Clarifying Liberal Christianity?

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The Lead points to an interesting article by Theo Hobson in the Grauniad, “Eureka! My quest for an authentic liberal Christianity“.

Their quote captures the essence of Hobson’s claim.

What is “liberal” Christianity? Is it the attempt to do Christianity in an honest, modern way; or is it an attempt to dodge the hard bits of this faith? I have spent quite a large proportion of my life thinking this through, wondering whether liberal Christianity can be authentically Christian, or whether it gravitates towards a soggy compromise with secular humanism.

Well, eureka, I think have found the answer. The conclusion I have come to is that liberal Christianity has two meanings: there are two traditions here. They are deeply intertwined, but they must be pulled apart – for one tradition infects and corrodes the other. Only once this separation is made can an authentic liberal Christianity be affirmed.

The problem, of course, is that so often the “honest, modern way” of “doing Christianity” is really simply the “attempt to dodge the hard bits of this faith”. Hobson himself outlines very accurately the general drift of Western Liberal Theology,

One sort of liberal Christianity edges away from supernatural belief, and church ritual: it presents Jesus as a great moral teacher, the first humanist, through whose example we can learn to mend our world. It assumes a basic harmony between Christianity and the rationalEnlightenment.

What should liberal Christianity really be like?

A nuanced liberal Christianity – one that affirmed political liberty, but also understood that authentic Christianity must be rooted in faith and ritual practice – failed to emerge. … We must strive to reaffirm the best of liberal Christianity, without recycling the worst.

Perhaps without even knowing it Hobson has described Anglican Liberal Theology perfectly. It takes on Enlightenment assumptions but also flees to ritual and tradition. But it flees to those things in order to self-authenticate, not as an alternative.  Because there is a movement away from recognised Christian theology, driven by Enlightenment assumptions, there is a corresponding flight towards ritual and tradition as some sort of alternate identifier. Which is why, of course, Liberals in the Anglican Communion just love their pointy hats and ritual . Because without it what do they actually have that, to their sensibilities, is uniquely Christian?

Put another way, Enlightenment assumptions and ritual are the two sides of the same Liberal coin. It’s not a choice between two coins. Hobson is wrong and the reality is that Liberal theology presents us with a form of Hobson’s Choice. It’s all or nothing.

Hobson wants to separate two distinct strands. For some reason this picture came to mind…

separating the strands?
separating the strands?

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  1. Ken West

    I must admit to liberal tendencies of wanting to “attempt to dodge the hard bits of this faith”. Not the 1st century bits, mind you. but rather the odd accretions that have happened since. Like pointy hats…

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