on Saturday, 29 April 2023 at 11.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Stanley Monkhouse Rambling Rector Retired Struggle
Beth Keith Modern Church Is Liberal Theology Dead?
Beth Keith’s article raises some interesting points for thought. I find it surprising, however, that a liberal theologian passes over voices from queer and disability theologies when she rightly acknowledges the value of postcolonial, feminist and black theological perspectives at the theological table. I’m sure no slight is meant by Dr Keith, but the omission illustrates a significant part of a continuing problem in the academy and the Church, in which some perspectives (and the people they come from) are now valued, albeit imperfectly, but others still drop off the agenda, even in the liberal consciousness.
Liberal theology’s simply the proposition that religious truth claims should be treated like any others, a position finished by a combination of sympathetic Christians abandoning the church altogether and pressure from traditionalists.
Its replacement, tacitly accepting (or at least not contesting) theological conservatism while using that framework to promote liberation movements, has had undoubted successes, but doesn’t address liberalism’s concerns, as valid now as ever. Ships in the night.
A reasonable assessment of the situation.
I think the problem for many post liberals, and certainly for me, is that we have many temptations to abandon the church, but we do not want to abandon the faith. Sadly we have few places to meet like-minded people to share ideas and support each other.
So we keep going to church,for limited solace, but keep quiet about our deeper convictions and ideas.
As Stanley points out in his article, it is important to be honest, especially in preaching, I don’t preach a great deal in retirement; but a ‘liberal’ and historical-critical approach to the text is where I live. I have found that people respond to that reasonably well. However, as you and James Byron both note, we have lost a lot of people because of a failure to address ‘liberal’/post-liberal concerns; or as I’d prefer to describe it, a failure to address openly the challenge to faith in a (post) modern cultural context where the options appear to be radical empiricism… Read more »
I keep my own counsel when visiting churches / cathedrals, but am open about my liberalism if I’m part of a congregation for any length of time. Reaction’s mostly blank incredulity, as most in the pews haven’t met a liberal (“liberal” is usually a term of abuse). When I’ve recommended entry-texts like ‘Honest to God’ or the late Bishop Spong’s prodigious output I’ve had commendable interest. Liberalism has a ready audience if it’s made accessible.
There appears to be some common ground between Stanley Monkhouse and Beth Keith. Monkhouse points to the value of honesty and challenging the conventions of society, church, religion. Keith references the legacy of liberal theology in challenging religious dogma from a stance of reason and experience. Although when I read Stanley on the notion of struggle, I realize I’m just not as introspective. Both writers point to an important question i.e. what is the bedrock of one’s perspectives? Robert S. Heaney’s book Post-Colonial Theology introduced to me the concept of being “hybridized”. His notion can be transposed with regard to… Read more »
I find it hard to avoid the thought, whenever I contemplate liberal theology, that it seems an exercise in finding reasons to retain the church after one has eliminated God, the incarnation, and anything else that might distinguish Christianity from, say, secular humanism. And that exercise has diminished in importance as the church has declined, because the conveyor belt that routed generations of bright, bookish young men into the church has ground to a halt and there is no longer a group of priests who were never entirely sure about this God business in the first place. Without that core… Read more »
This is an interesting observation. I’d need to think more about this bit at the beginning, “liberal theology…an exercise in finding reasons to retain the church after one has eliminated God…” For me, belief in God is not verifiable/falsifiable.; but it is logically defensible. The issue is closer to home. It’s about the biblical text. I have to start with what is reasonable from the perspective of historical consciousness. Clearly there are some historical traditions underlying the gospels. It is the extent and viability of the same that is up for discussion. The gospel writers, no matter how much limited… Read more »
Ironically given its reputation for crypto-atheism, liberalism’s had an exalted view of God (notably Tillich’s “ground of being” and “being-itself”). Likewise, I’ve read liberal defenses of a physical, bodily resurrection that exalt the Resurrection precisely because they focus on the uniqueness of God suspending the normative rules of existence for this decisive intervention in history.
There’s much in what you say about the type of priests who became liberals no longer getting ordained: and also much scope for liberalism to appeal beyond their number given the clear and confident advocacy it’s so often lacked.
Re: liberalism, a view of God, Tillich etc., John Macquarrie is another example.
Absolutely: his ‘Jesus Christ in Modern Thought’ (summarizing the various “low” and “high” christologies throughout the history of the Church, with their starting points in Heaven and on Earth) is an excellent overview. My battered copy won’t be going anywhere!
Terrific book. His treatment of ‘alternative endings’ ( Ending A or Ending B, chapter 19, The Mysteries of Jesus Christ) is both insightful and mischievous. It was only recently that I had opportunity to read an older book of his from 1972, 2nd edition 1992, Paths in Spirituality. A very interesting read indeed. I’ve referenced here on TA in the past.
My thanks for the recommendation, will give it a look! 🙂