Liberal Christianity


This is a taster of a forthcoming article in Third Way magazine.

What’s wrong with liberal Christianity? It has, for at least a generation, been firmly associated with wetness, weakness. On one hand it is accused of diluting traditional Christian teaching with secular humanist assumptions; on the other it is charged with lacking the courage of its convictions, and being too nice to stand up to rival forms of religion and offer a coherent alternative to them. The normal liberal Christian response, of course, is to deny the charges: we do believe in Jesus Christ, and we do dare to stand up for what we believe. Of course the response has some validity, but not enough.


It is wiser to plead guilty – a bit like when the Conservatives once admitted to being the nasty party. Yes, we must say – liberal Christianity has a huge problem! It does indeed veer towards mushy secular humanism and semi-agnosticism – we admit it. And it does indeed lack the confidence of other Christian traditions; it seems almost to agree that conservatives are probably the real Christians, and that we liberals are just dubious newfangled reformist types.


Can this change? Can liberal Christianity tighten up and toughen up? I suggest that it is possible, but that it is difficult. It is tempting to ‘reform’ this tradition in a way that seems to strengthen it but actually perpetuates its weakness. 

In recent decades, liberal Protestant theology has been out of fashion. Of course it lives on in practical terms, in the movements for the ordination of women and of homosexuals – and also in religious campaigns for social justice. These are valid causes, but they risk repeating the errors of liberal Christianity, by seeming to put all the emphasis on equal rights, secular progress. These concerns must be rooted in a coherent account of liberal Christianity, free of bad old humanist habits. We should admit that left-liberal political activism carries a danger; it threatens to dominate our image, for it is tempting to locate our relevance, radicalism and authenticity here.