What is the Root of Liberal Theology?

by Mike Ratliff

1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self- control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)

Observing unbelief in a professing Christian is a terrible thing. Unbelief, which is rooted in spiritual blindness, is deceitful. We must never forget that spiritual blindness is the product of idolatry. These nominal Christians never walk by faith. They make choices based entirely within a flesh-bound value system. This decision making process is part of self-worship. Their value system is based entirely within self-worth, self-focusedness, self-protection, et cetera. If they are at all religious then their religion will be the same.

This is idolatry. It is worship of self. As a result, God blinds their hearts. They are given over to their idol. Genuine Christianity is of faith. God’s grace accords with His people’s faith thereby washing them clean in their regeneration. Their faith was dead, but now it it is alive. They are new creations. God justifies them by this faith and begins their sanctification. This sanctification is the process of removing them from sin. This process takes time and will result in their spiritual blindness coming under attack. This means that their self-worship must go. They are called to humility and to be God’s servants forever.

In a Christian culture, unfortunately, some people who do not know God become theologians. Some are well educated. Others are self-made. In any case, just because a person goes to divinity school is no guarantee that they are a genuine Christian. Here is an example of a man who was considered one of the greatest theologians of his day until his unbelief led him into Liberal Theology.

Crawford Howell Toy, professor of Old Testament 1869-1879, was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1836. Toy was named after his uncle, R. B. C. Howell, the second president of the SBC. An impressive student, Toy professed faith in Christ while attending the University of Virginia. He earned his B.A. in 1856.

After graduating, Toy taught at the Albemarle Female Institute until 1859, when he joined the first student class at Southern. Toy brought a keen intellect and a kindled heart to Southern. He passed examinations in Church History, Old Testament, Hebrew, New Testament, Greek, and Systematic Theology in one short year—an impressive achievement. He also organized missions prayer groups. Toy was courting a young missionary named Lottie Moon in this period, and they talked of pursuing missions work together in Japan. When the Civil War broke out, however, Toy joined the Confederate army and fought in several battles. Union forces captured him at Gaithersburg and he taught an Italian language course in the prison camp.

Toy traveled to Germany in 1866 to study theology and Semitic languages. In this period, his relationship with Lottie ended. When he returned from Germany in 1868, he joined the faculty of Furman University as a professor of Greek. In May of 1869, Toy was elected professor of Old Testament interpretation and oriental languages at Southern. Toy developed a progressive theology like that of his liberal German professors. He embraced the methods of higher criticism and sought to harmonize Scripture with Darwinian evolution. Toy’s views came under public scrutiny in 1879 when he published two pieces construing Isaiah’s suffering servant figure as national Israel, not Christ. Later that year, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Toy presented the seminary trustees a defense of his opinions along with his resignation. To his surprise, the trustees accepted the resignation. Toy left Southern, never to return.

In 1880, Toy began teaching at Harvard University, where he was appointed the Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages and the Dexter Lecturer on Biblical Literature. Toy eventually became a Unitarian. His later works rejected nearly every doctrine central to Christianity. Toy retired from Harvard in 1909 and lived in Massachusetts until his death in 1919. – Sources: Billy Grey Hurt, “Crawford Howell Toy: Interpreter of the Old Testament.” Th.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966.

Did you notice what started Dr. Toy on his slide into Liberal Theology? He developed a “progressive theology” which embraced the methods of higher criticism. These are things “theologians” do in order to be seen as less stringent or strict about their “religion.” This is compromise in order to make the narrow gate which few find wider so that everyone can come in. Of course this requires a “secularization” of doctrine and to do that the Bible must come under attack. Never forget, what Jesus’ message reveals is a very narrow Gospel that does not allow in those who simply want Heaven, but refuse to have Jesus as Lord.

Unbelief is the root of Liberal Theology. Never forget, the attacks we are witnessing in our day on our faith are coming from within the visible Church. Here is an example of their mindset.

I am not at all surprised that Southwestern Seminary faculty members have now been told they must teach that wives are to be submissive to their husbands. I am not surprised because:

In the early 1980’s, while the Southern Baptist controversy was in its early stages, several pastors were invited to meet in Atlanta to try to discuss the differences that divided and threatened to destroy the convention. I was one of those in attendance.

I well remember our dialogue concerning the importance of academic freedom in the educational processes of our seminaries and colleges. I vividly remember what Adrian Rogers, a leader of the takeover movement, said at the meeting. Of Southern Baptist seminary professors, he said they must teach, “whatever they are told to teach. And if we tell them to teach that pickles have souls, then they must teach that pickles have souls!” Those were his exact words. Everybody in the room heard them.

Frankly, I thought he was joking, or at least exaggerating. Subsequent years, however, have proved that he was doing neither. It’s not funny, and it’s no exaggeration. Southern Baptist seminary professors must now teach whatever they are told to teach.

So much for academic freedom. – Gene Garrison

Adrian Rogers was not serious about pickles having souls. He was making the point that seminary professors must be bound to teach Biblical doctrine. These seminaries are supported by the churches. Churches support them so they will produce godly theologians, not something else. Here is an excerpt from a fine post by Ken Silva that shows us how we got to this sorry state.

There’s no such thing as a little bit pregnant. Got the message? No such thing as a little bit pregnant—you are, or you’re not. Well, there’s no such thing as a mild form of cancer; it’s cancer. You don’t get rid of it, you don’t deal with it, it gets you. And we have to deal with these things today; if we don’t, they’ll end up getting what’s left of the Church…

The form of godliness, but without the power; without the sound doctrine of Scripture. And what do we have today as the reigning school of [biblical] interpretation in Protestantism in our theological seminaries world-wide? I’ll tell you what it is: Bultmannian exegesis; named after Rudolph Bultmann, “the demythologizing of the Bible.”

And what did Dr. Bultmann teach, for forty-some years? He taught that you couldn’t rely upon any single thing—virtually—in the entire New Testament record; about Jesus Christ. It all had to be “demythologized,” and then the pieces put back together again. What does Paul say; “they will gather to themselves teachers who will tickle their ears, and the Truth of God will be turned into mythology.”

It’s here. The reigning school of American theologians has progressed from bad to worse. We only have to deal with Harry Emerson Fosdick in the 1920s; but then, it accelerated to Edwin Lewis, Nels F.S. Ferre, Reinhold Niebuhr, and on from Niebuhr to Paul Tillich, and crowned in Rudolph Bultmann. Not one single one of those men believed the historic doctrines of the Christian faith; but they were all the leading theologians of America.

[Episcopal] Bishop [John] A.T. Robinson cannot be unfrocked by the Anglican Church despite the fact that he is a living devil when it comes to Christian theology—denying everything and turning the faith of people into darkness. Do you know why they can’t unfrock A.T. Robertson; because [Episcopal leadership] is heretical as he is. Therefore they can’t touch him…

You can see these people in the cults and the occult if you have any degree of discernment at all because they are outside the church. But how do you see the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian professor of theology? How do you get him in a place where you can find out his theology is? The moment you question him he reverts to orthodox terminology. And then if you press him for the definition of the terminology, he claims you’re being suspicious, bigoted, and unloving.

So the average layman is defenseless, they’ve got to take what comes from behind the pulpit, and recommended by his church authorities, because the moment he opens his mouth, he’s accused of being divisive in the church, unloving and disturbing the fellowship of the faith. When it is the devil behind the pulpit, not the victim in the pew that’s responsible for it…

British theology was corrupted by German theology; by Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, David Strauss. Finally [it moved] to the United States in Walter Rauschenbusch; and from there to Harry Emerson Fosdick, Nels Ferre, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann—and the school that’s emerging from them today. Where do you think we got the “God is dead theology” from? From historic Christianity; from Christian seminaries?

You did not. You got it from a good, solid Baptist theological seminary known as Colgate-Rochester in New York, which was absolutely orthodox and which sold out to liberalism. And when it did, they embraced the theology of Paul Tillich and ended up with—God is dead. It was called at the time, “the gospel of Christian atheism.” Did you ever heard such linguistic nonsense in your life? The gospel of Christian atheism, T.J. Alhizer, Emory Universtity.
(The Cult of Liberalism, Walter Martin Religious InfoNet, CD Rom)

Unbelief is the root of many things. It has its roots in human pride. Liberal Theology is Humanism dressed up in Christian clothes. Secular Humanism is not Christianity. The Social Gospel is not The Gospel of Jesus Christ. To those of you reading this who have been intimidated into remaining silent so you won’t be accused of being suspicious, bigoted, divisive, and unloving, I want to encourage you to become educated about what is really going on. Do not challenge these people out of emotion or outrage or anything else. Instead, go to the Lord in prayer. Learn the truth and become equipped for the battle. Then and only then should you confront error. Never forget that this is a spiritual battle and we do not struggle against flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Soli Deo Gloria!

18 thoughts on “What is the Root of Liberal Theology?

  1. Highly judgemental and frankly unkind. What you appear to be saying is that questioning anything – even if it is stupid – is anti Christian. Are you actually claiming you think the whole Bible is without error? You realise of course this means we have to stone you to death because your disobedient haircut – shaving the sideboards (cf your photo at the top) carries the death penalty.
    What about all the contradictions in the Bible – eg try Googling
    Biblical Literalism – the Shaping of God. What about all the silly science – so bats are fowl, not mammals?? You sneer at Strauss yet his biography paints him rather better than his opponents. Certainly the Flat Earth society based their conclusions on a literalist Bible. Are you really saying you agree with them?


  2. Excellent, How many today are being swooned into Liberalism 2.0 of the Emergent Church. Once Sola Scriptura is compromised then the downgrade…


  3. No peddiebill this post was not highly judgmental nor unkind, but the truth. However, I do appreciate you proving my point which is that the root of “Christian Liberalism” (an oxymoron) is unbelief, which is no different than some form of atheism. By the way, your comment was full of accusations of things of which I made no mention. If you want to be taken seriously you had better read the rules for commenting here then try again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate your ministry here Mike….thank you.
    I find trying to “be in” a local church body very difficult…lots of mixture of truth and error…confusion and some sort of Christian “therapy”.
    I have finally found to keep quiet and pray is very helpful; hoping to be able to speak up at the right time. It is lonely.
    On the other hand, the Lord is true to His word…He is satisfying me with His goodness. Satisfying me with Himself…and we do have the Lord providing teachers who truly are teaching the Word. And as an extra bonus, He is teaching me to love everybody…imagine that, yet keep my mind in His truth.


  5. Brother Mike, thanks for this interesting article. May I have your permission to translate it into Spanish?


  6. OK I will try once more(but with little hope of success)
    Matthew 25 vs 37 Then the righteous will reply, “Lord When was it that we saw you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink, a stranger and took you home, or naked and clothed you? When did we see you in prison and visit you? And the King will answer I tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here you did for me.” …….Gosh that sounds awfully like a social gospel to me. Remember Jesus was talking about what would make the difference at Judgement, so he was not talking about a side issue. And what was it the James said about true religion????


  7. Thank you for this post. It is so true that at root driving Liberal theology is the god of self…where man is the standard of truth, right and wrong, worship and beauty.


  8. Peddiebill, are you serious? We have dealt with this more times than I can count. All those examples are EVIDENCE of what genuine Christians DO. They are not what makes up Genuine Christianity. The difference is crucial. Why? If we DO those things in order to be Christians then we are talking about works theology and Ephesians 2:1-10 makes it very clear that NO ONE comes to Christ via works…NO ONE. No one is acceptable to Christ according merit. We are justified by faith alone. Scripture is clear on this. However, you have already said you refuse to submit to Sacred Scripture as authoritative, complete and infallible yet you use Biblical examples as if they should be ???? Which is it?


  9. Dear Mike,

    Grace and peace in Christ!

    If I thought God was incapable of communicating His eternal truth to humans (He, Himself created in His own image) I would want NOTHING to do with this error prone, impotent “god”.

    Our Great God is “Holy Other”. God does not bend His knee to our pathetic, small diseased (sinful) intellect, but rather by His grace and mercy bestows a measure of His righteousness via the Holy Spirit in order to gently guide us into all knowledge, wisdom and understanding. The problem is only those who have been born again through faith in Christ can receive this free gift.

    May God grant strength to you and blessing to your faithful ministry, charisse


  10. Hullo again. Now you are confusing me. I certainly inferred that I don’t accept the silly bits in the Bible as authority. I can only assume you don’t care how silly the advice is – and therefore And yes I have heard of 2 Timothy 3:16 but please remember he cant have been talking about any of the New Testament since none of that had been determined to be scripture at the time he was writing.
    Would you be so good as to give some straight answers.
    1. Since you wish to condemn me for not accepting Scripture as authoritative, complete and infallible – straight answer please: Do you accept the whole lot of the Bible as authoritative, complete and infallible? (If you look up my post “Shaping God” you would know what it is that I am now trying to say briefly)
    2. When two accounts in the Bible are clearly contradictory – how do you deal with this?
    3. If you scoff at someone who does not accept some of the knowledge in the Bible because it is now known to be scientifically wrong, straight answer please – Do you accept the Bible information that is now believed to be wrong?
    4. I am certainly aware of the Ephesians quote. However since Paul sometimes appeared to be contradicting Jesus I would have thought that Jesus might have been a more helpful authority, especially on the topic of judgement. If not – straight answer please. Would you ever allow a woman to talk in Church? Paul says it is wrong.


  11. Peddiebill, this is the last time I will reply to you so it is also the last time I will post one of your comments. I have gone through this “exercise” in order to show everyone what we are dealing with and I marvel at your spiritual blindness which is the root of your unbelief.

    First, when I deal with someone like you I always go after your presuppositions which, at times, are difficult to discern because the person doing the arguing doesn’t want to dig that deep, but you have been very straightforward in revealing what is behind everything you stand for and against. Incredible!

    You want Jesus, but have a presupposition about the Word of God that it is “ok” to chop it up into bits and use it as you wish to support your “thesis.” Sorry, out of bounds and you lose. That is what the Christian Liberals (oxymoron) have always done and so prove they are not Christians at all. I recommend a fine book that explains this in great detail by J. Gresham Machen titled Christianity & Liberalism. In that book he proves that Orthodox Christianity (that is where I and all true Christians are) and liberal christianity are two different religions. Now, if you examine all of your questions in this comment and your previous comments it is obvious that you are in the latter group not the former. You are not a Christian since you reject God’s Truth as the Truth. Sorry, but the burden of proof for challenging this is in the court of the christian liberals and they have failed miserably ever since the they started trying.

    Yes, I do accept the Word of God as authoritative, complete and infallible. The burden of proof that it isn’t is up to you. I have nothing to prove. You can’t do it. All you can do is fail miserably to use the same old tired arguments that liberals have always used that ALL HAVE BEEN PROVEN to be false.

    There are no contradictions except in the minds of people who don’t know how to study the Word and are ignorant of history and the Biblical languages.

    I have no idea what you are talking about that anything in the Bible is scientifically wrong. I do know that what men know as facts keeps changing, but the Word of God never changes.

    Paul never contradicted Jesus. You have zero basis for that charge.

    As I said earlier, you are in unbelief and since that is the case, the only way that what I have been telling you will make sense to you is that if that changes.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  12. Ahhhhh Mike, the trials and testing you have to go through…
    Thank you for posting the comments by Peddiebill to expose the unbelief going on and attacks against Scripture. 2Tim 3:16 says “16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
    It says ALL, not SOME of Scripture (even the “silly bits”??? whatever that is. IF and I emphasize IF, it is in the Bible) is inspired by God (not men) to do those 4 things listed. Why? So that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
    I think Peddiebill is correct in saying this epistle was written prior to completion of the whole of the the New Testament. According to the ESV Study Bible, this letter to Timothy was thought to be written between A.D. 64-67, at which time there were other writings being considered as Scripture. Remember the Old Testament wasn’t all completed at one time either. When the Israelites first lived in the promised land, they had only the first 5 books. Later writings were added afterwards.
    In the ESV notes on 2 Tim 2:16 there is a reference to 2 Pet 3:15-16 I quote, “15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
    As always, praying for you brother. Thank you for your diligence in The Word.



  13. We only waste time reading these spewings by peddiebill. The man has no idea what he is talking about. It shows your good heart that you posted the first one… I probably wouldn’t get that far. I have less patience for “apologetic” unbelievers.


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