Thanks, George, for Miller's summary and your splendid evaluation of the
liberal theological position.
In a message dated 05/11/02 10:48:25 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Below you have emphasized the ethical aspects of liberalism. Here
are excerpts of three characteristics of "liberalism" in theology from the
Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology article on it by Donald E.
Miller, followed by my comments.
1. "Liberalism is receptive to contemporary science, the arts and
humanities. ... Christianity is not viewed as the only expression of man's
search for God or of God's revelation to man."
2. "Liberals have been sympathetic to applying the canons of
historiography to their interpretations of sacred scriptures. ... The Bible
is seen by liberals as a human document whose primary validity lies in the
fact that it records the experience of persons who are open to God's
3. "Liberals stress the ethical implications of Christianity.
Christianity is not a dogma to be believed, it is a way of life, a moral
vision to be shared.... . Liberals have often been optimistic about the
possibilities for change and have not infrequently seen evil as a product of
ignorance rather than the result of man's intrinsically evil nature."
1. I think that Christian theology should be "receptive to
contemporary science, the arts and humanities," & especially that it must
take the insights of science seriously. But these things do not provide our
fundamental understanding of God and God's relationship with the world. They
must have a ministerial, rather than a magisterial, role in theology.
In particular, the idea that there are other sources of revelation,
including the claims of other religions, has to be treated with a great deal
of caution. If there are other sources of revelation on the same level as
Christ then the Christian understanding of the person and work of Christ have
to be abandoned. Jn.14:6 has to be modified to something like "I am one way
to the Father and you may find me attractive, but if not there are other
2. I agree that the Bible is a human document and that
historical-critical methods should be used in studying it. But it is a
unique human document because it is the record of witnesses to God's unique
revelation in Christ. Historical-critical methods, which are largely
analytical, have to be complemented by a synthetic approach like canonical
criticism which puts the pieces back together and sees the canon as a
If we say that the Bible is a record of human experiences of God's
presence, we have to add that those experiences were unique because God's
presence for them was unique -- which is what has been meant traditionally by
language about revelation, inspiration, &c. If this is not the case then we
are open to anybody's claims of experience -- not only popular things like
feminist theology, black theology &c but, as I have noted before, the
theology of the "German Christians" which was based precisely on such
Lest I be misunderstood -- there can be legitimate feminist, black &c
theologies if these are understood as reflection upon God's revelation to
Israel & in Christ from feminist, black &c viewpoints. But that is not the
same as thinking that being feminine, black, &c give a person some unique
insight into God.
3. Here I have serious disagreement. Christianity certainly has
strong ethical implications but it is first of all faith -- in the full sense
of knowledge, assent, & trust -- in the God revealed in the history of Israel
& preeminently in Christ. Jesus said -- in accord with the Jewish tradition
-- that the command to love God comes first & love of neighbor second. The idea that ethics can be given precedence is connected with the optimistic assessment of the human condition that Miller mentions -- an assessment that I think is at variance both with scripture and our experience of the world.
In summary: There are a number of ways in which I agree with theological liberalism, but when invited to become a card carrying liberal, I have to decline.
George L. Murphy http://web.raex.com/~gmurphy/ "The Science-Theology Interface" >>
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