A WARNING AGAINST MODERN LIBERALISM
Samuel E. Waldron
Truth For Eternity Ministries
Truth For Eternity Ministries
outreach of the
Reformed Baptist Church
3181 Bradford NE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49525 USA
© Truth For Eternity Ministries
First Published 1998
Printed in the United States of America
There is an old maxim which says, Know your enemy! I am convinced that in modern liberalism we are face to face with the greatest cultural enemy of Christianity in our day. Modern liberalism is public enemy number one. If we are going to defend ourselves, our families, our churches, and our country against it, we must know our enemy! The goal of this little booklet is to explain modern liberalism and issue an urgent warning against it. No one who has viewed the scandalous situation in Washington and the lack of moral outrage in our land as a response to it can fail to understand the urgency of this warning.
The Essential Nature of Modern Liberalism
A Contemporary Definition
The term, liberalism, has several different nuances of meaning. One of the most common uses of the word is political. Political liberalism is generally associated with the politics of the Democratic Party in the United States. I am in danger, then, of being interpreted politically when I tell you to Beware of modern liberalism! Thus, you may think that I am warning you against the Democratic Party. Some of you may think that this would not be a bad thing to do! But actually it is not my purpose to warn you merely against political liberalism.
The political liberalism often associated with one of our major political parties here in the United States is actually but one dimension or manifestation of a spiritual and moral philosophy or worldview which is much bigger than politics. I will not presume to give you my own definition of this point of view. Judge Robert Bork (whose appointment to the Supreme Court was defeated by the forces of political liberalism) gives a definition likely to be greeted as much more authoritative than my own. Allow me to quote several paragraphs from his book, Slouching Toward Gomorrah.
Modern liberalism may not be quite the correct name for what I have in mind. I use the phrase to mean the latest stage of the liberalism that has been growing in the West for at least two and a half centuries, and probably longer. Nor does this suggest that I think liberalism was always a bad idea. So long as it was tempered by opposing authorities and traditions, it was a splendid idea. It is the collapse of those tempering forces that has brought us to a triumphant modern liberalism with all the cultural and social degradation that follows in its wake. If you do not think "modern liberalism" an appropriate name, substitute "radical liberalism" or "sentimental liberalism" or even, save us, post- liberalism." Whatever name is used, most readers will recognize the species. The defining characteristics of modern liberalism are radical egalitarianism (the equality of outcomes rather than of opportunities) and radical individualism (the drastic reduction of limits to personal gratification). These may seem an odd pair, for individualism means liberty and liberty produces inequality, while equality of outcomes means coercion and coercion destroys liberty. If they are to operate simultaneously, radical egalitarianism and radical individualism, where they would compete, must be kept apart, must operate in different areas of life. That is precisely what we see in today's culture.
Modern liberalism is very different in content from the liberalism of, say, the 1940s or 1950s, and certainly different from the liberalism of the last century. The sentiments and beliefs that drive it, however, are the same: the ideals of liberty and equality. These ideals produced the great political, social, and cultural achievements of Western civilization, but no ideal, however worthy, can be pressed forever without turning into something else, turning in fact into its opposite. This is what is happening now. Not a single American institution, from popular music to higher education to science, has remained untouched.
(Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, pp. 4, 5, 6.)
I think Judge Bork sees clearly the essential commitments and general nature of modern liberalism. The essence of modern liberalism is a dual commitment to radical individualism and radical egalitarianism. What Judge Bork means by this is commitment to the ideals of individual liberty and social equality radicalized or taken to extreme. Radical individualism leads to the conclusion that it is evil for anyone or any society to set limits on liberty. Radical egalitarianism leads to the conclusion that it is wrong for anyone to have or achieve more than someone else.
A Christian Analysis
Helpful as his analysis is, Judge Bork is not writing from an explicitly Christian perspective. Thus, he does not look at these matters as clearly as it is possible to look at them from the perspective of Christian theology. The best way to understand the ideals of modern liberalism is to see them as natively and originally Christian ideals divorced from their Christian context and distorted into something that they were never intended to be. There is a Christian ideal of personal liberty or individualism. In Christianity, the idea of liberty is not the supreme good. Christianity inculcates the ideal of liberty so that men may be free from the oppression of men to serve and seek the glory of God. Remember, for instance, the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:21-23: "Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men." The old 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Chapter 21, paragraphs 2 and 3) echoes the Westminster Confession when it supports the ideal of liberty in the following words:
2 God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to His Word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
3 They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the
Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our lives.
There is a Christian ideal of personal liberty or individualism, but both Paul and our Confession make clear that it is a subordinate good or a means to an end-not the supreme good or the end in itself. The Confession in the last lines of paragraph 3 alludes to biblical language which describes the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. The Civil Rights Movement was also fond of appropriating such language in its cause. The Exodus is, indeed, a classic illustration of the importance of liberty in the Bible. But the Exodus incisively supports the very point we are making. Israel was liberated from Egypt that they might serve Jehovah in the wilderness (Exodus 4:23; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7).
We could show in the same way that there is a Christian ideal of equality. There is equality before the law, and there is even in a sense equality before the gospel.
What has happened in modern liberalism is that these Christian ideals of liberty and equality have been divorced from their Christian context, emptied of their Christian meaning, and distorted into something they were never intended to be. In Christianity God's glory is the supreme good. In modern liberalism liberty and equality have become the supreme goods and ends in themselves. Now men are to be free-not to serve God-but to pursue their own desires. Now men are to be equal not for the sake of justice, but in the interest of individual and class envy. Liberty has been distorted into radical individualism and equality into radical egalitarianism.
The sports organization in the Northeast which recently decided no longer to keep score in their soccer tournaments provides a perfect illustration of the distortion of equality into radical egalitarianism. Before equality meant that the referee called the game equally-enforcing the rule of law evenly on both teams.
Thus, he provided what we call an even playing field. This was equality. But now equality has become radical egalitarianism. We no longer keep score so that nobody's self-esteem will be injured by an unequal result.
A Further Illustration
So having forsaken the true God, modern liberalism now serves the two gods of radical individualism and radical egalitarianism. One problem with this-and Judge Bork points it out-is that it is by no means clear that the wills of these two gods will not conflict. Thus, as he was previously quoted as saying, they must be confined to their own areas of life. But, of course, these impulses often cooperate too. Let me quote Judge Bork again to give you a clearer idea of how these two gods are being served in 20th century America.
Radical egalitarianism reigns in areas of life and society where superior achievement is possible and would be rewarded but for coercion towards a state of equality. Quotas, affirmative action, and the more extreme versions of feminism are the most obvious examples but, as will be seen, radical egalitarianism is damaging much else in our culture. Radical individualism is demanded when there is no danger that achievement will produce inequality and people wish to be unhindered in the pursuit of pleasure. This finds expression especially in the areas of sexuality and the popular arts.
Sometimes the impulses of radical individualism and radical egalitarianism cooperate. Both, for example, are antagonistic to society's traditional morality-the individualist because his pleasure can be maximized only by freedom from authority, the egalitarian because he resents any distinction among people or forms of behavior that suggests superiority in one or the other. When egalitarianism reinforces individualism, denying the possibility that one culture or moral view can be superior to another, the result is cultural and moral chaos, both prominent and destructive features of our time.
Radical egalitarianism necessarily presses us towards collectivism because a powerful state is required to suppress the differences that freedom produces. That raises the sinister and seemingly paradoxical possibility that radical individualism is the handmaiden of collectivist tyranny. This individualism, it is quite apparent in our time, attacks the authority of family, church, and private association. The family is said to be oppressive, the fount of our miseries. It is denied that the church may legitimately insist upon what it regards as moral behavior in its members. Private associations are routinely denied the autonomy to define their membership for themselves. The upshot is that these institutions, which stand between the state and the individual, are progressively weakened and their functions increasingly dictated or taken over by the state. The individual becomes less of a member of powerful private institutions and more a member of an unstructured mass that is vulnerable to the collectivist coercion of the state. Thus does radical individualism prepare the way for its opposite.
Judge Bork rightly sees that radical individualism must resent what he calls the limits which traditional morality places on his pursuit of pleasure. One indication of this resentment is the sexual revolution and the abortion rights movement. He rightly sees that radical egalitarianism must resent any distinction which implies that one culture or individual is superior to another. Manifestations of this resentment are feminism and multiculturalism. Feminism says, No man is going to tell me what to do or have any rights I don't have. Multiculturalism argues that Western Civilization with its Judaeo-Christian heritage is no better and probably worse than other cultures.
A Final Conclusion
These are keen insights on the part of Judge Bork, but again their true meaning is not clearly seen until we place them in an explicitly Christian perspective. These resentments amount to-are equivalent to-resentment of the sovereignty of God. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign in the sphere of morality. His sovereignty is revealed in His laws. When modern liberalism resents "traditional morality", it is God's sovereign law against which it rebels. Again, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign in the sphere of reality. If there are natural distinctions among men, it is because God has ordained those distinctions. If some hold positions of authority, if some achieve more than others, if some are born with more privileges and abilities than others, these distinctions must ultimately be traced back to a sovereign God. When modern liberalism resents such distinctions and attempts to erase them in the name of egalitarianism, their resentment is again directed against a sovereign God.
Modern liberalism, then, is not merely a political platform. It is the zeitgeist. It is the spirit of our age. It is a moral and spiritual philosophy or worldview which consists essentially in resentment of the sovereignty of God over the world. This philosophy or worldview reaches into and attempts to change every area of American life.
The Biblical Portrait of Modern Liberalism
Modern liberalismis in many respects a uniquely modern development. Yet, strange to say, there is an astoundingly contemporary, biblical portrait of the main features of modern liberalism. Examine with me Judges 21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
Notice three things in this text:
The Parallel It Presents
Little needs to be said to prove that in this text we have a very clear summary of the ideals of modern liberalism.
There is radical individualism described here. What phrase could better describe a situation in which this ideal of modern liberalism was supreme than the phrase, "everyone did what was right in his own eyes"? In that day in Israel radical individualism had attained universal prevalence. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
There is radical egalitarianism described here. There is no more radical antithesis to the idea of complete social equality or egalitarianism than a king. Thus, the text connects the supremacy of radical individualism with the fact of radical egalitarianism. Men did what was right in their own eyes because there was no king in Israel to prevent them from doing their own thing. Since there was no king, they were all equal and free to do as they pleased.
The Situation It Summarizes
On the premises of modern liberalism one might expect that "those days" in Israel would have been a kind of golden age. One can even imagine someone in our day quoting this verse as a kind of proof-text in favor of Modern Liberalism. No use of this text could, however, be more mistaken. This text actually is intended to crystallize or summarize the reasons why those days in Israel were so degenerate and disastrous. Radical individualism and radical egalitarianism are actually and scathingly condemned in Judges 21:25. The proof of this lies in understanding the connection of this verse with its surrounding context.
As the very last verse of the Book of Judges, Judges 21:25 is clearly intended as the summary or theme of the entire book. Even the most superficial examination of chapters 1-16 of Judges confirms that these were dark days in Israel. The cycle of apostasy, judgment, repentance, and deliverance are repeated again and again in those chapters in a tragic downward spiral of national degeneration.
Yet, though there is clearly a connection between our text and the entire Book of Judges, it is just as clear that there is a special connection between our text and the last five chapters of Judges. The sentiments of our text are repeated four times in these last five chapters (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Beginning in chapter 17 and occurring in four of the last five chapters of Judges, the assessment of our text resounds throughout the final chapters of Judges. These five chapters form a kind of appendix to the Book of Judges. These chapters amplify, confirm, and illustrate the radical confusion of the entire period of the Judges. There is, thus, a special and close connection between the last five chapters of the Judges and our text. Judges 21:25 forms the inspired diagnosis of the social disease illustrated in the last five chapters of the Book.
This appendix to the Book of Judges contains two extended accounts that are amazingly contemporary. There is the account of The Rise of the Rival Shrine in chapters 17 and 18. There is the account of The Disaster of the Benjamite War in chapters 19-21. Let me briefly summarize these two accounts. Even this brief summary will show how dark those days were in Israel and how parallel they are to the contemporary scene in Liberalized America.
Chapters 17 and 18 record The Rise of the Rival Shrine. The main lesson of this narrative is the religious degeneration and confusion that prevailed in Israel during these days. We see here a shrine built by Micah to Jehovah in plain violation of Jehovah's most basic laws. We see a Levitical priest countenancing this shrine and selling his ministry to the highest bidder. We see superstitious Danites stealing this shrine apparently thinking that such a stolen shrine will actually do them some spiritual good. We see these Danites unaccountably being fabulously successful in an enterprise which was plainly not blessed of God and then setting up this shrine in their newly won territory. We learn that this shrine continued for a long time and was enormously influential in the later history of Israel. We learn (if a very probable textual variant is correct) that part of the reason it was so influential was that the priest in question was actually the grandson of Moses himself (Judges 18:30). No narrative could more plainly evidence the religious degeneration and confusion associated with there being no king in Israel and every man doing what is right in his own eyes.
But this religious degeneration and confusion was connected with and led to moral chaos, civil disaster, and more manifestations of ethical blindness and conflict. This is the point of the second account: The Disaster of the Benjamite War. This account is presented in three parts:
Its Appalling Prologue, 19:1-30
Its Tragic Catalogue, 20:1-48
Its Bitter Epilogue, 21:1-25
In the Appalling Prologue (chapter 19) we read of a Levite taking a concubine. We learn that this concubine committed adultery. We hear that this Levite nevertheless determined to restore the woman and traveled to Bethlehem to speak (literally) to her heart. We learn that the Levite and his concubine are openly accosted by homosexual rapists-not in a Gentile city, but-in a city of a tribe Israel. We learn that this Levite (who supposedly loved his concubine) to protect his own skin brutally thrust her out to be raped and sodomized. We learn that the Levite when he discovered that his concubine had been murdered by these human beasts was so angry that he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent it to the twelve tribes of Israel as evidence of what had happened. No account could more graphically alert us to the increasing sexual immorality in Israel at this time: Levites taking concubines, concubines committing adultery, the Levite retrieving his concubine out of mere sexual desire, then casting her to the dogs, open homosexuality, brutal rape, and all in the midst of Israel. When Judges 21:25 says that "in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes," it is also explaining the moral chaos prevalent in Israel. Marital infidelity, open homosexuality, and heartless brutality characterized Israel when everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The Tragic Catalogue of the Benjamite war is set before us in chapter 20. There is the great gathering of all Israel from Dan to Beersheba as the people of God gather to deal with the abomination which had occurred at Benjamin. There is the Benjamite belligerence. Despite the fact that they had received the awful messenger of the Levite (19:29) and knew of the assembly at Mizpah (20:3), the Benjamites refused either to come to Mizpah or deliver up the criminals of Gibeah. Rather, with incredible perversity and folly they gathered together at Gibeah to battle against the sons of Israel. There is the wasting war. There is terrible loss of life as first Israel is bloodily defeated and then the tribe of Benjamin almost completely annihilated. The great lesson of this chapter is that where religious confusion rises, and moral chaos reigns, civil disaster and bloodshed results.
Chapter 21 recounts the Bitter Epilogue to the sad story. These verses first relate the remorse of Israel over the destruction of one of the tribes of Israel and how in terrible folly, ethical blindness, and stupid brutality they attempt to rectify the situation. The more they attempt to fix the problem, the more they show their ethical darkness and the worse they make the situation. On these discordant notes of mass, religious and spiritual confusion the Book of Judges ends. This chapter serves to underscore how men in that day walked in darkness and knew not at what they stumbled. The ethical blindness, confusion, and conflict resulted from the fact that "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
Here is the situation summarized in our text. Not good, but massive cultural evil is epitomized by it. "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" summarizes a time of religious confusion and degeneration, moral chaos, disastrous civil strife, and incredible ethical blindness, confusion and conflict. Now think about it! What account could more vividly describe the very social calamities which have attended the rise of modern liberalism in America. As we live in these dark days of scandal and see the deplorable lack of moral outrage in America, we see the ugly fruit of the worldview of modern liberalism.
But those who know their Bibles will not be surprised at the connection of radical individualism and massive evil. Evil always results from iniquity, and radical individualism is iniquity. Isaiah the prophet stated the very essence of human iniquity when he said in Isaiah 53:6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Doing what is right in our eyes is the same as turning to our own way and is the essence of human sin.
The Solution It Suggests
Judges 21:25 is intended to do more than merely diagnose the social disease destroying Israel. There is an agenda promoted by it and intended in it. The author is saying in not so subtle language that Israel needs a king. Four times the absence of royal authority is declared to be "the moral of the story" of chapters 17-21 (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Clearly, it is the absence of royal authority in Israel which the inspired author of Judges intends to emphasize in these chapters.
But it is not just any king that Israel needs. The intimate connection of the Book of Judges with the Book of Ruth points to a concern to promote the Davidic monarchy. The Book of Ruth has the same historical setting as the Book of Judges. In fact, sometimes it was counted as one book with the Judges by the ancient Jews. As with Judges, Samuel is said to be its author in the ancient Jewish Talmud. There is, thus, an intimate connection with Judges. This gives us a right to see a close connection between the ending of Judges and the conclusion of Ruth (Ruth 4:18-22). In one sense, the whole point of Ruth is to be a prologue to David's rise and reign. Judges 21:25 is, therefore, a call for practical commitment to Israel's King. No doubt one of the purposes of the book of Judges was to call Israelites to practically embrace and support David as their king. This call very directly leads us to the thought that the great need today is for practical commitment to King Jesus.
Before we continue with this explanation of Modern Liberalism, a crucial truth must be underscored and applied. The only solution, answer, or antidote to modern liberalism and the religious, moral, and civil disaster which it is bringing upon us as a country is the unashamed and practical owning of Jesus Christ as the King, as the Sovereign of all things including the United States of America and everyone in it. This has many implications. Let me just give you a few.
(1) The solution to our country's problems is not abstract family values. Nor is it doing what is right for the children. Nor is it a kind of political conservatism which only aspires to take us back to an earlier era in our nation's decline. I understand that some popular, conservative, talk-radio hosts do not want to allow religious issues on their program because of all the pseudo-Christian nuts who might attempt to use their program as a platform to spout their weird ideas. Yet, the fact is that there is no adequate response to the propaganda of modern liberalism except a frank setting forth of the fact that Jesus Christ is the King and has a right to limit our liberty by His laws. To attempt to counter modern liberalism without a frank and open acknowledgment that we do so on the basis of a supreme commitment to King Jesus is foolish and will be ultimately futile.
(2) Practical commitment to King Jesus involves a rejection of the morality of modern liberalism. Biblical Christianity is doing what is right in the eyes of the King. If you would be a Christian, you must stop doing what is right in your own eyes. You must understand that modern liberalism sees itself as very moral. Does it not tell people to do what's right? Certainly, it teaches people to do what is right in their own eyes. Part of the deception of Modern Liberalism is that it views itself as very moral. Why, it is so moral that it respects the right of the president to have a private life and does not condemn him for being a liar and adulterer. Further, do not our liberal educators promote values clarification classes in our schools so that they our young people can find out what their values are-what is right in their own eyes? Furthermore, Modern Liberalism tells people that they must be sincere and authentic and not hypocritical, and always do what they think is best. In all these subtle forms the morality of modern liberalism-that morality which teaches people to do what is right in their own eyes-must be rejected. In flat contrast to the morality of modern liberalism we must stop doing what is right in our own eyes and start doing what is right in the King's eyes.
(3) Biblical Christianity involves a rejection of the ideals of radical individualism and radical egalitarianism, the gods of liberty and equality. It means embracing King Jesus as the Son of the God who dares to set limits on our personal desires and who dares to make other people better than ourselves. Embracing Jesus as King means embracing the sovereignty of God in morality and reality. It means, for instance, the acceptance of the authority of the Ten Commandments. It means that the young person must accept God's refusal to permit him to have premarital sex. It means that the Feminist must accept the divine order of male headship in the world. It means that the homosexual must accept God's rejection of his sexual preferences. It means that poor people must accept that God makes other people more wealthy than they are. It means accepting that God is free to make other people smarter, more talented, more athletic, prettier, or more charismatic leaders than we are. If you would have King Jesus, it involves humbly accepting His sovereignty in all these things and in many others.
(4) Biblical Christianity involves deliverance from the emptiness of modern liberalism and its serving of self and the blessing of living for the glorious person of King Jesus. You are not a good enough reason for you to live. Purpose in living and a reason for life can only be found in living for the glory of King Jesus.
The Historical Rise of Modern Liberalism
Under this heading I will attempt to give you some idea by means of a brief overview of why Modern Liberalism has become such a powerful force in our country.
Its American Roots-The Alliance between Liberalism and Calvinism
Many contemporary Christian writers have a view of the history of the United States which says that America was born a Christian nation, but has departed from its Christian roots, and that what we need to do is repent and return to our Christian roots. Modern historians and even some Christian historians have been inclined to the opposite opinion. They have argued that the basic, political philosophy espoused in the founding of our country was hostile to Biblical Calvinism and the precursor of Modern Liberalism. At the center of the debate between these two viewpoints has been the nature of the Declaration of Independence itself. Some have read it as a radical, Deist document. Others have argued that it finds its roots in an authentically Christian-and even Calvinistic-political philosophy.
Neither of these views is in my opinion completely correct. The truth is rather, I think, that the Declaration of Independence was the product of an alliance or wedding of Political Liberalism and Biblical Calvinism. You may wonder how such an unlikely alliance was ever possible. Such an alliance was possible in the era proceeding the founding of our country, because in America Calvinism and Liberalism had each somewhat influenced the other. It is also important to realize that Calvinism and liberalism shared common enemies. They both opposed, for instance, the totalitarian claims of kings and popes to control all of human life. Both thirsted for a country where there would be increased liberty and equality among men.
In my opinion the Declaration of Independence provokes such different interpretations because it deliberately stated its case for the independence of the United States in language which could gain the support of both Calvinistic Christians and Liberal Deists like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Here is why I am convinced that the Declaration of Independence cannot be simply interpreted as a Christian document.
First, its author was Thomas Jefferson who, though appreciating the moral teachings of Jesus, rejected the supernatural claims of the Bible. It is true that Jefferson's personal rejection of Christianity does not necessarily mean that the Declaration is a non-Christian document. It does, however, raise the strong possibility that a situation existed in America where Calvinism and Liberalism had so influenced one another that they could espouse the same political platform.
Second, statements are made in the Declaration of Independence which cannot be defended from Scripture. For instance, the Declaration of Independence asserts that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed and may be abolished by the people when they become destructive of the ends for which they are constituted by the people. This is the social contract theory of government. This theory says that what the people give to their rulers they may take from them. A version of this theory of government had been taught by some Calvinistic writers. They taught that God gave the power to the people, and the people gave it in turn to the government. This theory is contradicted by both the facts of history and the teaching of the Bible. History shows that governments do not always come into existence as a result of a social contract. The Bible does not teach that the right to rule is derived from the consent of the governed. Fathers, for instance, do not receive their authority from the consent of their children. With regard to civil authority Romans 13:1 and 2 teaches, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." These words were spoken of a horribly corrupt Roman Empire which made no claim that it derived its authority from the consent of the governed. Liberalism teaches that what the people give the people can take away. The Bible teaches that what God gives only God can take away.
Third, it is impossible to ignore the fact that radical, liberal ideas of an emphatically anti-Christian nature were present in the intellectual atmosphere of the day. Only a few years later the French Revolution with its liberal cry of liberty, fraternity, and equality would unleash in the name of the people an atheistic and democratic blood-bath in France. The French Revolution in a sense is the very proof of my thesis. So similar were the social sentiments of the French Revolution to those of the American Revolution that it is impossible not to suspect that the liberty and equality of the American Declaration had an affinity with the liberty and equality of the French Revolution. On the other hand, so different were the results of the American and French Revolutions that it is impossible not to acknowledge that something profoundly different and profoundly important was active in the America Revolution and in the American Declaration. It is not difficult to see what that difference was. Calvinistic Christianity had been erased from the face of France by the bloody persecution of the Huguenots in the 17th Century. When the people rose against tyranny, there were no Christian limits on their faith in the people that could prevent the spectacle of Madam Guillotine. In America, however, liberal shouts for liberty and equality had been moderated by the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity. Suppressing the dangerous faith of liberalism in the basic goodness of the people was the conviction that no sinner could be exempted from total depravity or trusted with unchecked power. Thus, when the United States came to adopt a Constitution, it adopted a constitution which manifested a Calvinistic view of human nature and its suspicion of unmitigated and undiluted democracy. The United States adopted a constitution which maintained the separation and balance of powers and which limited and moderated democracy by means of Republican principles of government.
Fourth, in the era that followed the adoption of the Constitution and the founding of our country, history shows that Calvinism and its doctrine of a sovereign God appeared un-American to not a few early patriots. There is incredible evidence of many early American Christians rejecting Calvinism in favor of a more "democratic" kind of Christianity. The decline of biblical Calvinism in America may in no little degree be due to democratic liberalism.
For all these reasons it is too simplistic to view America as a Christian nation which has apostatized from its Christian heritage. From its inception America was founded on a great alliance between biblical Calvinism and democratic Liberalism. The subsequent history of America is the history of the weakening and finally the break-up of that alliance. While Calvinism and Liberalism agreed on the need for more liberty and equality, they disagreed on the nature of mankind. Liberalism assumed an unlimited faith in the goodness of mankind to rule himself if simply allowed to do so. The result is a philosophy of unlimited democracy. Calvinism assumed the doctrine of total depravity and saw human liberty as needing the external limits of God's law and the internal restraints of God's grace. This results in a philosophy of limited government and rule by law which sets limits on the power of the people.
If this treatment of the political and philosophical roots of America is correct, it raises an ominous question. What is that statue in New York Harbor (sent to us by the nation of France!) that we call the Statue of Liberty? Is she the handmaiden of God? Or is she the pagan goddess of liberty? Ambiguity in the very founding of our country made it possible that she might become either.
Its Gradual Progress-The Weakening of Calvinism in the Church and the Progress of Religious Liberalism
The alliance which restrained the innate destructive tendencies of Liberalism was weakened by the decline of Calvinism in American Christianity and hastened by the onslaught of Religious Liberalism. By the 1920's and 30's religious liberalism had in most of the mainstream Christian denominations won the victory. This meant the effective end of Calvinistic doctrine in those denominations. This also meant that the capital which Liberalism required to operate began to dissipate. What do I mean?
Liberalism's faith in democracy and the power of the people assumes that people will limit and govern themselves without a powerful government. As long as the biblical gospel preached by biblical Calvinism produced people influenced by God's common and special grace and who thus were able to exercise self-government, Liberalism worked fairly well. It had capital with which to operate. Once the biblical gospel was destroyed in many churches by Religious Liberalism, this capital began to dry up. Its real source was not the innate goodness of man, but the gospel of Christ. it became clear that Liberalism was empty, barren, unable to produce any capital of its own, and incapable of operating without the capital supplied to it by biblical Calvinism.
Its Dramatic Appearance-The Open Rejection of Christian Morality and the Espousal of Radical, Modern Liberalism in the 1960's
One generation after Religious Liberalism consolidated its victory in the mainstream Christian denominations the true fruits of Liberalism were dramatically unveiled in the turbulent decade of the 1960's. The Calvinistic capital which kept Liberalism from going bankrupt had now almost dried up and the bankruptcy of Liberalism began to appear. The unthinkable began to be not only thinkable but also do-able. Rock music celebrating decadence, the sexual revolution, Woodstock, the Kent State riots, the inner city riots, radical feminism, the abortion rights movement, the gay rights movement, Roe Vs. Wade, Dr. Kevorkian, the right-to-die and physician-assisted suicide, the Bill Clinton presidency followed each other in cascading corruption. The seed of liberalism planted in the Christian orchard had finally killed the orchard and borne its own fruit, and corrupt and ugly fruit it was.
Brief as this overview of American history is, I believe it sheds considerable light on what someone has called the cultural war going on in our country. What we see today in American politics is the aftermath of the break-up of the alliance between Liberalism and Calvinism. The former allies have renounced their alliance and declared war on each other. Christian and Calvinistic values are arrayed against the values of modern liberalism. The claim of modern liberalism to be the only authentic American worldview is exposed as false. We cannot deny that there were seeds of modern liberalism in early America, but they were planted in a forest of Christianity which restrained them from bearing their ugly fruit for two centuries. The appeal of modern Conservatism may be properly evaluated. We are glad for not a few Americans who have recoiled in horror at the ugly unveiling of modern liberalism. But it is not enough merely to take us back to an earlier and only less corrupt era of American history and hold that era before us as our ideal. The growth of modern liberalism is over two centuries old. To accept political conservatism without qualification is simply to accept some less radical form of liberalism. Biblical Calvinism demands the root and branch rejection of liberalism's confidence in man, of liberalism's humanism, of liberalism's view of liberty and equality. It demands a whole worldview arranged around the ideals not of liberty and equality, but around the reality and requirements of the Sovereign God of the Bible.
The Peculiar Threat of Modern Liberalism
It is easy for both writers and preachers to speak as if the evil they are now addressing is the worst and most dangerous evil conceivable. Here Judge Bork issues an important reminder:
In one sense, decline is always with us. To hear each generation of Americans speak of the generation coming along behind it is to learn that our culture is not only deteriorating rapidly today but always has been. Regret for the golden days of the past is probably universal and as old as the human race. No doubt the elders of prehistoric tribes thought the younger generation's cave paintings were not up to the standard they had set. Given this straight-line degeneration for so many millennia, by now our culture should be not merely rubble but dust. Obviously it is not: until recently our artists did better than the cave painters.
This is an appropriate reminder. Nevertheless, as Judge Bork himself goes on to say, modern liberalism does pose a peculiar threat to our civilization and more importantly our Christianity. That is so for several reasons:
(1) Modern liberalism is nationally appealing. There is, as we have seen, a sense in which it is American-made. Americans believe in liberty and equality. All modern liberalism asks Americans to do is make these ideals their gods.
(2) Modern liberalism is culturally dominant. It is a simple fact that modern liberalism now dominates our public schools, our public universities, and our national media. In a sense this assertion needs no proof, but let me illustrate it. Judge Bork relates this tragic, but humorous story of his time on the Yale law school faculty:
Yale had for years been politically liberal, no department more so than the law school, I was one of two Republicans on a faculty of about forty-five. When it was proposed that we hire a man who might possibly have been a third, he was rejected, one faculty member remarking that he would "tip the balance". [p. 36]
Bork also underscores the control of the media exercised by modern liberalism.
Modern liberalism is powerful because it has enlisted our cultural elites, those who man the institutions that manufacture, manipulate, and disseminate ideas, attitudes and symbols-universities, churches, Hollywood, the national press (print and electronic), foundation staffs, the "pulic interest" organizations, much of the congressional Democratic Party and some congressional Republicans as well, and large sections of the judiciary, including, all too often, a majority of the Supreme Court.
This, it must be stressed, is not a conspiracy but a syndrome. These are institutions controlled by people who view the world from a common perspective, a perspective not generally shared by the public at large. But so pervasive is the influence of those who occupy the commanding heights of our culture that it is important to understand what modern liberalism is and what its ascendancy means...
(3) Modern Liberalism is universally intrusive. It controls the media, and nowadays the media is invasive. It is everywhere. Even our homes and cars are not safe from it. Wherever you go, it is a fact of modern life that you have radios, TV's, VCR's, computers and the Internet. You may run from the media, but you can't hide, and the media is dominantly liberal.
(4) Modern liberalism is religiously acceptable. As we have seen, the prevalence of modern liberalism is in no little degree built upon the victory of religious liberalism in the mainstream American Christian churches. While these churches are in decline, they still create a climate where the antithesis and hostility between Christianity and liberalism is obscured. This makes the danger of modern liberalism less clear to many.
(5) Modern liberalism is economically facilitated. The extraordinary wealth of our country has created a situation in which we have an unusual degree of leisure and ease. This creates a situation where entertainment and the media which controls and communicates it to us have an unusual influence in our society. This makes us very vulnerable to the subtle and yet pervasive influences of Modern Liberalism in the entertainment media. TV, videos, movies, and the Internet have a spectacular following in our society, and their message is dominantly liberal.
It is no exaggeration to say that modern liberalism poses a peculiar threat to Christians today. For the reasons I have mentioned above, it may pose a threat in some ways unparalleled in human history. What can we do about it?
The Christian Response to Modern Liberalism
What should we do in light of the situation we face in America on the brink of the 21st century? The key text examined already points us to the proper answer to that question. Judges 21:25 declares, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Where radical individualism prevails, the need is for whole-souled allegiance to the true King. In America today where the radical individualism and radical egalitarianism of modern liberalism is rampant, where the sovereignty of God is resented, the need is the same. What we need is whole-souled allegiance to the sovereignty of God as it is exercised in the reign of King Jesus. I believe this allegiance to King Jesus and the sovereignty of God must be manifested in two crucial ways: the one doctrinal and the other practical.
Doctrinally, the Christian response to Modern Liberalism must be one of uncompromised biblical upholding of the doctrine of God's sovereignty in all of human life.
We must uphold the sovereignty of God's grace. We must continue to believe and proclaim the gospel of sovereign grace which speaks of a Christ who saves whom He will by His free grace. Today, as much as ever, men need to hear that there is a Savior for those who will acknowledge their need for one.
We must uphold the sovereignty of God's law. We must continue to believe and proclaim the sovereignty of God's law over all men. We must uphold keeping the King's laws over against doing what is right in our own eyes. We must not lose our grasp on biblical Puritanism and its clear doctrine of the law of God. A few years back a man who teaches sovereign grace, but rejects the biblical and Puritan doctrine of the law of God came to our city. Thanks to his coming there were advertisements in our local newspaper warning people against and inviting them to hear sermons against the Christian Sabbath. I was amazed at the utter irrelevance of it all. Yes, I thought, that is the great danger we have in our city and in America-too many people trying to keep God's law and the Christian Sabbath! My conviction is that the teaching of God's Word is in stark contrast. What our tragically deceived countrymen need today are the clear limits of God's law to deliver them from the moral disorder and ethical confusion of their lives.
We must continue to proclaim the sovereignty of God and His Word over all of human life. Specifically, we must not be embarrassed to bring the precepts and teaching of the Word of God to bear on government and politics. There are some Christians today who think that somehow it is wrong to attempt to implement biblical principles in our national life, or use biblical arguments in politics. Somehow they seem to have been influenced by the old saying that you can not legislate morality. Morality is, of course, the only thing you should legislate, and the only morality which should be legislated is the morality of the Bible. If the Word of God has sovereignty only over individuals and churches, it is not really the Word of God. If God is not sovereign over everything, He is not really sovereign at all, and the same thing goes for His Word.
Now when I assert things like this, I anticipate that some will be concerned. They may ask, Are you saying that you want to turn our country into a Theocracy? How is what you are asserting different from Christian Reconstructionism or Theonomy? Those are good questions, and they bring me to my next point.
We must continue to proclaim the sovereignty of God and His Word and, therefore, the truth that no human authority is sovereign over all of human life. The sovereignty of God is infringed when anyone claims to exercise control over all of human life. The Bible teaches that only God has sovereignty over all of human life. He has granted only limited jurisdiction over a part of human life to the various human authorities.
The Bible teaches limited government. Yes, that limited government should rule according to the principles of God's Word, but it must not attempt to intrude itself into the lives of people where God has not given it authority. The Bible teaches the separation of church and state. The Bible teaches the religious liberty of individuals from their government. The Bible teaches that there are some things that are none of the civil government's business. The problem with Christian Reconstructionism or Theonomy is not that it teaches the sovereignty of God's Word over government, but that it does not sufficiently understand the doctrines of limited government and religious liberty taught in that same Word of God.
We must-in order to uphold the sovereignty of God and Christ-continue to uphold and proclaim the various human authority structures which God has appointed to order various aspects of human life. Modern liberalism is vehemently opposed to any human authority except that of the state. Against it we must uphold the authority of the husband and father in the family and the authority of the pastors and elders in the church.
But let me also warn against a danger that in the increasing moral chaos all around us we may over-react. Just as the state is not a totalitarian authority, so also the family and the church are not totalitarian authorities. Just as the government has limits on its jurisdiction, so also do fathers and pastors. We must not forget those limits in our reaction against the growing moral chaos all around us.
Practically, the Christian response must be one of thorough-going biblical holiness.
If Christ is sovereign over all, the practical result is that we must be holy in all our behavior. 1 Peter 1:15 is the key text, "but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior." Because Modern Liberalism permeates our nation everywhere, it must be resisted everywhere.
Thorough-going holiness means being holy-distinctively devoted to God-in personal, family, church, and public life. We must be Christians everywhere and in everything. We must be holy personally, but also in our family life. We must be holy in our families, but also in our church life. We must be holy in our church life, but also in our public life.
Thorough-going biblical holiness means especially being holy in the use of our leisure. modern liberalism, as we have seen, is universally intrusive and invasive. We must, therefore, be on guard universally. It is especially pervasive and prevalent in the things people tend to do in their leisure time.
We must especially be on our guard at the media gates to our homes. In our day this is one of the battle-fronts of the Christian life. This battle is being lost in many evangelical homes. The TV, VCR, Computer, and Radio are media dominantly controlled by modern liberalism. I do not advise ejecting these things from our homes, though I must confess I do not feel like condemning those who do that. These are technologies which our children will probably have to learn to cope with and control at some point in their lives. We must teach them by word and example how they must be controlled. I think we do better, if allowing these things in our home, we teach our children their danger and the need to govern them.
Why are these technologies so dangerous? We must remember that these technologies have arisen during the era in which modern liberalism has been dominant especially among the culturally elite who control TV and the Movies. Thus, much of the entertainment material available through TV, movies, videos, and to some extent the Internet is not fit for Christian consumption. Furthermore, much of the rest of it is filled with a view of life which subtly, but very really, is permeated by godless modern liberalism. Thus, we must severely limit for ourselves and our children both the kind and the amount of such influence. We must carefully and strictly govern the use of these media in our homes, if we would not have our own and our children's Christianity eroded by modern liberalism.
Thorough-going biblical holiness means using and maximizing the means of grace God has given to promote virtue and protect us from the vices of modern liberalism.
Here I want to point out the tools you can use to build the walls of your home so that your home can be protected against invasion of modern liberalism. These things are tools. They are, in other words, means of grace. All of them must be used through living faith in Christ and can only be useful if blessed by the grace of God. Yet, if not faithfully used, they leave us extraordinarily vulnerable to modern liberalism.
The first tool is vital, consistent, personal interaction with the Word of God. Your mind will be constantly bombarded by the messages of modern liberalism. You cannot afford to fail to wash it consistently with the Word of God.
The second tool is daily, earnest, personal supplication at the throne of grace. You will have to interact with the representatives of modern liberalism constantly. You cannot afford to fail in speaking daily with your King at the throne of grace.
The third tool is committed, consistent, attentive attendance upon the House of God. God has appointed the public ministry of the Word of God as a means of building up His people. If you are not built up by the ministry of pastor-teachers, you will be torn down by the vicious influence of modern liberalism. You must make it a life-priority to be a faithful member at a church where there is a faithful ministry of the Word of God.
The fourth tool is uncompromising, evangelical, and joyful sanctification of the day of God. The Lord's Day provides a one day per week deliverance from worldly media. It is an unchanging, God-appointed barrier against being absorbed by the entertainment culture and its values. It is a weekly reminder of what life is really for. Bless God for it and keep it.
The fifth tool is interested, prayerful, practical devotion to the commission of the church. I am referring, of course, to the Great Commission. The fact is we do have wealth and leisure in abundance in America. If we do not use it for God's cause, it is likely we shall use it in the devil's.
The sixth tool is careful, dogged, lively commitment to the priorities of a Christian family. What are some of the blessed priorities of a Christian family which will help us in the long war against modern liberalism? There is, of course, the practice of family worship together. This is a basic building-block of family life. There is the practice of talking together. We need to turn off the TV and radio and talk to our children. There is the practice of reading together. There are many more books than there are TV programs and videos which are fit for Christian consumption. The reason is obvious. There were many books written before the era in which modern liberalism became dominant culturally. I am not talking merely about "Christian" books. Reading to our children and with our children encourages them to read themselves and creates an appetizing alternative to TV and videos in their lives. There is the need to fill our children's lives with profitable activities which build proper self-respect and deliver from the entertainment culture in which we live. We must push them to develop God-given talents in athletics, music, and academics. We must look for ways in which they can serve God. We must teach them the value of work. All such activities are preferable to leaving them with time on their hands which will otherwise be occupied by the pleasures the liberal media offers them.
This is the enemy Christians face today in modern liberalism. Its hostility to our faith and its power in our culture are patent. The unusual threat that it poses to our Christianity is clear. May God grant that this little attempt to point out the threat and point the way to successful resistance might be blessed of God!
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