Christopher Evans' book, Liberalism without Illusions, discusses the affective movement of Christian liberalism upon the Orthodox Church, writing of its more positive religious impact in an historical context across a broader, dissimilar spectrum of lives and cultures incapable of remaining stagnant in time and space as many may think or wish. As such, a liberalism that can cause older, more popular traditions to rethink themselves is a good thing, and one that may create contemporary relevancy in the Gospel witness of Jesus to men and society in need of new ways of hearing the Gospel.
For myself, I regard the wider word "liberalism" as a more helpful word filled with illuminating tendencies evoking human compassion, generosity, greater self-reflection and awareness, and tolerance for other societies and cultures dis-similar from myself. My older tradition would castigate the term and banish all who deem it constructive as unlike themselves and worthy of condemnation. To the mature in Christ, this way of thinking and behaving cannot accede with the dictates and anti-intellectual posturings by this more conservative segment of Christianity. It would be wrong to do so and unhelpful in the study of God's Word. Placing authority in the hands of men and not in the hands of Almighty God through discernment, prayer, contemplation, historical reflection, scientific discovery, and affective scholarship. I give two-thumbs up for Evans' newest book discussing regenerative roots of American liberalism.
January 13, 2013
Amazon Book Description
Publication Date: January 12, 2010
By the 1930s most mainline Protestant traditions promulgated the key tenets of liberalism, especially an embrace of modern intellectual theory along with theological and religious pluralism. In Liberalism without Illusions, Christopher Evans critiques his own tradition, focusing in particular on why so many Americans today want to distance themselves from this rich and vibrant heritage. In a time when attitudes about “liberal” vs. “conservative” theology have become the focus of the culture wars, he provides a constructive discussion of how liberalism might move forward into the twenty-first century, which, he argues, is indispensable to the future of American Christianity itself.
From Publishers Weekly - Starred Review. Evans (The Kingdom Is Always but Coming), a professor of church history at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, makes no pretensions about the scope of his work. This book does not include a comprehensive view or extensive history of liberal theology-that can be found elsewhere, and in much larger tomes. Instead, he sets out to reclaim and rejuvenate this misunderstood, formerly vibrant, and ostensibly weakening movement in American Christianity. To rejuvenate any school of thought, that school must be understood, and here Evans is at his finest. He begins by immediately confronting the pejorative meaning the "culture wars" have attached to the word "liberal" and follows by proposing a new foundation on which to build a more historical, rather than hyped, understanding of liberal Christianity. Finally, Evans transcends the limits of stereotypical "ivory tower history" by offering more than just analysis. He offers solutions. The liberal Christian movement in America is not dead, he concludes, and history shows how to prevent it from dying. Anyone interested in 20th- and 21st-century American Christianity needs to read and consider the suggestions Evans has to offer.
A strong argument for the appeal and relevance of a liberal theology. Evans brings the liberal and evangelical stories into a compelling conversation, making a case for a liberal theology that reclaims its evangelical roots and its place in the life and witness of the church. - Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Religion, Columbia University.
Evans transcends the limits of stereotypical "ivory tower history" by offering more than just analysis. He offers solutions.... Anyone interested in 20th- and 21st-century American Christianity needs to read and consider the suggestions Evans has to offer. - Publisher's Weekly, 1/26/2010
Evans is an expert guide for the liberal Protestant tradition, showing us the lost treasure and nuggets of power and wisdom that can and should be harvested. This book is an antidote against those who separate piety and social action, levying a powerful argument that any adequate theology enables church leaders to inspire its members to love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly in service to the world. It is a prophetic call and important reminder of the dangerous good news of an applied gospel waiting to be lived. - James K. Wellman Jr., author of Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest.
Print Length: 234 pages
Publisher: Baylor University Press (January 12, 2010)
Liberal = Evangelical and Modern
by Scot McKnight
Jan 10, 2014
What is liberal theology? When did it start? Who are its major thinkers? Let’s remind ourselves once more how Christopher Evans, in his Liberalism without Illusions, defines it:
Theological liberalism is a historical movement born in the nineteenth century that supports critical intellectual engagement with both Christian traditions and contemporary intellectual resources. As opposed to more traditional forms of Christian theology, liberalism has been characterized by an affirmation of personal and collective experience, systemic social analysis, and open theological inquiry (6).
Notice what’s at work here: a creative synthesis of the Christian tradition (evangelical) and modernism. The result focuses on both personal and collective experience, a clear emphasis on systemics, and a general disposition of opennness. In chps 2 and 3 Evans sketches the dominating voices of liberalism, and it is a sketch to which I will at times turn again.
Human reason matters, and here he dips into both Kant and Hegel, and he rightly (I think) sees the impact of Hegel on liberalism because of his more immanent approach to divine activity in history. God can be known through reason and in historical processes, and this all leads him to speak of the undeniable significance of Schleiermacher for understanding liberalism.
1. American liberalism emerged out of New England Calvinism.
2. A leading influence can be seen in Charles Sheldon’s famous “What would Jesus do?” question and life. Christology was refashioned in exemplary terms and also in anti-Trinitarian ways with Unitarians (William Ellery Channing’s voice). Then comes Horace Bushnell and “new theology.” He saw Christianity as a historical religion and was one who helped create a more positive sense of human goodness (Christian nurture flowed from this) and he pushed for a sacrifice of his life on the part of Jesus against typical penal substitutionary theories.
3. The pulpiteers included Henry Ward Beecher (anti-slavery) and David Swing (4th Pres Chicago), and it was Swing who perhaps best articulated emerging liberal theology: OT criticism was embraced, as was Darwinian thinking, and cultural conditioned-ness.
4. Kingdom theology, and this means socialistic Christianity, or the application of Jesus’ compassion and justice to national and global problems. Here he looks at Shailer Mathews.
5. All leading to his specialty: Walter Rauschenbusch and the social gospel and social Christianity. Salvation becomes more robust and the focus is on social problems with the church taking the initiative in justice issues. The social gospel gave important ideas to liberation theologies. He looks, too, at Washington Gladden and Howard Thurman. The social gospel is the most enduring legacy of Protestant liberalism and is in my view here to stay. It can tie hands with Kuyperian thinking to focus the energies of Christians on the public sector, on politics, and on social activism — though the two orientations (social gospel and Kuyperian thinking are hardly the same).
The arena of God’s work was history and society, Jesus’ moral vision and his humanity were central, and they tended to diminish theological centralities of orthodoxy as well as the church. This led in part to therapeutic emphases in the gospel as well as to pastoral care and prophetic theology. Social justice was combined with pastoral care for the folks in their local church (e.g., Ernest Fremont Tittle, from Evanston). It garnered interest in the ecumenical movement… but listen to this observation Evans summarizes from Sidney Mead: “the social gospel was a movement that did not lead to the creation of any new churches, and was largely consigned to the corridors of power within preexistent Protestant denominations” (76).
And it’s focus, even obsession, with economic concerns made it blind often to other concerns, like race and gender equalities.