EDITORIAL - Theological Liberalism. Is There Any?

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

Beginning with the August 10, 197 2 issue of Truth Magazine, four editorials were printed entitled "Theological Liberalism at Abilene Christian College." These articles were precipitated by an article written by a young brother (Randall Mark Trainer), which appeared in the April 20, 1972 issue of the Gospel Guardian. Brother Trainer assured everyone that there was no theological liberalism to be found at Abilene Christian College. Such an article, written by a former Florida College student, so delighted the administration of ACC that they photographically reproduced the Guardian article and circulated it all over the brotherhood. The Firm Foundation and the Christian Chronicle also reprinted the Guardian article. Apparently that Guardian article served their purposes well.

My articles were written to attend to a job that I sincerely feel should have been attended to by the Gospel Guardian editor who permitted the Trainer article to be printed without a word of disagreement with its conclusions. This young brother stated that he had been in the classes of several teachers at ACC. Of these teachers he said: "If any of them has presented anything even remotely akin to theological liberalism. I am unaware of it . . . If some 'brotherhood watchdogs' have discovered an onslaught of theological liberalism in the church of our Lord today, they must have found it somewhere else than Abilene Christian College, at least so far as I can tell."

My four article series was designed to show that our young brother was a little naive in his evaluation of ACC and its teachers. Considerable evidence was then recited to show that even ACC faculty members had accused other faculty members of theological liberalism. Such is still the case. If the ACC President or Dean will arrange for their Bible faculty members publicly to answer in writing a series of questions, I think I can even now prove that liberal positions are held by some Bible faculty members at Abilene Christian College. Does anybody want to challenge my hand on the matter'! If so, require the faculty members to answer some questions about what they believe and teach; and we shall see what we shall see!

I will guarantee you that I can write a series of questions, pertaining to Bible teaching, concerning which you could not hire the ACC administration or faculty to require each Bible faculty member to state publicly what he believes, teaches, or would practice. If you think my case is over-stated, let me simply offer the pages of Truth Magazine as one public means of interrogation. Then we can see whether there is any liberalism at ACC, to what degree has liberalism affected the ACC Bible faculty, and who the liberal ACC Bible faculty people are. I predict right now that there will be no "takers" on this proposal ACC Bible faculty members would end up testifying against ACC Bible faculty member, if they did not incriminate themselves.

Brother Trainer ought to know that some of the liberal brethren are in hysterics right now over theological liberalism within the church. Brother Trainer is just sure there is none of it at ACC. I am not sure Brother Trainer would know what it was, if he encountered it face to face. My reason for that statement will be shown shortly.

"Doctor" Thomas B. Warren of Harding Graduate School in Memphis, edits a paper named The Spiritual Sword which is filled, issue after issue, with teaching against theological liberalism within liberal churches of Christ, and Warren and associates document abundantly that theological liberalism is about to engulf liberal churches. But Brother Trainer is oblivious to the slightest danger of such on the campus of ACC. I simply declare that Brother Trainer either does not know what some ACC teachers believe, propagate and teach, or else he does not know liberalism when he sees it.

Before me as I write is the January 1973 issue of The Spiritual Sword. In this issue is an article entitled -Some Grave Dangers Presently Facing Young Preachers." Within this article is this statement: "No danger is more imminent or frightening than the presence of liberalism and modernism in the church of Christ today." Is The Spiritual Sword writer misrepresenting the danger, or is Brother Trainer just blind to it? Listen further to our liberal brother warn about theological liberalism: -Its leprous hands have the church by the throat in wide areas of the country and many who are carrying its banner are the young preachers, teachers, professors and Bible Chair workers who have arisen from within the Lord's church. Without doubt the church today faces one of the gravest crises it has ever confronted because of this cancer, which has grown up within our midst. It is the case today that preachers within the church are openly denying that the Bible is inerrant, holding that truth is subjective, relative and that absolute truth is not attainable."

According to The Spiritual Sword writer, theological liberalism is running rampant "in wide areas of the country" and it affects "', professors and Bible Chair workers . . .." But Brother Trainer has not seen the slightest indication of it at ACC. Trainer said, "Neither does there appear to be a trend in the direction of theological liberalism." I do not make bets, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that Brother Trainer could not get every ACC Bible faculty member even to state of every other Bible faculty member: "Neither does there appear to be a trend in the direction of theological liberalism. - But if every ACC Bible faculty member were to make such a careless statement, I still would defy them to agree one by one to answer a series of questions regarding what they believe, teach, or would practice. I do not believe that even the administration (-an get the Bible faculty to agree to answer questions about their belief, teaching, and practice through a public media.

James D. Bales, of Harding College, said: "if we think modernism cannot subvert churches and colleges today. We are helping it to happen. If we think, when it begins to appear among us, that it will go away if we ignore it, we are guilty of failing to exercise vigilance. It not only can happen to us, but it is happening to us." (Modernism: Trojan Horse in the Church, p. 15) But again, according to Brother Trainer, it may be a danger everywhere else but there is not even a "trend in the direction of theological liberalism" at ACC. Who believes it???

ACC Bible faculty members J. W. Roberts, Everett Ferguson, and Tom Olbricht are even yet on the Board o! Trustees of Mission magazine, which is the Number One espouser of theological liberalism among churches of Christ. Some accused me of misrepresenting these brethren. I was told that they had been Mission Trustees, but they were not any longer. So when I went to Abilene recently, I asked Brother Ferguson if they were still on the Board of Trustees of Mission. Unequivocally he answered that they were.

Mission magazine periodically conducts an opinion poll. The January 1973 Mission states: "Churches of Christ have historically called for unity on the basis of a return to the New Testament. For some the New Testament is viewed as a blueprint, which is to be followed in exact detail in every age of history if the church is to be faithful to the Bible. For these Christians unity will only come when everyone agrees to the concept of a New Testament blueprint and then conforms to it."

Then this question is posed: "Is the New Testament a blueprint for church organization and worship?" Friends, this gets to the very heart and essence of liberalism. Soon they will feature the results of their opinion poll. Keep in mind that three ACC Bible faculty members are helping to propagate such material as this, and then some young naive brother wants to guarantee the brotherhood that there is not the slight tinge of liberalism at ACC . . . that there is not even "a trend in the direction of theological liberalism" there. Apparently our voting brother either does not recognize blatant liberalism (yes, even modernism) when he sees it, or else he does not in any way hold the Trustees of Mission responsible for the thrust and propagation of the paper over which they serve as Trustees. Incidentally, Mission now has a new and fulltime editor (Victor Hunter). and have moved their offices to Dallas, Texas.

Brother Trainer's Beliefs

Shortly after Brother Trainer's article in the Gospel Guardian appeared, he sent me an article entitled "This I Believe," and urged me to print it quickly, for some brethren were beginning to question his soundness. Trainer's article appeared in the July 1:3, 1(72 issue of Truth Magazine.

What did Brother Trainer then believe? He itemized several beliefs in order that brethren may know what he believed and where he stood. Point No. 7 was this: "The Scriptures reveal God's complete and perfect pattern for the organization, worship, and work of the church. We must strive to duplicate this pattern today without addition, subtraction, or modification) in order to be pleasing to God." This sounds good, doesn't it? This is precisely what I believe a Bible believer must believe. Let's see how Brother Trainer puts this into practice, after a while.

Point No. 8 in Brother Trainers article said: "A Christian can never participate in or endorse any activity with another Christian or congregation if he does not believe that activity is in complete accordance with the Scriptures. A Christian must withdraw himself from an apostate, ceasing to have any dealings with him which are related to being a fellow-Christian, but must seek to restore him to the Lord." And that sounds plenty strong too, doesn't it? But wait just a minute before concluding where Brother Trainer is going to stand.

Under point No.10 Brother Trainer said: "A Christian must never compromise his conviction on any teaching of the Bible for the sake of unity or any other worthy end." And that too sounds like a fine and truthful statement.

But what did Brother Trainer do when he left ACC? He moved to Austin, Texas where there are two faithful churches. From the July 13, 1972 Truth Magazine article, one would conclude that Brother Trainer would oppose inter-congregational cooperation, the church support of human institutions, and congregational involvement in recreation. It is probable that nearly everybody thought that was what Brother Trainer believed. But when he moved last summer to Austin, he aligned himself with a liberal church.

Brother Trainer had said: "A Christian can never participate in or endorse any activity with another Christian or congregation if he does not believe that activity is in complete accordance with Scriptures." It is therefore evident that Brother Trainer thought that the practice of the liberal church in Austin with which he aligned himself was "in complete accordance with the Scriptures. "

Furthermore, he had said: "A Christian must never compromise his conviction on any teaching of the Bible for the sake of unity or any other worthy end." But he did! Or else he thought the practice of the liberal Austin church was "in complete accordance with the Scriptures."

A few months ago, Brother Trainer was worried because some of the brethren doubted if he was sound in the faith. Evidently those brethren had good reason for being doubtful about Brother Trainer. I thought he was a naive young brother who was playing into the hands of the liberals who operate ACC. But now he is aligned with them.

Now what of his testimony that there is no liberalism at ACC? It now is apparent that his was simply the testimony of one liberal that there was no theological liberalism at ACC. I did not believe it then, nor do I now. Brethren had better beware of young men who waver in their stance for the truth. Such young brethren are usually "on their way out' When they begin such wavering. Certainly we hate to see brethren (young or old) jeopardize their souls, and become useless for the cause of truth. And certainly brethren had better continue to be wary of brethren, voting or old, who evidence by their teaching (whether oral or written) that they either do not know the truth, or do not intend to stand upon it and uphold it. Such men are a threat to the purity and loyalty of churches, and brethren might, with very good reasons, be wary of them.

March 15, 1973