Defining Liberal Theology

At the basic level, we can say that liberal theology is based on the premise that human religiousness should be understood and interpreted from the perspective of modern knowledge and modern life experience.  It has been said that liberal theology tries to articulate a framework within which one can be deeply religious and thoroughly modern at the same time.  From this orientation, liberal theology is characterized by commitments to free and open intellectual inquiry, to the autonomous authority of individual experience and reason, to the ethical dimensions of religion, and to making religion intellectually credible and socially relevant…

Liberal theologian and social ethicist James Luther Adams put it this way: “Liberal religion by its very nature has aimed to live on the frontier and to break new paths.”

Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century

7 thoughts on “Defining Liberal Theology

  1. When I first came to be a follower of Christ, I was encouraged toward discipleship which, as it turned out, was largely an exercise in socio-political conservatism. It’s not that I have anything against my more conservative counterparts since I believe we need each other. However, I wanted to become a Christian, not necessarily a (C)onservative. Now, I can be both a “progressive” and a “Christian” at the same time. Woohoo!

    1. I feel the same way Robert. I was raised an evangelical in the Bible Belt, but my relationship with that particular brand of Christianity was comparable to that of an alcoholic with liquor: Some folks may well be able to partake of it and live healthy, balanced lives, but I am not one of them. My devotion quickly gave way to an almost psychotic fanaticism. I bless evangelicals and the many gifts they bring to the table, but it is within the ranks of liberal Christianity that I have found a home.

      Starting a year ago today (coincidentally), I produced a series of articles delineating what it is that I value from my evangelical heritage and what lessons they may have for liberals in the 21st century. The series is called Evangelical Lessons for Liberal Christians.

      Here are the posts:
      God Has No Grandchildren: Spirituality

      Romancing the Book: the Bible
      Follow-up video to Romancing the Book

      Taking to the Streets: Mission

      1. Indeed. I finally feel “home”, at least in a general sense. It was especially difficult to be curious, a mystic and open to ambiguities as an evangelical. But, as you suggest, I still embrace it as part of my journey and deeply love the many evangelicals I still call friends (many who still call me friend, too!). I’ll check out your links. These look excellent. Thanks…R

    2. I had a similar experience. I was born into a left-leaning agnostic home, when I became Christian as an adult I at first struggled to reconcile my new relationship with Jesus and my former socio-political views. I believe in evolution, feminism and GLBT rights (amongst many other things) and was scared I had put myself into an either or situation; Jesus or my beliefs in science fairness and equality. Thankfully I found liberal Christians who taught me I do not have to choose between God and my natural human inclination to question and seek truth in the world.

      1. Well said! I no longer have to hide my LGBTQ advocacy, my love for ambiguity, for curiosity and for all things mystical. My faith is actually deeper and my view of scripture HIGHER as a result of non-literal interpretive hermeneutics.

  2. Barrett, I look forward to reading your links. I have one to share as well. I teach a Sunday school class that’s a friendly but sometimes tense mix of conservatives and liberals. I found a blog post by a conservative United Methodist pastor recently that addressed the differences between the ways conservatives and progressives read and interpret the Bible. It’s attached below. What was really wonderful, however, was that one of my very conservative members shared this article with her theologically liberal daughter, and they had a transformative conversation about it. She felt it changed their relationship in a positive way. Here you go:

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