4. Truth can be known only through changing symbols and forms.
"Bushnell admonished that “all our difficulties and controversies” regarding the truths of revelation were caused by a basic failure to face up to what was known about the clothing of truths in signs and analogies. The problem was not peculiar to New England theology, he suggested; it was an “almost universal sin that infests the reasonings of mankind concerning moral and spiritual subjects.” Throughout the world, people treated the symbolic forms of their truths as the truths themselves." (151)
5. Theological controversy is about language, not about truth.
"Bushnell debated various doctrinal points with his adversaries, claiming always that their disagreements were about language usage, not lack of belief: “All my supposed heresies, in reference to these great subjects, are caused by the arrest of speculation and the disallowance of those constructive judgments, or a priori arguments, by which terms that are only analogies, and mysteries that are most significant when taken only as symbols, are made to affirm something wiser and more exact than what they express." (151-52)
6. The historical accuracies of biblical facts and events are not crucial, so long as we meet Jesus in the pages of Scripture.
"He cautioned that the faithful reader of scripture is not obliged to assume the truth of the Gospel narrative “by which the manner and facts of the life of Jesus are reported to us.” That was the matter in question, “We only assume the representations themselves, as being just what they are, and discover their necessary truth, in the transcendent, wondrously self-evident,
7. The true religion is the way of Christ, not any particular doctrines about Christ.
"The Word of Christ is not a doctrine or the end of an argument, but a self-authenticating life; it is morally regenerative spiritual power claimed in Christ’s spirit. . . . Moving beyond their mentor, the Bushnellians accented the humanity of Christ; Munger and Gladden lifted Jesus’ teaching above any claims about his person. In both cases, however, a self-authenticating moral image conceived as the power of true religion was in control. The true religion is the way of Christ." (399-400)
Dorrien observes that this kind of religion was a departure from historic orthodoxy.
"Traditional Protestant orthodoxies place the substitutionary atonement of Christ at the
The new progressive religion of liberalism understood Christianity quite differently.
"By the end of Beecher’s life, it was almost prosaic for Munger and Gladden to assert that Christianity is essentially a life, not a doctrine." (405)
Liberalism is not a swear word to be thrown around. It is a diverse, but identifiable approach to Christianity, one that differs significantly from historic orthodoxy, not to mention evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Liberals believe they are making Christianity relevant, credible, beneficial, and humane. Evangelicals in the line of J. Gresham Machen believe they are making something other than Christianity. That was the dividing line a century ago, and the division persists.
This article was written by Kevin DeYoung and originally appeared at The Gospel Coalition. Used with permission.
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