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By Rick Oliver

Modernism or liberalism are words often used but little understood. One might consider that something modern would include anything new or contemporary. Or maybe someone whose views were perhaps non-traditional. We tend to associate it with worldliness or even the affects of modern culture. It is something that we hear about among our Churches. We know that it has affected the worship and practice of many but are we really sure what it is? Let us take a look, in a broad overview, of Modernism and Postmodernism and their affects on the Church.

The Enlightenment Period

Modernism had its roots with an intellectual movement during the eighteenth century known as the Enlightenment (Aufkläärung). The Enlightenment movement elevated human reason to near divine status and ascribed to it the ability to discern truth of all types without appeal to divine revelation. The Enlightenment gave birth to much that we still see today as part of the modern mind. These features include:

1. The beginning of scientific history

2. Any truth must justify itself before the bar of reason

3. Nature is the primary source of answers to the fundamental questions of human existence

4. Freedom is necessary to advance progress and human welfare

5. Literary and historical criticism are necessary to determine the legitimacy of our historical legacy

6. The need for critical philosophy

7. Ethics as separate and independent from the authority of religion and theology.

8. A suspicion of and hostility to all truth claiming to be grounded in some kind of authority other than reason, e.g. tradition or divine revelation.

9. Raising to the value of science as the avenue by which man can find truth.

10. Toleration as the highest value in matters of religion

11. A self-conscious continuation and expansion of the humanism.

A man by the name of Immanuel Kant marked the end of the Enlightenment and the Romantic period. His "Critique of Pure Reason" destroyed the thought of the Enlightenment period of seeking all knowledge through the use of reason. The Enlightenment Philosophers attempt to know God as he is in himself by reasoning up to Him. Kant attempted to show God inhabited the spiritual realm and thus could not be experienced by man.


Friederich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, the Father of Modern (Liberal) Theology, introduced a new era. Schleiermacher, a German Theologian, protested the intense rationalism of the Enlightenment (1806). He also attempted to harmonize Christian Theology with the so-called new learning. It spread to France, England and America and left a lasting impression on each country. It effected religion and theology in different denominations.

Affects on the Baptist

Breathing the air of modernism, Christianity became a faith of reason. The weakening of conviction and the lack of emphasis on the sinfulness and depravity of man has led to the partial repentance that is being practiced in today’s Baptist Churches. Because modernism placed great emphasis on human experience (not Christian experience) and extreme rationalism Baptist in their defense of the heresies of modernism, began to deny all human experience in religion. This led to the mere acceptance of Christ or rather acceptance of doctrinal and biblical principals as being true, and denied the spiritual conversion of the soul.


Postmodernism (after modernism) is a prevalent issue today. Arising in the mid 70’’s Postmodernism is one of the most powerful forces in our philosophy and culture. Postmodern thought allows everyone to determine his or her own perception of truth. Postmodernism embraces tolerance. The "anything goes" attitudes in today’s churches are a direct result of Postmodernism. It grasps the emotions and denies the spirit. In every age we need to be aware of what threatens the truth of Jesus Christ.

The following chart compares Modernism to True Christianity


True Christianity

"they have REJECTED the Word of the LORD and what WISDOM is in them?" (Jeremiah 8:9; Proverbs 1:7)

They have OBEYED GOD to the saving of the soul (Heb 10:39) and they possess the WISDOM OF GOD (1 Cor. 2:13-14; Eph. 1:17)

*The Bible CONTAINS the Word of God. We can subjectively pick and choose what parts of the Bible are true.

The Bible IS the Word of God. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (1 Timothy 3:16 and compare 2 Peter 1:20-21)

*Jesus Christ was a GOOD MAN, probably the BEST MAN that has ever lived.

Jesus Christ is the GOD-MAN, the CREATOR, the blessed Son of Man, the eternal Son of God (John 1:1,2,3,14,etc.).

*The birth of Jesus Christ was NATURAL ( Isaiah 7:14 ; RSV)

The birth of Jesus Christ was SUPERNATURAL (Mat1:20-23 Lk1:37).

*Jesus Christ died as our EXAMPLE

Jesus Christ died as our SUBSTITUTE (Isaiah 53:6 and 2 Cor. 5:21).

God is the FATHER OF ALL MEN (the universal Fatherhood of God)

GOD'S CHILDREN are only those who have put their faith in Christ (John 1:12). Many people have the devil as their father (John 8:44).

*Man is the product of EVOLUTION

Man was CREATED directly by God (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7 and Mat.19:4).

*Man is the unfortunate VICTIM of heredity and environment, but through self-culture and self effort, he can save himself.

Man is a SINNER, fallen from original innocency, and unless he’’s redeemed of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is eternally lost (John 3:16-21; Rom. 3:23-24).

*Man is justified by WORKS in following Christ's example. The result: natural development from WITHIN

Man is justified by FAITH in the atoning blood of Christ. The result: spiritual regeneration from ABOVE (John 3:3; Rom. 5:1,9; Tit. 3:4).

There are MANY ROADS that lead to Heaven

Jesus Christ is the ONLY WAY (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).


ONLY A FEW WILL FINALLY BE SAVED (Matthew 7:13-14), although God's salvation is freely offered to all (Rev. 22:17).

Concerning HELL: A loving God would never condemn anyone to hell.

Those who reject Jesus Christ are condemned already (John 3:18). HELL is very real.

The LOVE OF GOD is over-emphasized and the judgment and wrath of God is rarely mentioned.

The judgment and wrath of God is carefully taught (Rom. 1:18,32; 2:3,5,16; etc.) and the love of God is presented in full view of Calvary's cross (Rom. 5:8; John 3:16; etc.).

NO WARNING is given about false doctrine, false teachers, etc.

Warning is a key part of a faithful ministry (Acts 20:28-31).

The liberals recognize and tolerate "MANY FAITHS" and "many faith expressions"

Bible believers recognize that there is only ONE TRUE FAITH (Jude 3 and Eph. 4:5,13).

ECUMENICAL--they seek the compromising UNION of all churches and all faiths

SEPARATIST--they separate from those churches and individuals who deny the "doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9-11; Rom. 16:17-18; etc.).

SOCIAL GOSPEL and social action


Seek to meet man's PHYSICAL NEEDS (food, clothing, medicine, etc.).

Seek to meet man's SPIRITUAL NEEDS (salvation from sin) .

Concerning the RESURRECTION: "the influence and example of Jesus lives on"

The Lord Jesus ROSE AGAIN BODILY from the grave and is exalted at the right hand of God (1 Corinthians 15; Eph. 1:20-23)

There is an avoidance of and a disregard for PROPHETIC TEACHING especially concerning the second coming of Christ

The prophetic statements of Scripture are accepted at face value and the Bible has much to say about the second coming of Christ (John 14:3; Titus 2:13)

Key Message: "LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR" "Do unto others" "Obey the Golden Rule" etc. (MAN-CENTERED)

Key Message: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved (Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 2:2 and 1 Cor. 15:1-4) (CHRIST-CENTERED)

Emphasis: The emphasis is placed on the Gospels--the earthly life and ministry of Christ (Jesus as a FELLOW HUMAN).

Emphasis: The emphasis is placed on the crucified, risen, exalted, heavenly Lord who is coming again! (Jesus as GOD WITH US and GOD FOR US!)


Man and his way of thinking has always influenced the Theology of the Church. Modernism has nothing to do with methods of outreach of the Church. It has nothing to do with the plumbing or building materials. It has nothing to do with Christian or Youth activities. Embracing worldliness is not necessarily the activities of the world but it is embracing the vain philosophies of man. Col 2:8 "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Christian fellowship or doing what the big church does is not what "ran off the spirit". However when the truth leaves the building so does Jesus. Look around and see our Churches that are drying up and blowing away. What is the problem? Who are the real modernists? It appears that those who dogmatically embrace traditionalism and stifle the progress of the Church and follow their own rationalistic views rather than biblical principals are unknowingly embraced.

If there was ever an age in which we need fellowship it’s today. People, Churches and Families are falling by the wayside. Fellowship is the bond of common purpose and devotion that binds Christians together and to Christ. We share a fellowship in the gospel of Christ. All born again believers participate together in the saving power and message of Jesus Christ. Believers also share together a fellowship with the Holy Spirit in which the apostle Paul understood as a most important bond for unity in the life of the church. 2 Cor 13:14 "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen." We must have fellowship with God as primary for all other fellowship hinges upon this relationship. The Church must be Christ centered for God to pour out spiritual blessings upon us. Always exalting Christ as Saviour will allow us to accomplish His purposes given.

Outreach deals with the great commission. Mat 28:19 "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." This commission was given to the Church. Every member has the responsibility to spread the gospel of Christ. We do this through witnessing, by example and verbally communicating the gospel of Christ to a lost world. We support Missionaries and Ministers of the gospel but everyone shares in the responsibility.

Inreach involves helping those in need widows, shut-ins and those with obvious physical needs. It should however include our needs and duties toward one another. Our Churches need to support one another and fellowship with each other. This ignorance of fellowship and Church letters that we are faced with today only serves to hinder the work of the gospel and cause separation among ourselves. We should continue to follow the biblical principals of baptism but apparently need to search out those concerning fellowship and letters.

This inreach should also include training and building Christian character with our youth. Youth activities should be opportunities of teaching and promoting a lasting Christian bond. Look and see how many young people that Satan is enticing with the world. How can we sit back and blame the parents and say the Church has no business in molding their character? Fellowship needs to be promoted not hindered. My payer is that all of God’’s people would bond together to battle the real enemy not one another. May we not be guilty of embracing traditions and philosophies but encourage one another in love. Wycliffe dictionary of theology, Liberalism; James Sawyer Phd,