Westminster Seminary California
MIGS and Liberal Theology
MIGS and Liberal Theology

There is a military maxim that states, “Train like you fight, and fight like you train.” To that end, during the 70s and 80s the Air Force had a classified program where they obtained enemy fighters, Russian MIGS. The American pilots who flew these enemy fighters tested them to see how fast, slow, far, and high they could go to give their colleagues vital intelligence on the planes they would fly against. They also engaged US pilots in dogfights so they could practice fighting against the real thing. This program produced great results. US pilots knew their enemy well. What in the world do MIGs have anything to do with liberal theology?

All too often people in the church, especially ministers, know they disagree with liberal theology but sadly, have never read any of it. For some, this may sound like a non sequitir, “Why should I read liberal theology?” Think of it from this perspective: When I was in seminary it used to bother me to no end when critics of Reformed theology would claim, “Calvin is a heretic,” never having read one syllable of Calvin. Is it fair or just to dismiss a man’s thought without even reading it? Hence, we should, from time to time, go outside of our normal reading orbits to read and study the views of those with whom we disagree. Historically, the Reformed churches have rejected Arminianism. When is the last time anyone read something by Jacob Arminius? Can we give solid and specific, theological and exegetical reasons for rejecting his views? In debating practice, the rule of thumb is that you should be able to articulate an opponent’s view as well or better than he can. This is a sign that you have truly listened and not simply dismissed out of hand the views of another person. Hopefully this, at a minimum, will convince those with whom we disagree that we have carefully considered their views which might encourage them to consider our views on the debated subject. In this respect, if you carefully read the works of great Reformed luminaries, such as John Owen or Francis Turretin, you will quickly find that they frequently cite and interact with the views of those with whom they disagree—and they knew their opponents well.

But when we read our opponents, we should not simply read them with a view to rejecting everything they have to say on a subject. We should always read with humility and a willingness to learn, tacit admission that all truth comes from God. And by God’s grace, he can and does use different people to teach his church. One such example comes from Owen, who at first rejected Arminius’ understanding on the necessity of the satisfaction of Christ. Owen initially agreed with John Calvin, that the necessity of Christ’s satisfaction was grounded exclusively in God’s will, not his essence. After further intense reflection, Owen changed his view and sided with Arminius. Owen believed that the necessity of Christ’s satisfaction was grounded in God’s nature. The issues involved are complex and can be found in Owen’s Dissertation on Divine Justice. See for yourself. The points stands, however, sometimes we can find the truth from unlikely sources.

In the end, train like you fight, and fight like you train. Ministers should be willing to read, engage, and defend biblical truth by knowing the arguments of their opponents well. At the same time, we should always read with humility and be prepared to accept biblical truth regardless of the source. In the end, know your enemy. There’s another military saying that applies here: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” The better you know liberal theology, the better-equipped you will be to spot it, recognize it, and defend the church against it. Know this, however, that there is no replacement for knowing the Word of God very well. The study of liberal theology should never be a replacement for the study of orthodox theology.