Liberal Christianity, Progressive Christianity or Liberalism is
movement of Christianity that is characterised by these points;
* diversity of opinion
* less emphasis on the literal interpretation of
* an intimate, personal, and sometimes ambiguous view of
* wider scope in their views on salvation (including
* non-traditional views on heaven and hell
* an emphasis on inclusive fellowship and community
* an embracing of higher criticism of the Bible.
Difficulties in definitionDiversity of opinion is a defining characteristic of
Liberal Christianity. It is this particular aspect of Liberal
Christianity that makes it so hard to define in a absolute sense. The
movement exists in all denominations throughout the Christian world.
It is often described as 'modernism' but modernism might more
accurately be described as a subset of Liberal Christianity as not
all liberal christians are modernists. The American 'Christian Right'
might describe it as the 'Christian Left' which is also somewhat of a
misnomer. These would be the labels of those who have some division
with Liberal Christianity, which sees itself as a much broader and
all encompassing movement. Due to its relations to progressive
thinking, Liberal Christianity is often described as Progressive
Christianity in an attempt to redefine Liberal Christianity as
distinct from its previous association with modernism, as more
postmodernist views become part and parcel of the liberal christian
dialogue. It is even difficult to draw a distinction along
theological lines in terms of the individual at least, as many who
would subscribe to the label liberal christian have a mix of
conservative theological positions and liberal theological positions.
To be left or right politically is also not a defining factor in
Ultimately, the word liberal is describing a more progressive
attitude towards christianity based on individualism, in its emphasis
on individual subjective experience, and liberalism, in its respect
for the freedom of the individual to hold and express their views
outside of conservative orthodoxy and tradition. Most often the area
of disagreement is when there is a perception of a lack of
compassion, mercy, love and inclusive community within the
traditional conservative stance.
Characteristics of Liberal ChristianityDifferent and varied views are encouraged in Liberal
Christianity as part of the goal to experience Christianity on a
personal level. A less hardline approach towards doctrine is taken
than in conservative Christianity; unique ways of approaching God and
talking about Christianity are encouraged. With this sense of
personal freedom and the emphasis on individual experience, dogmatic
statements and claims of absolute truth on finer doctrinal points are
not part of the dialogue amongst liberal Christians. Many liberal
Christians can and do hold conservative postions; the contrast
between Liberal Christianity and Conservative Christianity is that
appeals to history, tradition, or authority have a notably lessened
effect on dialogue in Liberal Christianity. The search for truth is
an ongoing task rather than something that has been completed. The
Apostle Paul's statement sums up this attitude that prevails in
liberal Christian thinking, "For now we see through a glass,
darkly;"1 Corinthians 13:12
A non-literal view of Scripture, is common amongst liberal
Christians. Many view the Bible as a book written by men who were
inspired by God, rather than an inerrant view of the Bible as a
divinely inspired book, written by God through men. Historical
contexts and higher criticisms of the Bible play an important part in
how they relate their faith and beliefs to the modern world.
An intimate and personal view of God, is another hallmark of
Liberal Christianity. Each person comes to their own understanding of
the who, what, how and why questions relating to the nature and
purpose of God. Each person has their own perception of how God moves
and works in their lives.
Liberal Christianity tends to have a wider scope in their
views on salvation (including universalist beliefs). This
inclusiveness often extends to those outside of mainstream
Christianity who do not declare themselves as 'Christians' in the
orthodox sense of the word. Right action generally takes precedence
over right belief.
Many non-traditional views on heaven and hell are prevalent
amongst liberal Christians. These range from ideas about separation
from God or temporal punishment to the belief that there is no hell.
Views on heaven are similarly varied in their prevalence.
There is an emphasis on inclusive fellowship and community
amongst liberal Christians. With their more inclusive views on God,
salvation, women, homosexuality, Scripture, and creation, emphasis is
placed on community-based life centered around values of compassion,
mercy, and affirmation of human dignity; this is seen in contrast to
the focus on sinfulness and moral rectitude one is more likely to
find in conservative Christian thought.
Criticisms of Liberal
In 140AD, Marcion founded Marcionism. In 144AD, Marcion was
excommunicated for what today would be called Liberalism or Liberal
Christianity. Marcion taught that the God of Moses and the Jews was
not the Christian God. Marcion also brought doubts to the churches as
to what scriptures should be accepted as canonical but however
comprised his own list. This speeded up the wide acceptance of the
canon. Marcionism is similar to but not identical to Gnosticism.
In contrast, traditional Christians define Liberal
Christianity as "A movement that seeks to retain religious and
spiritual values of Christianity while discounting the infallible
authority of the Bible. Its origins are in the German Enlightenment,
notably in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the religious views of
Friedrich Schleiermacher. Liberals reject the stated authorship and
historical accuracy of many books of the Bible. They are skeptical
concerning many or all of the biblical miracles, preferring
naturalistic explanations or viewing miracle accounts as legend or
myth. They often deny or reinterpret in mythical terms such doctrines
of orthodox Christianity as the virgin birth, atoning death, and even
the resurrection of Jesus. Liberalism has been most influential in
mainline Protestant denominations and is rejected in Evangelical and
Fundamentalist Christianity." -Watchman Fellowship's 2001 Index of
Cults and Religions
"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which
does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest
value one's own ego and one's own desires," Pope Benedict declared at
a pre-conclave Mass in St. Peter's Basilica
Liberal theologyLiberal theology is a branch of religious thinking which
emerged in the late 18th and early 19th century, in the wake of The
Enlightenment. Like political Liberalism that was emerging at the
same time, Liberal theology stresses the value and importance of the
individual. Liberal theology became dominant in the mainline churches
in the 20th century, though that dominance was waning by the early
21st century with the rise of Evangelical and Fundamentalist
movements in Christianity and the associated biblical literalism
inherent in these movements.
The tenets of Liberal theology
* Liberal theology is individualistic, and as such values
personal and subjective religious experience above doctrines, Church
authority or the literal word of scripture.
* It claims that a religion is a community of individuals
united by common intuitions and experiences, and therefore the value
of the Church is in providing a supportive framework in which new
conceptions of God can be explored, not in issuing decrees, upholding
rigid dogmas or in exercising power over the religious
* It maintains that, while God remains immutable, theists
relationship with, and understanding of God change through history,
and therefore that no religious truths are necessarily fixed, as each
person's experience can reveal a novel aspect of God.
Liberal theology and religious
Liberal theologians view religious language (i.e. descriptions of
God, or of religious experience) as inevitably limited. Our language
belongs to the world of phenomena, whereas religious experiences
exist in the realm of noumena, so no matter how hard we try, our
language can never describe God factually, but only in metaphors and
analogies, symbols and myths etc.
These myths, analogies etc. are important in forming
religious communities and traditions, and can be a useful way of
expressing a particular thought or feeling about God, but we cannot
hope for them to sum up God's nature (God is non-reducible,
non-naturalisable, and essentially ineffable).
One of the original Liberal theologians, Friedrich
Schleiermacher argued that theology's place was to describe internal
feelings, rather than external truths or facts.
Liberal hermeneuticsThe interpretation of the Bible (hermeneutics) within
liberal theology is non-propositional. This means that liberal
theologians do not take the Bible as an inventory of factual
statements such as 'God divided the light from the darkness', but
rather interpret the Bible as a document of the human authors'
beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing, within a
historical and cultural context.
Therefore, religious models and concepts must be updated to
reflect the class, gender, social and political etc. context from
which they emerge, so that they will appear relevant and interesting.
Liberal theologians would not make the claim that any particular
apostle's account of their religious experiences could be any more
true, or more relevant to an individual than the experience of the
Liberal theology has also been the theistic group most prominent
in Biblical criticism in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Liberal Christian Theologians and
* Marcus Borg, New Testament scholar
* Rudolf Bultmann, Biblical scholar
* Peter Carnley, Anglican Primate of Australia
* William Ellery Channing, pioneering liberal theologian in the
USA, who criticised the doctrine of the Trinity and the strength of
scriptural authority, in favour of more rationalistic and
* Harry Emerson Fosdick, Baptist pastor of Riverside Church in New
* Karl Heinrich Graf, Old Testament scholar
* Adolf von Harnack, German liberal theologian who sought to
return Christianity's focus to the teachings of Jesus, away from
complex structures of thought about Jesus and faith.
* John Robinson, author of Honest to God
* Paul Tillich, synthesized Protestant Christian theology with
* Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, often called the "father
of liberal theology", he claimed that religious experience was
introspective, and that the truest understanding of God consisted of
'a sense of absolute dependence'
* Albert Schweitzer, missionary & New Testament scholar
* John Shelby Spong, heterodox Episcopalian bishop
* Leslie Weatherhead, English preacher & author of The Will of
God & The Christian Agnostic
* Julius Wellhausen, Biblical scholar
* Yves Congar
* John Dominic Crossan
* Hans Küng
* Edward Schillebeeckx
* Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
* Christian socialism
* Emerging Church
* Feminist theology
* Liberation theology
* Postmodern Christianity
* Process theology
* Social Gospel
* John Mark Ministries
* Course: Christian Living 104 - Understanding Liberal
* Liberalism By M. James Sawyer , Th.M., Ph.D.
* Would Jesus Love a liberal? You bet!
* The Center for Progressive Christianity
* Christianity Against Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)
* Newman Against Liberalism by Father John Henry Newman, 1879
* Glossary of Liberal Theological Terms
* Evangelical Definition of Liberalism
* Jewish Christian Definition of Liberal Christianity
* An open letter to freethinkers, (or an epistle to the Humanist)
* The "Changing" God of the New Theologies
* The Jesus Seminar: The Slippery Slope to Heresy
* Apostasy in the Christian church
* THE CHURCH AT THE END OF THE AGE AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT