians refer to and speak of Evangelicals the way many Evangelicals speak of Catholics.

Forgive us, for we don't know what we're doing.

At Thursday, July 07, 2005 8:13:00 AM, Anonymous Tim in VT said...

Isn't it interesting that the argument often comes down to "some other peoples' interpretation of scriptures"? There is only one interpretation of scripture - Gods'. Anything else is man attempting to spin them for his own benefit. Plain reading of the scripture would settle most arguments. But that would prevent people from being able to do what they like without the difficulty of the Bible confronting them with sin.

Do what you like. You do not have to answer to me, or any other man. You only have to answer to God. But do not criticize those who seek to maintain scriptural purity and integrity. That is the Biblical mandate.

At Thursday, July 07, 2005 4:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus spoke in parables. The idea that the Bible is simple and straightforward is vanity.

At Friday, July 08, 2005 8:17:00 AM, Anonymous Tim In VT said...

Even the parables are can be clearly understood, unless you come to them with a predispostion to finding them obscure. Jesus, himself, explained them for those who didn't get it.

God did not give us the scriptures (His communication of his intentions and desires to man) only to leave us confused by their meaning. God is so often accused, in this day, of cruelty. It would be base cruelty to give us the Bible and make it impossible to understand.

I stand by my belief that failure to understand the scriptures is most often rooted in a desire to make them say what you want them to say, instead of reading what God said. I have often heard it said that "You can make the Bible say anything you want it to." The truth is, you can twist anything any way you want, but they truth is still evident to those who would see it.

As for denominations that are splitting over "mere doctrinal issues" - there has always been a battle between those who desire to follow the truth, and those who (for whatever reason) want to put their own truth on the Word. Doctrine is what defines our systems of belief. Of course there will be disagreements. I believe Paul pointed this out as well. If people are not willing to contend for the faith, how much does faith mean to them?

At Friday, July 08, 2005 9:50:00 AM, Anonymous Alex Samuels said...

tim in vt,

Thanks for your timely answers.

At Friday, July 08, 2005 9:54:00 PM, Anonymous Joel Gillespie said...

Look, the point is right, regardless of who is putting it what way. The world view of historic orthodox Protestants, along with historic orthodox Catholics and historic orthodox Greek Orthodox believers (i.e.., Apostles' and Nicene Creed folks) is radically different in every way from modern theological liberalism of whatever stripe. It's just a fact, a historical and theological fact. We can argue about who has claim to the truth of the Scriptures, or which Scriptures are the Scriptures, or what Jesus said or didn’t say, or whatever, but, there is no doubting the fundamental assertion. It is granted on all sides. So what's the big deal? I as an evangelical protestant Presbyterian have much more in common in terms of world view and theology with a conservative Catholic than I do with a liberal Presbyterian or Methodist or Catholic. That IS the big divide today – between theological liberalism and historic theological othodoxy. Compared to what is happening today, the old protestant/catholic/Greek orthodox dividee were child's play. Joel.

At Friday, July 08, 2005 10:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with all that you are saying about the divides. But I think that the main point is that the divides happen when certain factions of the denomination split when they no longer feel that certain truths are any longer important.

Case in point- gay marriage. Certain factions have taken it upon themselves to mold to those who believe that it's "not really a sin." The Bible hasn't changed, the culture has changed. Hence, you have another split.

I'm not willing to say that there is no such thing as a ligitimate divide but I'm wary of those who split in order to appease the secularists in our society. Denominations may have different views of the Gospel but it's the watering-down of their beliefs that I find worrisome.

the Heckler

At Saturday, July 09, 2005 10:28:00 AM, Anonymous Joel Gillespie said...

Mr. Heckler,

I am sorry but I am not getting your point. By the way, in my other reply, I meant "divides" rather then "dividee." Anyway, I was commenting more on the point made by Albert Mohler and cited by Mickey. But the liberal/conservative divide theologically plays out not just between but also within denominations, as you suggest. I'd like to understand your point better. It is important to make sure we're talking about theology though and not politics. These labels do not play out the same way in politics. As far as theology goes, and with reference to another comment, there is NO reading of the bible consistent with any kind of historic Christian orthodox theology rooted in the bible that can condone homosexsexuality of any kind as right or appropriate, especially inside the church. It is only in theologically liberal denominations or in theologically liberal factions within denominations where accepting gay marriage is possible, and it is possible only because of a radical world view shift with respect to many things, including how one views the bible itself. However, it is a whole different thing as to how I treat my homosexual neighbor, about whom I am called to "love thy neighbor as thyself." And it is a different thing as to how I may or may not need to protect the civil rights of a homosexual person. How the shift happens from theological conservatism to the public sphere in a secular society is not a given, and not an easy matter.

At Saturday, July 09, 2005 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous Alex said...

Paul wrote this concerning the Lord’s Supper: “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval (I Corinthians 11:18-19).”

In this chapter, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for their abuses of the Lord’s Supper. No doubt, Paul (v.19), being observant of the human condition, believes that some divisions are going to be inevitable. This he sees happening even among Christians in order that those who act worthy of God’s approval may be evident. I believe this principle may apply to other differences in Biblical interpretation.

You might say that we Christians (justified/sinners) will always have the tendency to want to corrupt the Word of God to our benefit. The problem is often determining when we, who say we are Christians, have gone too far and thus demonstrated we are not Christians at all.

I find the history of the church between the third century and the fifteenth century very similar to what is happening in church culture today. During those centuries the Bibles were closed even to many of the monks and priests. The rule of thumb for living was not the Word of God, but church tradition. In a way, that is what I see beginning to take place today. Heavy sermons on the meaning of the Scriptures have been given over to light entertainment, motivational speeches, and making sure the slide show looks good. We want artists to draw us their insights into the messages being delivered and heaven help us if we can’t come up with at least one pseudo-Christian song that sounds like heavy metal. We do this, of course, to bring the “seeker” to God. None of us dare ask, “What god are we bringing the ‘seeker’ to?”

Let us not forget the rebuke of Jesus to the Pharisees: “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matthew 23:15).” So we compromise the Word of God in order to become more inclusive. We “feel” it is OK to adjust a few words here, tweak a few meanings there and pretty soon we have established our own church traditions which govern how we define “sin.” We may not even use that word at all.

We become the First Church of the Felt Need. Each church simply defines what they think their congregation’s felt needs are and starts additional programs to fix them, or soothe them, or tell them they are OK. In the mean time, God’s purpose for the church and His people are discarded as out of date. The Bible is not faithfully read. Thus, like the Pharisees and Roman Church we follow our new traditions as being more humanistic and relevant than those words uttered and written by ancient Jews and Christians. Does anyone think it is time for a New Reformation?

At Saturday, July 09, 2005 8:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Actually, I believe you just said what I was trying to say. There may be a slight difference, though, if I am understanding you correctly. You seem to suggest that there is a distinct difference between the political and theological viewpoints (still speaking within the given denomination).

I may be over-generalizing things but I believe they are one in the same. I believe that it is a political bent that makes people see the scriptures in the way that they want it to appear. Maybe we are talking about 2 different things but I think you get my point.

Reminds me of a very contentious discussion I had with an associate recently about abortion. He's all for it- any stage- anytime- no parental consent- the whole 9 yards. So I asked him, "what makes you so pro-abortion the fact that you are Jewish or the fact that you are a liberal?"

He walked out of the room and I haven't heard from him since. But not being Jewish or liberal, I honestly didn't know the answer. He was obviously very uncomfortable with his answer.

the Heckler

At Sunday, July 10, 2005 5:06:00 PM, Anonymous Joel Gillespie said...

Dear Heckler,

I am not comfortable with the Jewish/liberal analogy. As to my point, what I meant, is the it is one thing to be a theological conservative, and it is another to be a political conservative. To say that they are one and the same is to go beyond the bounds of your own Scriptures and to ignore the fact that conservative Christians have legitimately different opinions on a range of poilitical issues. I refer you to my writings, "The Christian and the State" to which I think Mickey has linked soemwhere and which you can find on Granted, on the issue of abortion, the one may be more connencted to the other, but with many issues the one does not necessarily mean the other at all. The Bible has little to say about the size of government, the relative balance of powers between branches, the relative role of federal verses state governments, the relative role and power of business versus government, how much regulation should exist, how taxes may be collected by whom, whether taxes may be used to take from the rich and give to the poor, etc etc etc. I can make a very strong case from a theologically conservative position for what you may think looks like a liberal stance on enviromental issues, or a liberal stance on hunger issues. The fact the there is the public perception a marriage between theological conservatism and political conservatism has been a fisco for the church and the gospel; it has made the church the slave of the party or the talk show host or the magazine pundit. It has stolen our prophetic power to speak out against both the left and the right in the name of Jesus. It is a devil's bargain, and I for one won't accept it, and I hope you won't either.

At Sunday, July 10, 2005 5:12:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...


"The fact the there is the public perception a marriage between theological conservatism and political conservatism has been a fisco for the church and the gospel; it has made the church the slave of the party or the talk show host or the magazine pundit. It has stolen our prophetic power to speak out against both the left and the right in the name of Jesus. It is a devil's bargain, and I for one won't accept it, and I hope you won't either."


At Sunday, July 10, 2005 6:42:00 PM, Anonymous Ed Cone said...

Heckler, I'm willing to chalk you question up to ignorance, not anti-Semitism, but I can see why your statement made your co-worker uncomfortable.

At Sunday, July 10, 2005 11:35:00 PM, Anonymous Joel Gillespie said...

Ed, Just so you'll know, I have no idea who the Heckler is, would not know him if he came up and slapped me in the face, so, as far as I can tell he is not a co-worker. Apparently we are fellow Christians, so in that sense we are fellow laborers in the gospel, to use the words of St. Paul, but really, I don't know him, nor do I go to church with Mickey though I know him and like him very much, but I do not know The Heckler.

At Monday, July 11, 2005 9:47:00 AM, Anonymous Alex said...

Dear Heckler,

I don’t know you or any of the others in this conversation, except by name, but I would like to comment that Christians and Jews are politically liberal, moderate, and conservative (etc.). There are times when one of my Jewish colleagues seems more politically conservative than I am. Christians and Jews are also liberal and conservative in their interpretations of their faiths (from my observations – not that I am an expert on Judaism).

As I believe we are fellow Christians, I would ask you to please consider apologizing to your coworker for the “Jewish” remark. We have all said things thoughtlessly (I know I have) that are offensive to others in a deeper way than we realize. Please accept this advice as from a brother in Christ who has too often spoken recklessly.

At Monday, July 11, 2005 11:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joel, Ed, Alex and anyone else,

I believe my comments have been misunderstood or, perhaps, too hastily written. My only point is that I believe that one's political beliefs ultimately shapes their religious beliefs. I simply believe that this is where the divides come from.

As to the Jewish cohort, my question to him was not in the least meant as anti-semitic, that simply is not me. I know some Jewish people and I know some liberals but I don't get into too many political discussions with any of them. The night this incident happened was actually a pre-arranged night to sit around and argue about politics.

Admittidly, it's not a wise thing to do but I was geniunely shocked by this guy's views. I HONESTLY did not know where his views came from. I always thought that most Jews leaned to the right. I really was not sure and it was a legitimate question.

Now, if he had asked me if my views were based on my religion or my political views, I would PROUDLY have told him both. So why should I apologize for asking him that question? If he's not proud of his position- maybe he should reconsider it instead of wanting an apology for asking about his position.

the Heckler

At Monday, July 11, 2005 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Ed Cone said...

I think Alex said it very well -- religion does not define politics, there are liberals and conservatives in all relgions -- and as I have tried to argue here before, being a liberal on one issue doesn't mean you are liberal on the next issue.

Your question as you paraphrased it here came across as a challenge, and also showed a willingness to generalize about Jews, with generalization a step away from stereotyping...

But I accept that you were motivated by a legitimate curiosity, not prejudice, and it's an interesting subject that deserves serious treatment.

I think a more diplomatic and productive way of asking the question would be, Are your political beliefs informed by your Judaism? What is the Jewish view on abortion, as expressed by religious leaders?

What you would have found is that there is a wide divergence of views on abortion, and on many other issues, as there is in other religions.

At Monday, July 11, 2005 12:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with you 100% on how I could have handled the issue with my Jewish associate. By the time I had asked my question, the conversation had gotten so contentious that pleasantries had already left the building.

After I said the word Jesus earlier in the day and he rolled his eyes at me, my attitidue admittedly changed. The discussion on abortion had more to do with my suggestion on how the two sides could come together and put the issue to rest (for most).

He said there is no room for compromise- abortion anytime for any reason, for anyone. I legitimately wanted to know where that was coming from.

As to the divides in the church...yes, I agree that religion is not owned by either party and I've never made such an argument. God favors neither party.

But as it pertains to say, gay marriage, for example, what sector of the congregation or denomination will break from the church to allow such a union? My guess is that the majority of those who support it will be liberals. I'm not saying that they are not religious or anything of a sort, I'm simply stating what I believe would be the make-up of the group that split. Coincidence?

P.S. Ed, saw your thread on the N&R on the flag issue. Sorry I didn't jump in soon enough to back you up.

the Heckler

At Monday, July 11, 2005 2:27:00 PM, Anonymous ed cone said...

Liberal on that issue, to be sure, especially as defined from a more conservative perspective. But in a split over gay issues (or other contentious issues) both sides would continue to call themselves Christians -- and probably many from each group would trace their positions back to their own religious beliefs.

There are radically different world-views among Orthodox Jews in the West Bank and secular Jews on the West Side, but both groups (two among many groups and subgroups of Jews) thinks of itself as "Jewish."

At Wednesday, July 13, 2005 9:06:00 PM, Anonymous Joel Gillespie said...

The point being made here by many, and that I have made as well, that theological labels do not necessarily transfer over as political labels is true as a generality. But that is a very different thing than saying that people of opposing political views have equal potential claim to root those views in a specific common religion. In other words, theological conservatism does not necessarily transfer to any certain position on a variety of political and even social issues. But there are many positions on moral and social issues that cannot possibly be traced back to traditional orthodox historic conservative theology. There is no position supporting abortion or gay marriage that can be traced back through historic othodox Chrsitianity to the Christianity of the Apostles and teaching of Jesus, unless one does a massive rewrite of the New Testament. And that is what theological liberals do. And so, though people who support gay marriage or abortion rights may come from churches that are called Christian, those would be theologically very liberal churches, and would have so little in common with historic "mere" Christianity that it is simply historically dishonest for them to use the word or name Christian. It is nothing less than a radically different religion and worldview being propogated. Many people may prefer it. Fine. Just call it something else, not Christianity. If modern theologically liberal "Christianity" can be called Christianity, then anything can be called Christianity, and the word means absolutely nothing at all.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home