The clash between liberalism and orthodox evangelicalism during the first quarter of this century was sharper in America than in Britain.  One reason for this was that American evangelicalism had, among its defenders, men of a broader range of learning, deeper theological insight, and greater intellectual virility than their British counterparts.  Some of B. B. Warfield’s polemical articles and J. G. Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, for instance, crystallized the issues at stake in their broadest implications with a judicious mastery that cannot be too highly praised.  A second reason was the more radical and uninhibited character of American liberalism itself.  The characteristic tenets of liberal faith in America in the early years of this century may be summarized as follows:

1.  God’s character is one of pure benevolence – benevolence, that is, without standards.  All men are His children, and sin separates no one from His love.  The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man are, alike, universal.

2.  There is a divine spark in every man.  All men, therefore, are good at heart, and need nothing more than encouragement to allow their natural goodness to express itself.

3.  Jesus Christ is man’s Savior only in the sense that He is man’s perfect teacher and example.  We should regard Him simply as the first Christian, our elder brother in the world-wide family of God.  He was not divine in any unique sense.  He was God only in the sense that He was a perfectly God-conscious and God-guided man.  He was not born of a virgin.  He did not work miracles, in the sense of “mighty works” of divine creative power.  And He did not rise from the dead.

4.  Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely, so Christianity differs from other religions not generically, but merely as the best and highest type of religion that has yet appeared.  All religions are forms of the same religion, just as all men are members of the same divine family.  It follows, of course, that foreign missions should not aim to convert from one faith to another but, rather, to promote a cross-fertilizing interchange whereby each religion may be enriched through the contribution of all others.

5.  The Bible is not a divine record of revelation, but a human testament of religion, and Christian doctrine is not the God-given word which must create and control Christian experience.  The truth is the opposite.  Christian experience is directly infectious within the Christian community – it is “caught,” like mumps – and this experience creates and controls Christian doctrine, which is merely an attempt to give it verbal expression.  Poetry, according to Wordsworth, consists of emotion recollected in tranquility.  Doctrine, according to liberalism, has a precisely similar character.  It is nothing more than an endeavor to put into words the content of religious feelings, impressions, and intuitions.  The only facts to which doctrinal statements give expression are the feelings of those who produce them.  Doctrine is, simply, a by-product of religion.  The New Testament contains the earliest attempts to express the Christian experience in words.  Its value lies in the fact that it is a first-hand witness to that experience.  Other generations, however, must express the same experience in different words.  Doctrinal formulae, like poetic idiom, will vary from age to age and place to place, according to the variation of cultural backgrounds.  The first-century theology of the New Testament cannot be normative for twentieth-century men.  But, this is no cause for concern, and means no loss.  Doctrine is not basic or essential to any form of religion.  No doctrinal statements or credal forms, therefore, are basic or essential to Christianity.  In so far as there is a permanent and unchanging Christian message, it is not doctrinal, but ethical – the moral teaching of Jesus.

Not all liberals went so far as this.  But the views detailed above were all implicit in the liberal outlook, and some liberals, at least, were ready to maintain them all.  And, as Machen insisted, “the true way in which to examine a spiritual movement is in its logical relations.  Logic is the great dynamic, and the logical implications of any way of thinking are, sooner or later, certain to be worked out.”  His own Christianity and Liberalism was a demonstration that liberal views formed a coherent system – but one which was, simply, not Christian.

From: “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles by J. I. Packer (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), pp. 25-27.  This quotation is from Packer’s first book – a book which has held its value, just as Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism (1923) has.


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