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Modernist Christianity

 

Modernist Christianity

For other uses, see Christian left.

Liberal Christianity, also known as liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward. Liberal does not refer to Progressive Christianity or to the political philosophy, but to the philosophical and religious thought that developed as a consequence of the Enlightenment.

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture while attempting to achieve the Enlightenment ideal of objective point of view, without preconceived notions of the inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma.[1] A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.

Liberal Christian exegesis aplipolnia

The theology of liberal Christianity was prominent in the Biblical criticism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The style of Scriptural hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible) within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements, but instead an anthology that documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historical or cultural context. Thus, liberal Christian theologians do not claim to discover truth propositions but rather create religious models and concepts that reflect the class, gender, social, and political contexts from which they emerge. Liberal Christianity looks upon the Bible as a collection of narratives that explain, epitomize, or symbolize the essence and significance of Christian understanding.[2] Thus, most liberal Christians do not regard the Bible as inerrant, but believe Scripture to be "inspired" in the same way a poem is said to be "inspired" and passed down by humans.

In the 1800s, liberal Christianity was still hard to separate from political liberalism. In a decision during the 1870s, an Irish bishop was sent to Quebec by papal authority to sort the two out. Several curès had threatened to withhold the sacraments from parishioners who cast votes for Liberals and others had preached that to vote for Liberal candidates was a mortal sin.[3]

In the 19th century, self-identified liberal Christians sought to elevate Jesus' humane teachings as a standard for a world civilization freed from cultic traditions and traces of "pagan" belief in the supernatural.[4] As a result, liberal Christians placed less emphasis on miraculous events associated with the life of Jesus than on his teachings. The effort to remove "superstitious" elements from Christian faith dates to intellectually reforming Renaissance Christians such as Erasmus (who compiled the first modern Greek New Testament) in the late 15th and early-to-mid 16th centuries, and, later, the natural-religion view of the Deists, which disavowed any revealed religion or interaction between the Creator and the creation, in the 17-18th centuries.[5] The debate over whether a belief in miracles was mere superstition or essential to accepting the divinity of Christ constituted a crisis within the 19th-century church, for which theological compromises were sought.[6]

Attempts to account for miracles through scientific or rational explanation were mocked even at the turn of the 19th–20th century.[7] A belief in the authenticity of miracles was one of five tests established in 1910 by the Presbyterian Church to distinguish true believers from false professors of faith such as "educated, 'liberal' Christians."[8]

Contemporary liberal Christians may prefer to read Jesus' miracles as metaphorical narratives for understanding the power of God.[9] Not all theologians with liberal inclinations reject the possibility of miracles, but may reject the polemicism that denial or affirmation entails.[10]

Influence of liberal 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. Other subsequent theological movements within the Protestant mainline (in the US) included political liberation theology, philosophical forms of postmodern Christianity such as Christian existentialism, and conservative movements such as neo-evangelicalism, neo-orthodoxy, and paleo-orthodoxy.

However, the 1990s and 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 Scotty McLennan. Their appeal, like that of the earlier modernism, also is primarily found in the mainline denominations.

However, liberal or mainline churches in America experienced a decline in membership of 70%—from 40% of the American Christian population to 12%—between 1930 and 2000, now being no longer "mainstream", but a minority, where the evangelical denominations have grown greatly in size, and the Catholic Church has seen more modest gains.[11]

Liberal Christian theologians and authors

Anglican and Protestant

Roman Catholic

See also

References

External links

  • The Progressive Christian Alliance
  • Progressive Christian Network Britain
  • Project for a Free Christianity
  • Liberalism By M. James Sawyer , Th.M., Ph.D.
  • Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)
  • The Liberal Christians Network

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