Liberal Christianity or Theological Modernism is a broad term which basically refers to a movement within American Protestant denominations to stress the social role of Christianity, as in the Social Gospel of the early 20th century. This movement is characterized by a lack of emphasis on or denial of the plenary Divine inspiration and authority of the Bible, and commitment to doctrinal purity. Prevalent Biblical themes such as repentance from personal moral sin, hell and damnation for those who reject Christ, His blood atonement and His future literal reign are minimized, or militated against. In 1937, H. Richard Niebuhr summarized their basic gospel message as preaching that “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”
Theologically, Liberal Christianity stresses a basic continuity between man and God, emphasizing the immanence of God rather than His transcendence. It tends to see religious knowledge emerging from research and the use of reason, as superior to Biblical revelation. Thus the liberal idea of religion as a personal relationship with God is one which is not necessarily bound to a Biblical doctrinal basis. This stands in in contrast to salvation resulting from faith in the Biblically substantiated gospel of grace, and in conformity with orthodox theological beliefs.
The most influential liberal Christian theologians were 19th century Germans: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl.
Schleiermacher emphasized that religion was a personal relationship with God, and downplayed historical Christian doctrines such as the doctrine of creation, doctrine of Incarnation, doctrine of eternal life, etc.
Schleiermacher sought to re-establish the importance of Christianity using Christian religious experience rather than scientific knowledge. Ritschl revised Schleirmacher’s idea and tried to re-establish their authority using Kant’s idea of moral experience and in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
Doctrines that did not relate well to religious experience or moral experience tended to disappear.
Liberals view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God. Rather than the Bible being wholly inspired by God, many liberal Christians believe that the Bible was the work of numerous editorial redactors – homophobic ones in cases where pro-homosexual writers wish to see homoeroticism positively portrayed between Bible characters – or even that certain parts of the Bible that do not agree with liberal theology are later additions that do not belong in the Bible at all. In extreme cases, some liberal Christians even engage in politically correct censorship against those who quote Bible verses that tend to disprove a liberal Christian position. It may also esteem other books as works of God as well as the Bible. Some liberal Christians argue that correct Christian doctrine is whatever each individual believer deems it to be (a sort of “make it up as you go” religion”).
Most of those within mainline denominations evidence beliefs and its effects which are at variance with Biblically based historical Christian faith. Two issues usually indicative of liberal denominations are support for abortion and homosexuality. An example of this is as follows. Churches that ordain openly gay clergy & bless same-sex unions & ordain women clergy are: African Methodist Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, American Baptist Church & United Church of Christ.
Part #1 of a 2 part series.
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