“The consequences of this widespread dislike to dogma are very serious in the present day. Whether we like to allow it or not, it is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, especially among young people. It creates, fosters, and keeps up an immense amount of instability in religion. It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin a phrase, a jellyfish Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jellyfish, as everyone knows who has been much by the seaside, is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little delicate transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defence, or self-preservation.
Alas! It is a vivid type of much religion of this day of which the leading principle is- No dogma, no distinctive tenets, no positive doctrine. We have hundreds of jellyfish clergymen who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of extreme views that they have no views at all. We have thousands of jellyfish sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge or a point or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening non sinner, and edifying no saint. We have legions of jellyfish young men annually turned out from our universities, armed with a few scraps of second hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth……
And last and worst of all, we have myriads of jellyfish worshippers- respectable churchgoing people who have no distinct and definite views about any point of theology. They cannot discern things that differ any more than colour blind people can distinguish colours. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman is unsound. They are tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to render a reason of the hope that is in them…..Never was it more important for laymen to hold systematic vies of truth, and for ordained ministers to enunciate dogma very clearly and distinctly in their teaching”
J.C. Ryles’ words are eerily prophetic for today’s generation don’t you think? I try my best not to be overly critical of certain movements because I myself am still young and learning, but I think the words of “the Bishop” are an apt description of the Emergent movement. Such leaders in that movement include Brian McClaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and Leonard Sweet. They’re the ‘big boys’ in the movement so to speak, and their theology certainly is deconstructionist ‘jellyfish’ theology. It is scary how J.C. Ryle, and Spurgeon, foresaw the days in which we now live. Spurgeon and Ryle’s actions against this became known as the ‘Downgrade Controversy’ as they spoke out valiantly against the slippery slope of theological liberalism that was sweeping the United Kingdom. Higher Criticism of the Biblical texts was growing and many were straying away from the truths of the Bible.
Today we see the same (or is it just a continuation of what began in the late 1800’s?). Rob Bell says our theology should be like a ‘spring on a trampoline’ rather than a brick wall; by that he means flexible and changeable according to the times. Brian McClaren says people can become followers of Jesus yet remain in their hindu/buddhist worship. Hhhmmmm….. if that’s so then why did Paul not continue on in his zealous Pharisaical Jewish beliefs? What relationship can Christ have with Belial? None! What relationship can a Hindu or Buddhist have with Christ? God says we are to have no other God before Him….so why would the Lord allowfor one to remain in the worship of a false deity? Ryle is right in what he says about the impact such beliefs have on young people. I’ve seen the confusion and doubt first hand. I hear myself saying the following quite frequently these days…..’we would do well to take heed of these wise words’ once spoken by Ryle don’t you think?