Many people in the blogosphere took issue with my preceding post. I was offered no alternative definition of liberalism by any of them, as the definitions I gave I believe to be the best definitions available when the two words "liberal" and "conservative" appear in contradiction to one another in contemporary speech.But they did protest my use of the terms nonetheless.
However, what I said is best displayed in the approach to the Bible a "liberal Christian" and a "conservative Christian" often take. When approaching texts that deal with God's judgment in wiping away or punishing people in hell, one group attempts to redefine their concepts of God and man according to what the Bible says and the other group attempts to reject those portions of the Bible in one way or another as true depictions of God.
The latter group, of course, are what I have defined as liberals. Liberals are not people who interpret texts figuratively. They are not people who are "non-fundamentalists" or who concentrate their efforts on social outworkings of the gospel. Many who consider themselves liberals for this reason really aren't necessarily liberals at all.
Liberals, however, approach the Bible with themselves as the moral compass by which the things in Scripture must be judged. This is why liberals today will talk about all sorts of things in the Bible as being morally reprehensible and that must now be rejected as true depictions of God or what is right by a more enlightened society. Again, the Self is the primary interpreter of reality, and hence, it must judge all other authorities (e.g., the Bible and the Church) by its own experience (empirical or existential).
Hence, when we approach things in the Bible like the Canaanite Conquests or God slaying people as the Warrior of Israel (of course, He is also a Warrior against Israel at many times), or the idea of hell put forth by Scripture, these often do not accord with the God of liberalism in our modern context. God is loving and a loving God could never do those things. This judgment comes from the fact that the liberal likes the concept of love taught by the Scripture, but he doesn't like what he views as contrary to love (although if it were not completely absent of the creational trajectory of the theology of love taught by Scripture, such an acceptance of Scriptural love would cause it to accept the rest). His definitions of love, however, being something close to "acceptance" and "toleration" cannot make sense of a God of wrath, and so rather than change his concept of love, he rejects those portions of Scripture as true and chalks them up to the primitive musings of an ancient (i.e., less enlightened), violent peoples.
The real God (i.e., the God the liberal has imagined for himself) is not a God of wrath, but a God of love as love is defined by the liberal himself.
Now, if a liberal were a more violent man, His God would be as well. The point is not that all liberals believe the same about God, but that their beliefs about God are primarily based upon subjective experience, i.e., the Self, unbowed to a greater authority that might correct that belief (i.e., the Bible through the Church). In essence, the liberal can only be corrected if he or she is convinced to believe otherwise. He or she cannot believe otherwise just based on faith in a greater authority than Self. The Self must be convinced and then he or she will believe.
Hence, I'm not really saying that if you have an allegorical interpretation of the Canaanite Conquest, for example, that means you're a liberal. What I'm saying is that it is how you approach Scripture: with an attitude of submission to whatever it says or with an attitude of skepticism toward what it says as you stand over it in judgment, determining if you want to believe this and reject that. Such an attitude reflects that the Self as primary interpreter of reality is perched higher on the tree than the Scripture is in determining the nature of reality (e.g., who God is and what He is like, whether man rightfully goes to this fate in accordance with the God revealed in the rest of Scripture, etc.).
This is why liberalism cannot have true faith that denies the Self. It cannot say, God is loving and wiped out the Canaanites in accordance with His love. It cannot say, God is loving and will send people to hell in accordance with His love, because the Scripture says it is in accordance with who He is, and He is love. Instead, it must take a stand against that external authority and say, God is loving in accordance with my view of love, and therefore, the Scripture that speaks of Him otherwise must be radically reinterpreted or just completely rejected as untrue.
The liberal, as one who has trust in himself more than another, cannot be corrected on the matter. There can never be a submission of the Self because the Self is always in the highest seat of judgment. It must judge all views of God, including those found in the Bible and the Church. It must dissect Scripture and keep only those portions that accord with it. In essence, liberals all have their own Jefferson Bibles, even if they don't literally cut out the particular things said that they don't believe and paste in the particular things not already there that they do.
Hence, in liberal theology, the Bible must be redeemed by the Self rather than the Self being redeemed by the washing of the teaching of the Bible. Where the author of 2 Timothy commanded that the Scripture be used to correct, rebuke, reprove, exhort, etc., the liberal uses the Self for his correcting, rebuking, reproving, exhorting of the Bible. However, since it would be absurd to suggest that the human Self is greater than God's Word, the Bible must be reduced to the words of men that sometimes, and sometimes not, accurately communicate that Word. Other liberals just deny that it is anymore God's Word than any other religious document. Either way, its authority must be diminished in the presence of the Self however one chooses to accomplish that.
Again, the conservative is not without the problem of the Self. I've said before on this blog that there are really only two religions in the world: Christianity and the religion of the Self. Hence, everyone struggles with it. However, the problem I am describing with liberalism is that there is no way for the Self to be corrected if it remains in the highest place of judgment in terms of interpreting reality. The Self needs to be bowed to, and corrected by, the external authority of Scripture if it is to be subjected in its beliefs and practices to Christ (i.e., if it is to repent, which is the context of the denial of Self pericope in Mark).
It is one thing for a conservative to struggle with Self. It is another for liberalism to exalt it unhindered by what is external to itself. A liberal can always self correct, again, if the Self is convinced of something better, but it can never have the type of faith that believes contrary to what he sees as the best explanation for God, man, reality, etc. And that's the problem. There is no salvation without submission. There is no following Christ without denying the Self the right to determine what is true and right. There is no justification without faith, no redemption without repentance, no being conformed to the image of Christ without being course corrected by what is outside the non-conformed image of Christ that is the present Self. That's why liberals can't be Christians, because the religion of the Self cannot allow for it. Hence, as said before, there can only be a conservative Christianity. "Liberal Christianity" is a contradiction in terms.