In my last post, I suggested that “liberal” and “conservative” were becoming (or already were) mostly meaningless terms when applied to theology because they tended to define either non-existent groups (i.e. “conservative Christian”?) or were labels to grossly broad as to express nothing at all. (i.e. Paulus and Averill both being “liberal Christians.”)
However, before I dismiss the words entirely, let me just say that there has been an attempt to define “Liberal Christian” by “Friedrich Schleiermacher, a German who attempted to reconcile Protestantism with the Enlightenment.” John Nilsson, in an old Mormon Matters post, gave a brief overview.
It’s About Human Response
A key point is that we are not talking about liberal vs. conservative politics. So get that out of your mind right away.One could be (according to Schleiermacher’s view) a ‘liberal’ politically and a ‘conservative’ theologically or vice versa.
So what is a “Liberal” theologically speaking then? Schleiermacher’s view…
…emphasized the importance of the subjective human response to religion, rather than the objective truth claim of religion. An example of this would be the assertion that the freedom from anxiety that awareness of Christ’s sacrifice brings us as Christians is more existentially significant than which model of the Atonement is the most accurate or whether the Atonement occurred in exactly the way the Gospels attest.
So far, so good, I say. Sign me up. Seems like this is precisely what God would want us to do – concentrate on our neighbor, not esoteric doctrinal purity.
One concern I might have with this position, however, is if this is all just a cover up for Christian Atheism. Let’s admit that this view expressed above, if stretched to it’s logical limits, really would say nothing about God at all and would instead – rather contradictorily in my opinion – become merely about how human spirituality via belief in a non-existent God can have positive effects in our life.