Liberal Christians are Terrible Theologians

Saying the right things doesn't mean you can't look stupid doing it.

Becoming a liberal Christian was a very gradual process for me. But it wasn't because conservative evangelicalism was so darn compelling. It was because liberal Christianity was so unconvincing.

Most liberal Christian arguments appear to suffer from reverse hermeneutics, meaning that they started with the premise they wanted to prove and then Googled some Bible verses. They lack coherence and context, and they read like a term paper by a recently-saved high schooler who just discovered a concordance.

Let's be honest, if you're a liberal Christian and you went up against an average evangelical in theological fisticuffs, they would eat you for lunch. While you were scratching your head over Blue Like Jazz, they were parsing Koine Greek verbs. This doesn't make them right, but it certainly puts them in a different weight class.

For example, take this quote from Rachel Held Evans' book A Year of Biblical Womanhood:
While advocates of biblical patriarchy accuse everyone of biblical selectivity, they themselves do not appear to be stoning adulterers, selling their daughters into slavery, taking multiple wives, or demanding that state laws be adjusted to include death sentences for rape victims... at least not yet.
These are the same kinds of lazy arguments that the biblically-ignorant, anti-organized religion folks use (if I didn't know any better, I would've said that Sam Harris wrote this). And the only thing they're good for is misleading uneducated followers and painting liberal Christianity as intellectually-inferior fodder.

Rachel Held Evans does not speak for my faith. We probably disagree on very few things, but she understands theology about as well as the KJV-only crowd. We can do better. And we can start by avoiding the two most common, theological mistakes by liberal Christians.

A Low View of Scripture

While studying at Moody Bible Institute, I wrote an exegetical paper on 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Paul's apparent sanction on women teachers always bothered me, so I put my beliefs to the test. And after pouring over dozens of commentaries, I was discouraged to find the same line of defense for female elders: Paul and Jesus didn't agree.

Paul, the apostle who met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was transformed from church persecutor into church planter, disagreed with the person he loved to the point of celibacy.

Maybe it's a territorial thing because evangelicals take the Bible too seriously, but liberal Christians tend to have a low view of Scripture. At least they do whenever it gets them out of an argument.

Having a low view of Scripture is like saying, "I'm a Phillies fan but I hate baseball." You act like you have the right to argue with other Phillies fans about draft picks, coaches, and MVP's until someone with superior knowledge corners you into saying, "Whatever, football is better anyway."

In other words, you can't defend your own beliefs without dismissing the credibility of their source.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that the Bible is supplemental rather than exhaustive revelation just as much as the next liberal Christian. But none of us can deny that Scripture is foundational to our faith and the historical practices of the church.

To disregard entire portions of that foundation as errant or fallible or uninspired, simply because they don't line up with how you want to live, is dirty theology. You're no less irresponsible or inconsistent as the evangelicals who place their trust in their hermeneutics. You're both worshiping yourselves and not submitting to God.

Every issue you have with the Bible is an opportunity to learn more about God and more about yourself. Don't be surprised if actual study and counsel pay off. Or if you need to be humbled.

A Poor Use of Reason

Another common defense I saw for female elders was to gather all of the biblical evidence supporting women in leadership roles. If that sounds like a good idea, just wait.

Book after book and article after article will sing the praises of Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Anna, the two Mary's, Priscilla, Phoebe, and Junia. They were prophetesses, judges, royal ancestors, queens, evangelists, and even deacons and apostles.

And all of them prove that women can be church leaders just as much as Balaam's ass proves that animals can talk. They're red herrings, distractions. They're the misdirection of a clever magician posing as a theologian.

Theologians understand the difference between literary genres, like didactic and narrative. All of the aforementioned examples fall into the latter which means they don't have any official, divine endorsement. They're simply descriptive, not prescriptive.

The volume of evidence doesn't matter if none of it is didactic, especially if there is a clear passage that seemingly teaches the opposite, like 1 Timothy 2. Dig up as many examples as you want of God using women in the Bible, but if you don't address this key text, you're no different than the evangelicals who teach tithes and Sabbaths. They may be mentioned a lot, but Paul says in Romans 6 that we're no longer under the law.

If you want to prove evangelicals wrong, you're not going to do it by avoiding their key texts and trying to distract them with a bunch of other unrelated texts. The fact that God used women first to preach the resurrection to the apostles means literally nothing. All it proves is that's how God chose to do it. Disproving gender roles means proving that 1 Timothy 2 was a cultural response. And that requires understanding the genre, history, and context of Paul's letter, not merely Googling "women in the Bible".

The Bible doesn't have to be your primary source of knowledge or your final authority, as evangelicals say. But if it's little more than convenient mythology used to confirm your self-involved beliefs, you're not a liberal Christian, you're just a liberal.


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