Alan Jacobs recently posted a little thought experiment: take a hypothetical Christian institution that has moved from a traditional Christian sexual ethic to a more liberal one. Assume that God hasn’t actually changed his mind about this stuff:
So as we try to evaluate this imaginary Christian organization, we can see what has happened in one of three ways:
1) At one point, the organization held views about sexuality that were largely determined by its social environment, but it has now reconsidered those views in light of the Gospel and has come to a more authentically Christian understanding of the matter.
2) At one point, the organization held authentically Christian views about sexuality, but has succumbed to public pressure and fear of being scorned or condemned and now holds views that are determined by its social environment.
3) The organization has always held the views about sexuality that were socially dominant, bending its understanding of Scripture to suit the times; it just changed when (or soon after) the main stream of society changed.
Note that there is no way to read this story as one of consistent faithfulness to a Gospel message that works against the grain of a dominant culture.
He goes on to ask Christians who have made this sort of shift to consider how they would prevent themselves from lapsing again into the sort of unfaithfulness that they have evidently pulled themselves out of.
While this particular example is about sex, the thought experiment could be expanded to include any sort of hot-button doctrine. If you’re going to say that there are either significant problems with the traditional sources of Christian doctrine (i.e. scripture and apostolic tradition) or significant problems with our hermeneutic methods, it seems reasonable to ask what your epistemological model would be for demarcating authentic Christian teaching from falsehood.
I don’t mean to pose this in a mean-spirited fashion. I’m genuinely curious about how more liberal Christians navigate this thicket.
(h/t Rod Dreher)