What is liberal Christian theology?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
In liberal Christian teaching, man's reason is stressed and is treated as the final authority. Liberal theologians seek to reconcile Christianity with secular science and modern thinking. In doing ...

July 01 2013 8 responses Vote Up Share Report

Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
'Liberal Christian Theology' is not a monolithic system of belief. The term can apply to many different movements, ideas, and beliefs related to Christian Biblical interpretation or social activity. [Despite the term 'liberal,' it isn't directly related to liberal politics either.]

One uniting factor in Liberal Christian Theology is that proponents use an often allegorical interpretation of scripture that treats the text not as inerrant or authoritative, but simply as a collection of man's impressions of God throughout time as filtered the through their own cultural customs. Interpretation doesn't generally start with the basis of scripture itself but filters scripture through modern philosophical ideas, popular scientific assumptions, and sometimes social activism.

“Liberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience…and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.” (Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: ImaginingProgressive Religion 1805-1900, p. xxiii.)

From this basis, there can be an extreme range in views.

At one end, Scripture is treated as little more than an allegory or set of spiritual morals. For example, the miracles of Christ would not be viewed as historic accounts of actual events, but rather as stylistic figurative stories meant to show the power of God or present moral lessons. Other core tenets of the Christian faith, such as the virgin birth of Christ, the Ressurection, the reality of a future judgment, and the inerrancy of scripture as originally written are also rejected under this view.

Many liberal theologians fall into this camp. This method of interpretation, since the 20th century, has a lot of crossover with 'the Social Gospel' - the idea that the primary purpose of scripture and the gospel is not to spread the good news of salvation through Christ alone, but to apply Christian morals to current social problems. Since this method of liberal interpretation combined with social activism, generally, has led to the support of popular leftist and progressive causes, liberal Christian theology is often seen by others as primarily liberal in politics as well.

Due to the prevalence of this movement, a countermovement (fundamentalism) was launched in the early 20th century. Fundamentalism rejected the more extreme ideas advocated by liberal Christian theology and stressed the importance of these basics:

- The inerrancy of scripture as originally written
- The literal history of Biblical narratives, such as the life of Christ, creation, and the history of the Israelites
- The virgin birth of Christ
- The Ressurection and second coming of Christ
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross for our sins

Yet not all Liberal Christian theologians and groups reject the reality of Christ, His miracles, and other tenants of the faith. Rather, they approach scripture from the outside in - filtering it through science, culture, and other factors to arrive at an interpretation. In this way, there is a lot of crossover between modern liberal Christian theologians and modern fundamentalist theologians, as all alike believe it is important to approach scripture within its context, history, and literary style. The main difference is the importance scripture itself is given in this analysis. For a fundamentalist interpreter, scripture would be the starting point, then cross-referencing with other scripture, and then study would continue to see if culture, science, reason, history, or other factors might reasonably affect the interpretation. For the usual liberal interpreter, scripture would take a lesser role and outside factors given precedence if there was conflict. Contemporary culture would also be taken into consideration in trying to make a scripture more relevant to the present.

July 13 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Data Vicki Hale
I think it's hard to pin down an exact definition of "liberal theology" because it is a very broad topic.

Not all "liberal" theologians deny the resurrection or the virgin birth.

"God-breathed" doesn't mean God-dictated. For most "liberal" theologians, it means the text is divinely inspired. God didn't physically *write* the Bible; humans did.

Liberal theologies don't necessarily see source criticism, historical-critical method, etc. As a threat to their own faith. (I attended a liberal, Presbyterian college, was taught the Bible in this way, and I am still a believer. I'm just not a fundamentalist or a literalist.)

Supernatural elements (and even the supernatural "gifts") might not be accepted as uncritically as they are in some churches, but many "liberal" congregations are open to exploring these ideas. New studies by Craig Keener (among others) have pointed to a more open acceptance of the miraculous.

Not everyone accepts the concept of "total depravity." Some have suggested the idea of "sufficient depravity." There is ground for discussion here. 

Not all liberal (or even conservative) churches embrace the Calvinist view. Many Wesleyan churches embrace the Wesleyan Quadrilateral - that the four main components of the Christian faith include scripture, tradition, reason and experience).

An excellent article for understanding liberal theology can be found here as well:


In addition, I would recommend any of the blogs on Patheos Progressive Christian channel, so you can read what a variety "liberal" Christians actually have to say.

An excellent book on the subject of a "liberal" approach to the scripture is The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight. I would also recommend the Episcocrat blog for its critique of inerrancy theory:


July 13 2017 4 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini David Sullivan
Liberal theologians, for the most part, do not believe that a loving god would let people suffer. 

John 14:6 (NKJV)

"Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

July 18 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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