This series outlines the history of liberal criticism in the church, it fallacious premises and anti-semitic motivating forces, and then proposes some solutions as to how it can be refuted soundly and systematically rooted out of the popular culture.
How liberal academic criticism of the New Testament was co-opted by the anti-semitic 19th century German Higher Critics
All but vanquished in the early 20th century, liberal criticism has experienced a revival in the last 50 years on three fronts – among the intellectual academicians, among liberal “mainline” Protestant churches and in the popular media. The main tenets of liberalism – that Jesus was merely a man and not the Son of God risen from the dead in conquest over sin and death; that the received text of the Bible is unreliable and historically inaccurate; that the miraculous events of scripture did not really occur, but were merely stories told to embellish legendary events – are popular in small pockets of the church especially among British and European denominations and among the faculty of large secular universities with Divinity Schools.
In America, the conservative evangelical churches are far outpacing the growth of liberal denominations to the point where the mainline is no longer the “mainstream.” However, the viewpoints expressed in the books and articles of a liberal elite are given credence by the popular media over their conservative evangelical counterparts, even though the actual numbers of the liberal professors of religion are far fewer than the faculty at more numerous conservative Bible Colleges and Seminaries.
Most conservative Christians in America don’t understand exactly how liberalism within the church began and why its influence is still being felt. We tend to simply dismiss the liberals as skeptics and atheists, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, without giving them a hearing. However, when a group like the Jesus Seminar gets its press releases published far and wide, when books like The Da Vinci Code become runaway bestsellers with movie blockbusters and a myriad of television documentaries in tow, evangelicals chafe at the very suggestion that the biblical doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is not a settled issue among lettered churchmen. Even among those who claim to be conservatives, a “neo-orthodox” influence is felt in the form of a low view of the inerrancy of scripture.
The three greatest controversies in the church began early in its history. The Gnostic threat actually preceded Christianity. Gnosticism was actually a broad tendency in several eastern religions that had infected the Hellenistic Jews in the few centuries prior to Christ. Gnosticism in the church later gave way to Arianism and Pelagianism.
In his History of Redemption, Jonathan Edwards notes the irony that the Arian and Pelagian threats came only after several centuries of Jewish and Roman persecution had failed to quench the revival fire of the early church.
After the destruction of the heathen Roman Empire, Satan infested the church with heresies. Though there had been so glorious a work of God in delivering the church from her heathen persecutors, and overthrowing the heathen empire…. But the church soon began to be greatly infested with heresies; the two principal, and those which did most infest the church, were the Arian and Pelagian.Indeed, the second century Church Father, Tertullian of Carthage, noted that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” It turned out that heresy within the church was its gravest threat. Gnosticism in its various forms — Mithraism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, etc. —was a threat to the church from the beginning because these mystery religions influenced nearly every world religion at the time including Judaism. However, the later “Christian” Gnostics did not deny the deity of Christ, but instead perverted the nature of the Godhead and the Incarnation by deemphasizing either the material or spiritual aspect of Jesus.
Likewise, Arianism was a heresy that denied a proper understanding of the Trinity, while Pelagianism compromised the Gospel by denying salvation by free grace. None of these heresies denied that Jesus was divine. Although there have been numerous atheist, pagan, Jewish and Muslim skeptics throughout history, the idea that Jesus was fully God and fully man was a settled issue among Christians long before the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D.
Even if we consider the Enlightenment thinkers, rationalists, Deists and free-thinkers of the 1600s and 1700s, who denied the deity of Christ, the attacks were from those rightly called “infidels” — those against the faith — rather than from churchmen who had become liberalized in their interpretation of scripture.
Then beginning in the early 1800s, a group of German theologians began to reexamine and deconstruct the history of the Old and New Covenant Church and along with it question the reliability, integrity and historicity of most of the Bible. Here was the first time in history that skeptics and doubters arose within the church. As Jonathan Edwards noted, it is as though the devil decided that attacks from without could not fail, so therefore he once again fought a battle from within.