Liberals and Evangelicals

Liberals and Evangelicals July 5, 2007

I have been skimming through the work of Donna Schaper–the UCC/Baptist pastor in New York City who has admitted publicly to an abortion and that she considers what she did to be murder.

Here’s Donna Schaper preaching at a Good Friday Service. This was a joint service between some of her flock and members of a local synagogue.

Rev Schaper says: Christians see the message of Jesus in his life, not his death. We know Jesus as a preacher of love and tolerance.

It’s good to see a liberal who speaks her mind so openly. Many liberals cloak their real beliefs in traditional language, and would preach on Good Friday something about the cross, all the time believing, like Ms Schaper, that the cross is an irrelevance, and what really matters is Jesus’ teachings on love and tolerance. So much for the atonement then, and so much for the apostle Paul then who said, “We preach Christ and him crucified.”

I don’t mean to pick out Donna Schaper as a scapegoat, but she does make a pretty good example of the liberal ‘Christian’. A couple of questions follow: just how widespread is Ms Schaper’s form of Christianity? I expect it is pretty much par for the course now among the mainstream Protestant congregations, but I have a suspicion that an awful lot of Evangelicals also hold to the same view. I’m thinking now about the groovy, mega church, coffee bar in the foyer, purpose driven kind of Evangelicals. Isn’t the old, old story of an atonement, repentance and acceptance of Christ’s sacrificial death pretty much forgotten among them in favor of a mixture of upbeat worship, feel good workshops, self help, positive thinking and prosperity gospel? Remember I’m new to 21st century American Christianity, and am willing to take your insights. Am I right in this suspicion? If so, isn’t the main trend in American Evangelicalism just a short hop from the fully fledged liberalism of Ms Schaper and her sort?

Or am I wrong and there are still many Evangelical individuals and groups who stick to the old story of the atoning work of Christ on the cross?

By the way, I’m not picking a fight with Evos. I’m just asking. I also realize that, unfortunately, we’ve got our share of Catholic priests, bishops, nuns and monks who probably are totally on side with Ms Schaper and her ilk.

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  • Catholic39

    That extends to RCIA instructors as well. At the risk of sounding sexist (and agist), this kind of teaching tends to show up when women of a certain generation are running the show. Our RCIA instructor liked to emphasize whenever possible that some theologians believe that it is nearly impossible to commit mortal sin. She described Purgatory as a place where one goes to reflect on the times one has “failed to love”.

  • You’ve nailed one of the more disturbing trends, right on the head.

  • David Deavel

    I’m not sure how widespread such liberal theology is among megachurch people, but it is certainly prevalent among the people I’ve met and read in the “Emergent Church” movement.

  • Just how widespread is Ms Schaper’s form of Christianity?It is spreading like a fungus – slow, annoying, hard to get rid of and pops up everywhere. I have a family member who was raised in a more formal and traditional Protestant church who now in his elderly years has embraced the espresso machine in the lobby, health & wealth, rock band with stage lights, power of positive thinking type church. How funny that you mention ‘purpose driven’ – he is all into Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’ materials. Additionally, he loves the ‘Prayer of Jabez’ type books.This family member asks me all the time why we are Catholic and cannot fathom why Catholics are so ‘morbid’ and ‘ritualized’ and ‘gloomy’. He does not want to talk about sin, death, judgment, personal responsibility for sin – he says that Christ’s work is done and we should stop focusing on what is ‘bad’ in ourselves and we need to get out there in the world to work, be positive, and change our attitudes.I agree with these points to an extent and they have admirable goals, but any well catechized Catholic can see problems with this approach. It is overly simplistic.If so, isn’t the main trend in American Evangelicalism just a short hop from the fully fledged liberalism of Ms Schaper and her sort?I believe so. There is a tendency I have observed to get caught up in the celebrity of their pastors and who attends their church instead of WHO they are supposed to be worshiping.i.e. – This family member keeps trying to get us to attend his church – he keeps telling me about washed up celebrities and formerly famous people who attend his church – as if that is a big incentive for us to go there! Who cares?Or am I wrong and there are still many Evangelical individuals and groups who stick to the old story of the atoning work of Christ on the cross?Yes, but I believe that they are mainly independent breakaway congregations or those in the vein of Reformed Calvinism – Reformed Baptist – Orthodox Presbyterian, etc. They tend to reject the me-centered church culture.Oh, and catholic39 – I COMPLETELY agree with you. My experience exactly. Don’t even get me started on RCIA!!!!

  • There is certainly some of this going on in the whole “emerging church” scene, of which I have been a part for several years, since before it got a name. 🙂 I’ll say this though, it can’t all be put into the same bucket. There are a lot of very good people who desire to be faithful, orthodox Christians in that “movement” – and many who are being drawn toward the ancient catholic faith. I have been a part of that. Recently, my own logical conclusions have lead me back into the Catholic Church, but I just wanted to say, don’t write that whole deal off quickly.On the “failed to love” thing – I’ve not experienced what you’re particularly talking about, but this kind of language is not bad language for what constitutes sin in the New Covenant. Sure, it takes on very specific forms, but backing up and looking at it, in a certain way, we can see how failing to love (as God loves and with His Love) or mostly, failing to allow God to love us and change us by His Love, is, in a sense, the source of all the other mess. Unless “love” though, is connected to our Lord Jesus Christ, we’re not talking fully about the right kind of love. Anyway, just wanted to add a couple of thoughts. Peace.

  • The evangelical church I attended till I was 16 was quite solid at first but evolved into a “groovy, mega church, coffee bar in the foyer, purpose driven” kind of place. In disgust my parents moved us to another evangelical church where I stayed twelve years until I converted. The pastor there sometimes avoided the harder questions of what (other than simple belief) God might require of us. Still, he preached on Christ’s sacrifice and he was *much* more Biblical and informative and hard-hitting in his messages than any of the priests I heard in my area after I decided to convert. When I saw how dead the local Catholic churches seemed I worried that my spiritual life would suffer if I went Catholic! But I joined RCIA anyway, figuring God would provide for me. Although the Catholic sermons were definitely worse than those at my evangelical church (hardly anything deeper than “God loves you, be nice”), I did eventually realize that I was also judging Catholic and Protestant laity by a double standard. If I met an ignorant Protestant, I’d think, “How good that she’s here at church, learning more about her faith,” and I’d interpret all her statements in the most orthodox way possible. But if I met an ignorant Catholic, I took that as an apocalyptic sign of the corrupt state of Catholicism in general.The happy ending is that I found a parish where the preaching is more convicting and doctrinally sound than anything I’ve heard before in any denomination. As for worries about my spiritual growth, I now realize that when God ordered me to join the Catholic church, it was in direct answer to my prayers that I’d grow closer to Him. 🙂 (But Father, before I found that great Catholic parish I used to keep myself encouraged by downloading the St. Mary’s podcast for a bit of REAL Catholic preaching!)

  • The Evangelical churches that I am aware of in our area of upstate SC (used to attend one) are still rock solid in their orthodoxy of preaching on the death and resurrection of Jesus, the atonement, etc.Unfortunately, it would be more likely for me to hear liberal stuff like this in my own parish’s RCIA program. Just makes me want to cry…

  • The good Reverend shares her theology with the Episcopal Church. It’s one of the primary reasons I’m crossing the Tiber.

  • Mark

    John,DO you believe that the RCC has the authentic deposit of faith passed through the apostolic line guided by the Holy Ghost to today’s church, that the present Pontiff with the help of the Majesterium is the true successor of Peter. That the RCC is right in all it teaches and declairs, in short that it is the one true Catholic Church founded by Christ. If not and your reason is just because you have fallen out with the Episcopal Church, may I suggest that you take a long hard look at your reason for conversion.

  • Mark,dunno if John buys all that, but what I can see is that he figures there’s not much difference between Donna Schaper’s more-than-suspect theology, and that of the Episcopal Church that he is fleeing.

  • Interesting the mentions of the “emerging” church in some of these comments,I have a couple of friends who are fairly enamoured with the “emerging” Church thing… indeed the Church of England seems to be actively promoting it, as if it will save the Church of England. I am unsure really as to what it is really, it seems to be a movement for former (and somewhat disillusioned) evangelicals, who have discovered that candles are quite pretty after all, who don’t want to get up on a Sunday morning, and aren’t really sure what the gospel is anymore… but nevertheless are determined to be relevant!Or am I being unfair?

  • I wouldn’t say I’m “fleeing” the Episcopal Church so much as I’ve come to the realization that the sacramental expression of the Faith I’ve been seeking lies in the RCC. I’ve always acknowledged that the RCC is the Church as founded by Christ, that the Pope is the successor of Peter, etc. What I haven’t realized is the true weight of what that means. I was brought up very “orthodox” in the Episcopal Church. I was formed with an understanding that the sacraments meant something. Over the course of the past seven years, it has slowly dawned on me that the sacraments as I understand them are not the sacraments as the Episcopal Church understands them. 50 years ago, perhaps, yes. But not now. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I’m not leaving the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church has left me.Not to get too far into it, but consider that just within the past 30 years, TEC has redefined the sacraments of Ordination, Eucharist and Baptism (both in one fell swoop by practicing “open” communion), AND Marriage. Name for me an Episcopalian who practices Reconcilliation on a regular basis. Why should they? What is there to reconcile? In my opinion, the entire movement is driven by a theology that dismisses or ignores the fundamental sacrifice of the cross, a sweeping under the rug of the Paschal Mystery. Gone is the sacrifice of the Lamb. We have instead the church of the Buddy Christ. And that’s just sad.I appreciate your call for caution, Mark. But beleive me when I say that this has been with me for some time. I have come to understand, to BELIEVE, that there IS a difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation. My sacrament lies with Christ’s One, Holy and Apostolic Church. I have moved towards the RCC as much as TEC has moved away from me.

  • David Palmer, you are on the money.”Am I right in this suspicion? If so, isn’t the main trend in American Evangelicalism just a short hop from the fully fledged liberalism of Ms Schaper and her sort?”It really is, for a couple reasons. First, although it’s not a perfectly straight line, Luther leads right to liberalism, and I don’t use that term pejoratively here. In Luther we have a radical focus on the individual (his question was always: “How do I find a gracious God?”), a dislike of judgment, a rejection of hierarchy and authority, a preliminary rejection of metaphysics in rejecting Aquinas. All these things mark classic liberalism and manifest themselves in evangelicalism. Second, evangelicals are very, very concerned with “speaking to the culture” and thus with cultural trends (the emergent church, so-called, is somewhat of a reaction against that). Speaking to the culture, however, involves speaking with the culture and thus speaking the culture’s language. Even if one tries to hold firm to solid Christian orthodoxy, it gets severely lost in translation. Our worship is severely acculturated as evangelicals, and since lex orandi lex credendi est, our theology is acculturated — and thus flaccid and impotent — as well.

  • Mark

    John,Welcome home.