Kandinsky Painting reflects spiritual themes in modern art
Most Christians have a juandiced view of liberal theology; for most Evangelicals, the term "liberal theology" conjures up images of the Jesus Seminar, Bishop Sprong assaulting the truth of Holly Scripture, questions about Jesus' exisetence, and the foamenation of dobut and unbleief.Liberal theology has had a long tradition that very much pre-dates the Jesus seminar. The liberal tradition in Christinaity is actually called "the liberal reivisionary tradition" and it streches back to a certain brand of Orhtodoxy that was far more the majority than was the Evangleical movmenet just after the enlightenment. In this series I will breiefly examine the history of liberal theology, and overview a few of my favorite "liberal" theologians.
A fine definition, perhaps the best I've seen, is given my my friend who calls him "Urbild" (Logos in German) on my Doxa Message board. Urblid is a doctoral student in Theology at a major liberal seminary, and this was in the "Theology/Bible" section;Posted 03/06/2005 08:27:34 (03/06/2005 03:27:34 PM)
The difference between conservatives and liberals is rooted in two fundamentally different methods of doing theology. The conservative tradition is authoritarian in method. The liberal theological tradition, by contrast, adopts a method in which truth claims are subjected to experience and reason.
Conservative theology begins with the assumption of some divine revelation. This revelation is held to be immune from rational critique, vouchsafed by the testimony of miracles, understood as supernatural intervention. If there is any kind of evaluation of religious beliefs, the evaluation will be governed under norms derived from the tradition. "X is true because the Bible or the church says so."
The liberal theological tradition assumes that Christian stories and belief systems can claim no exemption by virtue of unique origin. No truth claim is immune to criticism. The liberal theologian is not merely responsible to an internal criterion of a particular religious tradition, but is also responsible to the same kind of criteria and debate that guides other fields of knowledge. In other words, theological statements must conform to publicly defensible and revisable canons of investigation and validation. The liberal will humbly concede that this method is fallible, while acknowledging that only God can claim the realization of total knowledge.
Liberal theology is often mistakenly defined as simply a challenge to orthodox belief. On the contrary, liberal theology seeks continuity with the dogmatic tradition. A theologically liberal Christian will attempt to develop all of the possibilities that a particular doctrine has to offer, while recognizing that any doctrine may finally be exhausted. The church's doctrines are respected for what they can teach us, but they are not treated as a set of immutable truths. As in the conservative theological tradition, doctrines will receive a great diversity of interpretation. But this diversity is welcomed, not shunned, as the liberal understands that the cohesiveness of a religious community is not based on agreement, but on the mutual enrichment acquired from encountering differing points of view
We could add to this definition that in the modern era, especially since Baultmann, the impetus of liberal theology is not so much to subject the Bible to reason, as to translate the Gospel into terms meaningful to contemporary society. Be that as it may, I'll get back to that shortly.Liberal theology is most often thought of as a counter to "orthodoxy," but for most of its history the liberal view was more in line with Orthodoxy and the Evangelicals and their forerunners were on the lunatic fringe. Three major movements that preceded the Evangelical; the Pruitans (sixteenth century England), the Pietists (seventeenth century Germany) and the Evangelicals (nineteenth century England and America), all were kept at bay by the mainline orthodoxy which controlled the major denominations, and all three were radical movements that sought o restore a bogus ancient flavor to Christianity whil moving away from the liberals who had come to control the Orthodox centers.
The dichotomy between reason and faith in religion goes very far back in Christian origins. In Early modern times it emerges as rationalism vs. voluntarism, but it can be found in the middle ages between Scholastics and nominalists. We should not be at all surprised to find the Enlightenment as a major source of liberal theology, and so it was. Nevertheless, there are other sources that even preceded the enlightenment. Since a major motivational force for liberal theology has been rationalisms, many antecedents from the Reformation and skeptical crisis in Europe can be found, thus pre dating the enlightenment. The same antecedents which pushed the Enlightenment also forged the impetus for liberal theology.
In The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries an epistemological paradigm shift occurred in English thought that left in ruins the scholastic ontology of the supernatural. The transcendent realm of God was cut off from human concern, the immanent ealm of nature became the source of epistemic authority. Moreover, the new paradigm became the watershed of enlightenment thought and scientific hegemony over the “big Scientific Revolution.” (Kuhn, 90). The paradigm shift was really the culmination of a long process beginning with the discovery of the new world, the rise of the new science, the reformation, and the skeptical crisis in 16th century Europe, and finally, the foundationalist project of Descartes, Newton, and Boyle. It was this culmination of the development in the works of Newton and Boyle, and their reception by the social elite that marks the paradigm shift, and conditions thinking for latter enlightenment anti-clericalism. In trying to create political space for their foundational project, Newton and Boyle, together with their latitudinarian allies created a vacuum in epistemic authority that was filled by a turn from divine revelation to the “book of nature,” and in so doing conditioned future anti-clerical attitudes.
The Christian ontology of the supernatural, the medieval synthesis, bound together the realms of nature and that of grace in a two sided unity; grace exhausted nature raised it to a higher level, nature illustrated grace analogically. This ontological structure offered social stability through a sacramental system that ordered society according to means and ends in relation to their ultimate ends. Civil authority was part of this sacramental system. Nature was understood as an expression of grace, of the supernatural. Thus the supernatural was the ground and end of the natural. Human nature derived meaning from its relation to the higher realm, and all knowledge of the natural world was a marker which pointed to a higher aspect of reality, (Fairweather, p.237). In the late 12th century all of this began to change, as technological advancement and economic need brought about a greater interest in how things on earth worked rather than the ultimate concerns that marked their reasons for being. The real movement away from grace and toward nature as an epistemic source, however, came in the early 15th century with two events, the discovery of the new world, and the Protestant reformation.
Martin Luther began the long process that led to the foundationalist project. When Luther nailed the 95 thesis to the door of the church at Whittenberg (1517) , there were already forces at work pulling thinkers toward an interest in nature, and away form interest in divine revelation. The “discovery” of the “new world,” and Kepler’s discoveries in astronomy were chief among these forces; Amerigo Vespucci’s letters created so much excitement about a whole new realm beyond European knowledge that the new continent was named after Vespucci even though he did very little exploring. Vespucci also created excitement about both elemental nature and human nature in his description of a whole race of people with no knowledge of the Bible or of European society, but drew their understanding of life totally form their contact with nature itself (Popkin, Philosophy… p.4). Nevertheless, it was really Luther who started the actual turn to nature as the source of epistemic authority. Luther began his crusade to refor the church like so many other reformers before him, appealing to the authority of the church in combating ecclesiastical abuses. None of he 95 theses on the Whittenberg door challenged the nature of church authority. He soon found, however, that there were too many authorities in contradiction with on another. He could not privilege his sources above those of his opponents. Why should his councils, popes, and saints be any better than the councils, popes, and saints which were quoted against him?
In 1519, at the Leipzig Disputation, an din his work on the Babylonish Captivity of The Church (1520), Luther went to far as to deny the rule of faith; he critically attacked the criteria of authority itself. He narrowed the filed to just one authority: sola scripture. Scripture alone had epistemic privilege. “It was in this period (1519-20) that he developed from just one more reformer attacking the abuses and corruption of a decaying bureaucracy into the leader of an intellectual revolt that was to shake the very foundations of Western civilization” (Ibid.). The solution backfired, however, and the problem of many authorities resurfaced in a new form. “Scripture alone” still had to be intepreted. Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of the believer made each believer an authority in her own right. Now, the problem was multiplied by as many times as there were believers who could read.
The problem of many authorities intensified with Calvin. “John Calvin, who led his own challenge to authority in the 1520s, made the reformation’s claim to certainty still more explicit,…the faithful are illuminated through the activity of the Holy Spirit” (Stout, p.43). Failure to agree on this point was taken by Calvin’s followers as a sign that the opponent was just not intended to understand (not of the elect). Sebastian castellio of Basel, himself a reformer, developed a skeptical attitude toward certainty. He saw this appeal to inner persuasion, not as a sign of the self-authenticating nature of faith, but as a sign of uncertainty. The heretic Miguel Servetus had been burned for his anti-Trinitarian views. What of Servetus’ inner persuasion, Castellio reasoned, “who is so demented that he would die for denial of the obvious?” (Stout, p.44). Opinions within the reformation began to fragment. Luther, Calivin, Zwingli, and on the “radical wing,” Minos Simmons, all had major doctrinal differences which they back up with scripture. The reformation opened the door to the problem of many authorities, but another religious movement, Christian humanism, opened the door to the anti-foundationalist project.
The rise of the Protestant reformation coincided with the rise of Desiderius Erasmus’ humanist project. Erasmus was the principle force behind the humanism of the northern renaissance. He produced hi own edition of the Greek text of the New Testament. These texts “…revealed in most shocking fashion the perspectives that could be opened up by abandoning the entire scholastic way of understanding and replacing it by pious human study” (Popkin, Philosophy, p.3). Erasmus hated scholasticim and sought a model of faith based on the simplicity of the New Testament (Ibid.). Moreover, through his scholarly research, he showed that the crucial Trinitarian formulation in the Vulgate version of John’s Gospel was no found in the oldest manuscript. “Erasmus ridiculed the whole intellectual and moral world built up to support Christendom. His inordinately popular and influential work, In Praise of Folly…was like the Emperor’s New Clothes (Ibid.). Both Erasmus and Luther became popular voices of the rebellion against the established order, hence the saying, “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched” (Popkin, p.4). Each of the trends that Erasmus started played into the 18th century and became crucial in the paradigm shift (from divine revelation to nature and scientific authority). His major contribution to that process, however, came through his interest in ancient learning, which helped spark the re-discovery of Greek skepticism, a decisive move in the rise of anti-foundational ism (Ibid.). Erasmus was so influential that Luther sought to enlist his aid in the cause of the reformation, but soon discovered that Eramus was not willing ot abandon the Catholic Church (Donner, p.554). Erasmus argued against Luther that scripture does nt interpret itself. Faith must fall short of certainty. Humans should give up the quest for certainty and rest content with “simple faith” (Stout, p.43). This turn marks the opening salvos of the foundationalist/anti-foundationalist battle.
The English enlightenment (1690-1734) did not leave the church in a bad position. Christianity was still the order of the day. In fact due to the work of Newton and Latitudinarians Christianity was identified with science in a way it has not been since that time. The influences of England upon the continent were immense. It has been said that England was the nursery where European free thinking was taught to take its first steps. The attitude of anti-clericalism was more pronounced in France, due to the French management style.The English method for dealing with heretics was much more subtle. The English would simply not invite the hertics to tea. They would publish against their view and argue with them, decliar pamphlet wars and bombard them with a thousand pages, but when it came to coercion they would do nothing worse than not invite them on the fox hunt and not invite to Westmoreland for the weekend, and not give them honors. In a class oriented system like that of England's, this amounted to social execution. But it also meant that coercion was largely social and thus not violent. In France it ranged from beign beaten by thugs for almost no reason, to be thrown in the Bastille or shot on the street. The church of England amassed a hoard of great thinkers to defend the Trinity, half of them (including Newton himself) did not believe in the Trinity, but they defended it because they knew who which their bread was buttered. In France, the King was absolute and his Bishop was his right hand, and that was a very heavy right hand that was not afraid to rule by violent means.
For this reason the English enlightenment was friendly to the Orthodoxy of the Church of England, while in France the enlightenment was rabidly anti-clerical and anti-Christian (although the Philosophies were a very religious lot). The British squared off against the heretics and beat them in intellectual and social combat. The heretics largely went away. But at the end of the century they brought deism and socinianism and atheism back as imports from the continent, and under a new situation, with the Church of England identified as the King's taxing agent, the new continental import caught on like wild fire (and there was no Robert Boyle to defend the faith by this time). In Fance, meanwhile, the anti-clericalism of the enlightenment turned into atheism under the influence of d'Holbach and his circle, and latter that of LaPlace. Under this new situation, and with the emphasis taken off the creeds, scholastic logic, and authority of revelation, and placed upon science, logic, and reason, the new Divine drew upon reason as the bulwark not upon the Bible.
The English Enlightenment chose sides with reason and natural reliigion winning the day, even among orthodoxy. The latitudinarians were Christians, but they took their stand against most forms of scholastic thought and placed revelation on the back burner. That attitude, which included emphasis upon the empirical aspects of science, translated to the contingent in terms of reason over revelation.
The Bible is treated primarily as a human project;the world is explored by human investigation, and only what can be established rationally and scientifically is to be believed;religion itself must be validated by human experince, human values and human reason.(Alasdair Heron, A Century of Protestant Theology,1980)
Nineteenth century theology tended to be liberal from the outset. It was caving to pressures of romanticism and strapped by a Kantian philosophy which removed God form sense data, and thus form language. The enlightenment as it has been received in the rest of Europe was an administrative enlightenment, meaning it was not an organic social movement arising from educated masses, as in England and France, but imported by princes in the form of French or English educated tutors, administrators, bureaucrats, tax collectors and governors and military men. There were two German enlightenments, one Protestant and one Catholic. Thus a large part of the German enlightenment was the development of the historical critical method in certain universities and the fomentation of romantic Hegelian and Kantian philosophy in the others (Porter). That is not to say that German thinkers were not serious about the enlightenment. Germany formed the last crucial phase of enlightenment, and Kants' essay "What is Enlightenment?" kicked off that final phase. When Kant got through with Christianity, god had been reduced to a regulatory concept and nothing else. One of my professors at Perkins remarked "Hume was the guy you didn't want to be against you, Kant was the guy you didn't want on your side." Hume was a sneaky opponent, Kant was the kind of overly honest defender who would give away the store before he began his defense.
Under the influence of the latitudinarians British Christian thinkers had placed revelation on the back burner and made scientifically based arguments the thing. The argument from design was one of the major arguments. Up to the time of the enlightenment proper (1754 in France) it was generally assumed that this argument was part of science and proved the existence of God. David Hume, however, dealt the argument a crushing blow as part of the general drift of enlightenment anti-clericalism. He argued that there was no way to deterine from a single enstance if an artifact was designed or not. The world is a single artifact, we have no knowledge of a derringers nor do we have an undesigned world to compare it to (Heron, 16).Thus, we can have no knowledge of the divine. Kant deepened the blow, although it was not his purpose, since he was a devout believer. Kant was very much influenced by Hume, however, and in trying to rebuild metaphysics in such a way that did not fall into the traps of empiricism, but did not assume the overconfidence of the rationalists, he reduced God to a mere regulatory concept. He argues that the nature of knowledge cannot be understood if we are merely passive recipients of knowledge fed into us form outside sources. We have no access to things "in themselves" apart from our minds, which are our experinces of the objects of our knowledge.Kant's notion of concepts and precepts is crucial here; knowledge is the interaction between concepts and precepts. Precepts are mediated by sense experince, and concepts are a means of ordering and interpreting percepts.
We use fundamental categories, such as space and time, to supply the framework of knowledge. But there is no means of validity beyond our own experince through which we may check or understand these categories. This does not invalidate the categories, but it locates them firmly within the mind's encounter with experince. For the notion of God this means that God can only be meaningful if God is directly amainable to our sense data, or if God was a category demonstrably necessary like 'space' and 'time.'This left God as a nice concept that is important for establishing an ethical theory, but not a certinty that one could cling to. (Herdon, 17). This situation removed God as an object of theological discourse, since God is not given in sense data, why speak of him?
It was out of this Kantian quagmire that liberal theology proper really gets going. Libeal theology begins with the attempt of a faithful follower of Kant, Frederich Schliermacher,(1768-1834) to restore God as the object of theological discourse. As a Kantian Schleiermacher knew that God is not given in sense data. Also as a Kantian he knew that God had to be on a par with the necessary categories but that we had to have to some form of interaction with experince. It was out of this problemt that he realized that one could go around the sense data and find interaction of the mind with God in the form of our basic consciousness of the concept of God itself. From this notion Scholeiermacher emerged with his famous dictum, the "feeling of utter dependence." Though this concept God was once again placed as the object of theological disourse and the basic method of liberal theology was born. Schleiermacher is known as "the father of liberal theology" for this reason.
Schleiermacher was important to three theological traditions; he is called "father of liberal theology," meaning liberal protestant theology, during hte nineeth century he was important in circles of German piety and popular among the Evangelicals, and he is also traced as one of the prgeniters of the Unitarian Universalism tradition (Brockie). He's largley forgotten by all three today, although still studied in liberal seminaries. Other figures became important to nineteenth century liberal theology:
Schleiermacher, in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Dispisers, and The Christian Faith .sets forth the view that religion is not reduceable to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciusness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confussed with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does vinture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying. In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher.What is this feeling of utter depenedence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and it's greater reliance upon a higher reality. It is not to be confused with the stary sky at night in the desert feeling, but is akin to it. I like to think about the feeling of being in my backyard late on a summer night, listening to the sounds of the freeway dying out and realizing a certain harmony in the lfie world and the sense that all of this exists because it stems form a higher thing. There is more to it than that but I don't have time to go into it. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does"feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version S. thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version.
The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Plaontic. He believes that the feeling of utter dependence is the backdrop, the pre-given, pre-cognitive notion behind the ontological argument. IN other words, what Anselm tried to capture in his logical argument is felt by everyone, if they were honest, in a pre-cognitive way. In other words, before one thinks about it, it is this "feeling" of utter dependence. After one thinks it out and makes it into a logical arguemnt it is the ontological argument."Life world," or Labeinswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in.' Life as we expeirence it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuative and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in in the world. As Heidegger says "a being in the world." Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuative sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher relatiy, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuative sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arguments).He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn't' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theoretical pre-cognitive regularization of what Anselm sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.
Schleiermacher is called the "father" of liberal theology, but the other foundational figure which spured the development of liberal theology in the 19th century was Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889).German Protestant, taught theology at Bonn (1851-64) and Gottengin (1864-89). His major work translates into English as The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (Vol. I and III, 1872 and 1900).(Columbria Encyclopedia, Barelby.com
Further works byRitschl:Instruction in the Christian Religion, (1875); Theology and Metaphysics,(1881).
Ritschl was in line with Schleiermacher's thinking, he believed religion was primary a matter of revelation and personal experince. He worked agaisnt Hegel and his ilk in ridding theology of speculative metaphysics and philosophical frameworks. This puts him in line with Schleiermacher since Hegel hated Schleiermacher (the two had been class makes in college) and Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence worked direct against Hegel's notions of philosophical speculation. Ritschl sees theology as practical and not speculative. He grounds his inquiry in historical criticism and history, and in the revelation of God through Jesus Christ.
With Ritschl we see three lines of theological development shaping up. The first being Schleiermacher and Ritschl with religious experince and historical criticism. The second is an indirect line running thorugh several seeming contradictory figures: Hegel,theolgoian A.E. Beidermann (1819-85), New Testament scholar F.C. Bauer (1792-1860)--Bauer taguht Ritschl but was rejected by him, Philosphers Ludwig Fuererbach (1804-72) Karl Marx (1818-83) Soren Keirkegaard (1813-55).
The third line demonstrates the way the first two began to come together toward the end of the century to produce a distinctive liberal climate for theology. This line is dominated by Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), but just began his carrer at the even end of the century. Johannes Weiss (1863-1814). William Werde (1859-1906), Martin Kahler (1835-1913) Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) (Troelstch would turn out to be the teacher of Paul Tillich). By the end of the century a vast aray of skeptical style theology had been produced, with theolgoians and Bible scholars more skeptical of the validity of the Bible than any atheists every thought about being.Most of what we see on the net, with skeptical boards like the Secular Web are rehashes of arguments raised by ministers and Bible scholars from this era. The emphasis was upon de-mythologizeing the Bible. Chrstainity was seen primarly as an ethical pltform, or a social organization deciated to helping society make a better world.
Liberal Theology in the 20th Century
Until the end of World War I liberal theology proceeded as it had done in the previous century. The first world war changed everything. Liberal theology had become an ivory tower pursuit with nothing to say tot he common man. Suddenly Europe found itself in a crushing war, thousands dying everyday, a whole generation slaughtered on the battle. Massive dissolutionment set in as no one found liberal theology comforting. Karl Barth arose with a new take on theology which came to be called "Neo-Orthodox." Barth was a liberal Calvinist, he understood the Bible not as the word of God but containing the word of God. He under revelation through a dialectic between the reader and the text. Thus theology was infused with divine comfort in the face of over whelming tragedy. Liberal theology responded after the war by seeking out the existential roots in Christian thought. Theology in that century, before the second world war, was dominated by two major camps, Bartian neo-Orthodoxy, and Bualtmannian existentialism (led by Rudolph Bultmann). Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr (as well as his verbose brother H. Richard) would be major champions in the existential camp. This basic division held throughout the rest of the century, but in the 1960s it began to change tremendously.
Theology in the sixties was very exciting. This was the era when liberal theology came into its own. The major event that put liberal theology front and center was the conference called "Vatican II" held in the early 60s. The Church reformed many aspects of its liturgy modernizing itself both in cosmetic appeal and theology. It adopted a position of ecumenism allowing for the salvation of those outside the catholic or even Christian camps. It took most of the Latin out of its Mass, allowed the use of native instruments such as guitar, nuns began wearing civilian clothes and so on. In the field (Latin America) even more radical steps were taken. Priests began joining revolutions and fighting for social change. Some Priests even took up arms and joined liberation forces in the mountains. The first priest to do so was Father Camillio Tores in Columbia. Out of this period a whole movement evolved known as "liberation theology." It swept through Latin America, it was a major force in the U.S. anti-war movement (the Barigan brothers, both priests went to jail for pouring blood on draft records). Martin Luther King Jr. was a liberal theologian. His doctoral dissertation was on Paul Tillich's concept of God as Being itself. The whole civil rights movement was infused with Christian participation and leadership (such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and this fed into the anti-war movement and contributed to the popularity of liberation theology.
Soon Feminist theology followed, just as Feminism grew out of the civil rights and anti-war movements. New calls for all kinds of theologies were going out all the time. It was a very exciting period of fement. Theology was a battle ground. The popular musical Godspell was written by a theology student at that time and was basically a musical "Gospel according to the hippies" (Godspel = Gospel). The most radical movement of all was the God is dead movement. The major leader was Frederick J.J. Altizer. He argued that God poured himself out in Hegelian dialectic, just as Christ gave up his life on the cross, the God himself poured is very life into his creation giving it (man) the ability to make his own way. The phrase "God is dead" began with Nietzsche who meant by that that modern Western culture had killed the spirit of true reverence for the good by codifying it in a hypocritical institution like the church. Altizer just turned that around into a positive act by God on man's behalf. The movement fragmented, it's core idea was never really understood, the mainstream church reacted very harshly. The net outcome was the liberal church turned its focus to the world. An armay liberal Christian social workers and sociologists went forth to serve the good of humanity, to fight in revolutions, to lead political activism, to fee the hungry and protest war and so forth. Marxism was its chief tool for social analysis.
Rather than death of God theology, the new army of socially minded Christian liberals took up process theology. This allowed them to regard God as a depersonalized ideal of Goodness and yet still be motivated by a sense of divine truth. Process theology became the spiritual force of liberal theology in the last quarter of the twentieth century, thus united it with its late nineteenth century forbearer.Process theology and Marxist analysis drove liberal theology pretty much form the 60s to the 90s. After the fall of communism, in the early 90's liberal theology turned to identity politics and postmodernism. After the Jesus seminar and 911 and the war in Irak liberal theology has moved off center stage. The decline in popularity of postmodernism and lumping in identity politics with the "pc crowd" has pushed liberal theology into the background. It has no real social focus now. Some sort of ferment is taking place, a synthesis of the emergent church idea, identity politics, posternmodernism. Some segements may have gone more into a neo conservative phase.
Sources for Study
The best source for study would be to obtain The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. This is the authority on modern theology. It is expensive, it comes in to major volumes. One volume is about doctrines, the other is about people. You can look up ideas by the name of the theologian that made them famous, or get a run down on the basic thoughts of the major theologians of the last few centuries, in the theologian volume. Or look up ideas such as "God" or "Bible" in the doctrine volume. This would be crucial for anyone seeking to really understand theology. Another very important book would the History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich. These are lectures Tillich delivered somewhere and they give an excellent run down on all of Chrsitian theology form the first century to Tillich's own views.
on line resources:
Religion online.org has a very through list of topics linked on their site. Here's a source I love:
Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology, a fine collection of short essay each dedicated to a different major modern theologain:they have them all!
Wisdoms Children an intelligent blog, very literate, featuring major theolgoical and liberal arts thinkers. God Web, with an excellent article on Tillich and other liberal theological issues.
Last, and very probably lest, but in the interest of getting people to stop attributing to me ideas I do not espouse, my own theological credo on Doxa.