The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw one of the most direct attacks against biblical Christianity ever faced in the history of the church, certainly in the modern age. The attack came from theological liberals, and their efforts undermined the authority and accuracy of the Bible, the very rule for faith and practice. The goal seemed simple and innocent enough: to make Christianity credible to a modern, scientific age. What could be wrong with trying to make Christianity relevant? Relevancy is not a sin in itself. However, relevancy at the expense of truth is damaging. Such was the case with theological liberalism. Fidelity to the inspiration and authority of holy Scripture appeared expendable to liberals in their attempt to bring the church up to speed with modernism. The consequence of the liberal agenda was an attack on the Scripture, as well as a challenge to biblical Christianity to defend its historic belief in the Bible. One historian claimed the efforts of liberals “precipitated the most fundamental controversy to wrack the churches since the age of the Reformation.”
Theological liberalism sought to adapt Christianity to modern culture and to a modern framework of thought. This desire proceeded from the assumption that religious beliefs acceptable to and sufficient for a previous generation were no longer adequate to meet the needs of the present generation. This assumption led to a rejection of external authority, namely the Bible, and replaced it with a subjective authority based on reason and/or experience. With self as the final authority, a new view of God emerged. It became fashionable to view God as being merely immanent, indwelling His creation (as the pantheists believe), rather than also being transcendent, distinct from and totally sovereign in His superiority over His creation. In this way a whole generation’s views of God, Christ, the gospel, and the authority of God’s word were altered. The threat was great, but so was the challenge.