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Liberalism and Evangelism: a Traddie responds

Monday, January 14, 2019


I came across this article in the Church Times by Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes in which she claims that it is time for Liberals to “reclaim” evangelism from the Evangelical wing of the CofE. Given that the Evangelical wing of the CofE is the wing most likely to break off and ally itself to the Jerusalem Declaration Churches such as GAFCON and AMiE, it is quite apparent that the Liberals need to make sure that empty pews are filled by more palatable and inclusive Christians.

First of all, why do I bother commenting on this? Surely, it’s none of my business, being a member of the ACC having renounced my affiliation to the Established Church? Secondly, I’m a Catholic, neither an Evangelical (in the Low Church sense of the term) nor a Liberal (in the “progressive modernist” sense of the term). I don’t have a horse in the race, do I?

As I have said before, the fact of being established does mean that the CofE is trying to speak on behalf of all Christians, which it most assuredly does not. It raises the question as to whether it is, in fact, speaking for and Christians at all, given that it seeks to employ the atheist and the heterodox in positions of influence whilst leaving aside those who believe wholeheartedly in the three creeds and that God-given library which we know and love as Holy Scripture. I also have a profound doubt in the claims of the Liberal/Progressive wing within the CofE to be properly Christian.

Secondly, I am worried by the word that Dr T-H uses in her essay. When she says that she wants “want to reclaim evangelism for liberals” what does she mean by the word “reclaim”? Does she want to “want to reclaim evangelism for liberals from Evangelicals” i.e. does she regard the Evangelical voice to be contrary to the Gospel and need to silence it? Or is she being inclusive and just wanting Liberals to start evangelising better alongside Evangelicals? The problem here is quite clear in that Evangelicals, and Traddie Catholics like me, believe in the immutability of the nature of Sin and that Sin is not the matter of opinion of the Church but rather the clear direction of God as something He wants to save us from.

What I do notice is in Dr T-H’s article is that she does seem to build straw man and even almost admits it when she refers to the caricature of “Christianity as a religion of ‘Thou shalt not’, smiting, and the fear of hell.” It’s clear that she is trying to evoke the image black-clad bible-bashing Protestant flinging Hell and Damnation about like goodness knows what into the mind of the reader. Yet, she so readily talks about Salvation and this begs the question, “salvation from what?” If it isn’t salvation from Sin and Hell, then what are we to be saved from? If Christ Himself speaks of Hell, then should we not listen? Does God send people to Hell? No! They send themselves there. Surely, if Dr Threlfall-Holmes can understand that Traddies have left the Church because they will neither accept her as a priest nor her liberal preaching, then she will understand just how someone ends up in Hell by rejecting God and His salvation.

The salvation that Dr T-H seems to be alluding to is very strange and it seems to me to be typical of the notion of Salvation in Liberal Theology. She says that she sees Liberal Theology as that “which does not see our salvation as relying on our getting Christianity right; and from a theology of creation which believes in “original blessing” rather than original sin.” It’s interesting that neither do the Evangelical nor the Traddie Catholics see our salvation as “getting Christianity right”: that would be Pelagianism. Where the Evangelical and I might part company is over the idea of Original Sin: I tend to understand that in the more Orthodox notion of a fracture of our human nature as a result of our misuse of free-will – a fracture which is infected with evil and sin. However, neither the Evangelical nor I see our salvation as something we get right. Our salvation comes about by faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ and (I believe) co-operating with His grace by wilfully displaying that faith in works of Charity alongside Him. In order to be saved, (and salvation, I believe, is a process, not a one-off event) I need to know Our Lord Jesus Christ – I need to make sure that it is the real Jesus Christ and not an idol of my own making. The fact that Our Lord is an historical figure as opposed to a mythical figure means that there are objective things we can say about Him, and the fullest historical evidence for what we can say about Him comes from the Gospels. We may not know His every opinion, but we can be sure that if He has an opinion on our salvation, then it is not just opinion, it is objective fact. Why? If the Christian believes John iii.16-17, then it is clear that Our Lord knows what He is saving us from and thus what He teaches is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. Orthodoxy is therefore of salvation importance to the Christian.

And talking of Orthodoxy, what does “getting Christianity right” mean? Surely that’s orthodoxy. But I thought Liberalism was supposed to be about believing and trusting in God – isn’t that doing something right? Or are we saved without any input? Are we saved against our will? Dr T-H claims “The heart of liberal Christianity, for me, is, fundamentally, very orthodox: the belief that God’s love is unconditional, and is enough.” So there is some contradiction. Are we to get Christianity right by loving God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves? Or are we saved regardless? Is Dr T-H a follower of “Origien’s” apokatastasis whereby all are eventually saved, even Hitler, Jimmy Savile and the Devil? No Hell means no Justice, it also means that love coerces our salvation and, to my mind, that goes against love.

She cites Bishop Michael Curry as being the prime example of Liberal/Progressive Evangelisation, and yet, if we do the biblical thing and test the spirits. Bishop Curry speaks to the emotions and passions rather than to the soul. His sermon has been shown to be rather content free and equivocating on the meaning of Love. I suspect that a translation of that sermon in Greek would show up the jarring discrepancies that Bishop Curry makes when he confuses agape,philia and eros in the same sermon. If this is the archetypical Liberal Evangelism, then it is a sower of confusion making the self the arbiter of what right and wrong are in this milieu of moral relativism. If this is the gospel that people want preached, then it isn’t actually going to transform them, rather, it will entrench them further in their own self-caricature. There is no challenge in this Liberal Gospel.

I notice that, like most Liberals, what is actually at the heart of Dr T-H’s gospel is not Love but Power expressed through the Marxist language of Rights and Privilege. She speaks of handing power over to the historically marginalised forgetting that Christianity is not about power, but rather Love. Yes, Christ’s Kingship means that Christians have a political dimension to their expression of the faith, but the kingdom of God will be built upon Christ and Faith in Him. It is not true that every historically marginalised body is Christian. The Jews have suffered much in the way of historical marginalisation, but Christians cannot accept their “power and agency” over the Church. Christianity is centred on the teaching of Christ and not on politically correct apologies to the socially marginalised, especially when that marginalisation has been self-inflicted through the rejection of the teaching of Christ. Yes, that teaching is centred on love, but on the transformation in that love by which we die to sin and live to Christ. If we continue to sin unrepentantly, then we cannot be living in Christ because to do so necessarily rejects that transformation which is offered not imposed according to the character of love expounded in I Corinthians xiii.

Again, Dr T-H resorts to the implied straw-man of the Evangelical selling a “pre-packaged solution” whilst the Liberal knows that she hasn’t “got there”. This is rather offensive in a way. The Incarnation is precisely the “pre-packaged solution” to the human calamity and to the transformation of human life. It requires unpacking certainly, but the Catholic Church has the framework in which that unpacking takes place. We don’t stifle questions but rather seek solutions in the person of Christ as has been revealed to us by God Himself in Scripture, Tradition and Reason. It is Experience which frames the question and Scripture, Tradition and Reason which work together to seek the solution. Experience is not a source of Authority, it is the means whereby we interact with the Revelation of the Incarnate Christ. Perfect knowledge is not attainable in the life, but Orthodoxy allows us to converge to it rather than diverge from it.

Finally, Dr Threlfall-Holmes does as all Liberals do and refutes herself beautifully. “Ask questions, give away power, and risk trusting God rather than your programme for the results.” Indeed, I trust God rather than the Liberal programme for the results. Likewise, Dr T-H should also seek not to trust in her own liberalism but rather seek the real God in Christ. She can only do so if she rejects her relativism, especially her trust in “secular experience” and Liberation-Theology. We notice again, the Liberal search for Christ away from the Church – the search for the Groom away from the Bride. To bring communities up in secular philosophies will never bring them to Christ but rather to a distorted image worked out through secular morality and values.

It’s a shame that a clearly intelligent woman is so confused about the rot that Liberalism is causing her church. As an Orthodox Christian, I say that she is wrong but, out of love and respect, I must allow her to be wrong and wait for her, like the Prodigal Son, to return to the Church where the Father will gloriously and outrageously receive her in joy. However, for this to happen, she, like me and every other sinner must recognise sin and evil for what they are and repent. She can’t do this if she, like all followers of the Liberal Agenda, reasons sin out of existence through equivocating on the Word of God. Like most other Liberals, she seems to find fault with the conviction that Conservative Christians have for their faith. I am convinced that there is a God and I have good reasons for why I am an Anglican Catholic in my approach to Christ. If that offends her and that she rejects my arguments and those of other Conservative Christians on the grounds that conviction is a sin, then how can she be convinced that she is right to do so? If nothing is objective and we can be certain of nothing, then being convinced of something leaves us no worse off and all convictions are equal in this regard. She has no grounds on which to call Conservative Christians to account, nor any reason to evangelise to the unchurched in the first place.

I hope that the evangelising of the Evangelicals as well as the evangelising of the Traditional Catholics continue to expose the false evangelism of the Liberal and Progressive movement until the latter truly finds Christianity and thus ceases to endanger the salvation of souls.

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