I recently heard somebody talking about “liberalism” as it relates to Christians and churches. In so doing, I was reminded of how one reformer described liberalism–only a few decades ago in the early 1920s. J. Gresham Machen (founder of Westminster Theological Seminary) wrote of the stark contrast between true Christianity and modern liberalism:
Christianity differs from liberalism, then, in the first place, in its conception of God. But it also differs in its conception of man.
Modern liberalism has lost all sense of the gulf that separates the creature from the Creator; its doctrine of man follows naturally from its doctrine of God. But it is not only the creature limitations of mankind which are denied. Even more important are is another difference. According to the Bible, man is a sinner under the just condemnation of God; according to modern liberalism, there is really no such thing as sin. At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin.
The consciousness of sin was formerly the startingpoint of all preaching; but today it is gone. Characteristic of the modern age, above all else, is a supreme confidence in human goodness; the religious literature of the day is redolent of that confidence. Get beneath the rough exterior of men, we are told, we shall discover enough self-sacrifice to found upon it the hope of society; the world’s evil, it is said, can be overcome with the world’s good; no help is needed from outside the world.
Some 86 years later, it still seems that there is nothing new under the sun: liberalism is still prevalent outside the church as it is inside so-called churches. Some Christians today still refuse to call sin “sin”, but maybe just an “inadvertent mistake” or “unfortunate happening”. Let the words above remind us all–Christians and unbelievers alike–to come to Jesus and run after him by faith and repentance. Every person without the Spirit to convict us of sin and convince us of Grace is hopeless: without hope, without God, without Jesus Christ and His atoning blood to forgive us of our sin and to enable us to walk circumspectly according to His Word.
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923), 63-64 (emphasis mine).