What is a Liberal? What is a neo-liberal?

Jolly Bogger has an excelent post answering these questions -

My blogging partner, Adrian Warnock has taken up a series of posts on what he calls “neo-liberalism.” It took me a little looking to figure out exactly what he was talking about, but it appeared that he is dealing with the UK’s version of the emerging church movement. In a private e-mail he confirmed that he is defining neo-liberalism as an attempt to accomodate the gospel to post-modernism, whereas liberalism was an attempt to accomodate the gospel to modernism.

That’s a pretty fair definition as far as I am concerned, but I would like to expand on it a bit. First of all let me acknowledge that, for the emergent/postmodern folks, our use of terms like liberal, neo-liberal, conservative and whatnot demonstrate our captivity to modernism with it’s fixation on labels and neat little categorizations. The postmodern/emergent movement is seeking to transcend the divisions of the church that have come as a result of modernism’s fixation on such things………

Machen defined liberalism not so much by it’s positions on particular points of doctrine, but by it’s anti-doctrinal basis. What made liberalism liberal was it’s insistence that the essence of Christianity was not to be found in doctrines or historical realities, but in practice. Hence, Christianity was not based on the historicity of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, a particular view of the atonement, or trust in the truthfulness of certain historical realities, it was based upon practicing a certain kind of lifestyle. It was the lifestyle that bore the name “Christian.” The liberals were the first to be concerned with “Christian values” and lifestyles. For them, it didn’t matter as much whether or not you believed that Christ literally rose from the dead, what mattered was whether or not you practiced the Christian ethic of love by following their particular social agendas…….

Liberalism cut Christianity off at it’s root in denying the doctrinal nature of the gospel. But fundamentalism cut Christianity off at it’s fruit, by denying the importance of Christian practice……

Christianity is first and foremost a theologically driven thing. Liberalism said that Christianity is first and foremost a sociologically driven thing.

Liberalism lets sociology shape theology, whereas Christianity says that theology must shape sociology…..

So in that respect, any movment that emphasizes that sociology must shape theology has liberal tendencies. So, whereas classic liberalism had its heyday in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is not improper, as Adrian has done, to speak of a new liberalism today – neo-liberalism………

So, I think Adrian is not wrong to use the term neo-liberal in reference to these folks. But I would also like to throw a bone to them and say that their critiques of evangelicalism are often spot on. Though I disagree with almost 100% of the solutions to the problems he offers, I do think that Brian McLaren has accurately identified many of the problems in the church today. What I don’t see from Brian or others is a rigorous theological examination of these things, rather the same kind of sociologically driven mindset that will end up repeating the errors of those they criticize.

In betweeen these excelent quotes Jollyblogger cites an article that he read which called Rick Warren a neo-liberal despite his holding to many of the biblical doctrines commonly denied. I would be very interested to see that article or any other mention of the term neo-liberal in a theological (rather than political) sense prior to my coining the term on my blog.

At the time I coined the phrase, I seriously doubted I was being genuinely original and unless Jollyblogger was mistaken and Warren was accused of being a “post-liberal” then I guess I will have to concede I didn’t invent the term!

I didnt mean it as a term of abuse in any case, and I hope that some may decide they are happy to wear it with pride!

Incidently I am not so sure that Rick Warren falls into this category – and would be interested if this issue of him being driven by sociology could be expanded.

Maybe I will be thrown out of the Reformed Aggregator for saying this but I really liked Warren’s Purpose Driven Church book and have recently picked up the PDL book again.

We may have found one of the rare things that Jollyblogger and I disagree on!

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and a member of Jubilee Church, London since 1995, where he seves as part of the leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso.

Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway.

Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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