Thankful for an Honest Liberal

Thankful for an Honest Liberal

Every once in a while, it’s refreshing to find someone who radically disagrees with you but is honest about the facts. I’ve found such a friend in a most unusual man: Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Never heard of him? Well, let me introduce you. Dr. McGiffert was Professor of Church History and President of Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1917-1926. He was an influential liberal theologian who trained a generation of pastors.

A couple of years ago, I was reading a book by McGiffert, entitled The God of the Early Christians, published in 1924. To put him in context: McGiffert is a modern-day version of popular biblical skeptic and author, Bart Ehrman, who is famous for his bestselling books. Ehrman (a Moody and Wheaton gradudate) is now an atheist, and he writes with unusual clarity about his skeptical views and criticisms of the Bible.

Why do I appreciate an honest liberal like McGiffert? Let me explain: theological liberals have argued for decades that Jesus came preaching only love and forgiveness. (Thankfully, Jesus did come preaching love and forgiveness). But most liberals quietly ignored the other teachings of Jesus—namely, His words about blood atonement, God’s wrath, and the reality of Hell. McGiffert, however was a different kind of liberal. While he personally did not believe in Hell or divine judgment, he was honest enough to admit that Jesus did! Listen to Dr. McGiffert:

“Jesus had a good deal to say about divine judgment, about gehenna and hell-fire. The burden of his preaching, like that of John the Baptist, was the kingdom of God; that is, the sovereignty or rule of God . . . It is perhaps worth noticing in this connection that God’s love is not once spoken of by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels . . . the burden of his preaching was righteousness and judgment”(pp. 4-13).

McGiffert goes on to say that, while many believe that “Jesus went beyond his countrymen in preaching God’s love and forgiveness . . . nothing could be more erroneous” (p. 13).

Why is all this so important? Because we live in a culture that wants to downplay and distort the doctrines of the Bible. And one of those unpleasant doctrines is the reality of God’s judgment and Hell. Even though Arthur McGiffert did not personally believe in either, he was honest enough to admit that Jesus did. This is a huge admission! May all of us have this kind of courage and openness to God’s Word when we come to those teachings and doctrines that we find uncomfortable. Let us be honest enough to admit what the Bible teaches whether we personally like it or not.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor