Part 6: Reformation to Now. Lesson 7 of 7.
Lesson 40. The Situation Today
Through today’s lesson, we hope you will confidently continue to speak the gospel message as the power of God unto salvation without feeling concern for those who continue to devise new and different theories,
1.Academic Theologians. In the academic world, theologians have continued to provide new ideas since World War I. Conservatives call some of these theologians “liberals.” The word “liberal” is used with a different meaning now than in the 19th century. In the 19th century, someone who said that ethics or feelings was the essential part of Christianity, rather than placing the atonement of Christ at the center, was called “liberal.” Today, someone who adopts the theories of Historical Criticism in a way that casts doubt on certain basic questions – such as, is Jesus God? Did his death deal with my sins? Are the moral directives of the New Testament still true for today? – will probably be called “liberal.” Following are some twentieth century theologians.
2.God’s Word as Jesus. A theologian from Switzerland named Barth disagreed with the academic custom of basing theology on social or historical viewpoints. From 1932,he taught that Christianity should be based on God’s Word, not on philosophy. This was a rejection of 19th century liberalism. By the phrase “God’s Word,” Barth did not mean the Bible, rather he meant Jesus Christ (as in John 1, where Jesus is called “the Word.”). Though Barth used the Bible as a source, he did not see the need to defend the Bible against the attacks of historical criticism, since doubts about details of the Bible would not affect his central idea that Jesus is God’s revelation to mankind. Because of Barth’s stress on Jesus, people recognized the closeness of his teachings to the traditional views, and called his views “neo-orthodoxy.” He was not recognized, ,though, as an ally in the liberal-conservative controversy by conservative Christians, because from their standpoint, he was not seen as helping them take a stand against “historical criticism.” Nevertheless, it is possible to see Barth’s influence in some evangelical writers today.
3.Myth. In a book of 1941, a German scholar 1 wrote that we must understand the New Testament as “myth,” and express the truth in terms of a “myth” that makes sense today. By the word “myth” he did not mean something imaginary, but a story that gives insight into truth. It did not matter to him whether the story actually happened. He felt that some Bible stories did not express “truth,” so he discarded incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and second coming.
4.Start from current situation. In 1951, German theologian 2 said we should seek God by finding what we need in our current situation. He wanted to make the Christian message relevant to today’s culture.. He said we should start with our questions, and then consider how God could be the answer to our questions. He strongly emphasized the “Protestant Principle” (Bible only, grace only, faith only). However, he did not reject the findings of “historical criticism,” and therefore he did not have much influence on conservatives. Rather than defending orthodox teaching, he said it was enough if a theologian promised to regard the ancient teachings as his “objects of concern” for research and reflection.
5.Redemption as Victory. In a book of 1930, a Lutheran in Sweden 3 asserted that the early church looked at redemption in terms of Christ’s victory over evil; and that he felt this was a different idea than redemption as Christ’s payment to God for sin, which had been put forth in 1078 by Anselm. (The other well-known explanation for Christ’s death was when in 225 the church scholar Origen said that Jesus death brings us back from Satan to God.) He also called our attention to Christ as the one who restored the human race. Through his teaching, the concept of “redemption” has been enriched.
6.God and the future. In a book of 1982, an American Episcopal theologian 4 claimed that God does not know the future. He was following the idea of A twentieth century philosophy called “process philosophy,” so his approach is called “process theology.” He also taught that God needs the things He created. In Acts 17:24-26, though, Paul says that God does not need anything, and that God has already determined the future times and boundaries of the peoples of the world. empires?
7.Feminists. The feminist theologians have called attention to the high position given to men in the Bible. Different feminist theologians draw different conclusions from this observation. Some see this as a reason to regard the Bible as out of date. Others have helped us see that many women of the Bible were used by God to do great things, and therefore remind us that the gifts of women should be recognized and utilized today. The differences of opinion about the place of women as church leaders stems from several scriptures. Paul tells Timothy that he does not allow women to teach or have authority over men. 5 Those who accept the claims of some women that they have been called to be pastors question this passage, asking whether it might have applied only in those days, when women were not as well educated, or not accepted as leaders in society. They say that today we could realize the ideal stated in another Bible passage which says that . All are equal, for in Christ there is no distinction to be made between male and female. 6 Over the past 70 years, more and more churches have revoked the rule that only men can be pastors. The earliest was in 1953, when women were ordained in the Congregational Church. In 1954 the Methodist church began to ordain women, and in 1956 the Presbyterians, and in 1975 the Episcopalians. Some conservatives in these churches have regarded these developments as a sign of liberalism, because they feel it rejects Bible teaching. Interestingly, Pentecostal churches are regarded as having a very conservative view of the Bible, but have used women pastors starting from when they were founded in 1901.
8.Liberation theology. In 1974 a Catholic priest 7 explained the “liberation theology” he had developed in South America. In South America, the Catholic bishops did not criticize the government power structure that oppressed the poor, so this priest brought poor Catholics together into small groups, to find ways to overcome the oppression. In this way, the kingdom of God was seen not so much as eternal life in heaven, but as improving our situation here on earth. His ideas were also influential in Africa and poorer countries of Asia. These groups continue today, although in many cases they have been transformed into Bible studies and prayer groups.
9.Be a Disciple to be saved. Even among conservative Christians, ideas do emerge that could cloud the freeing truth of justification by faith. One group, which was growing in the 1980’s, takes the important idea of “discipling” and uses it in the opposite way for which it was intended. The mainstream view is that all believers in Jesus are disciples. Because we believe in Jesus, we have new life, and the process of nurturing this new life, and helping one another grow to become more mature, is called “discipling.” Helping each other in this way is good, and in fact, when Jesus tells us to reach the world for Christ, he actually uses the word “disciple:” by saying “Go and make disciples of all nations.” 8 To make disciples means the same as “to help people become Christians and grow as Christians.” Jesus makes some strong statements about disciples in Luke 14 that we must hate our own life to be a disciple, that we must carry our cross, that “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” 9 The common Christian view of these verses is that they show us what to repent of. When we realize that God is not “first” in our lives, we confess to God, and ask Him to continue to strengthen our new life. We have confidence that God will do this, because we are already God’s children through faith in Jesus. The “obedience for salvation” movement teaches that “First you must obey all the rules about being a disciple, and only then can you become a Christian.” This teaching is the exact opposite of the Bible message, which says that a person is not called right in God’s sight because of observing God’s laws, but by faith in Jesus Christ. 10
10.Disagreement inside churches. In many denominations today, the ordinary believers think that their leaders are becoming too liberal. At their delegate meetings, liberals and conservatives sometimes argue. Recently, many of those arguments have been about homosexuality. Paul in Romans 1:18 says that God’s wrath 1¹ is upon those who do wrong. He first says that it is wrong to worship idols, and then in verse 27 Paul writes that same-sex acts is against God’s will, and calls it shameless. 12 . Some leaders say that these Bible statements about homosexuals do not apply to today’s situation. They say we should recognize that homosexuals are normal and need to be accepted. Their position is that by accepting homosexuality they are promoting human rights, that they are forerunners of the future, and that God’s grace requires that we accept everyone. Conservative Christians typically use the word “liberal” to describe those positions. Conservatives agree that God loves all people, and that God wants all people to hear the gospel; therefore, they agree we must welcome homosexuals to hear the gospel, and if a homosexual becomes a believer, we must be patient with him while God helps him grow to understand and accept biblical teaching about homosexuality. But conservative Christians do not want to have pastors who do reject the word of God. Therefore, when the leaders of the Episcopal Church in America selected an active homosexual to be a bishop, many of the church members did not agree, and some churches have left the American Episcopal 13 branch of the Anglican 14 church. These churches have placed themselves under the authority of a conservative African Anglican bishop. Recently, in many denominations, conservatives are succeeding in convincing the leadership to return to their church’s original biblical teaching.
11.Interpretations. It is a fact that some Churches affirm members who engage in homosexual behavior. They teach that God has made these members to be homosexual, so they should accept and thank God for this gift. When they look at the New Testament passages that forbid homosexual acts, they say that these passages do not refer to today’s situation, but rather refer to “using homosexual acts to worship idols.” Conservatives do not agree with this interpretation. Conservatives say that we must let God’s word tell us whether our behavior is acceptable or not. Conservatives stress that God loves everyone. Even though God is a forgiving God, we receive this forgiveness not by ignoring God’s law, but rather by repenting when we disobey God’s law. Conservative churches would welcome anyone to come to church, but typically would usually not put a person into a position of leadership if that person does not accept a teaching of the Bible.
12.Denominations that include both liberals and conservatives are today often called “mainline” denominations. They are also called “conciliar,” [from the word council] because they attend the meetings of the World Council of Churches (lesson 4.10). Some conservative members continue to stay in their mainline churches, to struggle against the views of the liberals. Others have left those churches and joined or formed churches in which there is no liberal teaching. For example, in the 20th century some people left the Methodist church and formed more conservative Methodist churches called Wesleyan churches. In general, conservative churches do not send delegates to the World Council of Churches. Some conservative churches have formed world-wide groups that include only other conservative churches.
13.Confessional stance. Among those who try to follow the ideas of Luther or Calvin closely, the term for conservatives is “confessional.” The origin of this term is that during the 1500’s and 1600’s documents were written by Christian Denominations to explain their positions, as explained in lesson 37. These documents were called “confessions.” For example, in 1530 Lutherans meeting in a German city called Augsburg produced a document called the “Augsburg Confession.” Today, a Lutheran who wants to emphasize agreement with the understanding of Christianity that was written in the Augsburg Confession will call himself a “confessional Lutheran.” By using this term, he differentiates himself from liberals among Lutherans. A follower of Calvin who does not have the emphasis on “feelings” or “experience” use by an evangelical, would call himself a “confessional” Calvinist.
14.Postmodernism. Just as fundamentalists are a reaction against modernism, similarly the postmodern view is a rejection of the thought of the modern era. The postmodern view first became well-known as a form of literary criticism. Books that had been regarded as true accounts were reinterpreted (“deconstructed”) to show that they were meant to keep the ruling class of the day in power. The postmodern view rejects the very things that were important in the modern view: the value of reason and the ability of science to find truth. The postmodern view is that truth cannot be found. All statements are said to be relative (as opposed to “absolute,” so there can be no “absolute truth.”) People are said to make statements because they are trying to gain or keep power, not because they are true. Therefore it is alleged that each person lives for personal feelings and personal priorities that are not necessarily true for others.
15.The postmodern view need not be seen as an imposing barrier to Christian witness. Christians have said all along that God cannot be known through human reason, so by criticizing human reason, the postmodernists are clearing away one barrier to Christian witness. On the other hand, the postmodern rejection of “absolute truth” stands in contrast to the Christian message that God has revealed absolute truth. The term “apologetics” means the answers given by Christians to objections and misunderstandings about their faith. Because the “modern era” looked for truth in reason and science, Christian apologetics during the modern era used philosophy, archeology and ancient documents to show that the Bible is credible. While the Christian apologetics of the modern era, centered on reason and science, may not be meaningful to postmodernists, there are aspects of Christianity which can reach postmodernists, such as the unconditional love, peace of heart, and acceptance by God. Since someone becomes a Christian by a miracle of the Holy Spirit as the gospel is shared, the postmodern rejection of reason and science need not stand in the way of the person becoming a Christian.
16.Washed. This curriculum narrated many problems and conflicts in the church. Paul writes that Christ loved the church; Christ gave himself up for the church; Christ cleanses the church; and at the end the church will be made blameless by Christ. 15 At that time, we will live with God forever.
1 Bultmann 布特曼. Barth is 巴尔特
2 Tillich 田立克
3 Aulen 奥迕
5 1 Timothy 2:13
6 Galatians 3:28
7 The priest’s name is Gutierrez. This movement was criticized by the Catholic officials in Rome for certain parts of its theology, although the Catholic Church agreed that there should be responsibility for the poor.
8 Matthew 28:18
9 14. In Luke 14 verse 26 Jesus says that we must hate our own life to be a disciple. In verse 27 he says we must carry our cross. In verse 33, he says that “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
10 Galatians 2:16
11) wrath = 愤怒， 憤怒 [fen nu]
12) shameless = 可耻（恥）的事 [ke chi³ de shi]
13] Episcopal = 声公会 聖公會 [sheng gong hui]
14) Anglican communion 安立甘派 = church of England.
15) Ephesians 5:25-27