Monday, September 18, 2006

liberal theology

As someone who ascribes to liberal theology, Joel Thomas gives his understanding of what liberal theology is:
1. View of the Bible as inspired and not inerrant.
2. An understanding that some passages in the Bible are metaphorical or “myth based.”
3. An emphasis on the need to apply human reason, experience and tradition in interpreting the Bible.
4. Application of insights from the social sciences (which are also not inerrant) is crucial to interpreting the Bible. As the social sciences are themselves God’s revelation of truth, they complement rather than compete with Scripture.
5. An emphasis on Biblical criticism and literary analysis.
6. Scripture must be viewed through the lens of time and culture.
7. Doctrines, church authority and Scripture cannot be divorced from subjective personal experience.
8. Community wholeness in relation to God is as important as a personal relationship to God through Christ. (“Shalom” creation.)
9. An understanding that the Bible contains “all things necessary for salvation” but not necessarily all things related to salvation.
10. A refusal to make creeds a test of faith.
11. Openness to “finding Christ in the culture.”
12. Doubt is not inherently the enemy of faith, but can be used by God to engage that very faith.
13. A strong commitment to social justice.
14. The idea that self-reflection is a necessary component of faith.
15. Acceptance that the Bible incorporates an intentional tension between “universal” and “exclusive” salvation. (To remind us that God alone judges?)
16. The possibility that not only may we acquire new understandings of God’s revelation but that it is possible that God is still revealing.
17. Humans, while tending toward depravity, are capable of responding to divine grace.
18. As “imitators” of Christ, we must engage the essential unity of faith and works.
19. That Christian existentialism is criticized but effectively practiced by the “orthodox” and fundamentalists but honestly admitted to by many liberals.
20. Rejection of an over-emphasis on a “personal relationship with Christ” that fails to adequately place faith in the context of community.
21. A strong emphasis on “corporate sin” as being as evil and destructive as personal sin.
22. That while miracles happen, God does not ordinarily suspend the laws of nature.
While I am not one who believes liberal theology, but rather orthodox, evangelical theology, I believe this statement by Thomas to be somewhat true:
A frequent complaint about liberal theology is that it doesn’t accept the Bible as authoritative. I dispute that idea. While conservatives/fundamentalists/traditionalists/orthodox may give greater lip service to the Bible’s authority, I find little evidence that they live their lives as if it is more authoritative. Christ calls us to radical obedience where the proof is in the pudding and not in the words... All of us struggle with being “doers of the word” which is the real test of how we view the Bible’s authority.
I know that I find it easier to study God's word than to live it out on a daily basis. God, grant me the grace to be a doer of your word.


Joel Thomas said...

Thanks, Jason.

Jason Woolever said...

hey thank you joel.

Larry B said...

So what I see here described by Joel is quite different from what I read of our main denominational doctrines.

Jason, you can probably confirm or deny that statement far better than I can.

My question continues to be - if the liberals can so strongly identify their positions and they are at odds with traditional positions (as I think they are) why do they still seek to integrate their ideas into the denomination which would by definition change the denomination as opposed to beginning anew?

I don't get what is so sinful about allowing people to start anew with new understandings and leaving those with the older understandings to continue in their understandings?

My cynical side says it's all about the money.

Jason Woolever said...

yeah. I see your point. However, I'm thankful for the dialogue that helps me understand the viewpoint of others.

Joel Thomas said...

Larry B,

I'm quite confident that my theology fits within the parameters of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. Further, if there is any area of the Discipline I disagree with, I am very careful to uphold it nevertheless.

My theology might even be a little to the right of Andy Bryan's. Now he seems like an awfully nice guy and a true asset to the church. I'd hate to lose some of the finest of those challenging us to grapple with the faith.

The idea that I'm in it for the money is too insulting to respond to.

An interesting side question is that some of the things contained in our BOD conflict with John Wesley's essential sermons and writings, which are by incorporation also part of our Discipline. In that case what controls? Maybe that's a post in itself? (For example, Wesley believed in an intermediate state between heaven and hell. Our Discipline doesn't support that idea.)

Jason Woolever said...

I'm still getting familiar with where to find stuff in Wesley's writings. Do you know where he speaks of the intermediate state? Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Joel Thomas said...


Sorry for the delay, but I've had trouble myself finding the direct source of Wesley's claim to an intermediate state (which seems to be something other than purgatory, which Methodism rejects.)

The first indirect source is a brief mention in an accusing letter, dated March 26, 1770 to Wesley from Augustus Toplady.

The second indirect source is the official UMC website, which has the following quote:

What happens immediately after a person dies? Do they go directly to heaven or hell or do they go to a holding place until Christ returns to earth for the final judgment?

The basic beliefs of United Methodists can be found in the Book of Discipline in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules. However, mention of "hell" and "heaven" as serious afterlife issues cannot be found in this section or any other part of the Book of Discipline.

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials by Ted A. Campbell says, "The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the "bosom of Abraham" or "paradise," even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment."

I have Ted Campbell's book somewhere, but can't immediately locate it. I assume it tells the source of Wesley's belief in the intermediate state.