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Why Liberal Theology Paves the Road for Nazism

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I’m a master of blog titles, am I not?

This week my first book in Swedish was released. It’s called Jesus was Also a Refugee and is co-authored with evangelical pastor Stefan Swärd. It develops a Christian perspective on the refugee crisis and the European xenophobic movement. Our conclusion is obviously that Christians should bless and welcome immigrants and refugees and not oppose migration from poor, dangerous countries to rich and safe countries.

One surprising finding is that many xenophobic and racist Christians have a liberal, or progressive, view on theology. This is very evident if you look at Nazi Germany in the 1930’s: liberal theologians like Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch celebrated Hitler and hated Jews. They combined their Nazi rants with biblical criticism and despising any effort to follow the commands of Jesus as they are expressed in the New Testament.

Liberal Christians are also very prominent in the main xenophobic party of my nation, the Sweden Democrats. This party has neo-Nazi roots and try to appeal to Christian values in contrast to Muslim or socialist values. They have been working hard to gain influence in the Church of Sweden, by electing people who hold on to nationalism while also being very liberal theologically.

Jonas Åkerlund, former vice party leader and top candidate for the church election, has explained to the press that he doesn’t believe that the Bible is accurate or that miracles exist. Björn Söder, another top politician within SD, has said that Christianity mixed with Nordic paganism should be the state religion.

Many seem to think that progressive theology and progressive policy go together, that liberal theologians lean to the left and evangelical theologians lead to the right. But that doesn’t have to be the case. What liberal theology essentially does is to rip Christianity’s roots apart, using often very bad arguments for why Christians today shouldn’t follow the example of Jesus and the apostles. They emphasize “modern” values and give that priority over biblical values.

But modern values shift. Althaus and Hirsch were arguing for the modern values of their day: anti-semitism, dictatorship and genocide. If you’ve already thrown out the Bible, what’s stopping you? Moral relativism and an emphasis on “modernity” always paves the road for nazism and other horrible ideologies.

The best way for Christians to fight xenophobia and nazism within the church is then to show that Jesus and the apostles didn’t preach xenophobia and nazism, and argue that we should follow their example. That’s an extremely easy thing to do. So let’s do it.

Update: Here’s a video where I expand on this reasoning and answer some objections I’ve received in various forums:

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10 Comments

  1. “Althaus and Hirsch were arguing for the modern values of their day: anti-semitism, dictatorship and genocide. ” – This is wrong. They did not argue for genocide. Anti-semitism? Perhaps, they can be compared with some Palestine theologians today. Did they argued for “dictatorship”? They wanted a more authoritarian rule as criticism of the undermining of the legal state and the chaotic Weimar-republic. The anti-nazi theologian Karl Barth, expected Rudolf Bultmann, the father of de-mythologizing theology, who also was seen as the ultimate liberal theologian, to turn to Nazism. He did not. On the contrary he also resisted and was given a ban to speak publicly. Things are not quiet that simple that Micael claims.

    • Hello Axel! As Hirsch was a member of Deutsche Christen and and Althaus said that Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship is a gift from God that he welcomed, they did indeed argue for antisemitism and dictatorship. Genocide was the natural consequence of their Nazism, and I hope you don’t deny the historicity of the holocaust?

      My point is not that all liberal theologians become Nazis, but among Christian Nazis several are theologically liberal.

      • What about yourself? Much of what you writes seems to be totally uncritical of the ruling ideology of today, neo-liberal mass-immmigration. It reduces people to labour and want immigration without limit in order to provide Capitalism with cheap labour = increased profit. Some Christians are very helpful in this undertaking. Neo-liberal Capitalism hopes to keep wages low through oversupply of labour. In the US they seems to have succeeded, in Europe we pay social benefits for millions of unemployed. – Of course, I never deny facts that are sufficiently proven. I have been in Auschwitz and some other concentration camps. No people on earth have done so much to preserve memories painful for the nation as the Germans.

  2. Stef says:

    So, I’ve been sitting here for a little bit wondering if I should say something or not. But this post actually really hurt me and I don’t know if I’m just not seeing the joke or if I’m missing something, but as a German and someone who would consider herself a “liberal” Christian telling me that the way I believe supports nazis is really painful. I think that just calling nazi supporters liberal Christians bc of their view of the bible is dishonest in what the word actually implies today. Often times people who are serious about following Jesus nowadays are automatically stuck into the progressive Christian camp, bc we don’t want to mix Jesus with nationalism, but you probably already know that. This post was hurtful.

    • Hello Stef!

      I’m sorry to hear that you took this personally. Of course, I’m not saying that all liberal Christians are destined to embrace Nazi views, nor that conservative Christians who support racism and fascism don’t exist. My point is that many Nazi Christians have in fact been liberal theologically, and I offer a possible explanation to why that’s the case.

      As I write above, I think we often assume that if a Christian is a right-wing extremist they must be conservative, because liberal or progressive Christians are automatically thought to be on the left. But that is simply false. If one takes the Bible seriously and have an evangelical view like I do, one is definitely not destined to become a Nazi, since Jesus wasn’t a Nazi. Jesus was a Jew. And I think this is important to realize: when Deutsche Christen cut out the Old Testament and argued that true Christianity stands for antisemitism, they weren’t evangelical. They weren’t biblically conservative. They were first of all heretical but also very liberal when it comes to their application of the Bible.

      And so my point is that while it’s true that the “modern” values that many liberal/progressive Christians fight for today are far from Nazism, the very argument that “modern” values should trump or exclude Biblical values is very dangerous. Because those modern values can easily change. Racial biology was acceptable science in the 1930’s and national socialism was actually viewed as very progressive and scientifically superior in both Germany and Sweden. Thus, arguing that something is good because it is modern or progressive, is a very dangerous argument to make.

      Blessings!

  3. M. K. J. R. says:

    Hi Michael, with respect, I have to say, “Yes, you are not the master of blog titles.” 😉

    It is a bit too much of an over-statement in my opinion. Both liberal and conservative theologies have been used to advance politics contrary to Christ. The challenge always seems to be not lending our allegiance to any particular government or political movement.

    I don’t think any particular liberal theology leads to Naziism, but the fact that liberal theology may have been used to pave the way for it in Germany is worth trying to understand.

    I would suggest that when Christians embrace of nationalism it leads to our various theologies being misused and abused for political gain.

    If both conservative and liberal theologies maintain Kingdom citizenship over national/ethnic citizenship, aren’t both views equally able to avoid Naziism?

    Curious what you think, thanks for writing!

  4. lilybillowy says:

    Martin Luther didn’t pull his anti-Semitism out of thin air – he got it from the Bible itself. The xenophobia and racism? Biblical. He didn’t need ‘modernity’ to justify murdering peasants and persecuting Jews. He justified himself with his faith.

    Also, Jesus called the Jews a brood of vipers and children of the devil. If they weren’t his own people, he’d sound just like a Nazi! Should we follow his example?

    I know it’s comforting to convince yourself that you could never be a Nazi because you have the ‘right’ beliefs and opinions, but most Nazis didn’t consider themselves to be bad people, either. I don’t think our opinions or politics can save us, spiritually …

    • Hello!

      Claims that the New Testament is anti-semitic always fall on the fact that its writers themselves were Jews and that Jesus, God Himself, is a Jew. His sayings about brood of vipers and children of the devil wasn’t directed at a specific ethnic group, but to the Pharisees as well as unrepentant sinners. They are equally valid for Gentiles in the same state.

      Remember that Martin Luther was not a biblicist. He rejected Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence, miracles and community of goods and hold on to unbiblical practices like infant baptism and the state-church system. I agree that he was antisemitic, but he didn’t get that from the Bible, just like most of the other stuff he was preaching.

      Blessings!

      • lilybillowy says:

        Thanks for your reply. The fact that white-supremacy can exist at all within Christianity is by obfuscating that inherent Jewishness. But do we white people ever really understand what it is to be outside of the dominant culture? Our allegiance to Christ can be so easily deformed in conformity with the world. (By conforming to the world, I mean using coercion or violence to obtain profit or power over others.) Jewishness was often something you couldn’t ‘opt-out’ on, historically. Christianity has so many strange branches that one can often find a place wherein one can enjoy worldly privilege and power and still claim to serve Christ. I think both liberal and conservative Christians can easily do this. It is not easy to let go of power.

        I guess I’m ‘modern’ and progressive. I’m in favour of gay marriage and women’s equality, for the utterly selfish reason that I myself would not like to be treated as some religious have been treating lgbt people and women. But I wouldn’t venture that Jesus endorses my every belief and action beyond my own conviction that I should ‘do unto others as I would have others do unto me’ to the best of my ability and understanding.

  5. […] I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, my first book in Swedish has just been published! It’s about why […]

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

A Living Alternative

God vs Inequality

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