Re: What does a liberal think?

Date: Sun May 12 2002 - 03:40:21 EDT

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    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, writes:

    Burgy -
              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
    experiential claims.
              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 "The Science-Theology Interface" >>

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