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Liberal Christianity, also known as liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward. Liberal does not refer to Progressive Christianity or to the political philosophy, but to the philosophical and religious thought that developed as a consequence of the Enlightenment.
Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity[disambiguation needed].
Liberal Christian expursions 
The theology of liberal Christianity was prominent in the Biblical criticism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The style of Scriptural hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible) within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements, but instead an anthology that documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historical or cultural context. Thus, liberal Christian theologians do not claim to discover truth propositions but rather create religious models and concepts that reflect the class, gender, social, and political contexts from which they emerge. Liberal Christianity looks upon the Bible as a collection of narratives that explain, epitomize, or symbolize the essence and significance of Christian understanding. Thus, most liberal Christians do not regard the Bible as inerrant, but believe Scripture to be "inspired" in the same way a poem is said to be "inspired" and passed down by humans.
In the 1800s, liberal Christianity was still hard to separate from political liberalism. In a decision during the 1870s, an Irish bishop was sent to Quebec by papal authority to sort the two out. Several curès had threatened to withhold the sacraments from parishioners who cast votes for Liberals and others had preached that to vote for Liberal candidates was a mortal sin.
In the 19th century, self-identified liberal Christians sought to elevate Jesus' humane teachings as a standard for a world civilization freed from cultic traditions and traces of "pagan" belief in the supernatural. As a result, liberal Christians placed less emphasis on miraculous events associated with the life of Jesus than on his teachings. The effort to remove "superstitious" elements from Christian faith dates to intellectually reforming Renaissance Christians such as Erasmus (who compiled the first modern Greek New Testament) in the late 15th and early-to-mid 16th centuries, and, later, the natural-religion view of the Deists, which disavowed any revealed religion or interaction between the Creator and the creation, in the 17-18th centuries. The debate over whether a belief in miracles was mere superstition or essential to accepting the divinity of Christ constituted a crisis within the 19th-century church, for which theological compromises were sought.
Attempts to account for miracles through scientific or rational explanation were mocked even at the turn of the 19th–20th century. A belief in the authenticity of miracles was one of five tests established in 1910 by the Presbyterian Church to distinguish true believers from false professors of faith such as "educated, 'liberal' Christians."
Contemporary liberal Christians may prefer to read Jesus' miracles as metaphorical narratives for understanding the power of God. Not all theologians with liberal inclinations reject the possibility of miracles, but may reject the polemicism that denial or affirmation entails.
Influence of liberal Christianity 
Liberal Christianity was most influential with mainline Protestant churches in the early 20th century, when proponents believed the changes it would bring would be the future of the Christian church. Other subsequent theological movements within the Protestant mainline (in the US) included political liberation theology, philosophical forms of postmodern Christianity such as Christian existentialism, and conservative movements such as neo-evangelicalism, neo-orthodoxy, and paleo-orthodoxy.
However, the 1990s and 2000s saw a resurgence of non-doctrinal, scholarly work on biblical exegesis and theology, exemplified by figures such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Scotty McLennan. Their appeal, like that of the earlier modernism, also is primarily found in the mainline denominations.
However, liberal or mainline churches in America experienced a decline in membership of 70%—from 40% of the American Christian population to 12%—between 1930 and 2000, now being no longer "mainstream", but a small minority, where the evangelical denominations have grown greatly in size, and the Catholic Church has seen more modest gains.
Anglican and Protestant 
- Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834), often called the "father of liberal theology," he claimed that religious experience was introspective, and that the most true understanding of God consisted of "a sense of absolute dependence".
- William Ellery Channing (1780–1842), Unitarian liberal theologian in the United States, who rejected the Trinity and the strength of scriptural authority, in favor of purely rationalistic "natural religion".
- Charles Augustus Briggs (1841–1913), early advocate of higher criticism of the Bible.
- Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), American preacher who left behind the Calvinist orthodoxy of his famous father, the Reverend Lyman Beecher, to instead preach the Social Gospel of liberal Christianity.
- Adolf von Harnack, (1851–1930), German theologian and church historian, promoted the Social Gospel; wrote a seminal work of historical theology called Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (History of Dogma).
- Charles Fillmore (1854–1948), Christian mystic influenced by Emerson; co-founder, with his wife, Myrtle Fillmore, of the Unity Church.
- Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969), a Northern Baptist, founding pastor of New York's Riverside Church in 1922.
- Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976), German biblical scholar, liberal Christian theologian until 1924.[clarification needed]
- Paul Tillich (1886–1965), seminal figure in liberal Christianity; synthesized liberal Protestant theology with existentialist philosophy.
- Leslie Weatherhead (1893–1976), English preacher and author of The Will of God and The Christian Agnostic
- Lloyd Geering (1918–), New Zealand liberal theologian.
- Paul Moore, Jr. (1919–2003), 13th Episcopal Bishop, New York Diocese
- John A.T. Robinson (1919–1983), Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, author of Honest to God; later in life returned to orthodoxy, and dedicated himself to demonstrating very early authorship of the New Testament writings, publishing his findings in Redating the New Testament.
- John Hick (1922-2012) British philosopher of religion and liberal theologian, noted for his rejection of the Incarnation and advocacy of latitudinarianism and religious pluralism or non-exclusivism, as explained in his influential work, The Myth of God Incarnate.
- William Sloane Coffin (1924–2006), Senior Minister at the Riverside Church in New York City, and President of SANE/Freeze (now Peace Action).
- John Shelby Spong (1931–), Episcopalian bishop and very prolific author of books such as A New Christianity for a New World, in which he wrote of his rejection of historical religious and Christian beliefs such as Theism (a traditional conception of God as an existent being), the afterlife, miracles, and the Resurrection.
- Richard Holloway (1933-), Bishop of Edinburgh 1986-2000.[clarification needed]
- Rubem Alves, (b. 1938) Brazilian, ex-Presbyterian, former minister, retired professor from UNICAMP, seminal figure in the liberation theology movement.
- Matthew Fox (priest) (b. 1940), former (defrocked) Catholic priest of the Order of Preachers; currently an American Episcopalian priest and theologian, noted for his synthesis of liberal Christian theology with New Age concepts in his ideas of "creation spirituality", "original blessing", and seminal work on the "Cosmic Christ"; founder of Creation Spirituality.
- Marcus Borg (b. 1942) American Biblical scholar, prolific author, fellow of the Jesus Seminar.
- Scotty McLennan (b. 1948) Unitarian Universalist minister, Stanford University professor and author.
- Michael Dowd (b. 1958) Religious Naturalist theologian, evidential evangelist, and promoter of Big History and the Epic of Evolution.
- Douglas Ottati, Presbyterian theologian and author, former professor at Union-PSCE, current professor at Davidson College.
Roman Catholic 
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit, also trained as a paleontologist; works condemned by the Holy Office in 1962. The condemnation was formally reaffirmed in 1981 but many theologians still refer to parts of his writings, including Pope Benedict XVI.
- Yves Congar (1904–1995), French Dominican ecumenical theologian.
- Edward Schillebeeckx, (1914–2009) Belgian Dominican theologian.
- Karl Rahner, a theologian influential at Vatican II, noted for his engagement with the works of the neo-orthodox Karl Barth and his teaching of universalism and the Anonymous Christian.
- Thomas Berry (1914-2009), American Passionist priest, cultural historian, geologian, and cosmologist.
- Raymond Edward Brown (May 22, 1928–August 8, 1998), a leading scholar of liberal New Testament exegesis, professor emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in New York (one of the leading centers of liberal Christianity in the United States).
- Hans Küng, (b. 1928) Swiss theologian. Had his license to teach Catholic theology revoked in 1979 because of his vocal rejection of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope, but remains a priest in good standing.
- John Dominic Crossan, (b. 1934) ex-Catholic and former priest, New Testament scholar, co-founder of the critical liberal Jesus Seminar.
- Joan Chittister, (b. 1936) Benedictine lecturer and social psychologist.
- Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (born 1938) German feminist theologian and Professor at Harvard Divinity School
- Leonardo Boff, (b. 1938) Brazilian, ex-Franciscan and former priest, seminal author of the liberation theology movement, condemned by the Church; his works were condemned in 1985, and almost again condemned in 1992, which left him to leave the Franciscan order and the priestly ministry.
See also 
- "Catholic Encyclopedia: Liberalism". Retrieved 2007-01-27.
- Montgomery, John Warwick. In Defense of Martin Luther. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1970, p. 57. “Luther’s Hermeneutic vs. the New Hermeneutic.” Quoted in http://www.wlsessays.net/authors/W/WestphalConfession/WestphalConfession.PDF[dead link]
- Robert Collins (1977). The Age of Innocence 1870/1880. Canada's Illustrated Heritage. Jack McClelland. pp. 87–88. ISBN 0-919644-19-8.
- Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (HarperCollins, 1993), p. 29 online.
- Linda Woodhead, "Christianity," in Religions in the Modern World (Routledge, 2002), pp. 186 online and 193.
- The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805–1900, edited by Gary J. Dorrien (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), passim, search miracles.
- F.J. Ryan, Protestant Miracles: High Orthodox and Evangelical Authority for the Belief in Divine Interposition in Human Affairs (Stockton, California, 1899), p. 78 online. Full text downloadable.
- Dan P. McAdams, The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 164 online.
- Ann-Marie Brandom, "The Role of Language in Religious Education," in Learning to Teach Religious Education in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience (Routledge, 2000), p. 76 online.
- The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950, edited by Gary J. Dorrien (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), passim, search miracles, especially p. 413; on Ames, p. 233 online; on Niebuhr, p. 436 online.
- Allen, Charlotte (July 9, 2006). "Liberal Christianity is paying for its sins". Los Angeles Times.
- The Progressive Christian Alliance
- Progressive Christian Network Britain
- Project for a Free Christianity
- Liberalism By M. James Sawyer , Th.M., Ph.D.
- Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)
- The Christian Left -- An Open Fellowship of Progressive Christians
- The Liberal Christians Network