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Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onwards. The word "liberal" in liberal Christianity does not refer to a progressive political agenda or set of beliefs, but rather to the manner of thought and belief associated with the philosophical and religious paradigms developed during the Age of Enlightenment.

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Contributions to biblical hermeneutics

The theology of liberal Christianity was prominent in the biblical criticism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The style of scriptural hermeneutics within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements but instead documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historic/cultural context. Thus, liberal Christian theologians do not claim to discover truth propositions but rather create religious models and concepts that reflect the class, gender, social, and political contexts from which they emerge. Liberal Christianity looks upon the Bible as a collection of narratives that explain, epitomize, or symbolize the essence and significance of Christian understanding.[1]

Liberal Christian beliefs

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma.[2] A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.

In the 19th century, self-identified liberal Christians sought to elevate Jesus' humane teachings as a standard for a world civilization freed from cultic traditions and traces of "pagan" belief in the supernatural.[3] As a result, liberal Christians placed less emphasis on miraculous events associated with the life of Jesus than on his teachings. The effort to remove "superstitious" elements from Christian faith dates to intellectual reformist Christians such as Erasmus and the Deists in the 15th–17th centuries.[4] The debate over whether a belief in miracles was mere superstition or essential to accepting the divinity of Christ constituted a crisis within the 19th-century church, for which theological compromises were sought.[5]

Attempts to account for miracles through scientific or rational explanation were mocked even at the turn of the 19th–20th century.[6] A belief in the authenticity of miracles was one of five tests established in 1910 by the Presbyterian Church to distinguish true believers from false professors of faith such as "educated, 'liberal' Christians."[7]

Contemporary liberal Christians may prefer to read Jesus' miracles as metaphorical narratives for understanding the power of God.[8] Not all theologians with liberal inclinations reject the possibility of miracles, but may reject the polemicism that denial or affirmation entails.[9]

Influence of liberal Christianity

Liberal Christianity was most influential with mainline Protestant churches in the early 20th century, when proponents believed the changes it would bring would be the future of the Christian church. Other subsequent theological movements within the Protestant mainline (in the US) included political liberation theology, philosophical forms of postmodern Christianity such as Christian existentialism, and conservative movements such as neo-evangelicalism and paleo-orthodoxy.

However, the 1990s and 2000s saw a resurgence of non-doctrinal, scholarly work on biblical exegesis and theology, exemplified by figures such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Scotty McLennan. Their appeal, like that of the earlier modernism, also is primarily found in the mainline denominations.

Liberal Christian theologians and authors

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Anglican and Protestant

Roman Catholic

References

  1. ^ Montgomery, John Warwick. In Defense of Martin Luther. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1970, p. 57. “Luther’s Hermeneutic vs. the New Hermeneutic.” Quoted in http://www.wlsessays.net/authors/W/WestphalConfession/WestphalConfession.PDF
  2. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Liberalism". http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09212a.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  3. ^ Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (HarperCollins, 1993), p. 29 online.
  4. ^ Linda Woodhead, "Christianity," in Religions in the Modern World (Routledge, 2002), pp. 186 online and 193.
  5. ^ The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805–1900, edited by Gary J. Dorrien (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), passim, search miracles.
  6. ^ F.J. Ryan, Protestant Miracles: High Orthodox and Evangelical Authority for the Belief in Divine Interposition in Human Affairs (Stockton, California, 1899), p. 78 online. Full text downloadable.
  7. ^ Dan P. McAdams, The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 164 online.
  8. ^ Ann-Marie Brandom, "The Role of Language in Religious Education," in Learning to Teach Religious Education in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience (Routledge, 2000), p. 76 online.
  9. ^ The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950, edited by Gary J. Dorrien (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), passim, search miracles, especially p. 413; on Ames, p. 233 online; on Niebuhr, p. 436 online.

See also

External links


Simple English

Liberal Christianity is a term which is used for several movements in Christianity. These movements formed between the 18th and 20th century. Their philosophical and theological ideas have been influenced by those of Enlightenment. They are not liberal in a political sense. They want to remain independent from dogmas defined by the different Christian Churches. When Liberal Christians interpret scripture, like the Bible, they do not think that what is written is true by default. They also do not think that certain things are true because a Christian Church made them into a dogma.[1] A Liberal Christian may have certain beliefs that are the same as those of more conservative Christians. Well known proponents include Hans Küng, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Albert Schweitzer.

References



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