James McGrath Defines Liberal Christianity

liberalism lies

In a recent blog post, James McGrath defined liberal Christianity as:

…one form of Christianity that has existed for as long as Christianity has. It recognizes that the Bible is a collection of works by human beings and not written by God, and that there is a need to be open to other sources of information besides Christian or Biblical ones. Liberal Christianity seeks to do honestly and consistently what all Christians do, even if they do not admit it, namely decide what we should believe and do, considering not only Biblical texts or church hierarchies, but also other sources including our own reason. While some Christians claim to be based on nothing but “the Word of God” and to not pick and choose, that claim is never, ever true in reality. And so, while there is a long history of conservatives trying to put liberals on the defensive for “picking and choosing,” liberals should courageously point out that conservatives do so without admitting it, and often without a clear rationale. To be a liberal Christian is to seek honesty, consistency, openness, and breadth. And contrary to what conservative critics sometimes claim, it is not necessary to cease being a Christian in the process.

What do you think about McGrath’s definition?


The graphic is one Christian’s take on liberalism in all its forms

Comments (15)

  1. Becky Rogers Wiren

    I like this definition. I still have mixed feelings about being called any kind of Christian. I know, this has been going on like this for a couple years. I think IF a person believes it is more important how he/she treats another anyway. If a member of the church of Satan is kind to others, then that is all I care about. :)

  2. Texas Born & Bred

    I consider myself to be a “liberal” christian. I have no problem picking and choosing. My personal philosophy is to hold the red letters in my bible more important than the black letters. I also understand that even the red letters could have been manipulated between the utterance of Jesus (in Aramaic) and the gospel form in my bible.

    Furthermore, I test church teachings and writings with those red letters, giving the red letters trump power over the black letters.

    Somebody has to pick and choose. Even bible fundamentals must realize their bible is a collection of works that somebody way back in the 300′s did some picking and choosing as to which work would be included in the “bible”.

    Got to go now — Auburn just arrived at the football stadium!

    My 2 cents

  3. Whitesnake Jackson

    Sounds good to me. My biggest problem with mainstream Christianity is Bible fetishism. Jesus didn’t say He was leaving behind a red letter New Testament. What the hell?

    1. Becky Rogers Wiren

      Excellent comment. I had to battle with that “Bible fetishism” years ago when I was deciding that gay people deserve all the same rights as us. 6 verses have been pointed to, possibly misinterpreted, but the point is I don’t rule myself by those things. I believe in the core principles such as love your neighbor as yourself.

  4. Daniel Wilcox

    Did you mean “L.I.C.E.” ‘C’ what I mean?;-)

    Liberals have lice too. I used to be a liberal Christian, and before that an evangelical, and before that a moderate fundamentalist, etc.

    We’ve all got lice–Christians of all brands, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, yes even Atheists. I’ve lived in the Bible Belt, the liberal East, the Middle East–bad news mixed with good everywhere.

    Recently, I was banned from an atheistic site even though all I did was very politely offer a different view–mild humanistic deism–than their dogma of materialistic determinism!

    When I was a “liberal Christian” (up until about 4 months ago), I lived by these 3 quotes and 1 Corinthians 13 and still think they are valid:

    Faith…manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.

    Menno Simons

    I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.

    Martin Luther King

    When a person asked what would Jesus do if he were here:
    “Jesus is here; he has appeared, from generation to generation and his spirit is now as manifest, in the humble, the meek, the bold reformers…”

    Lucretia Mott

    True religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness…I found no narrowness respecting sects and opinions, but believed that sincere, upright-hearted people, in every society, who truly love God, were accepted of him.

    John Woolman

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Great quotes, Daniel.

  5. Mika'il

    A huge moment of awakening happened when I realize that the my hard core evangelical/fundamentalist Christian pastor and evangelical/fundy Christians pick and choose from the Bible as much as those horrible liberals. To make a long story short, my pastor would strongly condemn “sins” such as homosexual behavior and claim that “we don’t pick and choose”. Well, what woke me up was when my pastor presided over marriages where the spouses had been married and divorced multiple times. The Bible clearly says this is a sin, yet the pastor had no problem officiating over such “sinful” marriages. This is one of many things that led to death of my evangelical/fundamentalist faith.

  6. Paula

    I pretty much agree with everyone. Conservative Christians love to accuse liberals of picking and choosing, and cannot see that they do it also, but with a far different spirit.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      My only beef with liberals is that they refuse or are hesitant to put forth the standard by which they pick and choose. Why do the red letters mean more than the black letters? Why should we accept the words of Jesus but not the words of Paul? Liberal Christian sects have doctrinal statements, yet individual churches, pastors, and members are permitted to believe what they want. Why then have the doctrinal statement? If people can believe what they want, then why is there warfare going on in some liberal churches over women in the ministry, same sex marriage? It seems that people are not truly free to pick and choose. They are free to more freely pick and choose than the Evangelical, but there are still limits or things that must be believed.

      The Evangelical has the far bigger problem in that he can not see that he too picks and chooses. Every religious person does this. Atheism is simple when compared to Christianity. Of course, atheism tells us nothing other than there is no god. It is humanism that provides a moral and ethical framework for me…and believe me, humanists pick and choose too. :)

      We silly humans.

      1. Mika'il

        Bruce, I agree that there are some things about liberal Christians that I do not understand, but I find them to be a refreshing breath of fresh air in contrast to their theologically conservative fundamentalist counterparts.

      2. August

        I was taught, once upon a time, that anyone who could say that their beliefs accorded with the words of the Nicene or Apostolic Creeds was a Christian. Everything else was optional.

        I have *never* met a Christian that actually believed that every word in the Bible is literally true regardless of how much they claimed they did. Most of them don’t seem to have read much of it, and most rely on doctrinal interpretation of the Bible rather than the Bible itself.

  7. the_Observer

    Liberal Christianity is just post-modern literary analysis applied to the bible, leading to some very impressive interpretations of biblical passages. These are the good folk who believe God doesn’t exist because existence is a property of the material universe. It’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful conversation a liberal christian because they dive into the ‘grammar of religious language’.

    There’s not much difference between a liberal christian and a humanist to be honest. Harmless enough folk. Pity they are dying out.

  8. Aram McLean

    I find it bizarre that they hold on to Jesus so dearly, discarding almost all of the rest. Really they’re more like Emersonians than Christians, but for the fact you can learn a lot more from Emerson’s essays than from the Bible.
    Why not just go full spiritual? Why does it have to be Jesus?

    1. ... Zoe ~

      I picture a liberal Christian answering your last question Aram with “Why not?”

      1. Aram McLean

        Yeah, most likely. But so much baggage…


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