Re-Defining the Terms of Liberal & Radical

Defining the Term: "Liberal"
"Of course our theologian of glory may well grant that we need the help of grace. The only dispute, usually, will be about the degree of grace needed. If we are a "liberal," we will opt for less grace and tend to define it as some kind of moral persuasion or spiritual encouragement. If we are more "conservative" and speak even of the depth of human sin, we will tend to escalate the degree of grace needed to the utmost.  But the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to whatever is left of human will and power. It will always, in the end, hold out for some free will."
           (Gerhard Forde:  On Being a Theologian of the Cross)

Forde in the above quote shows that the terms of liberal and conservative are rightly applied to an individual depending on how much one agrees with scripture’s diagnosis of the human dilemma and God’s solution of grace.  In other words, one is theologically and biblically liberal when they disregard scripture’s grim diagnosis of the human dilemma; that mankind is dead in sin.  For when one disregards mankind’s sinful predicament or places a more positive spin on scripture’s bleak analysis of mankind, it directly affects or perverts one’s understanding of God’s solution in Christ.  For instances:

“Theologically & Biblically Liberal” 
Mankind is spiritually troubled; therefore, mankind needs a Life Coach and Helper.

“Theologically & Biblically Conservative”
Mankind is spiritually dead and in bondage to sin; therefore, mankind needs a Savior and Redeemer.

As illustrated above, the amount, degree and application of God’s grace in Christ are usually a sign of how liberal or conservative one is theologically or biblically speaking.  According to Forde, a liberal understanding of the Bible paints a less severe picture of mankind’s condition which thus makes Christ into a mere moral coach and motivational guru.  A conservative understanding of scripture will escalate the degree and need of grace one needs due to seeing the depth of human sin according to scripture’s appraisal.

Defining the Term: "Radical"
"There's a vast number of Protestant traditions that we Lutherans used to call "radicals." Their theology is very about "yourself" and how good or holy you are. They say they believe the Bible, but they think it's a rulebook for life rather than the Revelation of who God is in Jesus.

It's funny, because for all their talk about not sinning, it's what the Bible says about sin that they don't really believe. Sin is not firstly something you do. It's a corruption of our hearts, our nature. It's that corruption that is the reason we die, the reason there is war and hate and disease and suffering. But that "radical" edge of Christianity that gets all the press thinks it can overcome this sin just by following the right rules and trying really hard. But that kind of spirituality is always falling short of itself. It tries to get you to be good for inherently selfish reasons, and then you end up just looking like a hypocrite. That's the "fundamentalism" that makes the news as "Christianity," so that's what most people think Christianity is."
          (Rev. Jonathan Fisk: Worldview Everlasting)
Fisk rightly defines ‘Radical Christianity’ in the following ways:
  • When one sees the Bible as a rule book versus the revelation of whom God is in Jesus
  • When one sees sin primarily as external bad deeds rather than the ingrained corruption of the heart
  • When one believes that they can overcome sin by following right rules and trying hard.
  • When one looks inward to ‘self’ for hope and motivation rather than externally to Christ.
What makes this view of Christianity ‘radical’ is that it underestimates the problem of mankind’s sin predicament and overestimates the abilities of mankind.  This is the age old sin and belief of what is called Pelagianism.

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