Last winter Mike Ovey had a piece in the 9Marks eJournal that I just got around to reading: “Notes from the Future: Evangelical Liberalism in the UK.” It’s a thought provoking description of how British liberalism has changed and the kinds of bad reactions to the new liberalism that we want to avoid. I summarize, excerpt, and reformat slightly below:
Old Style Liberals
Many UK liberals used to give conservative answers on ethical issues, the existence of God, the deity and resurrection of Christ, and the problem of sin. Ovey describes UK liberalism as “so, so English. It was decent and humane . . .“ Pleasant people with whom to share a polite cup of tea. Liberals used to insist that they were not evangelical. Liberalism was marked by sinful self-sufficiency, agreeing with evangelicals on what the Bible says and means but objecting that certain parts of the Bible were not authoritative. Old style liberalism was a cut flower. It maintained the bloom but the root had been severed. Its descendants have no connection to the vine.
New Style Liberals
Unlike old style liberals, new style liberals call themselves evangelicals. They show that they are not evangelicals, however, by denying penal substitution, embracing open theism, or waffling on whether homosexual activity is sinful.
The waters are muddied because ideas that would not have been regarded as evangelical in the past are embrace d by people claiming to be evangelical now. The cultural conformity at work in the new style liberalism is clear to any with eyes to see. Agreement on the meaning of the Bible has been lost. Ovey writes, “appealing to a biblical passage too often does not further the discussion but merely introduces convoluted and indecisive hermeneutical arguments.” As a result, we are seeing fragmentation and a lack of “accepted criteria for resolution.”
For Every Action . . .
Here I am going to quote Ovey in full, breaking his final two paragraphs into individual statements:
Lastly, the provocations of new-style evangelical liberalism can push one towards something else that is equally unhealthy.
Thus against evangelical liberalism’s individualism and anti-authoritarianism
comes a new authoritarianism which can mistake obeying a guru for obeying the living God.
Against evangelical liberalism’s cultural conformism
comes a culture-rejecting attitude that is ghettoizing and exclusivist.
Against evangelical liberalism’s antipathy to treating some things as of first importance
comes an attitude that sees all things as of first importance.
There are signs this reactionary attitude is gathering speed,
and it can be just as unbiblical as any of the new-style liberal attitudes I have just outlined.
On reflection, I wonder whether new-style liberalism and its unwelcome mirror image do not both understate a key Christian virtue—humility.
The new-style liberal needs the humility to approach the Bible as a reader, not an author.
The reactionary needs the humility to live out the truth that disagreement can legitimately take place this side of glory.
Read the whole thing here.