Writing in the Church Times, Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, rector of St. Bride’s Liverpool, says that she wants to reclaim evangelism for liberal, progressive Christians such as herself.
What is the gospel of liberal Christianity? ‘The belief that God’s love is unconditional, and is enough.’
That’s about it. For the rest, it is about ‘exploring spirituality’. Liberal theology ‘does not see our salvation as relying on our getting Christianity right.’ It does not believe in ‘original sin’, but in ‘original blessing.’ It is about ‘commitment to relationship and genuine dialogue’. It is ‘never about selling a pre-packaged solution.’
I think that there are several problems with this short article.
For one thing, there are mindless dismissals of evangelical understandings of evangelism. Conservative theology is guilty of shaping a caricature of the gospel as ‘a religion of “Thou shalt not”, smiting, and the fear of hell.’
For another thing, the writer makes a misplaced appeal to the example of our Lord in promoting an evangelism that is based on dialogue, rather than proclamation. Jesus, apparently, was not interested in giving people the ‘right answers’, and neither should we be. He would ‘tell a story, give an example, have a conversation — and leave others to make of it what they will.’ Now, don’t get me wrong: I agree that our Lord pursued his teaching using a great amount of discussion and conversation. He used all kinds of strategies to help people to think for themselves. But to infer from this that he had no definite end in view in such teaching, or that he simply left people to decide for themselves what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong, is nonsense.
For yet another thing, the ‘gospel’ proposed by this writer is empty. It is devoid of content. It simply rehashes one idea from popular psychology, namely, ‘that knowing yourself to be loved is, itself, transformative,’ and passes this off as ‘the gospel’. This will not do. What the human soul needs is not simply to know that it is loved, but what that love has done.
According to Paul, in Romans 5:8, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
According to John, in 1 John 4:8-10, ‘God is love…and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’
And according to the Good Shepherd himself, in John 10:11, ‘the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’
I say again: the mere declaration that ‘God loves you’ means little, and achieves little. It is a declaration that needs content. And that content, which focuses on the cross-work of Jesus, is what constitutes the gospel, and energises our evangelism.