Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 19, 1959
NUMBER 41, PAGE 2-3a


Luther G. Roberts, Salem, Oregon

Voltaire said, "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms." There are standards of authority for defining words that are accepted generally as authoritative. When terms that have more than one meaning is used, the sense in which they are used should be stated by the user for clarification and to avoid misunderstanding. However, there is the disposition on the part of some brethren to use terms which have various meanings in only one sense and exclude every other meaning. This is most unfair. Some even give their own meaning of a word and condemn others if they use the same word in another sense which authoritative sources give.

Recently a book has been published of which J. D. Thomas of the Abilene Christian College Bible faculty is the author. In some instances this author does not give the recognized, standard meaning of some terms, but gives his own meaning. He does, however, give two definitions of the term "liberalism." He defines this word to mean a group in religion who accept experience instead of the Bible as authority; as rationalists; and who claim that the Bible is valuable as history, but that it is not infallible and inerrant. He gives a second meaning, which is, that one is "more liberal" than some body else.

It should prove profitable to look at the definition of the words "liberal," "liberalism," and "modernism" as given in Webster's Unabridged New International Dictionary, Second Edition. He gives several definitions of the word "liberal," especially as an adjective. Here are some of the definitions as given by this authority:

"Liberal, n." "One who is liberal in thought or principles; one who favors greater freedom in political or religious matters."

"Liberal, adj." Here several definitions are given, of which I select numbers 1 and 7.

"1. Befitting, or worthy of, a man of free birth; free; not servile; not restricted; as a liberal manner."

"7. Not bound by authority, orthodox tenets, or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; not conservative. Often, specif., having tendency toward democratic or republican, as distinguished from monarchical or aristocratic, forms; as, liberal thinkers; liberal Christians; liberal ideas in politics . .."

"Modernism, n." "1. Modern practice; a thing of recent date; esp., a modern usage, expression, or characteristic; modern quality, taste, style or character. 2. (Often cap.) A current movement in the Protestant churches arising mainly from the application of modern critical methods to the study of the Bible and the history of dogma, and emphasizing the spiritual and ethical side of Christianity rather than historic dogmas and creeds." Then, the meaning of the term is given as it applies to the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

In the January 1, 1959 issue of the Gospel Advocate there is an article on the question, "What is Liberalism?" by J. W. Roberts, who is on the Bible faculty of Abilene Christian College. He read and made suggestions and criticisms of the book written by Brother Thomas. Certainly I have no ill will toward these brethren. J. W. is my blood kin, being the son of my lamented brother, R. L. Roberts, Sr., who was as sound in the faith as a dollar of the pre-inflated variety, and exhibited as fine a spirit any one I have ever known. J. W. was baptized by me, although he had been taught the truth of the gospel by his father and mother before he ever heard me preach. My nephew is dear to me, but as Aristotle said of his illustrious teacher, Plato, -"Dear is Plato, but dearer still is truth," so say I of J. W. Roberts., I cannot condone the spiteful spirit in which he writes nor the errors with which his writings are filled. He seems to be angry with some one or some thing from the tenor of his writings.

In the article J. W. gives a definition of "liberalism" from a Prof. Rule of a Presbyterian Seminary. The meaning of the term as quoted is this, "In religious circles, liberalism commonly signifies a more or less coherent body of historic critical views concerning the Scriptures and of philosophico-theological doctrines concerning the Christian faith." It is stated further in the article that "Prof. Rule goes on to point out that the liberal doctrine is centered in the acceptance of the empirical-inductive method of science." The article continues, "liberalism is further related to 'modernism' in that the liberalist believes that empirical method and the school of historical or higher criticism which is its results is the criterion of truth which lives in this century and time of science. Hence liberalism is modernistic." Incidentally, is not the "empirical method" the one Brother Thomas recommends in the first part of his book as the one he uses in it to arrive at truth? The liberal is further described in the article by J. W. as one who rejects the Bible as the revelation of God, the deity of Jesus, the incarnation, the virgin birth and the resurrection.

J. W. does not like it because these terms are being "thrown around in the churches of Christ today" in a different sense from that in which he defines them. He cites certain statements from some brethren in which these words are used when the meaning is not the same as Prof. Rule gives. These brethren are accused of knowing better than they write, but some "doubtless" do not know any better. Of course, if one knows better and then continues to write falsehoods, he is dishonest and a hypocrite, and is writing and saying what he is "for the sake of party." Who can believe it! Shame on you J. W., for saying such things against your brethren!

Was it ignorance or "love for party" that led brethren to oppose the Missionary society in the work of the church, and Instrumental music in the worship of the church when those things were introduced into the church about a century ago? In the Firm Foundation, Vol. 76, page 3, the word "liberalism" is used in the sense of designating those or at least the movement for the Texas Missionary and other societies in the work of the church. That paper was started, so the writer in the article said, to "oppose liberalism in the Texas churches." Is this brother who wrote the article, which appeared in the same issue as J. W.'s endorsement of Brother Thomas' book (if it could be called endorsement), "ignorant," or doing it "for the sake of party"? The author of the article is "assistant of public information at Abilene Christian College and managing editor of the Christian Chronicle."

J. W., you had better read Brother Thomas' book again, even more carefully, and have your "tension" eased. You endorse the "general purpose" of the book, and as I understand it that was its purpose. You, according to Brother Thomas, have forgotten such admonitions as Eph. 4:2, 3. See page 3 of his book.

I am acquainted with some of the brethren whom J. W. accuses of "knowing better than they are writing and speaking." These men are as honest and honorable as any in the church today, and are accepted as such by a host of brethren. They can justly claim to be as honest as J. W. or any others who are supporting the sponsoring church arrangement or the human societies through which the churches do their work of benevolence. Even Brother Thomas in the "Glossary" of his book defines the word "liberalism" in his number two definition to mean "less conservative." I wonder if any one would accuse him of being dishonest in this or just "ignorant" He says the term in this sense can be applied to any field of thought.

I appreciate the fact that Abilene Christian College does not tell its faculty members what they can or cannot write; however, brethren who heretofore have been for the college as supported by individual Christians, and have sent their children there, will not so continue if such teaching is done in the class-rooms as is evidenced in the writings of Brethren Thomas and J. W. Roberts. Some one has said that a person teaches what he is. If the writings of these two brethren are not liberal, "less conservative," than those who oppose the human organizations and arrangements through which the church is to do its work, I do not understand how one could be "liberal." Some brethren who at first were liberal (not conservative) have already gone into liberalism of the modernistic type, and some of them were teachers in some of the colleges operated by brethren. If the trend toward humanisms and even rank modernism is not halted, more brethren will embrace the system of infidelity known as "modernism" in the two decades 1959 to 1979 than did in the two decades 1939 to 1959: And some of them may protest all the while that they are not "liberals."