Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Problem with Liberal Protestantism

"The problem with liberal Protestantism is that, if you are willing to alter the tenets of your Faith to meet transient social changes, then – in the final analysis – how real do you actually believe that Faith is? Real things tend to be intrinsically determined. You can’t make water out of hydrogen and chlorine; you can’t barbecue a deer and decide that it’s broccoli; you can’t jump off a cliff and not hit the bottom because you’ve decided to revise your views on gravity. True religion, in service to an objectively real God, is the same way. It is what it is, and no amount of 'reappraising' will change it into something else however much we try to convince ourselves otherwise."

6 comments:

Kurt said...

Hum...what “transient social changes” are we talking about here? Abolitionism? Labor rights?Civil rights? Women’s equality? Anti-colonialism? Gay rights…? etc. Many of us do not believe that such social changes are “transient.” They are just as “intrinsically determined” to us as any conservative social agenda is to the con evos.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Bryan Owen said...

Kurt, if we're talking about supporting measures that respect the dignity of human beings, that challenge bigotry and hatred, and which protect rights to self-determination, self-conscious reflection, and self-realization, then I personally don't see that as altering the tenets of the Christian faith to meet transient social changes. On the contrary, (and bearing in mind that there are limits to things like self-determination and autonomy, etc.), it seems to me that such changes would not be moving away from the Christian faith but living more deeply into its moral demands when it comes to the intrinsic value of human beings.

The question this passage raises for me is whether or not there are certain tenets of the Christian faith when it comes to doctrinal belief and moral behavior that are an intrinsic part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. If there are, then changing those tenets to accommodate changes in the society within which the Church finds herself - even with the best of intentions - would be unfaithful.

Bryan Owen said...

I would also add that this passage brings to mind another critical take on liberal Protestantism. I'm thinking of H. Richard Niebuhr, who once described liberal Protestantism as devoted to "a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross" [The Kingdom of God in America (orig. 1937) (The Wesleyan University Press, 1988), p. 193].

Derek said...

The question this passage raises for me is whether or not there are certain tenets of the Christian faith when it comes to doctrinal belief and moral behavior that are an intrinsic part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. If there are, then changing those tenets to accommodate changes in the society within which the Church finds herself - even with the best of intentions - would be unfaithful.

Ah, I see. You're talking about divorce, then.

Bryan Owen said...

Yes, Derek, I would definitely include divorce in the list here. Particularly since my ordination, I’ve become increasingly aware of many pastoral and ethical issues raised by divorce within the Church. I am, of course, aware of the complexities of the kinds of issues raised by both divorce and remarriage. Drawing on the work of Richard B. Hays, I’ve written before about the relevant New Testament texts. And I’ve noted that none of the New Testament writers address issues such as spousal abuse as a legitimate reason for divorce. I’ve also noted that in cases calling for moral and pastoral discernment, other factors may also require appeal to additional authoritative resources in tradition and reason to supplement the diverse biblical witness. A harshly legalistic approach simply won’t do.

Even so, I’m troubled by cases involving Christian couples who get no-fault divorces because they’ve “grown apart” or “fallen out of love” or, quite frankly, because they’re just bored with each other and at least one of them has found someone new. I’m not aware that the Church has proactively addressed the dissonance such cases create with the declaration of consent and the vows in the marriage rite. When the Church does not respond to such cases with appropriate discipline (a word that makes many of us mainliners cringe, I realize), and when she is willing for couples who get such divorces to remarry in the Church, is she altering a tenet of the Faith to meet transient social changes (i.e., tolerating if not embracing the new cultural norm of serial monogamy)? That strikes me as a serious question.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful quote! Thanks for sharing.

I have so say, though, how odd it is that Derek raised the issue of divorce (which, I agree with you, Bryan, is a very serious issue in the church), and then he doesn't bother to respond to what you've written in response. And here we are over a year after he makes his comment and you've responded and there's still nothing from him but silence. It makes me wonder if he was really sincere, or if, instead, he had some kind of agenda in mind.

Frederick