The Participatory Self

By coming to understand ourselves as social beings, liberals may come to see forms of participation such as social justice work not simply as a choice we make (or do not make) as individuals but as a fundamental factor in the formation of our own identities.  In other words, we must think of social justice work not simply as something we do, but as part of who we are.  If I cannot see myself in solidarity with others whose circumstances are different from my own, then something is missing from my own identity.  My sense of self is incomplete.  In this self-help oriented culture, we often feel the need to attend to our own well-being before we can reach out to someone else.  But the idea of participation can remind us that our own well-being is deeply connected to the well-being of others and that we can be healed only when there is healing, and justice, for others as well.

Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century, p. 104

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

A Vast Temple of Being

Convento do Carmo in Lisbon. Image by Chris Adams. Used by permission under GDFL.

I came across this beautiful passage in the first volume of Gary Dorrien’s trilogy: The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900, which I am currently reading.  Dorrien takes this passage itself from the Congregationalist preacher, Horace Bushnell (1802-1876).

I stand here then a thinking creature in a vast temple of being.  The sky is over me, the earth beneath, and around me I gaze at the floor and the walls and the shafted pillars of the temple and behold all overlaid and inlaid with types of thought.  Whose thought?  If I am intelligent so is the world.  I live here – amazing thought! – embosomed in the eternal intelligence of God.