Monday, March 11, 2019

What Makes One a Liberal Theologically?

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In public conversations such as The Huffington Post, it's common to see people deriding "liberal" biblical scholars, as if the world is just full of people whose dearest wish is to undermine the Bible and turn Jesus into nothing but a symbol for a bizarre mushroom cult.
(And by the way, that Jesus-mushroom thing? It was actually proposed.)
Biblical scholarship is an academic discipline, taught and studied at universities, colleges and divinity schools all around the world. So it should be no surprise that biblical scholars run in all shapes, sizes, colors and denominations. What would surprise many people, though, is that a very large number of us love Jesus and the church, and we spend hours upon hours communicating the love and wonder we experience with the Bible. Indeed, some of our secular colleagues justifiably complain there are too many of us in the field. More surprising might be this one fact: many of us have our roots in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. The best way for conservative churches to produce "liberal" biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.
Jan 3, 2013

 ......."Liberal" is a label. I don't like Lables. That's a hold over form the sixties. I grew up in the sixties and even though sixties generation was very labeled we professed not to like labeling. I also developed a penchant for existentialism early on (high school) and thus absorbed the dislike of labels famous among the existentialists. When I began to study postmodernism in early 90s  it didn't take much to convince me of their dictum that diversity is a good thing and is not a weakness. Yet academics and religion are very label oriented things. People love to pigeon hole everyone and everything. I began calling myself a liberal about 1986-87 when I first went to Perkins school of theology. It was not just because I was a liberal politically but also because I had had it with the conservative form of Christianity that I had been associated with since my born again experience in 1979. Yet I'm not a liberal because I belong to a sect called liberal. I belong to a sect called liberal because through study and prayer I've come to a conclusion that things are a certain way and that way seems to be more often marked as a tendency by that term.

.......There are three major issues that make me a liberal theologically. The major issue is one's view of the Bible. When Evangelicalism defined itself in opposition to modern liberalism it did so with the fundamentalist understanding about five doctrines:  (1) the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the Virgin Birth of Christ, (3) his substitutionary atonement, (4) his bodily resurrection, and (5) the authenticity of the miracles.


.......So if that's fundamentalism then opposite would be "liberal." Except liberalism was already hundreds of years old when fundamentalism began to be defined around the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth. Liberal theology began in the Northern Renaissance and was an outgrowth of Renaissance humanism (which was also Christian and pedagogical movement  (see Avergy Dulles Book Models of Revelation).[1] So liberal theology began with Erasmus in the Northern Renaissance and it began as a take on Biblical scholarship. For this reason I use the term liberal of myself even thou my major liberal making issue is Bibilcal and the way I deal with scripture not a rejection of a God who is conscoius and knows I exist or a rejection of Christ as deity or incarnate logos. My view of Scripture is largely in agreement with that of Karl Barth or Paul Tillich, who saw it as containing the word of God rather than being wholly the word of God. I also speak of it as a human record of divine human encounter. The bible is a collection of independent works and they don't all come form the same perspective but they all have authors who sensed the presence of God and who had some dealing with the divine in some way, then  dealt with their experiences through their own human perspective.Some of it is direct revelation "thus says the Lord" and some is indirect, symbolic. For more details on my view of scripture and revelation see my pages on the topic on my new site The Religious a priori, The Nature of Biblical Revelation. In my view this issue qualifies me as a liberal if one needs "qualifications."

......Secondly would be my view of God. The atheists on CARM were so insistent that I must support their view and adopt a dead matter force view of God like magnetism. I don't see Tillich doing that either. I've essays on this blog about that. "Paul Tillich's Ontology: Deep Structures" a good overview of what Tillich means by "being itself" and how he links that to God. The article doesn't say much about his view of God as personal. Paul Tillich and the Personal God: Was Tillich's 'Ground of Being' an impersonal force?"  Deals directly with the issue. Hint, quote from Tillich in the paper: He says “God is not a person but he is not less than personal" )Systematic Theology vol I ,245.)[2] If you read through those two article you will know as much most people care to know about Tillich's view of God. This view, which I do hold is easily confused with Pantheism. It is not pantheism and there are major differences. That aspect of it does mark a difference in it and the conventional view of God most Christians in America hold that in itself would tend to make one a liberal, if in fact labels matter. The real pantheism likeness and its difference are brought out in two articles. One I've just linked the reader to the other is also on this blog, "The Super=essential Godhead." This is about the view of Psuedo Dionysus the  Areopagite, who Tillich admired. In fact this was really Tillich's self imposed mission to bring into modern parlance the views of Dionysus.

......In a nut shell the conventional view sees God as a big man on a throne in some part of outer space, or the more sophisticated view sees God as a big mind somewhere beyond time. In both caes he's an entity, and he's spoken of as "a God." "A being." God can't be a being because that denotes one of many. He's not part of a race. The only real way to understand how there can be this ting that is not one of many not part of a larger body of others like himself is to understand that mind as a whole as the basis of reality. Similar to the Hindu concept of Brahmin. In this view God would be more analogs to  a category rather than a person. That doesn't mean that God is not conscious, in fact he's the source of all consciousness, thus Tillich calls him the personal itself. Basis of what the personal is. We can still thin of God as a great heavenly father and love God and feel loved by God but we just need to remember that there no accurate analogy to describe the nature of God and the analogy to father is must an analogy. It's a metaphor. That doesn't mean God's love is not real, it means it's mystical--we can't understand it. We don't need to understand it to feel and live by it and know it's real.

......The Third issue is Universalism or Salvation and Other Faiths. I am not a universalist because I believe Jesus is salvation. There is no salvation apart form Jesus. So if that makes me a fundie then I"m a freaking fundie. At the same time I believe that all those who follow Jesus don't know that they do. Some of those who follow Buddha and some who follow Krishna and so, God is the one reality behind all faiths. That makes me a liberal. I don't bow down and worship at other shrines. I don't see an idol of Baal and call it Jesus. I don't worship other gods. I don't hate them and revile them and call them demons either. I understand what Paul say sin Romans 2:6 that anyone seeking the good will find eternal life, as being  true statement and not a trick. I see the encounter with Greeks of Mars hill as inclusion of ll faiths in the reality of God (Acts 17). I think we can learn from other faiths. We can see them as colleagues. I think that makes me a liberal if it's important to be called one. I wrote an essey on this. called, oddly enough, "Salvation and other faiths." Its' on the old site Doxa.

I am a Trinitarian and I affirm the Nicene Creed but I don't guarantee that I don't understand parts of it in unconventional ways. I don't imagine my views are so important that anyone wants to read this much of my stuff, but in case one is interested here they are.





[1] Avergy Dulles Book Models of Revelation)


[2]Systematic Theology vol I ,245.)






8 comments:

Nomad said...

Using expression like "liberal" and "conservative" in relation to theological beliefs is a category mistake. Liberalism and Conservatism are political classifications.
Theology is better described as orthodox or heterodox, and what you have written above is best understood as broadly orthodox. Confession of Jesus as the Risen Lord and Saviour. Adherence to the docdoctrines of the Nicene Creed. Jesus confessed as the only way to Salvation (even if the confessor does not specifically know the name of Jesus). That God has, and contues to act within human history through miracles. And that at some point all of humanity will face a unuversal judgement resulting in life with God in Heaven, or apart from Him in Hell.
All of this is orthodox, and confessed by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant alike.
Liberalism has equated itself with the denials of miracles a priori (virgin birth, resurection of Jesus, walking on water, etc.). But these are not liberalism. They are just old fashioned heresies in new clothes.

Joe Hinman said...

Using expression like "liberal" and "conservative" in relation to theological beliefs is a category mistake. Liberalism and Conservatism are political classifications.

Hey welcome to my blog. I appreciate your comments.

Sorry but you are wrong. Those are the official theological terms,For all you know they have been narrowed by the politicians from the theological camps.




Theology is better described as orthodox or heterodox, and what you have written above is best understood as broadly orthodox.

there's am example of how your nomenclature goes awry.I would say what I've written is theologically orthodox but it's also theologically liberal.


Confession of Jesus as the Risen Lord and Saviour. Adherence to the docdoctrines of the Nicene Creed. Jesus confessed as the only way to Salvation (even if the confessor does not specifically know the name of Jesus). That God has, and contues to act within human history through miracles. And that at some point all of humanity will face a unuversal judgement resulting in life with God in Heaven, or apart from Him in Hell.
All of this is orthodox, and confessed by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant alike.

a men brother


Liberalism has equated itself with the denials of miracles a priori (virgin birth, resurection of Jesus, walking on water, etc.). But these are not liberalism. They are just old fashioned heresies in new clothes.

those are positions taken by some liberal theologians but I can name liberal theologians who believe in the resurrection and thus miracles and the Jesus and atonement parts. The main determinate of liberal/conservative is one's approach to scripture

Nomad said...

Hey welcome to my blog. I appreciate your comments.
Thanks Joe. It's been a few years I guess. Going back to the old Christian CADRE days.

Those (liberal/conservative) are the official theological terms,For all you know they have been narrowed by the politicians from the theological camps.
This is not born out by the historical record. Not only do we not find these terms in Scripture, but we do not even find them among theologians until around the Enlightenment period. Even during the Reformation we do not see Catholics or Protestants identifying as either liberal or conservative. Instead they confine their categories to orthodox and heretical.

there's am example of how your nomenclature goes awry.I would say what I've written is theologically orthodox but it's also theologically liberal.
Here we will have to disagree. Words have meaning, and with modern languages like English those meanings are dynamic, changing over time. Political liberalism, for example, was originally defined by philosophers like John Locke and Adam Smith. Today no one would equate either with modern liberalism.

Theologically I follow the traditions of the Catholic Church as outlined by John Henry Cardinal Newman in his seminal work, Development of Christian Doctrine, and later expounded upon by Pius XII, Fr. Raymond Brown, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These men followed St. Paul's rule that all teachings must first be rooted in Scripture, and traditions and doctrines arising from prior teachings cannot deviate from what has been held from the time of the Apostles.

Regardless of how you see liberal theology, your definition will not find support even in ore advanced theological circles. For better or worse "liberalism" has come to embrace many of the old heresies, especially denying the divinity of Christ, the necessity and sufficiency of His sacrifice on the cross, His Resurrection from the dead, and rejecting miracles of any kind. Likewise, accepting each of these doctrines does not make you "Fundamentalist" either. This novel theological identity did not arise until the early 19th Century, and was confined largely to American Protestant idiosyncrasies often connected with such secondary issues as KJV Onlyism, Young Earth Creationism, and assorted oddities. One can be a Fundamentalist and orthodox, but their identity is rooted in their radical embrace of the secondary non-essentials.

If you identify yourself as a liberal to other Christians you will find yourself constantly defending yourself against charges that will not apply to you. You are better off accepting the popular understanding of the term, and embrace the fact that you are orthodox within the broader Protestant tradition.

The main determinate of liberal/conservative is one's approach to scripture
While I agree tbat liberalism is now rooted in an approach to Scripture that approach is no longer found in Tillich and Barth. Instead it is found in the writings of John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg and Karen Armstrong.

Regardless, I prefer to return to my original point. Liberalism and conservatism are best left to the philosophers and political thinkers. The terms arose from the Enlightenment debates, and helps us to this day in categorizing various streams of secular thought. Christian Theology is, instead, rooted in Christ, and His Word passed down to us in Scripture and Church Tradition (like the Nicene Creed). Our test is one of orthodox vs. heterdoxy.

From what I have read about your thinking as a Christian, you are orthodox Protestant. This is a good thing (although I would obviously prefer you be orthodox Catholic), but we can leave that for another discussion.

Joe Hinman said...

Hey welcome to my blog. I appreciate your comments.

Thanks Joe. It's been a few years I guess. Going back to the old Christian CADRE days.

You are Chris Price?

Joe:Those (liberal/conservative) are the official theological terms,For all you know they have been narrowed by the politicians from the theological camps.

This is not born out by the historical record. Not only do we not find these terms in Scripture, but we do not even find them among theologians until around the Enlightenment period. Even during the Reformation we do not see Catholics or Protestants identifying as either liberal or conservative. Instead they confine their categories to orthodox and heretical.

we don't find the term evangelical in Scripture either.who says we can only talk like scripture?

Joe:there's am example of how your nomenclature goes awry.I would say what I've written is theologically orthodox but it's also theologically liberal.

Here we will have to disagree. Words have meaning, and with modern languages like English those meanings are dynamic, changing over time. Political liberalism, for example, was originally defined by philosophers like John Locke and Adam Smith. Today no one would equate either with modern liberalism.

Theologically I follow the traditions of the Catholic Church as outlined by John Henry Cardinal Newman in his seminal work, Development of Christian Doctrine, and later expounded upon by Pius XII, Fr. Raymond Brown, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These men followed St. Paul's rule that all teachings must first be rooted in Scripture, and traditions and doctrines arising from prior teachings cannot deviate from what has been held from the time of the Apostles.

are you conversant in coine Greek? Where does Paul say that these means one cant use modern terminology? In the name of sticking to the scripture you are adding new rules.

Joe Hinman said...

Regardless of how you see liberal theology, your definition will not find support even in ore advanced theological circles. For better or worse "liberalism" has come to embrace many of the old heresies, especially denying the divinity of Christ, the necessity and sufficiency of His sacrifice on the cross, His Resurrection from the dead, and rejecting miracles of any kind. Likewise, accepting each of these doctrines does not make you "Fundamentalist" either. This novel theological identity did not arise until the early 19th Century, and was confined largely to American Protestant idiosyncrasies often connected with such secondary issues as KJV Onlyism, Young Earth Creationism, and assorted oddities. One can be a Fundamentalist and orthodox, but their identity is rooted in their radical embrace of the secondary non-essentials.

there is no mandatory guide lie for being liberal. being liberal does not mean one must deny the deity of Christ or any of those other things,

If you identify yourself as a liberal to other Christians you will find yourself constantly defending yourself against charges that will not apply to you. You are better off accepting the popular understanding of the term, and embrace the fact that you are orthodox within the broader Protestant tradition.

If you identify yourself as conservative you will be grouped with racism, lying stupidity, legalism , beiga shuttled shirt, suppport9g Trump

The main determinate of liberal/conservative is one's approach to scripture
While I agree tbat liberalism is now rooted in an approach to Scripture that approach is no longer found in Tillich and Barth. Instead it is found in the writings of John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg and Karen Armstrong.

That is nonsense Tillich is still known as a liberal. You love to think in stereo types don't you?



Regardless, I prefer to return to my original point. Liberalism and conservatism are best left to the philosophers and political thinkers. The terms arose from the Enlightenment debates, and helps us to this day in categorizing various streams of secular thought. Christian Theology is, instead, rooted in Christ, and His Word passed down to us in Scripture and Church Tradition (like the Nicene Creed). Our test is one of orthodox vs. heterdoxy.

From what I have read about your thinking as a Christian, you are orthodox Protestant. This is a good thing (although I would obviously prefer you be orthodox Catholic), but we can leave that for another discussion.

Like Popeye the salierman I am what I am

Nomad said...

Hi Joe
I am Brian Trafford, not Chris Price. Chris went by the handle of "Layman".

Thanks for the conversation. I am content to leave it where it is. I believe each of your posts has reinforced the point that liberalism and conservatism are secular political and philosophical descriptors, and not helpful when it comes to theology. Worse yet, the common (both Catholic and Protestant) devotion to this bifurcated view of the world, a lens through which even our worship of God is pressed unnaturally is not only unhelpful, but leads to unnecessary barriers to simple discussion and understanding.

My longer term hope is that Christian theology is freed from this unfortunate ideological prison, and we can once again have meaningful discussions about salvation, Scripture, and ecumenism without trying to pigeonhole one another through our politics.

If you want to know how I view Scripture, I will point you once again to Newman and Pius XII. They are a good place to begin in trying to understand Catholic thought on this matter. As a Protestant I do not expect you to be familiar with their work, but reading them might lead to interesting conversations in the future. Neither are long reads. Both have helped shape Catholic Biblical thought more than any other documents in the last 200+ years.

John Henry Newman, an essay on The Development of Christian Doctrine (revised edition from 1879) http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/index.html

Pius XII, Encyclical on Promoting Biblical Studies (1943)
http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_30091943_divino-afflante-spiritu.html

Joe Hinman said...

Hi Joe
I am Brian Trafford, not Chris Price. Chris went by the handle of "Layman".

Nomad Brain ! of course I knew I got something wrong sorry man ,good to hear from you again!

Thanks for the conversation. I am content to leave it where it is. I believe each of your posts has reinforced the point that liberalism and conservatism are secular political and philosophical descriptors, and not helpful when it comes to theology.

I haven;t begun to illustrate it. conservatism is disaster in politics liberalism is love and compassion, In theology I want love and compassion (liberal) not legalism and hypocrisy, conservative,

Worse yet, the common (both Catholic and Protestant) devotion to this bifurcated view of the world, a lens through which even our worship of God is pressed unnaturally is not only unhelpful, but leads to unnecessary barriers to simple discussion and understanding.

Jesus' lessons about grace embrace a liberal attitude and the condemnation of legalism is condemnation of conservative,

Joe Hinman said...

NomadMy longer term hope is that Christian theology is freed from this unfortunate ideological prison, and we can once again have meaningful discussions about salvation, Scripture, and ecumenism without trying to pigeonhole one another through our politics.

then let's do it, stick around let's discuss. you are right in that what you say has an implication about looking beyond labels,

If you want to know how I view Scripture, I will point you once again to Newman and Pius XII. They are a good place to begin in trying to understand Catholic thought on this matter. As a Protestant I do not expect you to be familiar with their work, but reading them might lead to interesting conversations in the future. Neither are long reads. Both have helped shape Catholic Biblical thought more than any other documents in the last 200+ years.

My brother Ray was a true intellectual. He read Newman when he wasn;t even a Christian,so I know who he was

John Henry Newman, an essay on The Development of Christian Doctrine (revised edition from 1879) http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/index.html

Pius XII, Encyclical on Promoting Biblical Studies (1943)
http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_30091943_divino-afflante-spiritu.html

12:23 AM

thanks. please stik around and be a regular commenter