A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

There's been a bit of a discussion about labels. Christian Century has suggested that we replace mainline or liberal Protestant with the term Christian humanist. Mainline is an odd term I agree for churches which no longer dominate American religious life. But I'm skittish over the reasons for abandoning liberal. There is a desire to have a word which encompasses non fundamentalists but such a category ends up being too broad.

At least when it includes thinkers whose project is to push Christian exclusivity over and against the rest of society, whether it is a Barth or Balthasar. The magazine wants to avoid images of modernizers such as Shailer Matthews and Gordon Kaufman, who they claim dispense with Christian symbols instead of re-interpeting them. According to CT they are "marginal" to liberal theology which is engaged in constructive work with the tradition.

I think such an assessment fails to represent Matthews and Kaufman's project. They both sought to make sense of Christian faith given an evolutionary and naturalistic framework. They have not dispensed with the tradition but rather they have worked on a synthesis of the tradition's insights and symbols with this new story. What makes a theology liberal is the idea that these other disciplines, including the sciences, can inform Christian thought.

It may be that a humanist is any Christian with intellectual curiousity, which ought to include a number of folks, including John Paul II, etc. but there needs to be a word which describes the efforts of protestants over the last few centuries to relate faith to the world we live in, who sees the world outside of the church as places to learn of God, and is willing to engage in reconstructive work of the tradition in relation to these engagements in the greater world.

So I'd say to Philocrites who worries that the mainline will give up the word liberal, that at least this mainline blog will continue to use the word. Everyone should strive to be intellectually engaged, a humanist, but the word liberal is still needed to describe those who seek to be learners "in the kingdom of God, like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old" Matt 13:52b in their engagement with God's world.


At 2:29 PM , Anonymous Tim said...

I, for one, would not be happy to replace `liberal' with `humanist' in any way.

I'm happy to be considered a liberal because I have an open mind on many doctrinal (and applicative) topics - always prepared to countenance the uncommon perspective, hopefully always prepared to accept folks first and see if their beliefs and understandings can help mine.
But by that token, none of the descriptions at http://www.jcn.com/humanism.html are particularly accurate (except maybe `cultural humanism' - I reserve the right to be rational on occasion!).

At 12:51 PM , Blogger Josh said...

I, too, use liberal (and progressive) to describe myself. The issue is reclaiming 'liberal' to its original positive meanings.

At 8:48 AM , Blogger Merseymike said...

Thats interesting - because I have started thinking of myself of late as a Christian humanist!


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