Written on November 30th, 2006 by Shawn Anthony
The following statements are quick but very accurate summarizations of five basic theological propositions of religious and/or Christian liberalism (The topic was discussed in a seminary class re: Christianity in America. The points are taken from a class hand-out on the subject). I will be dedicating the next few major posts to each of these five points, individually and chronologically. I will be doing so in a dedicated attempt to not only illustrate the sufficiency of Biblical Christianity, Orthodox/Classical Christian Doctrine, and, of course, Jesus Christ (in contrast to the utter insufficiency of Liberal and/or Christian Liberalism), but also to really flush out the seriously weak presuppositions, assumptions and biases inherent to each point.
1. The Bible is an expression of the religious experience of ancient Israel and the early church. It represents the chronologically extended struggle of a highly spiritual people to understand the Divine reality more adequately. It is NOT the word of God coming to us from some transcendent sphere. A progression can be seen in the Bible from more primitive (and more inadequate) forms of religions experience to deeper, richer, and more profound forms of religious experience. The Bible is a human record of a progressive human spiritual journey, reflecting the prejudices, mistakes, and failings of the people who wrote it. Nevertheless, it is a profound (the most profound, perhaps) record of religious experience. We contemporary Christians most locate ourselves in this story of human religious evolution and extend the trajectory.
2. The Virgin Birth narratives are a poetic and symbolic way of expressing the truth that Jesus was a very profound teacher and spiritual guide. Of course, he was conceived and born in the standard human manner. There is nothing supernatural about his biology or ontological composition, except that he was supremely aware of God and God’s will in the deepest levels of his experience.
3. A loving God does not need to punish anybody in order to be reconciled with sinners. The death of Jesus on the cross, in which Jesus continues to do God’s will and continues to call God “Father,” shows that it is possible to remain in spiritual contact with God in spite of earthly suffering and tragedy. Jesus’ death also shows that we all should be faithful to God’s mission and call, in spite of worldly threats and dangers.
4. The stories of the resurrection show that, in some sense, the spirit of Jesus, and the spirits of all faithful persons, lives on, either in the memory and experience of future generations, or in the mind of God, or both. The language of bodily resurrection and the talk of some sort of novel postmortem individual experience are symbols of this enduring spiritual quality and should not be taken literally.
5. The miracle stories in the Bible are archaic rhetorical means of expressing certain spiritual truths. For example, to say that Jesus walked on water means that the pure of heart can remain tranquil in the midst of earthly tribulation.
I will say, again, that I put very, very little stock - zero, actually - in the above five propositions. In fact, I find them to terribly weak attempts at theological manipulation. I will explain why in this series, over the course of the next few weeks.