Thursday, 28 January 2010

Notes from the Future: Evangelical Liberalism in the UK

The Lord Jesus called me into his kingdom in April 1974 in a Baptist church in Southampton, England. He had blessed me with a Christian family, and my conversion was very much a humble acceptance in my heart of truths I had long known in my head. Then, almost immediately after my conversion, I found myself (as a 15 year old) having to resist liberal theology from my fellow pupils at school, and even more so from my teachers.

I've used the word "liberal," though it felt very different from the liberalism I now see and sense. To get a grip on where things might go in the future, as far as human wisdom allows, I want to think about the difference between liberalism then and now (typical Englishman, looking at history to see the future!). This is my personal perspective, limited by place (England and part of Australia), and by ignorance of much work going on in those places. And, despite the problems outlined here, there is much that is thoroughly encouraging.


Back then, theological liberals inside and outside the Church of England were very clear they were not evangelicals. I found them often intelligent, frequently generous, and oddly tolerant of my views, although sometimes patronizingly. For them, my evangelicalism betrayed my personal immaturity and, God willing, I would outgrow it. They set great store on the human intellect. What did not commend itself to their intellects could not be true, even if said by Scripture. With the benefit of hindsight I see this was the legacy of the nineteenth-century "liberal catholic" theological school, led by Charles Gore.

Five things strike me about this legacy. First, I'm struck by the legacy's conservatism. That sounds odd. But on the ethical issues of the day (abortion, drugs, promiscuity) and on much theology (Is there a God? Did Jesus rise? Is sin a real problem?) it returned conservative answers. That disguised both to them and us the gulf that lay between us. Read more
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