President Obama, when trying to appeal to values voters, touts his faith. His overarching approach is well reflected in a statement he made in February 2012 at the National Prayer Breakfast where he said, “In my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems.”
This statement is all well and good, but for it to have any meaning at all his understanding of “faith” and “values” must be defined. Everyone who has any understanding at all of the concept of worldview recognizes that it is not the fact that a person has faith and values which is key. The radical jihadist who walks into a school and blows up children is operating on faith and values, as is the local abortionist who takes the lives of innocent preborn children. What is really at play relates to what faith and values are being discussed.
Without a doubt, President Obama is leading with faith and values. It is impossible not to. Again, the question is, “What faith and what values?” He has actually spoken to this on numerous occasions. Based on his own pronouncements:
- He believes that when one part (of the community) suffers, every part suffers.
- He believes in a country that rewards hard work and responsibility, a country where we look after one another, a country where we say, “I’m my brother’s keeper.”
- He believes we must have universal health care because it will make the economy stronger for everybody. Also, because of God’s command to love thy neighbor as thyself.
- He believes the auto bailout was the right thing to do because the Bible tells us that to whom much is given, much is expected.
- He believes that those who have more should give more.
The Root of Theologically Liberal Christianity
While the focus of what has been said up until this point has revolved around president Obama, that is not really the most important matter at hand. The purpose is not to focus on Obama’s values, but to distinguish Christian values from non-Christian ones. The president’s high profile expression of these values is only an example. There are many like Obama who self-identify as Christians, but whose values come from places other than the Bible and whose solutions for carrying out their values in the culture are not biblical solutions. The reason he is being used as an example is because his beliefs represent those of a whole segment of American culture. This segment of the culture tends to self-identify as Christian, but the expressions of belief do not come from a Christian worldview. In fact, they actually come from naturalistic beliefs but are merely clothed in Christian vocabulary. This is the domain of liberal Christian theology.
How Theologically Liberal Christianity is Expressed in the Culture
There are several strands of liberal Christian theology which exist. The strand represented by our president is Liberation Theology. There is also Christian existentialism, postmodern Christianity, neo-orthodoxy, and others. While each version has its distinguishing features, they all have the same common foundation which interprets Scripture without believing it to be divinely revealed by God. In other words, they base their biblical interpretation on naturalistic presuppositions.
There are a couple of problems with liberal Christian theology which cause it to be not only wrong theologically, but confusing to uninformed Christians.
1. It uses Christian vocabulary.
What Christian doesn’t believe that:
- When one part of the community suffers, all parts suffer.
- Hard work and responsibility are important.
- I am my brother’s keeper.
- We should love our neighbor as ourselves.
- To whom much is given, much is expected.
These are all Christian beliefs. In fact, they come straight out of the Bible. So, when these concepts are taught to Christians who don’t realize that the teacher is using liberal theological presuppositions, they actually don’t know that what they are being taught is not really biblical Christianity.
2. It uses naturalistic worldview concepts.
The problem is, when the above concepts are evoked based on liberal Christian theology, the meanings are entirely different from the biblical meaning. The phrase that is often used to express these ideas is “social justice.”
Liberal Christian theology starts with the foundational belief that the community, not the individual, is most important. This is not to say that for biblical Christians the community is not important. It certainly is. But in the Christian faith, salvation occurs on the individual, not the community level. The idea of collective salvation emerges from naturalistic ideas of morality. As such, the rights and responsibilities of the individual are subordinated to society. And when one goes down that path, there has to be some group of people who lead in determining how salvation is defined and expressed for the society. It becomes this leadership group which, then, defines society’s beliefs and values and how they are implemented, rather than the teachings of the Bible itself.
The problem emerges, then, that it is secular philosophy, not biblical concepts, which are used to define the terms of morality. So, looking again at the expressions above, here is what they really mean:
- When one part of the community suffers, all parts suffer. Therefore, we have to create societal mechanisms which take the resources of those who are not “suffering” and redistribute it to others in order to make everything fair.
- Hard work and responsibility are important. Therefore, the ones who have resources must continue to work hard and be responsible by allowing their resources to be taken and given to those who are “less fortunate.”
- I am my brother’s keeper. Therefore, it is the responsibility of those who have resources to allow them to be taken and redistributed to those who don’t have as much.
- We should love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, those who have their resources confiscated in order to be given to others should do it willingly and not gripe about it.
- To whom much is given, much is expected. Therefore, the more one has, the more responsibility they have to allow their resources to be taken and given to the “less fortunate.”
What is the Real Issue?
So, as we look at what is actually being advocated, we must realize that the real issue does not relate to whether or not we should help others. Christians believe that as firmly as do those who follow theologically liberal Christianity. Rather, the issue revolves around how that help should be conceived of and delivered.
Theologically liberal Christians look to society to be the savior of the people. As such, they believe that those who are responsible for making sure that the needy are taken care of, and the mechanism for doing that, should be organized society (government). They believe that it is the duty of the government to even out the distribution of resources by taking from those who have and giving to the less fortunate. They believe that individuals do have personal responsibility, but not all individuals – only those who have resources. Those who are deemed to be the “oppressed” have no responsibility to work to get resources for themselves, but should be the recipients of that which is redistributed from the “haves.”
On the other hand, biblical Christians believe it is the responsibility of the individual Christian to voluntarily do this as they are led by the Holy Spirit. Based on biblical teachings, there are two places where this plays out. Those who are the “have nots,” have a responsibility to work hard to make their way as much as possible. Those who “have” are responsible before God to voluntarily help those in need based on the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Theologically Liberal Christianity Is Not Limited to Economics
While economic issues tend to be the most visible aspects of discussions of liberal Christian theology, other areas of morality are also involved. Traditional Christian morality does not tend to be one of the hallmarks of theologically liberal Christianity. In fact, a large percentage of the followers of this approach have unbiblical ideas regarding issues of life, sexuality and marriage. In fact, many of the mainstream protestant denominations which have bought into liberal theology openly advocate for abortion and homosexual marriage.
There is a reason for this. As was mentioned before, the primary worldview beliefs of theologically liberal Christianity are not derived from Christian Theism – they come from Naturalism. Naturalism does not use the Bible as its primary authority source. Rather, it uses human reason. That being the case, the influences of secular culture tend to be dominant, and with that it becomes easy to rationalize whatever social and moral beliefs are popular in the society at any given time. In modern American culture, abortion and homosexual marriage are a couple of the favorite issues of those who follow liberal Christian theology.
A Biblical Christian Response
Biblical Christians too often don’t interject themselves into the debate very well. We actually do have the truth about the nature of reality on our side and it is what is found in the Bible. I am personally convinced that the problem is not so much that biblical Christians don’t want to engage the culture war. Rather, it is that most are not knowledgeable enough about the issues to feel confident engaging it. It requires not only being up to speed on what is going on in the culture, but also on the teachings of the Bible. On top of that, it requires that individuals live a life that is consistent with the Bible’s teachings about morality.
As Christians, we need to stand up to the non-Christian culture. Not in an ugly way, of course, but in a way which powerfully expresses and affirms the truth of the gospel. We need to heed Jesus’ admonition to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. We should always express ourselves with meekness, but never allow our meekness to be taken as weakness. Our ability to stand strong for our faith in an increasingly hostile culture depends on the ability of Christians to understand biblical beliefs and live them out in life.
© 2012 Freddy Davis