William Kuevogah
Staff member
Jul 28, 2020


Time to confess my liberal Christian inclinations. This "Other Worldviews" forum is the best place for me to write about something like this, since I suspect that to many people this attitude is counter-intuitive.
Though my current attitude is in direct contradiction to everything I was once taught to believe, it's become clear to me that it's the only plausible way for me to affirm Christianity with integrity. Needless to say, you don't have to agree with my views; I'd be more than satisfied if you'd just give me a fair hearing.
To avoid misunderstanding from the start, let me briefly state what the "liberal" in my liberal Christianity means.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines liberal as “free from bigotry or unreasonable prejudice in favour of traditional opinions or established institutions” and “open to the reception of new ideas or proposals of reform.” In a religious context, liberal applies “to those members of a church or religious sect who hold opinions ‘broader’....than those in accordance with its commonly accepted standards of orthodoxy.” So in this primary sense, I'm liberal.
As Paul Rasor writes, “another aspect of the liberal religious spirit is a commitment to keeping an open mind, which includes a commitment to critical inquiry and intellectual freedom..... Liberals may hold strong opinions, but they rarely think they, or anyone else, have the whole or final truth.”
There's a long tradition of Christian liberalism. Before I discovered this way of seeing Christianity, I'd heard caricatures of it, the most common one being that, for liberals, "anything goes" or that modernity is the criterion of truth. I'd be happy if anything I write here goes some way towards dispelling some of these prejudices.
I also have to state that there are varieties of religious liberalism; in fact liberalism as I've defined it above is present in other religious traditions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism.... Liberal Christianity is also not monolithic, though it's common for people to lump them all together and dismiss them as unorthodox or impious.
Some liberal Christians—mostly White, male, and European—exalt the Western, modern view of reality as the measure of truth. While it's important for the traditionalist or orthodox believer to (re-)affirm traditional Christianity at all costs, for this type of liberal Christian, it's important to modernize (or, if you will, Europeanize or White-wash) Christianity. For good or for ill, I don't subscribe to this kind of liberalism.
I'm sympathetic, however, to the kind of liberal Christianity, in the tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher, that sees the core of religion in experience(s) of the supernatural. In other words, I'm more inclined to privilege religious experience over the Bible (which, if you really think about it, is a testimony to Israel's and the early Christians' experience of God); the creeds (statements of belief, arrived at by reflecting on collective religious experience(s) of the believing community), and tradition generally.
Liberal Christianity does NOT lead, most importantly, to moral or epistemic relativism. I think it's not true that, in the absence of an infallible authority—be it the Bible, Church tradition or the Magisterium—everything is allowed or that we cannot know anything about God and the world; after all, we're not denying the existence of God, the source of truth and morality. What's untenable for me is the belief that any of these sources of religious authority—the Bible, tradition and creeds or a magisterium—is infallible in a sense approximating God's authority. So a denial of biblical inerrancy or sola scriptura, for instance, doesn't mean a denial of divine revelation; it only means that the infallible, infinite God condescends to share knowledge of Himself with us humans, in human words, through nature, in history, in various ways, in specific socio-cultural conditions....
I'd like to close my musings with an apt description of the true spirit of liberalism (Peter C. Hodgson, Liberal Theology: A Radical Vision, pp. 13, 14):​
This is why the term liberal is so appropriate. It derives from the Latin liberalis, an adjective designating something that is liber, "free." "Liberal" means something that is fitted for freedom and makes for freedom. Theologically speaking, .....what fits us for freedom is the fact that we are children of God..... Above all it is God who is free, the One who is freedom and who makes for freedom or gives freedom. God's liberality is boundless, extending to all that God has made and to all of God's peoples.... God's generative freedom and the freedom of God's children constitute the very radix [root] of liberal theology.
The freedom of liberal theology is not simply or primarily a negative freedom—freedom from the constraints of tradition, confession, institution, external authority—although such freedom is a necessary condition of truth and conscience. More than that, it is a positive freedom—freedom for, liberality toward, or openness to. Openness to....whatever presents itself or reveals itself in the Bible, in Christian tradition, and in the whole of experience—in personal experience, in nature, in one's own culture and religion, in the often-wrenching cultural transitions of one's own time, and in the great cultural and religious traditions of humankind as a whole. Confidence in the gracious liberality of God means that we can and must be open to wherever the marks of this liberality are displayed in nature, culture, and history.
Everything I write henceforth, I write from this avowedly liberal perspective.
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