In the "Editor's Note" Jonathan Leeman writes:
In general, the danger of liberalism, which we define broadly as gospel-denial within the church, occurs when we allow the world's demands to ring a little too loudly in our ears. It occurs when we let the world dictate the terms of our beliefs or practices. Or when we let the world determine, "These things are good and worthy, not those things," or, "This is the salvation we are looking for." As soon as we let the world influence the terms of the church's life and mission, we have let another authority enter the house and tie up the king of the church, Christ. A question for evangelicals to ask themselves is, has the way we think about church prepared us for compromise?
The challenge for churches, we're told, is striking the balance between isolation and assimilation. Usually, this translates into, "Change your church structures and the way you talk, but not your doctrine." The trouble is, changing our structures and the way we talk changes the way we think, because words and structures shape thinking. For instance, change how you talk about the gospel and your congregation will think differently about the gospel. Change what membership means, to use another example, and your congregation will begin to understand the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of God's love—and so God himself—differently.
In short, the question about finding the balance between isolation and assimilation may be the wrong question. It may open a side door through which the authority of the world sneaks into the church. Wouldn't a better question be, how can we be utterly faithful to God's Word in everything? After all, faithfulness will preclude both isolation and assimilation. It's often been suggested that the doctrinally aberrant Emergent church is a reaction to fundamentalism. This may be true for some individuals, but could it be that the Emergent church's doctrinal aberrations are more the result of an entire generation who grew up in doctrinally anemic seeker-sensitive churches?
Al Mohler contributes an article on how liberalism happens. He offers a brief history of what motivates theological liberalism. It usually comes from a desire to make the church relevant to society without considering how that relevance will impact the church and its message. Mohler then briefly scetches the progression of liberalism within the church with emphasis upon the doctrine of hell.
First, a doctrine simply falls from mention. Over time, it is simply never discussed or presented from the pulpit. Most congregants do not even miss the mention of the doctrine. Those who do become fewer over time. The doctrine is not so much denied as ignored and kept at a distance. Yes, it is admitted, that doctrine has been believed by Christians, but it is no longer a necessary matter of emphasis.Read the entire article HERE.
Second, a doctrine is revised and retained in reduced form. There must have been some good reason that Christians historically believed in hell. Some theologians and pastors will then affirm that there is a core affirmation of morality to be preserved, perhaps something like what C. S. Lewis affirmed as "The Tao." The doctrine is reduced.
Third, a doctrine is subjected to a form of ridicule. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, known for his message of "Possibility Thinking," once described his motivation for theological reformulation in terms of refocusing theology on "generating trust and positive hope." His method is to point to salvation and the need "to become positive thinkers." Positive thinking does not emphasize escape from hell, "whatever that means and wherever that is."
That statement ridicules hell by dismissing it in terms of "whatever that means and wherever it is." Just don't worry about hell, Schuller suggests. Though few evangelicals are likely to join in the same form of ridicule, many will invent softer forms of marginalizing the doctrine.
Fourth, a doctrine is reformulated in order to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness. Evangelicals have subjected the doctrine of hell to this strategy for many years now. Some deny that hell is everlasting, arguing for a form of annihilationism or conditional immortality. Others will deny hell as a state of actual torment. John Wenham simply states, "Unending torment speaks to me of sadism, not justice." Some argue that God does not send anyone to hell, and that hell is simply the sum total of human decisions made during earthly lives. God is not really a judge who decides, but a referee who makes certain that rules are followed...
Remember that the liberals and the modernists operated out of an apologetic motivation. They wanted to save Christianity as a relevant message in the modern world and to remove the odious obstacle of what were seen as repugnant and unnecessary doctrines. They wanted to save Christianity from itself.
Today, some in movements such as the emerging church commend the same agenda, and for the same reason. Are we embarrassed by the biblical doctrine of hell?
If so, this generation of evangelicals will face no shortage of embarrassments. The current intellectual context allows virtually no respect for Christian affirmations of the exclusivity of the gospel, the true nature of human sin, the Bible's teachings regarding human sexuality, and any number of other doctrines revealed in the Bible. The lesson of theological liberalism is clear—embarrassment is the gateway drug for theological accommodation and denial.
Be sure of this: it will not stop with the air conditioning of hell.