When We Give Up The Gospel, We Get Unbelief In Return

16 Sep

As I conclude some studies in modern church history, something that I cannot help but notice is the following pattern:

As the church drifts from the Gospel, moralism takes its place, and ultimately leads to unbelief.

Before I explain, let me define some terms:

Gospel–the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for the redemption of man (God’s people) from their sin and judgment

Moralism–an emphasis upon morality/ethics to the exclusion of the objective, historic, salvific Gospel

Unbelief–lack of faith in the exclusivity/truthfulness of Christianity, and even a skepticism regarding the existence of God in any form and the value of religion

Liberal theology arose in 19th Century Europe, with the spread of Kantian philosophy.  Theologians like Schlieirmacher and Ritschl were skeptical of the truthfulness of Scripture, and, therefore, redefined Christian theology, moving away from the Gospel.  These men, and others after them, stressed the moral/ethical value of Christianity (as one religion among many with such value), the inherent goodness of man, and the supremacy of human reason.

Yet, this theological perspective, and its optimism in the nature of man and reason, was rocked to the core by two world wars, and the evil they exposed in the hearts of men.  This, in turn, had great repurcussions in Protestant Europe.  As Justo L. Gonzalez writes in, The Story of Christianity Vol. 2:

In the twentieth century, partially as a result of the failure of liberalism and its optimistic hopes, those areas where Protestantism had been traditionally strong–Germany, Scandinavia, and Great Britain–also witnessed a decided increase in skepticism and secularism.  By the middle of the century, it was clear that northern Europe was no longer a stronghold of Protestantism and that other areas of the world had usurped its position of leadership in Protestantism.  Thus, Europe, formerly the center of Christendom, was moving “beyond Christendom.”

A similar case could be presented for the current state of affairs in the United States.  The same kind of liberal theology made its way across the ocean in the early parts of the 20th Century, and bore fruit still visible today.  It is seen in the moral/ethical value of religion for the individual; the inherent goodness of man; the supremacy of human reason; and the relativism of truth claims.  But as the fruit rots, it inevitably leads to unbelief.

This is the crossroads at which I believe we have arrived.  As we drift from the Gospel, a vague morality/system of ethics takes it place, and ultimately leads to unbelief.  Its no surprise to me that many of the atheists I know grew up in churches focused upon moralism and personal feeling, to the exclusion of deep theology and a robust Gospel.  And it also doesn’t surprise me that we live in a society today that views Christianity (and religion) as irrelevant when it comes to understanding truth and morality.

My prayer is that God would grant renewal.  I pray that many who have become disillusioned with moral religion, and skeptical of the “god” it presents, would turn to a robust, hope-giving, efficacious Gospel.

This is not meant to be yet another polemic against liberal theology (although, it may be that as well), but rather a cry for people to ponder history, to consider what the truth is, and what the Scriptures tell us about God, man, the Gospel, and the world.

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