Subjectivism (I): Current Danger Among Us

C. G. (Colly) Caldwell, III
Temple Terrace, Florida

Words are of little value if they do not properly convey ideas. Some words, once valuable, are no longer best to use because they have been applied to so many varied ideas or because they have become so highly prejudicial.

A prime example is the word "liberalism." I would like to be able to use that word to begin each article in this series because subjectivism is liberalism. But subjectivism is more than just accomodational liberalism of the type practiced by the Gospel Advocate in accepting the "Herald of Truth" and orphanages into the church budgets; and to many of us that is what "liberalism" is.

It would probably be better to use the word "rationalism" than "liberalism." "Rationalism" generally refers to the old German theological liberalism so popular among American Protestant denominational lists. It argues from higher criticism and denies the virgin birth of Jesus, miracles, the resurrection, etc. Rationalism is based upon subjective modernism and all the tendencies of rationalism are present in the subjectivist. He would deny it however, and so at this time I will not use that word either.

The other word we will not use is "modernism." That word has been thrown around so much and used to refer to so many involved rejections of Truth that it fails to pinpoint any single attitude or position.

"Subjectivism" is the idea that individual feeling is the ultimate criterion of the good and the right. It attaches supreme importance to subjective (personal) elements in experience. That is exactly what I will be talking about. Current desires for special "spiritual experience" in every religious activity are calling forth this philosophy in many. We do not deny that there are "subjective" (personal experience and feeling) in Christianity nor that these are involved in ones salvation. I deny that any subjective is uniform for all. I deny that any subjective is the test of ones acceptance with God apart from the written revelation of God.

Danger Signals

The incipient signs of this movement involve the following: (1) a so-called spontaneity and emotionalism in worship; (2) a misunderstanding of the nature of love; (3) misconceptions regarding "legalism" and "grace"; (4) a smokescreen raised around the question of "fellowship"; (5) confusion as to proper approach to the word of God, especially as it relates to the silence of the Scripture; (6) loss of real strength and purpose in teaching and preaching.

The results of the movement appear in the form of departure from the faith, antagonism against those who maintain "established practices," and for many ultimate involvement in some form of agnosticism.


Without a doubt this could become one of the most destructive philosophies to come among us and one of the most difficult battles men loyal to Christ will have faced in the twentieth century. That its widespread influence in churches of Christ is beginning to be felt across the nation in predictable patterns is undeniable. Most of its followers and many of its chief proponents are young. Its sources are found in the before mentioned untenable accommodational liberalism (the "liberal brethren" are now having to fight, and have for the past five years, this type "liberalism" for all they are worth). Its psychological advantage grows out of religious division among churches of Christ in the last two decades and in an overreaction to current hypocrisy and disinterest among many church members. Its social advantage is a modernistic, affluent politically liberal society. Its theological advantage is that we have not in the last five or six years (the period when these young people have come through their teens) emphasized the principles of Biblical hermeneutic relative to the establishment of authority. We have preached that instrumental music and institutionalism are wrong but we have not stressed the real reasons why! (I am talking about the principles why anything is really wrong before God). Students unanimously tell me that this is so. For example, we preach that "we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it is silent." But we are going to have to imprint upon the minds of our young people why that slogan is Scripturally defensible and Divinely imposed upon us.

In subsequent articles I wish to explore with you some of the thinking of the subjectivists among us. I will surely not try to answer all the questions. I do not claim to be able to do that. I am primarily concerned with the attitudes involved and in our seeing where that road leads. Please look around as we study and see if you can perceive any holding these underlying tendencies in the church with which you worship. It is very important that you do!

December 7, 1972