Journey Into the Wastelands of Liberalism

By Ron Halbrook

When brethren leave the Bible as the absolute standard of truth and the platform of unity, there is no telling where they will end up. Many have journeyed into the wastelands of liberalism during the last thirty years, and the trek continues. Those who have wandered away from the New Testament pattern of teaching do not today stand together as a great army; rather, they are scattered hither, thither, and yon. The only thing that gives them a semblance of unity is their complaint against a common enemy: the insistence that strict obedience to the New Testament is essential to true love of the Lord Jesus Christ and to faith in Him (Jn. 14:15; 15:14; Jas. 2:14-24; 1 Jn. 5:1-3).

The history of some of these journeys is preserved in such documents as James A. Warren’s The History of Legalism (1952), which for instance asserts, “Jesus justified the man with a God-like spirit; the Pharisees justified the man who appeared legally correct” (p. 7); M.F. Cottrell’s Refocusing God, the Bible and the Church (1962), which complains, “Because of our looking too persistently for `patterns’ we have definitely discouraged Christian spontaneity . . . . many of our so-called approved patterns are nothing short of our own approved customs and traditions” (p. 123); Robert Meyers’ (ed.) Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism, which summarizes seventeen contributions, “A great stirring in the Church of Christ betokens the possibility of a more charitable tomorrow. Thousands are restless and dissatisfied with the aridity of exclusivism and authoritarianism” (p. 3); and, most recently, Bruce Edwards’ and Edward Fudge’s Journey Toward Jesus (1977), which asks whether the “man of faith” could use instrumental music in worship “through a lifetime” – in spite of our “forever studying with him” – and which answers, “As to whether the man of faith who uses the instrument will someday relinquish it, d cannot say that he certainly will” (pp. 25, 35). Such travelers invariably commence their journey by declaring that their convictions on a variety of subjects are unchanged, but that they have discovered broader realms of grace and unity. Sooner or later they severely flagellate themselves for their past pride in the law and self-righteousness, alternately exulting in their newfound freedom. To read the diary of one of these marvelous journeys is to read them all. Three months in succession, leading liberal journals took favorable notice of Edwards’ and Fudge’s Journey Toward Jesus: Integrity in September of 1978, Leroy Garrett’s Restoration Review in October, and R.L. Kilpatrick’s Ensign Fair in November (also previously in January and July). A mature gospel preacher who has tried time and again through the years to bring back brethren who were wandering into the wastelands of liberalism read Journey and briefly evaluated it. The insights of brother Leslie Diestelkamp are most valuable because of his past experience in this matter. Said he,

I have read A Journey Toward Jesus carefully. Changes for Bruce Edwards as portrayed in the book obviously came by the step-by-step method, validating fears for his course in the next few years. Obviously he will not stop now. Bruce told me personally that he could not now recommend the Bruce Edwards of 3 or 4 years ago as a sound preacher, and I believe that in 3 or 4 more years he won’t be able to recommend the Bruce Edwards of today.

Bruce asked Edward Fudge some very good questions, probing the charge that he is trying to find a way to have fellowship with institutional brethren. Bruce appears to be satisfied with Edward’s answers. The result is that the same questions which Bruce asked Ed need to be asked of Bruce now.

Many things are said which in another context could be appreciated very much. Yet some very frail positions are espoused also, but mostly my criticism of the book is in regard to what it does not say. Ed had every opportunity to spell out his views that have been criticized so much but he failed to do it, and covers almost everything under the umbrella of his “man of faith,” his “doing and dying of Jesus,” and what seems to be an underlying criticism of those who insist that we should strictly follow the New Testament and recognize that only in that way can we honor and follow the Christ whom Ed mentions so much.

The attitude manifested by the authors seems to be the very same basic one that vexes America today – rebellion against “the establishment.” This is evident from the following: (1) The authors want to make Christ the means of unity among children of God without recognizing that Christ can only be that means through the instrumentality of the Written Word. (2) I believe the authors really reject the New Testament as the absolute and infallible law of Christ for us today and rely upon some mystical faith in Christ to be the criteria of fidelity and faithfulness. (3) Though not expressly stated, and though this is obscured by some very obvious expressions of humility, there seems to be an underlying attitude of intelligentsia in the book – by both writers. An effort seems to be made to be different almost for the sake of being different – anything to be unorthodox!

Finally, Bruce and Edward so strongly declare their love for Christ, but seem to me to minimize any great need for love for the church for which the Lord died because he loved it so much (Eph. 5:25). I still hope and pray for the return of these men to a fidelity from which they have already departed considerably, and from which I believe they will completely depart if they do not make an about-face.

The journey into the wastelands of liberalism, where stand Ephraim’s idols, is a tragedy often repeated. Let us join in prayer for the return of the travelers. The Bible teaches that Ephraim can become so joined to his idols as to become beyond hope.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 11, p. 182
March 15, 1979