by Major Stephen Court
Welcome to JAC93 – the 93rd issue of Journal of Aggressive Christianity. What a blessing it promises to those who read and share and apply its lessons. Savour the testimony, reflect on the teaching, respond to the exhortation. It could change eternity.
We’re grateful, as always, for the contributors who come this issue from six territories and include some officers (lieutenants, captains, majors, and commissioner) and other soldiers writing on justice and theology and mission and integrity and strategy and covenant and the Bible – all great subjects for study and application.
Here is JAC93:….
The Blight of Liberal Theology. Kean tackles the encroachment of this theology into The Salvation Army, contrasting it with Salvationist theology, and noting the dangers of its widespread adoption in the ranks.
….You can read all of these articles as well as the articles from the first 92 issues right here for free. We’re hoping that more and more people will encounter the heat and light in these journals.
To God be the glory. Much grace.
The Blight of Liberal Theology
I have no doubt that some of my words will meet a degree of discomfort and perhaps reproof from within our organisation, but I am convinced it is important to say them. Besides that, they burn from a deep conviction and even if I kept quiet I’m inclined to think the stones might cry out.
The subject I want to address is a theological one, but I want to emphasize that it worries me most because I see its negative influence within The Salvation Army. I’m speaking of the very liberal theology which has been permitted to slither into the ranks of the army over the last few decades. It has allowed a succession of compromises to degrade the necessary black and white nature of Christ’s gospel.
I use the word liberal intentionally without a capital ‘L’ simply because I only want to show how such a theology, by definition alone, has no place within a movement whose focal point is the salvation of souls. This kind of theology as it stands does not allow for the hard object lines of orthodox doctrine or any conservative interpretation of the Bible and has the strange ability to vilify the militant holiness ideology of our movement. I will leave its definition here, but I will go on to describe its character and substance. Again, please understand that I do not wish to single out any particular group, ministry, or method. My aim is to expose a specific theology (the liberal one) because of its direct contrast to Salvationism, that is all.
I recently read an excerpt from Begbie’s “The Life of General William Booth – Vol. 2” which brought me to a sobering epiphany. In it Booth clearly marks out the brutal reality that every officer must embrace in order to even qualify as Salvationists:
Every officer must realise that men are perpetually perishing; that every moment of his life, when he wakes and when he sleeps, some soul somewhere passes into eternity. He should see that those who reject God’s mercy are driven away in their wickedness – driven down to Hell. At death probation ends, the day of mercy closes, and there is no hope for evermore. They must perceive that in all this misery men apart from God are totally unable to help themselves, and that they get worse instead of better; that unless deliverance is obtained from outside themselves, they will perish. (p.150)
I petition every Salvationist, specifically my officer comrades, to truly consider the weight and severity of Booth’s words and ask yourselves honestly, “Is the Army’s theology still carrying this kind of urgency?” To be honest, I don’t believe it is. In fact, I hear a very different kind of theology, a much milder, certainly much less frank theology too often being spoken and taught and written within much of the western Salvation Army, surely within my own territory (Australia). It prefers to soften, or belittle, the seriousness of our call to preach to the lost for their salvation – their eternal rescue from damnation and endless punishment! It’s at the point now where even the term salvation must be clearly defined simply because liberal theology has been working so intentionally to try to redefine it. The same has been done to the word holiness. These two terms that used to describe the bare bones of the Army are now so loosely defined that it’s difficult to know what they mean to us anymore.
On the surface this liberal theology doesn’t sound too bad, but underneath it holds the power to corrupt the very foundations of our devil-hating movement. You can bet your eyeballs that the corrosive liberal theology of which I am speaking will laud darling little terms like inclusivity and tolerance, distorting the love of God so that it allows for compromise. The severity of sin and its power to destroy the individual eternally is necessarily diminished, even ignored, because it makes the gospel too offensive and unpalatable to deliver. The salvation that is offered by this liberal theology is one that doesn’t actually do anything to save the sinner. It merely allows the liberal Christian to remain in a false sense of spiritual accomplishment because the world has been able to see the gospel “made relevant”, which is much more significant than hearing the truth.
End Part One of Two