Part 2, The Problem With Liberal Theology

As an atheist I am no longer in the habit of telling Christians what they should believe. I tell them to hammer it out between themselves and come back to inform me of the consensus, since I’ll be waiting in the wings to debunk what’s left over. I agree with the criticisms the social trinitarians offer against the non-social trinitarians, and vice versa. I agree with the Calvinist criticisms of Arminian interpretations of the Bible as well as with the Arminian criticisms of Calvinistic interpretations of the Bible. I agree with the Protestant criticisms of the Catholics as well as the Catholic criticisms of the Protestants. And I also agree with the fundamentalist criticisms of the liberals as well as the liberal criticisms of the fundamentalists. When they criticize each others views I think they’re all right! What’s left is the demise of Christianity as a whole. After they fight out to a draw in each disputed case there is nothing left for me to debunk except their shared common belief in God (a non-trinitarian one) along with their religious experiences as a pointer to God.

When it comes to the liberal/fundamentalist debate, I thought about starting a Blog to let the liberals and fundamentalists fight it out! But then it dawned on me that the liberals would win that debate, at least in my mind (the only mind that counts is what each one of us thinks, correct?). In fact, in my book I use the writings of the liberals to debunk evangelical Christianity much of the time. They simply are on the side of truth. They have better scholars.

Without wanting to do a great amount of research at this time on liberal theology, let me begin by quoting from Wikipedia on it:

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity is not a belief structure, and as such is not subject to any Church Dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church Dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.

Liberal Christianity was most influential with mainline Protestant churches in the early 20th century, when proponents believed the changes it would bring would be the future of the Christian church. Despite that optimism, its influence in mainline churches waned in the wake of World War II, as the more moderate alternative of neo-orthodoxy (and later postliberalism) began to supplant the earlier modernism. Other theological movements included political liberation theology, philosophical forms of postmodern Christianity such as Christian existentialism, and conservative movements such as neo-evangelicalism and paleo-orthodoxy.

The 1990s and early 2000s saw a resurgence of non-doctrinal, scholarly work on biblical exegesis and theology, exemplified by figures such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Douglas Ottati. Their appeal is also primarily to the mainline denominations.

The father of modern liberalism is widely considered to be Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), and Norman Geisler’s description of his theology is good enough for now:

As the father of modern liberalism, he influenced most major liberals after him, among them Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), Critical History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation; Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), What is Christianity?, and Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918), who wrote Introduction to the History of Israel in which he defended the J-E-P-D hypothesis of authorship/ redaction of the Pentateuch.

For Schleiermacher, the basis of religion is human experience, rather than divine existence. We must have it before we can utter it. The locus of religion is in the self. The inner is key to the outer. The object of religion is the “All,” which many call “God.” And the nature of religion is found in a feeling (sense) of absolute dependence, which is described as a sense of creaturehood, an awareness that one is dependent on the All, or a sense of existential contingency.

The relation of religion to doctrine is that of a sound to its echo or experience to an expression of that experience. Religion is found in feeling, and doctrine is only a form of the feeling. Religion is the “stuff” and doctrine the structure. Doctrine is not essential to religious experience and is scarcely necessary to expressing it, since it can be expressed in symbol as well.

As to the universality of religion, Schleiermacher believed that all have a religious feeling of dependence on the All. In this sense there are no atheists. In this he foreshadowed Paul Tillich.

Being primarily a feeling, religion is best communicated by personal example. It is better caught than taught. Religion can also be communicated through symbols and doctrines. But doctrines are accounts of religious feeling. They are statements about our feeling, not about God, his attributes, or his nature. So there is an endless variety of religious expression, due largely to personality differences. The pantheistic expression results from those who delight in the obscure. Theists by propensity are those who delight in the definite.

The aim of religion is the love of the All, the World-Spirit. This is achieved through loving other human beings. The result of religion is unity of life. And its influence is manifest in morals. Religion produces a wholeness of life, but it has no specific influence on individual acts. We act with religion, not from it.

Likewise, the influence of religion on science is not direct. One cannot be scientific without piety. For the feeling of dependence on the All removes presumption to knowledge, which is ignorance. The true goal of science cannot be realized without a vision arising from religion.

No wonder fundamentalists attack the liberals for what they are left with...not much. Their attack centers on why liberals even bother with the Bible itself. Why not the Koran, especially since Hector Avalos, a Harvard trained Biblical scholar, has shown that the liberal deconstruction of the Bible has made the Bible irrelevant to modern people. He claims they have made an end to Biblical studies and they did it to themselves. I agree.

Okay so far?

For the next installment on Dr. James McGrath's reasons for being a Christian read this.