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Theological Liberalism




Its definition

the world’s self-understanding is the starting point and the controlling principle of the church’s (theology’s) self-understanding.


Its inception

it arose as a reaction to rationalist orthodoxy and gained force in the era of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy.


Its characteristics

1] it attempts to take the modern world seriously.


2] it refuses to accept religious belief on authority alone.


3] it owes much to German Idealist philosophy.


4] it massively (one-sidedly) emphasizes God’s transcendence.


5] it replaces the biblical category of promise/fulfilment with that of evolution.


6] it always tends to fall short of an affirmation of the Incarnation, regarding Jesus chiefly as

moral exemplar or as “master” without being LORD.

Herein it emphasizes the “search for the historical Jesus”, thinking it can uncover a “Jesus”

lying behind the testimony of the apostles.

It emphasizes the Bethlehem-to-Golgotha existence of Jesus, but does so (one-sidedly) in order

to provide a paradigm for our imitatio Christi.


7] it ignores the logic of the Older Testament and instead uses the OT illustratively concerning

a theological position that is arrived at independently.  (See attached sheet, (Consequences…)


8] it de-emphasizes the doctrine of Original Sin.


9] it emphasizes the social gospel, and enjoins action in the face of racism, sexism, systemic evil,

exploitation, etc.  Here it appears to have some affinities with Liberation Theology, but the

latter is controlled by a Marxist pre-understanding lacking in Liberal Theology.

It affirms historical progress and characteristically speaks of “building the kingdom of God .”



Its vulnerabilities


1]  is it naïve with respect to human nature, sin, evil, the “principalities and powers”?

does it confuse the human situation with the human condition (Ellul)?


2]  did better biblical scholarship undercut its assumptions?


3]  is it one-sided, e.g., with respect to the judgement of God?


4]  is it simplistic in its confidence in culture?


5]  is it ethically flaccid on account of a theology that is primarily ethical?