Liberal Christianity as a “Religion”

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Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels in defense of Catholicism so frequently that I have named him Defender of the Faith, explains why liberal Protestantism deserves a place on the endangered species list:

Why is mainline Protestantism withering on the vine?  Because as Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, California, there is no “there” there:

Liberal Protestantism is dying. Rod Dreher says so in a recent column in The American Conservative, and the statistics back him up: for decades, liberal and mainline Protestantism has been on the decline in the US, with some denominations (such as the United Church of Christ) losing adherents so quickly that their future is in peril. Meanwhile, more conservative and evangelical denominations have generally held their own, or even experienced growth (see graph below). But liberal Protestantism in many ways exemplifies the best of what religion could be: it’s tolerant of differences, non-judgmental, open to scientific knowledge. Good stuff, right? So why is it that the open-minded liberal churches are dying out? 

Golly gee willickers, it has to be painful to be this clueless.  “Liberal Protestantism in many ways exemplifies the best of what religion could be,” only to someone who has absolutely no idea what religion actually is.

I guess I’m going to have to try to dumb this down even further and for the sake of brevity, I’m going to stick with the monotheistic religions but these principles apply to all religions.  So here goes not much of anything.

There are people out there who believe that there is a God.  They believe that this God is responsible for existence itself as well as their presence in that existence.

Once they accept that, they’re kind of forced to accept three more concepts.  Even if they never figure out what it is, there’s a reason why they’re here; after all, if you’re talented enough to speak existence into existence, why would Christopher Johnsons ever just sort of randomly turn up?

So if you’re here for a reason, even if you never ever understand what that reason is until you die, if then, does that not imply that the God who deliberately made you exist feels that your existence is important?  And if your existence is important, does that not rather obligate you to try to live the way the God who made you exist wants you to live?

You can’t do that as well as you want to, of course.  God, in His mercy, understands that and has provided vehicles of escape, the most sensible and efficacious being, according to this Christian, that vehicle provided by the Christian religion.  That fellow on the Cross.

Then there are people who don’t believe any of that.

Go here to read the rest.  CS Lewis put it rather well in Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

Why liberal Christianity is dying is precisely because it attempts to square this circle.  “Christ is a great and admirable man but none of what he said binds us today because we are more enlightened.  He started a great faith tradition with wonderful words about mercy and peace and love, and it is our job to continue this tradition without being bound by the cold text of his words, but rather being moved by the spirit that moved him.”  Some such blather lies at the base of what passes for liberal Christianity, either of the Protestant or Catholic variety.  Christ is not seen as He was:   I AM, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Alpha and the Omega, but rather as merely a wise teacher, one among many like Plato, Buddha, etc.  Christ becomes thereby not God to be followed and obeyed, but rather a tool in whose name we can put a pretty bow on our own ideas.  Now most people, quite a bit of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, are not fools.  Over time they realize what is going on and they decide that such “religion”, which is merely the opinions of those currently in control of a “church” rather than timeless revelations from the Creator of All, is not worth their time or their support.  The dying of liberal Christianity is occurring because to call such gatherings “religion” is to violate a rule of common sense contained in Lincoln’s story about a dog’s tail:

 If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?   Four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.




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  1. At the heart of liberal Christianity lies the belief that religion is purely immanent.

    It was precisely this that Maurice Blondel so vigorously attacked: “No, Christianity does not emerge from nature by a subconscious and spontaneous evolution. No, it is not an emanation of the religious conscience of humanity. It proceeds from a positive intervention and a gratuitous and miraculous condescension of God; it is constituted by the historical fact of the Incarnation; it is essentially a supernatural gift, an interior gift of grace that feeds the Christian life, an exterior gift of the teaching and precepts of Christ, which, confided to the apostles, is communicated to us by the Church and her infallible head. To the thesis of efference that draws the dogmas and the virtues of Catholicism from below and, so to speak, from the depths of nature or the guts of humanity, the thesis of afference is radically opposed that affirms the character, specifically supernatural, free and gratuitous of the entire Christian order. And we adhere to this absolutely fundamental truth with our entire soul.”

    But he was alive to the danger of the opposite tendency: “First, the scholastic ideology, which still exclusively dominates, includes the study neither of religious psychology nor of the subjective facts that convey to the conscience the action of the objective realities whose presence in us Revelation indicates; this ideology only considers as legitimate the examination of what objectively informs us about these realities as designated and defined. Moreover, and especially, everything is instinctively resisted that would limit the authoritarianism born of an exclusive extrinsicism. And, without formulating it, the conception is entertained according to which everything in religious life comes from on high and from without. Only the priesthood is active before a purely passive and receptive flock.”

    It was left to Cardinal Henri de Lubac and his colleagues to resolve the tension.

  2. Catholicism is like one of those universal constants that physicists can’t explain. If gravity were a billionth stronger, or a billionth weaker, the universe would end. Anything that isn’t Catholicism, no matter how close it is, will eventually collapse in on itself or explode outward in wasted entropy. Protestantism only survives to the extent that it’s similar to Catholicism, but “close” isn’t close enough, even if it takes 500 years longer than most heresies to disperse.

  3. A good overview on the subject indeed! This “Liberal Christianity” will die the “fools death” if for no other reason than at its head are ill-advised, ill educated leaders & followers who have little real understanding of what “Faith” really is in their “Cafeteria Christian” world.We are taught in the Scriptures Hebrews 11:1 what faith is. We do these “Brothers & Sisters In Christ” NO justice by letting them continue to hold on to their beliefs that being a real Christian is easy & indeed trouble-free in and of itself! Again Jesus instructed us to council with them in His ways & Word! To fail in this duty will cause all of us to be judged harshly in The Almighty’s sight! Excellent article as well.

  4. Did anyone follow all the way back to the original source?

    Check the last paragraph:

    Which is too bad, because the theology of liberal Protestantism is pretty admirable. Openness to the validity of other traditions, respect for doubters and for skeptical thinkers, acceptance of the findings of science, pro-environmentalism – if I had to pick a church off a sheet of paper, I’d choose a liberal denomination like the United Church of Christ or the Episcopalians any day. But their openness and refusal to be exclusive – to demand standards for belonging – is also their downfall. By agreeing not to erect any high threshold for belonging, the liberal Protestant churches make their boundaries so porous that everything of substance leaks out, mingling with the secular culture around them.

    So what if liberal Protestants kept their open-minded, tolerant theology, but started being strict about it – kicking people out for not showing up, or for not volunteering enough? Liberals have historically been wary of authority and its abuses, and so are hesitant about being strict. But strictness matters, if for no other reason because conservatives are so good at it: most of the strict, costly requirements for belonging to Christian churches in American today have to do with believing theologies that contradict science, or see non-Christians as damned. What if liberal Protestantism flexed its muscle, stood up straight, and demanded its own standards of commitment – to service of God and other people, to the dignity of women, and to radical environmental protection? Parishioners would have to make real sacrifices in these areas, or they’d risk exclusion. They couldn’t just talk the talk. By being strict about the important things, could liberal Protestant churches make their followers walk the walk of their faith – and save their denominations in the process?

    Why won’t it work? Because most people get that in their every day lives ANYWAY. So what will separate these churches from the pop culture?

    What I find even funnier is that no one really wants to ask the real question: What is the truth? Not sure many liberal denominations want to answer that question…

  5. Nate Winchester

    In his novel, “Loss and Gain,” Chapter XVII, Bl John Henry Newman asks a series of questions; the following seem pertinent, and not only as applied to the English church:

    “4. Does not Scripture speak of it [the Church] as a kingdom?

    5. And a kingdom which was to last to the end?

    6. What is a kingdom? and what is meant when Scripture calls the Church a kingdom?

    7. Is it a visible kingdom, or an invisible?

    23. Is it necessary, or possible, to believe any one but a professed messenger from God?


    24. Is the English Church, does she claim to be, a messenger from God?

    25. Does she impart the truth, or bid us seek it?

    26. If she leaves us to seek it, do members of the English Church seek it with that earnestness which Scripture enjoins?”

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