What Makes one Liberal Theologically? Re-visting the Credo


Over the holidays I found myself in two major battles with CARM atheists, in both cases they were using "liberal theology" as a motivation trying to coax me or shame me onto their side: "you are supposed to be a liberal," or "you are playing fundie." The issues were that Tillich views God as an impersonal force and therefore I should too. Or that liberal theologians think Jesus was wrong about when he would return (see my "Olivet Discourse" posts on Atheist Watch, no 1 and especially no 2). In both cases they are trying to say that I say I'm a liberal so I must believe in impersonal God and Jesus is not divine, since that's what Liberal theolgoians believe. They are flat out wrong about Tillich and before it was all over their main instigator when form  the position that I don't know anything about Tillich to a frank admission that i've read more Tillich than he as (no Trick becuase he hardly read any--even  though he still illogically he knows more about it than the guy whose read all the books). They are dead wrong about Tillich, yes he does argue against "a personal God" but that doesn't mean he believes in an impersonal God. His position is that God is "the personal itself." Of cousre on the their position is that "your just crazy, tha'ts just a wild position no liberal scholar accepts" that Jesus wasn't a false prophet.
.......Their understanding of what liberal theology is just frankly stupid; of course their view is  a liberal theologian is a Bible scholar who disbelieves the Bible and uses "liberal" as a point solidarity with their atheism. They also strangely don't value diversity of views, they think everyone must hold the same view. There's one truth and that's scinece, of cousre they undrstand scenic to mean "per-atheism"
To them Science is the enforcement arm of the atheist movement. In reality of cousre liberal theology is diverse. It can't be pinned down to just one thing and is certainly is not in solidarity with atheism. Neither is science for that matter. Liberal theology is diverse. There is no one "liberal" opinion nor is it the case that liberal theological types automatically disbelieve the bible or Jesus.

Jan 3, 2013

In public conversations such as The Huffington Post, it's common to see people deriding "liberal" biblical scholars, as if the world is just full of people whose dearest wish is to undermine the Bible and turn Jesus into nothing but a symbol for a bizarre mushroom cult.
(And by the way, that Jesus-mushroom thing? It was actually proposed.)
Biblical scholarship is an academic discipline, taught and studied at universities, colleges and divinity schools all around the world. So it should be no surprise that biblical scholars run in all shapes, sizes, colors and denominations. What would surprise many people, though, is that a very large number of us love Jesus and the church, and we spend hours upon hours communicating the love and wonder we experience with the Bible. Indeed, some of our secular colleagues justifiably complain there are too many of us in the field. More surprising might be this one fact: many of us have our roots in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. The best way for conservative churches to produce "liberal" biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.

 .......With the New Year I thought it not only good to renew commitment of faith but to clarify on the blog what my positions are. The place to start would be to explain about labels.  I don't like them. That's a hold over form the sixties. I grew up in the sixties and even though sixties generation was very labeled we professed to like labeling. I also developed a penchant or existentialism early on (high school) and thus absorbed the dislike of labels famous among the existentialists. When I began to study postmodernism in early 90s  it didn't take much to convince me of their dictum that diversity is a good thing and is not a weakness. Yet academics and religion are very label oriented things. People love to pigeon hole everyone and everything. I began calling myself a liberal about 1986-87 when I first went to Perkins school of theology. It was not just because I was a liberal politically but also because I had had it with the conservative form of Christianity that I had been associated with since my born again experience in 1979. Yet I'm not a liberal becuase I belong to a sect called liberal. I belong to a sect called liberal because through study and prayer I've come to a conclusion that things are a certian way and taht way seems to be more often marked as a tendency by that term.
.......There are three major issues that make me a liberal theologically. The major issue is one's view of the Bible. when Evangelicalism defined itself in opposition to modern liberalism it did so with the fundamentalist understanding about five doctrines:  (1) the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the Virgin Birth of Christ, (3) his substitutionary atonement, (4) his bodily resurrection, and (5) the authenticity of the miracles.

.......So if that's fundamentalism then opposite would be "liberal." Except liberalism was already hundreds of years old when fundamentalism began to be defined around the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth. Liberal theology began in the Northern Renaissance and was an outgrowth of Renaissance humanism (which was also Christian and pedagogical movement (see Avergy Dulles Book Models of Revelation).* So liberal theology began with Erasmus in the Northern Renaissance and it began as a take on Biblical scholarship. For this reason I use the term liberal of myself even thou my major liberal making issue is Bibilcal and the way I deal with scripture not a rejection of a God who is conscoius and knows I exist or a rejection of Christ as deity or incarnate logos. My view of Scripture is largely in agreement with that of Karl Barth or Paul Tillich, who saw it as containing the word of God rather than being wholly the word of God. I also speak of it as a human record of divine human encounter. The bible is a collection of independent works and they don't all come form the same perspective but they all have authors who sensed the presence of God and who had some dealing with the divine in some way, then  dealt with their experiences through their own human perspective.Some of it is direct revelation "thus says the Lord" and some is indirect, symbolic. For more details on my view of scripture and revelation see my pages on the topic on my new site The Religious a priori, The Nature of Biblical Revelation. In my view this issue qualifies me as a liberal if one needs "qualifications."
......Secondly would be my view of God. The atheists on CARM were so insistent that I must support their view and adopt a dead matter force view of God like magnetism. I don't see Tillich doing that either. I've essays on this blog about that. "Paul Tillich's Ontology: Deep Structures" a good overview of what Tillich means by "being itself" and how he links that to God. The article doesn't say much about his view of God as personal. Paul Tillich and the Personal God: Was Tillich's 'Ground of Being' an impersonal force?" Deals directly with the issue. Hint, quote from Tillich in the paper: He says “God is not a person but he is not less than personal" )Sysmtematic vol I ,245.) If you read through those two article you will know as much most people care to know about Tillich's view of God. This view, which I do hold is easily confused with Pantheism. It is not pantheism and there are major differences. That aspect of it does mark a difference in it and the conventional view of God most Christians in America hold that in itself would tend to make one a liberal, if in fact labels matter. The real pantheism likeness and its difference are brought out in two articles. One I've just linked the reader to the other is also on this blog, "The Super=essential Godhead." This is about the view of Psuedo Dionysus the  Areopagite, who Tillich admired. In fact this was really Tillich's self imposed mission to bring into modern parlance the views of Dionysus.
......In a nut shell the conventional view sees God as a big man on a throne in some part of outer space, or the more sophisticated view sees God as a big mind somewhere beyond time. In both caes he's an entity, and he's spoken of as "a God." "A being." God can't be a being because that denotes one of many. He's not part of a race. The only real way to understand how there can be this ting that is not one of many not part of a larger body of others like himself is to understand that mind as a whole as the basis of reality. Similar to the Hindu concept of Brahmin. In this view God would be more analogs to  a category rather than a person. That doesn't mean that God is not conscious, in fact he's the source of all consciousness, thus Tillich calls him the personal itself. Basis of what the personal is. We can still thin of God as a great heavenly father and love God and feel loved by God but we just need to remember that there no accurate analogy to describe the nature of God and the analogy to father is must an analogy. It's a metaphor. That doesn't mean God's love is not real, it means it's mystical--we can't understand it. We don't need to understand it to feel and live by it and know it's real.
......The Third issue is Universalism or Salvation and Other Faiths. I am not a universalist becuase I believe Jesus is salvation. There is no salvation apart form Jesus. So if that makes me a fundie then I"m a freaking fundie. At the same time I believe that all those who follow Jesus don't know that they do. Some of those who follow Buddha and some who follow Krishna and so, God is the one reality behind all faiths. That makes me a liberal. I don't bow down and worship at other shrines. I don't see an idiol of Baal and call it Jesus. I don't worship other gods. I dont' hate them and revile them and call them demons either. I understand what Paul say sin Romans 2:6 that anyone seeking the good will find eternal life, as being  true statement and not a trick. I see the encounter with Greeks of Mars hill as inclusion of ll faiths in the reality of God (Acts 17). I think we can learn from other faiths. We can see them as colleagues. I think that makes me a liberal if it's important to be called one. I wrote an essey on this. called, oddly enough, "Salvation and other faiths." Its' on the old site Doxa.

I am a Trinitarian and I affirm the Nicene Creed but I don't guarantee that I don't understand parts of it in unconventional ways. I don't imagine my views are so important that anyone wants to read this much of my stuff, but in case one is interested here they are.