B. C. Hodge on Why Liberals Can’t Be Christians

Great thoughts here!



13 thoughts on “B. C. Hodge on Why Liberals Can’t Be Christians

  1. If by “great” you mean “bizarre” and “Americo-centric.” I cannot imagine many self-labeling liberals accepting as true his definition of “liberalism.”

    Always beware of those who begin a very long post with the words: “The term X really refers to…” We condemn those who use such sentences in their sermons as succumbing to exegetical and lexical fallacies. Why is it that we don’t notice it when such sentences are removed from the context of interpreting scripture? For someone who is trained in biblical studies, he needs to learn how to put into practice what he’s learned beyond Greek and Hebrew.

    Hodge just made Libertarianism “liberal.”

    One wonders whether moderates can be Christians…I hope so. Otherwise, I’m in trouble.

  2. Mike,

    You seem to have missed the entire point. And I’d like you to quote the lexical fallacy committed. When I say the term refers to X, I’m saying it refers to that in my writing, which is exactly what I said. Liberals wouldn’t define themselves this way because their epistemology stems from an Enlightenment-oriented view that believes man is capable of interpreting reality without an external authority to guide him. Liberals, as children of the Enlightement/Post-Enlightenment can be reduced to their interpretive authorities across the board. This is why classical liberalism has always judged the Bible based upon experience, spiritual or empirical, and has rejected the Church as an interpretive authority. I’d also like to get your definition of “liberal” as well, as your comment concerning “moderates” makes me think you’re still using individual political and theological issues to define those terms.

  3. Hodge, no. I’m not using individual political and theological issues to define the terms. The problem is that Classical Liberalism as a philosophical system isn’t Modern Liberalism as a philosophical system. I’m not even confident that true Classical Liberalism can exist in today’s world. Many of its principles are rather context-limited. Granted if you reduce classical liberalism simply to the Cartesian Turn, then maybe it does work relatively well. But the problem with reducing views is that they’re just that: reductionistic. And typically there’s a close relationship between being reductionistic and creating straw man arguments.

    The problem isn’t so much what you say about liberalism. It is true to some extent under very specific assumptions, but its also applicable to the vast number of groups, Christian or otherwise. In fact, if we just tweat your words slightly we can get very different results that are equally true. Take you sentence above for example:

    Liberals, as children of the Enlightement/Post-Enlightenment can be reduced to their interpretive authorities across the board. This is why classical liberalism has always judged the Bible based upon experience, spiritual or empirical, and has rejected the Church as an interpretive authority.

    And now my adaption:

    Baptists, as children of the Enlightenment/Post-Enlightenment can be reduced to their interpretive authorities across the board. This is why baptistic thought has always judged the Bible based upon experience, spiritual or empirical, and has rejected the Church as an interpretive authority.

    Maybe Baptists aren’t Christians either…

    But that would make for a far less convincing blog post than the one you’ve written. We’re all children of the enlightenment. And its shaded your view of scripture whether you recognize it or not. More importantly though, the Enlightenment simply magnified what was already there. The focus on the self already existed, it simply gained a new status in the Enlightenment. But it’s just as much there in Philo as it is in Schleiermacher.

  4. Mike: By “great” I meant “great” as in “enjoyable.” I’m not quite sure where you’re getting the “Americo-centric” bit from. Is it because he said that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” don’t mean “Republican” and “Democrat”? Well they don’t, do they?

    Hodge: I’ll leave you and Mike to your discussion. But again, I enjoyed the post!

  5. Thanks Nick!


    First, you can’t just switch it because although everyone is influenced by the Enlightenment, it’s simply not true that you can plug in whomever you wish. It doesn’t actually work with baptists here, precisely because baptists attempt to gain their view of reality from an external source, not primarily (please note that word!) from the Self. So, no, you can’t just switch them without ignoring the entire context of what I said (which as a linguist I would think you would consider the context).

    Second, your original objection was about making a lexical error because you thought I conflated libertarianism and liberalism, which I did not (libertarians can have all sorts of interpretive authorities–they simply throw off governmental impositions–and as such, is not distinguishable from conservatism at all). Now, your objection concerns whether classical liberalism and modern liberalism can be wed through what I’ve said. You’re moving the fence post a bit, so this makes me think you’re simply attempting to combat what I’ve said no matter what. But you’ve offered only assertion that liberalism of yesteryear and liberalism of today cannot be defined together in such a matter. I’m sorry, but they are in fact one and the same in terms of their interpretive authorities, which was my point. Liberalism across the board is unified in its dismissal of external interpretive authorities that would set themselves above the interpretive authority of one’s own experience (empirical or existential).

    Third, you seem to have ignored that liberalism in modern contexts is in contrast to conservatism, and hence, both terms appear to be made in distinction from one another. It thus behooves us to ask, Why are they so distinct? What is the real distinguishing factor? The words, when contextualized together, are meant to display distinction from one another. Hence, I drew on the above definition and asked a deeper question of what it really means to be a liberal or a conservative. And that’s the way I use the term. There’s simply no fallacy in that. In fact, it is a fallacy to suggest a universal meaning to the term that does not take into account the context of the other word used in distinction, nor the localized context of how I use the term on my blog.

    Hence, it is not only from a well known meaning (look it up in Websters or OED), but the only meaning that really describes liberalism in distinction from conservatism. And it accurately describes liberalism both then and now. This is also why the term is many times substituted with the word “non-traditionalist” versus the conservative substitute word “traditionalist.” I would also say that this well explains the term “progressive,” since it is seen in order to move forward, one cannot necessarily be tied to the past. This is also why every time a professor is fired for going beyond the boundaries of a school’s confession, liberals become annoyed and question the ability for one to do “true academic study” in such institutions. That’s because “true academic study” cannot be the handmaid of an external authority, such as the Bible through the Church. The Self must be free to pursue truth apart from external authorities that may hinder it from doing so. This is in keeping with the early liberal/Enlightenment thought that explicitly argued such.

    Now, is everyone influenced by the Enlightenment? Of course. That has nothing to do with what I’m arguing. I’m talking about what methodology of discovery, and the authoritative governance thereof, one willfully pursues in his or her attempt to interpret reality. Again, the baptists don’t qualify as liberals here.

    In short, Mike, you’re just plain wrong. Your the one committing fallacies by supposing that the term “liberal” must be pigeon holed to one meaning in the Enlightenment (actually, it has numerous meanings, only one of which I have chosen to latch onto, as I think it is the sole unity of liberalism past and present). If X attributes its primary authority to discover reality to A and Y attributes its primary authority to discover reality, but Z attributes its primary authority to B and only secondarily to A, then X and Y are unified in their primary authorities and in distinction from Z in the same. Again, you cannot attribute the same to Z.

    However, my point was not that you can look at a particular body and say that it is liberal or conservative. My point is that the terms describe an individual. That individual can believe all sorts of things, even Southern Baptist theology, and still be considered liberal, since the term refers to the primary trajectory from a particular authority as an interpretive guide. I see nothing different in that from Locke to the liberal woman down the street. I just don’t see how your objection is valid, and it seems rather that it is merely an attempt to save a pluralistic view of Christianity that is inclusive of liberalism. I just don’t think you’ve done that.

  6. BTW, I never argued that the religion of the Self is exclusively “liberal.” That wasn’t my point. But the religion of the Self (which views the Self as the ultimate means by which reality must be interpreted) is not compatible with Christianity. That was my point.

  7. Esteban: I do, but it’s propping up a wobbly table somewhere. :-P No, seriously, I’ve never procured a copy. I’ve made use of online versions over the years like the one James links to. I want to get the reprint with new introduction by Carl Truman but I haven’t gotten around to it.

    James: Thanks. That’s usually the one I look at these days. Years ago I used to access a copy hosted on some kind of radical Puritan or Fundamental Baptist site, I think. It was weird.

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