A Theology for Hipsters (Part 32): Keeping the Fundamentals (Part 11)

We’ve been discussion for a few posts now three values: individualism, rebellion, and progressiveness. All three are really intertwined. Rebellion and progressiveness are really symptoms of the desire for selfish distinction. And the desire for selfish-distinction produces rebellion and leads us to tend towards progressiveness. The church was warned of the last of these threats three centuries ago. Sadly it did not heed that warning and a whole slew of well-meaning Christians were led astray in their pursuit of the new.

The 19th Century church saw the encroachment of liberal theology at a rate that was undoubtedly alarming. Progressiveness itself had been around for almost as long as the history of the church. Heretics crept up everywhere from among the early church, the Medieval church, throughout the Reformation, and into the 18th century, but it was among the church in the 19th century that a flood of heresy and liberalism engulfed Christians. It came in the form of German Higher Criticism, a literary theory which denied the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and cast doubt even on its most basic meaning. It came in the form of the Quest for the Historical Jesus, a historical approach to Jesus that denied his supernatural nature in favor of a strict natural biography. It came most notably in the form of the Social Gospel, a shift away from the good news of Jesus death for sinners to an emphasis on Christianity as purely a movement for social reform. Theological Liberalism’s legacy cannot be overstated.

In the 20th century more and more American churches adopted liberal theology and more and more progressive theological developments were being promoted. Rudolf Bultmann began to “demythologize” the Bible, the Christian Atheists pronounced God is dead, and religiously plural theologians began to deny the exclusivity of the Christian faith. At various stages in the 20th, and into the 21st century, different emphasis dominated the theological landscape and served as the authority: experience, history, and science. Noticeably missing from much of the dominant academia was Divine Revelation. This progressiveness has birthed a bewildered, confused, and, in many quarters, a dead church. We today are the inheritors of a progressive church culture.

Thankfully God has preserved His church, as He said He would, and many faithful men and women reaffirmed the core doctrines of the faith. J. Gresham Machen, the distinguished Princeton New Testament scholar wrote a, still very useful, book titled, simply, Christianity & Liberalism in which he defended classic orthodox Christianity. He stated plainly that if the liberals wanted to pursue their own studies they were free to do so, but that they should stop calling themselves Christians, for they were indeed not. Many others with him took a stand and elsewhere faithful men and women persevered reading their Bibles and praying. But liberalism had made its mark and today’s church bears much of its imprint.

More and more young Christians today are embracing pluralism, denying the authority of Scripture, and contending for a purely humanitarian Jesus over a supernatural one. In part the rejection of Fundamentalism has sent many hipsters running into the arms of liberals, who were noticeably more open. The Emergent Theology of the day is particularly prone to simply copying 19th and 20th century liberalism. And the results are that the gospel is being lost, the Scriptures are being displaced, and God is not known. The point I am trying to make in this rapid fire history is that progressiveness is not all it’s cracked up to be.

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