Today, wide disagreements persist in churches over which theological framework best serves the Christian message. The most popular terms for the competing positions — “conservative” and “liberal” — have all but contaminated responsible discussion and driven people into warring camps.
But these are the terms we are living with. So, I have been trying to make the best of a bad situation by assessing the positives and negatives of these outlooks in as balanced a way as I can. Previous blogs put conservatism in the dock. Today, liberalism get the scrutiny.
As I experience and treasure it, liberal Christianity focuses, first, on keeping in view the historical center of the Church’s faith in order to “liberate” it from the accretions of traditions which distort it, e.g., the tradition of slavery.
Second, liberal Christianity emphasizes the necessity of translating Jesus’ original teaching and preaching into terms that can be understood outside the environment of Palestine in the first century. The primary reason for doing so is that this is what makes Christianity a world religion instead of a merely parochial one.
Third, liberal Christianity gives high priority to sustaining a spirit of openness to and engagement with present-day social, cultural, and religious ideas and practices. Understanding these ideas and practices is essential for presenting the Christian faith credibly in a religiously pluralistic world.
Finally, liberal Christianity seeks to build and celebrate congregations that are committed to inclusiveness without compromising essential beliefs, and to service without making another’s beliefs a condition for their receiving it.
Alas, just as conservative Christians sometimes de-form healthy theology into malignant ideology, so do liberal Christians. What begins as responsible questioning of particular church traditions can and does devolve into rejecting the credibility of any normative picture of apostolic faith at all. Christianity becomes a melange of relative truths and values, with each regarded as just as representative of the Christian message as any other is.
At its extreme, liberal Christian ideology insists upon what can only be called a hands-off policy toward anyone’ personal faith, as well as the faith of communities. Yours is yours, mine is mine, ours is ours, and nobody should ever create problems for anybody else on matters of faith. This extreme form of individualism narrows the scope of Christian unity almost exclusively to social action ministries.
The way back, on liberals‘ terms, from ideology to faith, is the subject of the next blog.