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dorrienGary Dorrien, the leading authority on American liberal theology, defines it in the first volume of his three-volume historical work:

Fundamentally it is the idea of a

genuine Christianity not based on external authority.

Liberal theology seeks to

reinterpret the symbols of Christianity in a way that creates a progressive religious alternative to atheistic rationalism and to theologies based on external authority.

Specifically, 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;

its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life;

its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and

its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.

—Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), xxiii.

HT: Kevin DeYoung

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3 thoughts on “What Is Liberal Theology?”

  1. Martin says:

    I like to call it Disruptive Theology. And like disruptive technology, there is always something to learn.


    I need to expand my thinking
    and the ways I pray

    I need to bash my head
    against imperceptible bulwarks
    and magnetized poles

    As disruptive doctrines threaten
    to derail my malaise
    I reach out to grasp
    things strange and opaque

    Rocks thrown from heaven
    pelt my brain
    jettisoning illusions I hold too close
    jarring a cage imprisoning my view

    I need to elongate my skin
    past pains of love and lust
    far beyond fear that shutters my eyes
    past euphoria rising as a fountain
    evaporating just as fast

    To awaken from this conscious coma
    filled with conventional thought
    I need to elongate the tiny strands
    aching for freedom from this skull
    expanding the sense
    for more to know
    than what I know at hand

  2. DD says:

    “genuine Christianity not based on external authority”

    oxymoron anyone?

  3. Curt Day says:

    I think it was Machen, but it could have been others, who defined liberalism as reducing all of reality to the physical. From that flows the comments above on liberalism.

    And though there are many things to criticize liberalism on, there are things to learn. And we need to keep that in mind lest it is arrogance that causes us to reject a liberal teaching rather than the Scriptures.

    For example, we need to realize that liberalism has some valid claims in talking about its emphasis on experience in learning. For too many times have I seen conservative Christians deny any input from experience and try to deduce all details of reality from the scriptures. Such a perspective causes us Christians to not listen to others when they talk about life. It also causes us Christians to misinterpret the scriptures as we try to make the scriptures say too much on a particular issue.

    And we should note that the ethical lessons some liberals teach from Christianity are lessons that could benefit all of us. We should just note that the problem with theological liberalism is mainly found in what they leave out

    When dealing with perspectives so polar opposite of our own and liberal theology, it is important to remember something Martin Luther King Jr. said when speaking against the Vietnam War:

    The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just

    The more we Conservative Christians act as if they have everything to teach and nothing to learn from their liberal counterparts, the more we sabotage our attempts to evangelize them

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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