Liberal Christianity

Liberal Christianity

Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward. Liberal does not refer to Progressive Christianity or to the American political philosophy, but to the philosophical and religious thought that developed as a consequence of the Enlightenment.

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic 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.[1] A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.


Liberal Christianity and Biblical hermeneutics

The theology of liberal Christianity was prominent in the Biblical criticism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The style of Scriptural hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible) within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements, but instead an anthology that documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historical or 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.[2] Thus, most liberal Christians do not regard the Bible as divinely inspired (God's Word), but subject Scripture to human reason. However some modern liberal Christians believe in a divinely inspired bible, albeit a predominantly spiritual interpretation of the text and very few, if any, literal interpretations (especially concerning the Old Testament).[citation needed]

In the 1800s, liberal Christianity was still hard to separate from political liberalism. In a decision during the 1870s, an Irish bishop was sent to Quebec by papal authority to sort the two out. Several curès had threatened to withhold the sacrements from parishoners who cast votes for Liberals and others had preached that to vote for Liberal candidates was a mortal sin.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

Attempts to account for miracles through scientific or rational explanation were mocked even at the turn of the 19th–20th century.[7] 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."[8]

Contemporary liberal Christians may prefer to read Jesus' miracles as metaphorical narratives for understanding the power of God.[9] Not all theologians with liberal inclinations reject the possibility of miracles, but may reject the polemicism that denial or affirmation entails.[10]

Liberal theology does not only appear in a context where the divine inspiration of the Bible is questioned. In conservative Christian movements, the Bible is seen as divinely inspired but is sometimes combined with ideologies originating from outside the Bible or Christian teaching. Typical examples of influence from liberal theology in conservative Christianity would be extreme focus on eschatology (the end of times) by giving a divine interpretation to secular events. Also, the "Christian Zionism" movement combines conservative Christianity with a secular ideology given a divine status.

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

Anglican and Protestant

Roman Catholic

  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit, also trained as a paleontologist; works condemned by the Holy Office in 1962. The condemnation was formally reaffirmed in 1981 but many theologians still refer to his writings, including Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Yves Congar (1904–1995), French Dominican ecumenical theologian.
  • Raymond Edward Brown (May 22, 1928 - August 8, 1998), He was a professor emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in New York, which known as one of the leading centers of liberal Christianity in the United States.
  • Edward Schillebeeckx, (1914–2009) Belgian Dominican theologian.
  • Hans Küng, (b. 1928) Swiss theologian. Had his licence to teach Catholic theology revoked in 1979 because of his rejection of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Church, but retained his faculties to say the Mass.
  • John Dominic Crossan, (b. 1934) ex-priest, New Testament scholar, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.
  • Joan Chittister, (b. 1936) OSB, a lecturer and social psychologist.
  • Leonardo Boff, (b. 1938) Brazilian, ex-Franciscan, ex-priest, cofounder of Liberation theology.


  1. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Liberalism". Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  2. ^ Montgomery, John Warwick. In Defense of Martin Luther. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1970, p. 57. “Luther’s Hermeneutic vs. the New Hermeneutic.” Quoted in[dead link]
  3. ^ Robert Collins (1977). The Age of Innocence 1870/1880. Canada's Illustrated Heritage. Jack McClelland. pp. 87-88. ISBN 0919644198. 
  4. ^ Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (HarperCollins, 1993), p. 29 online.
  5. ^ Linda Woodhead, "Christianity," in Religions in the Modern World (Routledge, 2002), pp. 186 online and 193.
  6. ^ The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805–1900, edited by Gary J. Dorrien (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), passim, search miracles.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Dan P. McAdams, The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 164 online.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Christianity in the United States — Christianity by Country Africa …   Wikipedia

  • Liberal theism — is the philosophical and religious belief in the existence of a deity without adhering to an established religion. The exact definition can be debated. Liberal theists often hold to the belief that all religions lead to the truth. Liberal theists …   Wikipedia

  • Liberal — may refer to:PoliticsUnited States* One who supports social liberalism * Liberalism, a political ideology that seeks to maximize individual liberties. Within liberalism are competing schools of thought, in general they are: **Classical liberalism …   Wikipedia

  • Liberal religion — is a religious tradition which embraces the theological diversity of a congregation rather than respecting any single creed, authority, or writing. Because it may draw resources from many traditions, it cannot normally be characterized as… …   Wikipedia

  • Christianity in the 20th century — Part of a series on Christianity   …   Wikipedia

  • Christianity in the 19th century — Part of a series on Christianity   …   Wikipedia

  • Liberal theology — NOTOC Liberal theologyThe practical philosophy stance, liberal theology most accurately refer to *Liberal Christianity, a movement originating in the 19th centuryor, using similar reasoning methods: *Liberal movements within IslamReligious… …   Wikipedia

  • Liberal movements within Islam — This article is part of the series …   Wikipedia

  • CHRISTIANITY — CHRISTIANITY, a general term denoting the historic community deriving from the original followers of Jesus of Nazareth; the institutions, social and cultural patterns, and the beliefs and doctrines evolved by this community; and – in the   widest …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Christianity Today — Cover of the April 2010 issue. Editor in Chief David Neff Frequency Monthly First issue 1956 (1956 month) C …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.