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Theology

Understanding Liberal Christianity

(Posted by my liberal friend Mark. See our Statement of Faith for JMM’s position; also the articles under the keyword ‘Liberalism’ for some ‘pro and con’ discussions – http://jmm.org.au/catalog/keyword/l-3.htm):

Understanding Liberal Christianity – Arthur Ruger

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Objectives

By the end of this course students will:

Have a greater sense and understanding of their own spirituality and how it might be perceived, defined and labeled by others.

Be able to, if necessary, describe and justify their religious point of view and recognize their own preconceptions or long-held inner beliefs, assumptions and biases.

Recognize, define and express the significance of scripture in their life.

Understand the implication and logical extensions of thinking of scripture as inerrant, literal and absolute. They will understand more fully the roles of doctrine, dogma, ritual, and ceremony and the impact of those roles on the creation of orthodoxy.

Discover a use of scripture in a way that more intimately informs personal spirituality and enhances a more intimately perceivable relationship with God.

Understand more fully the conflict and implications of scholarly pursuit of the historical Jesus and be able to express for themselves what if any impact the historicity of Jesus has in their lives.

Understand the possible differentiation between the historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith and appreciate the timelessness of Jesus’ message regardless of proofs or lack of proofs as to His life.

Have a greater perception of what Jesus taught about humanity’s relationship to God and be able to express Jesus’ teachings in terms of ethical behavior as well as morality preaching.

Incorporate an understanding of the role of prayer, prophecy, faith and reason as contributors to Christian practice.

Define their outward Christian practice in terms of a relationship to the communities in which they live.

Define for themselves whether their practice is active or passive; evangelical or purely social; mystical or limited by interest to outward conformity to values of their church group.

Understand the impact of political activism as part of Christian practice and define political activism as based on such things as outrage against immorality, a seeking of social justice and reform, and activism connected to political and economic philosophy that is “Christian.”

Also define political activism in terms of Christian expectations that includes prophecy and a belief in the End Times and Second Coming and express and support a belief or disbelief in an End Times and Rapture scenario based on Biblical prophecy. Describe the historical sources of the End Times/Rapture doctrines.

Discuss the national fascination with the Left Behind books and how the premise of those books impacts Christian participation in politics and life.

Be able to express a sense of the future direction for practicing Christians in a world much more sophisticated and technological – a world where religious ideas and concepts compete more directly with a societal sophistry that tends to discount religion entirely.

Become more aware of the power of imagination as internal thought and more aware of their own internally visualized image of God, the Kingdom of God and the impact of theology on that image.

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Developer Bio – Arthur Ruger

… Born and raised in a Christian fundamentalist church and community, Arthur left the church in his early 40’s after concluding that he could not continue trying to fit fundamentalism with his own life experiences.

Arthur and his wife now attend the local Episcopal Parish in South Bend, Washington, where they are both preachers and Arthur also serves as the Senior Warden and organist.

from http://www.suite101.com/course.cfm/18861/overview/34858

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

What is a Liberal Christian?

Sometimes liberals are thought to be Christians who have backslidden; people who don’t have enough faith, or are too “in the world.” Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. Liberal Christians are committed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have thoroughly studied the scriptures and traditions of the Church, and have examined their faith in the light of reason and experience. They believe in:

Diversity

Perhaps the defining characteristic of liberal Christians is that they are comfortable with ambiguity and diversity. They realize that life is a complex spiritual journey, and that each person on that journey is confronted with unexpected revelations and unique experiences. Liberal Christians therefore welcome a variety of approaches to understanding God, and are open to new ways of talking about the divine. Religious questions are seen as complex, and answers only tentative. Certain that “now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), liberals are cautious about making dogmatic statements or claiming to have a monopoly on the truth. They see the search for truth as an ongoing task, rather than one that has already been completed.

A Non-Literal View of Scripture

Conservative Christians are often content to answer religious questions by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, find such an approach to be flawed. Many see the Bible as a witness to revelation, or generally inspired, rather than completely inspired in all its parts. Just as Jesus was fully human and wholey divine, so one must also see the Bible as a product of both human and divine influences. Indeed, liberal Christians are quick to point out that the falleness and imperfection of its human authors gives the Bible an imperfect quality and authority.

Liberals view Scripture through a critical lens, and are not afraid to challenge traditional assumptions and interpretations. They rely heavily on higher criticism of the Bible, which looks into the origin and composition of the biblical texts, revealing a great deal about the human aspect of Scripture. Modern philosophical, biological, and cosmological theories that are well supported by evidence, and reflect the true nature of the world around us, can also shape the way liberals interpret Scripture. Traditional Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the Resurrection, are sometimes given new interpretations by liberals.

Perhaps more so than evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, liberal Christians see the teachings of Jesus as having a central place. Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience are each given equal footing in determining Christian faith.

An Intimate, Personal View of God

Imminent and personal images of God in Scripture are attractive to liberals. For some this takes on the form of a belief in panentheism (Everything-in-God-ism). Liberals also see little distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and therefore do not look for “miracles” to confirm the existence of God. Instead, they feel that faith in God allows one to see the Spirit moving in the everyday stuff of life.

Universal Salvation

The concept of personal salvation is not typically stressed by liberal Christians. Accordingly, traditional images of heaven, hell, and the End Times are not given much weight in their theologies. When salvation is discussed, liberals are more apt to stress its “this worldly” aspects, and appeal to a universalist interpretation of Scripture when confronted with questions of eternal punishment and rewards.

For many liberal Christians, social justice is a central concern, and the transformation of society, rather than that of the individual, is more typically stressed. Equality for racial minorities, women, homosexuals, and the economically disadvantaged is seen as an essential part of the Gospel message. A concern for the environment, and other typically liberal social issues, also find a great deal of support among liberal Christians.

Fellowship & Community

Liberals tend to stress the centrality of community in the Christian experience. They can be found in almost all churches (from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist), but tend to be in greater numbers in the mainline Protestant denominations: American Baptist Churches, USA; Disciples of Christ; Episcopal Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church, USA; United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. The Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Churches are even more liberally minded.

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I find many of the liberal Christian views on God, salvation, women, homosexuality, Scripture, and Creation to be convincing. When I was an evangelical Christian, I often felt the need to wash over historical and scientific evidence with “faith” because the world around me did not mesh with my preconceived notions about Scripture. I had questions about Evolution, the Bible, other religions, etc., but those questions were always met with criticism or simplistic answers by my fellow evangelical believers. As a liberal Christian, I don’t feel like I have to be intellectually dishonest to myself any more. I can incorporate what I know about science, history, and theology into my world-view without conflict. In other words, liberal Christianity just makes more sense! It is ultimately the reason why I became one.

from http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/2961/liberal.htm

Liberal Christianity — another attempt to define

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2. Liberal Christians support inclusivity in church membership, with no rules excluding people on account of their supposed living of a “sinful lifestyle” or being “unrepentant sinners” — recognizing that we all have sins to which we ourselves are blind.

3. Liberal Christians tend to take the researches of scholarship seriously, and to guide their own views of such matters as the interpretation of Scripture and issues such as evolution, human sexuality, social justice, etc., based on informed scholarly research.

4. Liberal Christians tend to focus very much on the specific teachings of Christ as opposed to theology based in Pauline and OT Scripture, in asserting what is the primary mode of determining how one should follow Christ, in terms of doctrinal and moral questions.

5. Liberal Christians, while not denying Conservative efforts to do the right thing, tend to look on all issues from a perspective of compassion, mercy, and affirmation of human dignity, as opposed to a focus on sinfulness and moral rectitude. It does not deny sin or the call to live a moral life, but sees them as tangential to the need to follow God as He showed Himself in Christ, and to affirm the efforts of others to do so. It tends to focus heavily on issues of social justice, mercy, and the doing of good works in the community.

from http://www.christianforums.com/t723243

Liberal Christianity: A religious movement that holds beliefs which are opposite to those of conservative Christians:

– Emphasizes human rights, the findings of science, and the higher criticism (analysis) of the Bible;

– Largely disregards biblical miracles, the infallibility, inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the Virgin birth;

– Ignores passages in the Bible which are immoral by today’s standards — e.g. those dealing with human slavery, oppression of women, religious intolerance, torture of prisoners, genocide, burning some hookers alive, etc.

from http://www.religioustolerance.org/gl_l.htm

Discussion

2 comments for “Understanding Liberal Christianity”

  1. […] Liberals tend to stress the centrality of community in the Christian experience. They can be found in almost all churches (from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist), but tend to be in greater numbers in the mainline Protestant denominations. From John Mark Ministries: Understanding Liberal Christianity […]

    Posted by Fundamental Error vs. Liberal Reason | earth is my favourite planet | January 23, 2011, 11:23 pm
  2. […] Understanding Liberal Christianity […]

    Posted by Liberal Christianity, having the courage to interpret the bible in a different way. | Dancing Through a Life of Greyscale and Technicolour | October 13, 2010, 4:00 am

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