Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire taken near sunset

A Tale of Two Religions: Liberal Theology Without Illusions

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
April 22, 2019

Two times a year, during Christmas and Easter, the secular media becomes a little less secular. The historic Christian dominance within the American population necessitates this pattern, even among the most liberal and mainstream news outlets.

The cycle is easy to spot. By tradition and necessity the major news media generally turn to cover some aspect of Christianity during Christmas and Easter seasons.

That cycle continued yesterday, but in a shocking way during an interview between influential New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Kristof, who deserved credit for giving attention to theological issues, has interviewed several major theological figures. Those conversations have appeared in his opinion column for The New York Times. His interviews have ranged from New York pastor Tim Keller to former President Jimmy Carter.

Interestingly, his interviews seem to gravitate around two crucial theological questions: the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Those two theological questions rang loudly in his most recent interview with Serene Jones.

In short, as the interview unfolds, Jones overthrows the entire edifice of orthodox, biblical Christianity. She actually invents an entirely new religion.

The article begins with Kristof asking Jones, “Do you think of Easter as a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection? I have problems with that.” Jones responded by saying, “When you look at the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.”

From the outset, Jones just dismisses the Bible’s consistent truth claim of the bodily, physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and its centrality to the gospel. The empty tomb in Mark’s gospel clearly suggests that the dead man who once resided in the tomb is now alive—furthermore, the other three gospels and the entire testimony of the New Testament is filled with the resurrection’s importance to the Christian faith and community.

None of this matters to Dr. Jones. She said that the empty tomb merely symbolizes that “the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.” Jones reduces the death and resurrection of Christ to an emotive experience, recasting the empty tomb not as Jesus’ triumph over sin and death but a symbolic expression of unquenchable love.

Kristof then asks, “But without a physical resurrection, isn’t there a risk that we are left with just the crucifixion?” The apostle Paul had this question on his mind in 1 Corinthians 15, when he wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” The apostle teaches that without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Christians worship a dead man, cursed on a cross—and there is no hope because mankind remains under the pangs of sin.

Jones, however, views the situation quite different from the apostle. She answered, “Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts. For me, the cross is an enactment of our human hatred. But what happens on Easter is the triumph of love in the midst of suffering. Isn’t that reason for hope?”

Let’s be clear. She is teaching a religion here – but that religion is not Christianity.

First, the Bible announces that God the Father did indeed send Jesus to die on the cross. In Acts 2, Peter the apostle preached that the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” predetermined Jesus’ crucifixion. Indeed, the most famous and beloved verse in the New Testament is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Jones’ answer attempts to empty this verse of all its power, glory, and significance. John 3:16 declares the purposes of God to save his people through the crucifixion of his only begotten Son—this he did as an extension of unmerited and infinite love.

But the cross—and the entire teaching of the Bible concerning the character of God and the power of the gospel—is deeply offensive to those who reject its message. The gospel is here dismissed as divine child abuse; a charge that emerged decades ago in feminist theology.

Kristof picks up on Jones’ answer and asks, “You alluded to child abuse. So how do we reconcile an omnipotent, omniscient God with evil and suffering?”

Jones responded, “At the heart of faith is mystery. God is beyond our knowing, not a being or an essence or an object. But I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being. That is a fabrication of roman juridical theory and Greek mythology. That’s not the god of Easter. The God of Easter is vulnerable and is connected to the world in profound ways that don’t involve manipulating the world but constantly inviting us into love, justice, mercy.”

This is what it looks like when a theologian drives right off a cliff.

. This is not Christianity. This is a new religion, a new god, formed in an image intended not to offend modern secular sensibilities. She has constructed a god from post-modern theology that in no way resembles the God of the Bible—the one true God.

Later in the article, Kristof brought up another important question he has posed before. He asked about the virgin birth, to which Jones responded, “I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.”

Without theological or biblical justification, Jones dismisses the necessity of the virgin birth simply because it is in her mind bizarre and “has nothing to do with Jesus’ message.” Actually, the biblical claim that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit has been a doctrinal target of theological liberalism since the late nineteenth century, but it is particularly offensive to many feminists.

Jones reiterates in her answer a key feature of liberal theology—a theology, which attempts to separate the person of Christ from the work of Christ. She attempts to do what the Scriptures will not allow, namely, to sunder the nature of Jesus from his words and life. Liberal theology can tolerate some of the things Jesus said and did, but it cannot tolerate the nature of Christ as the Son of God, the divine logos, who was born of the virgin Mary.

The interview continues with Jones’ dismissal of intercessory prayer and the reality of heaven and hell. Indeed, Jones’ theological system—a system that denies the attributes of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and the apostolic faith—has no room for a personal God who hears the petitions of his people and works through them for his purposes and glory. Her theological system has no place for the heaven and hell and the definitive judgment of God at the end of the age when some will depart for eternal perdition while others enter his everlasting rest.

In this interview, Jones denied the reality of the resurrection, the necessity of the virgin birth, the attributes of God, the power of prayer, and the existence of heaven and hell. According to Jones, there is no cross on which Jesus died for sin, there is no Father who sent the Son to pay our ransom, there is no bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead as a sign and seal of God’s promises—indeed, she has denied everything that makes the gospel good news. She even denies that God is a “being.”

Kristof then asked Jones a question he often poses. He said, “For someone like myself who is drawn to Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the physical resurrection, what am I? Am I a Christian?”

Jones responded by saying, “Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.”

At this point, the entire conversation becomes a parable of modern liberal theology. Jones proudly takes the label ‘Christian minister’ while simultaneously denying every tenet of the historic Christian faith. Why would anyone identify as a Christian minister and then deny the entire superstructure of Christian theology? What we see here is a hope to replace biblical Christianity with a new religion without anyone noticing.

If anything, the conversation between Nicholas Kristof and Serene Jones is most remarkable mostly for its candor. There is no effort to hide the radicalism of the theology presented in this article. If you want to see the reality of theological liberalism, look no further than yesterday’s edition of The New York Times. This is theological liberalism with no illusions.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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