Book Review- A Handful of Pebbles: Theological Liberalism and The Church


“At first sight the word ‘liberalism’ doesn’t seem threatening in any way. Quite the reverse, it is often associated with ideas like ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘generosity of spirit’. However there is something qutie sinister about ‘theological liberalism’; although not a well-defined term, it usually refers to a belief system which rejects the orthodox view of the Christian faith as set out in the Bible, and summarized in the church’s historic creeds and confessions.”

Indeed liberalism is a slippery customer that masqeurades as a loving and humble belief system in comparison to those “dogmatic fundamentalists” who are so narrow-minded in believing that the Bible is the only infallible, sufficient and authoritative Word. That’s the general consensus amongst theological liberals right? In the past year I have been increasingly confronted with theological liberalism and from the off I was wary and critical of it. I have been a Christian for, coming up 5 years, and from the beginning I had always wondered how one who claims to be a Christian can believe in a God who was unable to accurately inspire and preserve His written Word to men and woman through the ages? How can one believe in the God of the Bible yet deny the contents in it such as the virgin birth, the resurrection, the hypostatic union of Christ and even Jesus’ miracles? Surely if one part of the Bible is not true then it would be foolish to trust the rest of it?

For me it defied logic that a person could seriously deny such crucial doctrines yet still claim to be a Christian. In this small volume by Peter Barnes, the dangers and fallacies of theological liberalism are exposed excellently albeit extremely briefly (the book is only 75 pages long). Barnes is the pastor of Revesby Presbyterian Church and lecturer in Church History at the Presbyterian Theological College in Burwood. The title of the book is taken from the quote of a prominent liberal theologian acknowledging that “liberalism offers the seeker after spiritual food only ‘a handful of pebbles’, whiles the true gospel holds out to him Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life (John 6:35).”

There are 8 chapters in the book laid out as follows:

1)What is theological liberalism

2)Warnings in the Bible

3)A Brief History of the Rise of Liberalism

4)The American Fundamentalist Controversy


6)After Neo-Orthodoxy

7)Key Doctrines

8)How Should a Christian Respond to Theological Liberalism?

In particular I found the chapters 1,2,3 and 7 particularly interesting as they give a brief, yet informative history of the rise of liberal thought and the Biblical doctrines that it seeks to attack. Today people like to say “it’s all about the Spirit” almost as if to play the Holy Spirit against the Bible giving the impression that the two are inharmonious with one another. Others tend to say it’s all about our deeds and not our beliefs. You know, kinda creating an image of God as being a whacked-out hippy dude from the 60’s who is perma-stoned, and promotes love, peace and charitable deeds over and above the truths given us in Scripture. This kind of Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, didn’t die on the cross for our sins and didn’t really rise from the dead. Instead he was an enlightened individual, sent by God to proclaim social justice for the oppressed and to promote the utopian ideal etcetera, etcetera!

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.” In many ways, reading this short book made me realise that many streams of the Emergent movement today are simply repackaged liberal teachings, the only difference being that the early liberals embraced modernist thinking whereas emergents have by-and-large embraced postmodern thought, which of course is reflected in their reconstructionist approach to Biblical theology. On page 77 Barnes quotes Franchis Schaeffer’s belief that the evangelical wavering on basic issues as being ‘The Great Evangelical Disaster.’ “Schaeffer’s cry was uttered in the spirit of Elijah- if Baal is God, worship him; if the Lord is God, worship him (1 Kings 18:21).

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick read on theological liberalism and its dangers. It will make you aware of the distortion of biblical truth that is ubiquitous within liberal Christianity, which is in reality, as Barnes puts it “an assault on the gospel itself”. A Handful of Pebbles can be purchased on the Banner Of Truth website for around £5.50 ($10).

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