It is always curious to me when my CRC denomination is diagnosed as being Liberal. I can’t help but think that this is mainly a way to invoke the dreaded L-word in order to make the point. But the point made always seems so very far off the mark.
Per Darryl Hart’s “Lost Soul of American Protestantism,” I am one of the fully persuaded that the proper taxonomy when broadly assessing American religion is not between conservatism and liberalism but between evangelicalism and confessionalism. The latter are broader categories that the former actually fit into. Conservatives and liberals alike inhabit that which is evangelical as well as that which is confessional. Conservative/liberal are mainly ideological terms, while evangelical/confessional are theological terms. Invoking terms like “liberal” and “fundamentalist” to describe things is really one evangelical’s way of impugning the other who is interpreted to have certain ideological devotions not his own. The point is to cast the other in a caricatured light. It is to play on ideology to make a theological case. It presumes that ideology supersedes theology and that one really does imply the other. It is very hard, I daresay impossible, in modern America to distinguish between ideology and theology as the western tradition has so conflated them. Like Horton once wrote in Beyond Culture Wars, (paraphrasing), one gets in more hot water with certain religionists when he disagrees with Rush Limbaugh than with a particular doctrine of the Atonement.
Certainly, when fundamentalism and liberalism are used in theological ways they are odious terms to the confessionalist for different reasons. Liberalism denies the historical faith, for example, and fundamentalism is “orthodoxy gone cultic,” as Carnell once said. Machen, a paramount confessionalist, in his fight against the former resisted being enlisted in the rank and file of the latter, saying it “sounded like another religion.”
The proper diagnoses of something like the CRC is that of being on a trajectory away from narrow confessionalism and toward broad evangelicalism. In my years within her this seems like the only diagnoses that ever really makes sense. It explains that slowly unfolding sense that what I rejected all those years ago is being embraced, why it sounds so much like the evangelical world I inhabited and virtually nothing like the Reformed confessionalism I expected to find when I made my trek to the dark side. It explains the blank stares and the sound of crickets chirping when I suggest that measuring the success of a church is like that of one’s golf game: the less going on the better.
Witnessing Dutch Calvinsists try to ape Revivalist-Evangelicals is nothing if not entertaining. They don’t really do it all that well, at least not like the Revivalist-Evangelicals with which I am so familiar. It is a bit like watching your father try to be hip. One really should stick with what he is.
But if this diagnosis of liberalism were correct one would expect to see churches more like Fountain Street Baptist and less like Willow Creek or Mars Hill. So far as I can tell, there is only one Fountain Street and a plethora of mega-churches that are either proto-types or full-blown. As I survey ground zero of Little Geneva, it sure seems like Graham and Hybels are king, not Schliermacher and Littlefair.