You once described the contribution of liberalism to the church as “emptying pews and lives.” How did such a destructive movement succeed in capturing the churches?
At a theoretical level, easy: the truth will always be opposed; falsehood will always prove more attractive in the long-run to the unregenerate human heart. Of course, the path of liberalism was different in different nations and denominations since particular cultural, economic, social and political factors determined how the battle between truth and falsehood played out; but the basic moral dynamic is universal. I do think that the culture of evangelicalism itself has often not helped. Belief in the truth is always difficult – doctrinally and morally. We believe not because we find it easy or straightforward but because we are commanded so to do. Yet evangelical culture often fails to acknowledge the level of struggle involved in being orthodox and thus creates unrealistic expectations for the Christian life.
Berkouwer says of Herman Bavinck (perhaps the outstanding Reformed theologian of the last two-hundred years) that the people who most angered him were those who believed exactly what he did himself, but who failed to see the problems and difficulties, the sheer struggle, involved in so doing. I carried a copy of that anecdote in my wallet for many years as I worked in university departments where my faith was constantly under challenge from friends and colleagues as a reminder that the intellectual struggles I felt were precisely to be expected in the normal Christian life; but that I had to continue to believe not because it was easy or pain-free but because of God’s revealed command so to do.
The pastoral significance of this is that too often we fail to present orthodoxy as such a struggle, giving people unrealistic expectations and the false alternatives of believing easily or believing nothing at all. That is a cruel dilemma to place before people, and one that must in practice ultimately favour the `believe nothing’ option for as soon as a struggle arises, the believer has nowhere to go.
You can also read Martin’s other interviews–with folks like Scott Clark, Derek Thomas, etc.