A Simple Way to Distinguish between Fundamentalism and Liberalism in Christian Theology

Roger E. Olson | 8/25/2019 | Staff
jster97 (Posted by) Level 3
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I have often been asked if there is a litmus test for determining whether a church or person or organization is liberal theologically. I have also often been asked if there is a litmus test for determining wither a church or person or organization is fundamentalist.

I begin by answering that not every church, person or organization is either one. Most people who ask me for these litmus tests know that. The reason they ask is that they want to avoid both and that is not as easy as it used to be. Very few churches, persons or Christian organizations label themselves “fundamentalist.” Does that mean they aren’t? Very few churches, persons or Christian organizations label themselves “liberal.” Does that mean they aren’t? No is the answer to both questions.

Fundamentalists - Label - Liberals - Everyone - Way

Many fundamentalists label themselves “conservative” or don’t use any label. Many liberals label themselves “progressive,” but everyone wants to be progressive in some way or other. Many churches, people, organizations call themselves “moderate” or “centrist” or something else equally vague when they are asked to identify their theological posture.

Another confusing factor is that there are many “churches” that have never been truly Christian in any historical-classical sense of the word but are “sects” or even “cults”—theologically speaking. But, of course, no one thinks they belong to a “sect” or a “cult.”

Fact - Test - Everyone - Time - Churches

The fact is that there is no litmus test that works with everyone all the time. Discerning which churches, people, organizations that claim to be Christian are really counterfeit Christian and which are rooted in genuine Christianity but have become fundamentalist or liberal is a process of discernment.

First, I tell my interlocutor, the person seeking my help with this discernment process, to find and examine the church’s or person’s or organization’s statement of faith. It may not be labeled as such and...
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