The slippery slope of liberalism

In the grand scheme of “who annoys Nathan most” there’s a battle between the rabid anti-theists and the waffling liberals.

They seem unlikely bedfellows. But liberals like Spong and his ilk, and atheists like Dawkins, work off each other in a symbiotic way – both pulling people away from Christianity like a fat frog pulls moths away from a lamp.

Today I read a post where an atheist asked what religious believer fellow atheists would mourn in death – and many admitted an admiration for Spong – some even claimed that it was reading Spong that lead to their atheism.

I’ll be sad when John Shelby Spong passes away. It was by reading his writings that I started to shed my fundamentalist views, and if it were not for him, I would not be the happy atheist I am today.

Then I read this article on the Sydney Morning Herald about how significant Jesus is to history. The author, a politician, couldn’t quite decide what his response to this historical Jesus should be…

From whatever perspective we come, thinking people ought to be able to agree, the birth of Jesus was a good day for mankind. I suspect I may never quite shake the childlike hunch that there is some uniquely divine imprint on the central individual of the human story. Happy Birthday, Jesus.

But the rabid commenters on the article were quick to point out what his response should be.

I don’t believe the arguement that without religion we would not have morals, if we followed the morals of the Church we would be burning alternative medecine practitioners (aka witches) and would say goodbye multicultural Australia. Sorry Christmas day is a sad day for humanity it made hatred justifiable.

The anti-slavery movement was founded in Enlightenment principles — all men are equal, and all that — principles that the Christian churches fought every step of the way, until at the very last the unquestionably correct fight was joined by some fringe (at the time) Protestants.

It’s funny how we all read history differently and often with the prejudice that comes with our philosophical views.

Once you get to the point of liberalism – of distrusting and second guessing the only account we have of God communicating to the world, or of reinterpreting history through a postmodern lens, you may as well pack the whole thing in. Which is why this “shocking” billboard campaign from a Liberal Anglican church in New Zealand doesn’t actually shock me at all… it saddens me.

It creates a dichotomy between “progressive” Christianity and “fundamentalist” Christianity. What it actually means is people who reject the Bible and read it through the lens of culture and people who believe the Bible and interpret culture through it. When did they think the Bible was culturally relevant? Was the culture of Corinth – where a man was permissibly sleeping with his step mum – really that much different to our sex charged culture today? Did people really only discover sexual freedom in the 1960s?

Here are some quotes.

Fundamentalism believes that Christianity is essentially about individual salvation and admission to an after-life off the planet. What one believes rather than how one behaves is paramount. This planet is merely a testing ground.

Progressive Christianity however emphasizes behaviour above belief. How one treats ones neighbours, enemies, and planet is the essence of faith. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a celebration of God in every birth and every person.

For fundamentalist Christians the incarnation is about the miraculous arrival of a baby soon to die and by his blood save us. For progressive Christians the incarnation is about the miracle of this planet earth and all life that exists here.

It came with a pretty bizarre string of comments where people clearly struggle to articulate a cohesive logical view on the incarnation from a “progressive” standpoint.

This one is from a commenter named Matthew who shared a series of statements he no doubt believes are quite profound.

“If Jesus is the product of divine insemination (in whatever format) and not the seed of Joseph, then he is not human, his crucifixion means nothing because he has no connections to humanity, it’s just God killing himself to prove he can.

If however (as must be true) Jesus is an enlightened being birthed from the union of a man and a woman, then his life and his death can be seen as a statement of the possibilities of humanity, not some freak show that simply excites Mel Gibson fans.”

I’d counter this claim with the notion that if Jesus isn’t part divine then all aspects of his divinity are lost and the whole thing falls down. If he’s just human then there’s nothing that “connects” him to God. And why does Jesus require a human father in order to be human? Why isn’t a human mother sufficient? There are so many problems with the logic of the supernatural when people try to translate it into a rational framework.

If it “must be true” that God can’t intervene in the womb of a person then what’s the point of having a God to begin with? What’s the point in believing in a God who didn’t become flesh?

At that point it’s far more honest to be an atheist and join some sort of community group like Rotary where you actually do good things and don’t cause trouble for the true believers – though one suspects Spong isn’t actually too disappointed by the fact that his teachings lead to atheism.


Phoebe says:

I was thinking the same thing Nathan when I saw the whole 'Billboard controversy'. To me, atheism makes a whole lot more sense than 'liberal' Christianity – at least atheism is a semi-consistent worldview (albeit the issue of morality within atheism is completely arbitrary and non-sensical in my opinion). Liberal Christians see the Bible like a restaurant smörgåsbord, and proceed to pick out the unoffensive, 'culturally relevant' bits (which of course change with every generation) and leave out the more undesirable parts – like the inherent sinfulness and depravity of mankind. You end up with this incredibly wishy-washy, superficial doctrine which succeeds in giving us warm, fuzzy feelings, but never really delivers in giving real joy and hope because when you remove the fundamental elements of the gospel (substitutionary atonement for example) it all kinda falls in a big, jumbled heap.

I am reminded of a couple of verses in 1 Cor 15: 14 'And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.' And verse 19: 'If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.'

Calling the Bible the only account you have of God communicating with the world is absolutely hilarious, seeing how it begins with the idea that it actually is communication from God.

I've got a communication from God on a potato… want to see it? It says the Bible was made up.

Yes, yes. Your view is correct, and everyone else is so *silly*. It's all so clear now. You could not possibly be wrong, right?

Nathan says:


Given that I'm a Christian it's entirely consistent that I believe that God would communicate with his creation.

Even the Liberal Christians should believe that.

It becomes inconsistent to stay a Christian if you reject that fundamental tenant of Christianity. What's the point of being a Christian if you're not interested in the notion of a supernatural God. It makes much more sense to be an atheist.

Of course I could be wrong. So could you. Being wrong is a part of being human. I'm yet to be convinced that I am wrong though… feel free to try.

Your communication on a potato unfortunately does not really stack up against the Bible. It is the testimony of one man and his root vegetable against several men writing over a timespan of thousands of years where the individual writings were compiled into one volume at a later date.

Lee Shelton says:

Just wondering: Have you ever studied presuppositional apologetics?

Nathan says:

Hi Lee,

I am aware of the fundamentals of presuppositional apologetics. I haven't "studied" them per say. I find them compelling personally but I'm pretty sure they don't really work all that well when you're dealing with atheists.

I find that framework – like many evangelistic or apologetical frameworks – works heaps better with either nominal Christians or agnostics. It just doesn't scratch where atheists itch (unless the spirit moves them to itch that way).

Andrew says:

It's quite ironic that some of those who call Fred Phelps evil for celebrating the deaths of those he disagrees with talk about 'dancing for joy' when he dies. Apparently is morally corrupt to be happy about someone's death, unless it's someone you don't like (and obviously for reasons that you approve o and not ones you don't…)

There is an interesting point, however, that their list is made up almost entirely of controversial leaders (though the attack on Mother Theresa is petty as best. As soon as Hitchens gets his hands dirty, perhaps I'll listen). No Billy Graham, no John Stott, no Jim Packer etc.

Leah says:

Your 'rabid commenters' make me so angry. Comments like that demonstrate the ignorance of their author. And I hate it when people make accusations against Christianity ignorantly. The person who made the comment about slavery obviously missed the fact that one of the greatest anti-slavery fighters, who fought for many years of his life (William Wilberforce) was a Christian. Not just a "fringe" protestant who jumped on the bandwagon at the last minute.

People also demonstrate ignorance in lumping all Christians under the Catholic banner.

And that Matthew person is just stupid. Since when does God divinely inseminating a woman mean her offspring is suddenly devoid of human DNA? That aside, Matthew also obviously misses the point of the crucifixion and resurrection. Those are important because that's when Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon himself. I dont think that would change whether he was human or not – he's still being killed in our place. People gloat when they think they've pulled out a trump card, but they don't even realise what they're supposedly trumping.