With all the propaganda wars going on within evangelicalism these days "liberal theology" is getting a "bad rap" from conservative Christians hearing only the negative, and not the positive, about Christian liberalism. When in fact, it is neo-conservatism that is now becoming the ugly twin brother smearing itself in patriotic zealotry and nationalism, irrational arguments, and anti-intellectualism.
To accuse a fellow Christian brother or sister with caustic, unjust words, and untrue, misleading labels is to behave like the father of lies, that old serpent of the garden, who used half-truths and deceptive accusations to dissuade God's Word from root and growth. This was especially observed by Jesus when issuing His most time-honored commands to not injure one's neighbor with lies and deceit from hearts darkly filled with hatred and murder abiding within. Which is exactly what is being done now when ignorant shouts of "liberalism" are being thrown upon non-conservative groups and organizations without really understanding what "good liberalism" is, why it formed, and what it stood for in the first place (historically, it was as a strong reaction to the Enlightenment and its progenitor of secular Modernism to come which today's one-sided conservative Christian groups refuse to appreciate).
Mostly, liberalism stands against any irrational, unkind, and thoughtless teachings, or policies, that may serve an individual's position or dogma rather than the community at large. Casting pejoratives upon competing policies rather than trying to understand the failures in one's present beliefs and policies. Seeking hedonistic power and money in place of selfless service and personal sacrifice. As such, a good rule of thumb is to listen to the negatives of an organization (or individual) so that by it's own accusations "ye shall know them by their words and works."
Truly, any theology that does not preach a Jesus-centered, incarnational Gospel, and authoritative Bible (rightly understood), is worthy of disregard, whether it comes from the left or from the right, making neo-conservative evangelicalism no less guilty. Which has lately become a religious political movement guilty of blind legalism and purposely using the deep, sacramental images of Christianity (prayer, worship, church, faith) to support ungodly political agendas steeped in pride and prejudice. Any Christian dogma that seeks agenda over Jesus, and neglecting His passion for people's welfare, is guilty of apostacism and God's rightful judgment - regardless of the name of the organization or its supposed Christian supporters, be it church-based or political.
And to all spectrums of Christianity caught in the middle between the hedgerows of a Jesus-less faith let us each be careful to listen to God's Word aright seeking the Spirit of God and the Christ who is glorified in its direction and proclamation. Seeking a spiritual humility evidencing better listening and discerning skills than what we see at present within the ranks of Christian Evangelicalism (as well as within the ranks of American government itself).
For a Christian brotherhood to fight amongst itself is one of the greatest tools of Satan seeking division and strife. Let the Church of God seek peace and unity over any disingenuous claims of right and wrong. This is the Spirit of Christ even as it can be the spirit of man's redemption borne of God's love and forgiveness, grace and mercy.
October 27, 2013
* * * * * * * * * * *
What Is “Liberal Theology?”
by Roger Olson
October 8, 2013
During my career as a Christian theologian I have several times been accused of being either liberal or on the way to being liberal. The accusers clearly meant liberal as in “liberal theology”–not liberal politically (which I am). John Piper told me to my face that he perceived me as “on a liberal trajectory.” (I immediately pictured myself being shot out of a cannon like the stuntmen in the old circuses!) Most recently Gerald McDermott has claimed that I, and my fellow “meliorists” (I prefer “postconservative evangelicals”), are retracing the path that led to Protestant liberal theology. Like many others, McDermott seems to think “liberal theology” is a good label for any deviation from orthodoxy. That’s what I challenge here. [Meliorist - "the doctrine that the world tends to become better or, may be made better, by human effort." A spurious accusation used by some Calvinist groups to accuse Spirit-led Arminian Christians of humanism over sovereignty. - R.E. Slater]
I have made the study of liberal theology (including Catholic modernism) a career-long study. I have read numerous books by liberal Protestant theologians past and present, and engaged in liberal-evangelical dialogues. My forthcoming book The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction (IVP) will explain and give case studies of liberal and modernist theologies.
My reliable guides in the study of liberal theology have been and are: Gary Dorrien (author of a three volume study of liberal theology), Claude Welch (author of numerous books on modern theology), Peter Hodgson, Donald Miller, Harvey Cox, William R. Hutchison, Delwin Brown, Bernard Reardon and many other theologians, historians and sociologists.
All of them make the same point–that “liberal theology” is not just any deviation from orthodoxy but an elevation of modern reason and discovery, the “modern mind,” to a source and norm for theology. [Thus, to accuse post-conservative evangelicals or postmodern emergent Christians as liberal is preposterous. By definition, such groups place themselves under God's Word and not over it. In other words, one may be liberal in their theology without being liberal as a theology. The former seeks a departure from conservative readings of the bible while the latter places human reason over (and not subjected to) the authority of the bible. - R.E. Slater]
Here are some influential definitions of “liberal theology” by leading scholars of that type of theology:
“Liberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience…and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.” (Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: ImaginingProgressive Religion 1805-1900, p. xxiii.)
“Liberal Christians have characteristically sought to understand their faith with reference to their experience within contemporary culture. … Liberal Christians view accommodation to culture as necessary and positive… They seek understand God and their moral responsibility in terms of the best available scientific knowledge and social analysis.” (Donald E. Miller, The Case for Liberal Christianity, p. 33)
Claude Welch (Yale University) defined liberal theology as “Maximal acknowledgement of the claims of modern thought” in theology. (Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century, I, 1799-1870, p. 142)
In Crossfire, his dialogue with Clark Pinnock, Delwin Brown several times emphasized that liberal theology grants normative status to “the best of modern thought” in such a way as to trump Scripture itself when there is a conflict. [That is, to trump man's errant interpretation of that Scripture when it is found to be out-of-bounds with God's love and intent - R.E. Slater]
To regard any deviation from, or attempt, to reform orthodox Christian tradition as “liberal” theologically is patent misuse of that category and label. In order for a theological proposal to be “liberal” it MUST be offered on the ground that modern thought requires it even though what is requiring it is not a universally recognized material fact (such as the earth moves around the sun). In other words, liberal theology makes modern thought in general a norming norm for theology–alongside if not above Scripture. [sic, whether liberal, or conservative, any theology that supplants Scripture is itself anathema. - R.E. Slater]
If we do not stick to this historical-theological definition of liberal theology (along with prototypes such as Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Harnack, et al.) we end up filling the category so full it becomes empty. [if effect, words only mean something if we use them as intended, rightfully and properly. - R.E. Slater]