A definition of ‘liberal’

“LIBERAL: someone who seeks the mean and deplores DOGMA.”

This from Irving Hexham’s, Concise Dictionary of Religion, first published by InterVarsity Press, Carol Stream, USA, 1994, second edition, Regent College Press, Vancouver, 1999.

I emailed Dr. Hexham and asked him about his definition, especially the part about seeking the mean. Like every good scholar, he mentioned it needed expanding, but referred mainly to 19th-century British liberalism.

There’s a seed here, however, in the deploring of dogma or doctrine, which most liberals share. Except now, to shed the negative connotation which the word has acquired, both political and religious liberals prefer the moniker “progressive.”

Progressive sounds good, doesn’t it? Until one compares it to texts like 1 Corinthians 4:6, “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”

Here, being progressive is not good, and leads to being puffed up, or being “arrogant” (NASB) or “taking pride” in one’s special messiah, which describes exactly today’s progressives, for all their false humility.

The only desired progress of the gospel according to the NT is progress in getting the message out to more people, as per Philippians 1:12-18, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (NASB). And in developing in oneself the qualities of Christ and growth in the Spirit of God:

And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25).

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress (1 Timothy 4:15).

Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God (Hebrews 6:1).

Then there is the definition of liberal according to Webster’s 1913 edition: “Not bound by orthodox tenets or established forms in political or religious philosophy; independent in opinion; not conservative.”

What I want most is to be bound by the word of God, for in that binding is my spiritual freedom.

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

1 thought on “A definition of ‘liberal’

  1. Thanks for the comment on the Gospels and N.T. About liberalism, I like these defintions because they show why liberals are given to change. Before they can change, they must first misrepresent the Scriptures to make them less authoritative than they really are. Having suitably smeared the Scriptures, then they feel justified to venture out to new things. When Solomon wrote the following: “My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change” (Pro. 24:21), I wonder if he was talking about the “liberal”, “progessive”, democrat?

What do you think?