Last week I read Theo Hobson’s new book: Reinventing Liberal Christianity (2013). It is the sort of work that warrants deeper and more thoughtful consideration than my first read allowed. Since I am not likely to return to it for awhile yet find the content engaging and relevant, I will forgo a book review in favor of a book recommendation. Those interested in a thoughtful and thought provoking exploration of what liberal Christianity (largely Protestantism) is today, how it reached this stage, and what types of change are needed for a brighter future will not be disappointed. Those looking for an easy read or easy answers will be frustrated and find the reading unfulfilling.
Liberal Christianity has been in an extended season of decline in number of adherents and role in society. Hobson believes that any attempt to move forward toward a stronger presence in the future requires acknowledging that this group is currently not one but two groups. By claiming this, he seeks to chart a way forward that builds upon the wisdom found within the “good.” While separating the two may be achievable conceptually, in practice the two groups overlap considerably (one of many reasons why the tradition is thought of as a unified one by most). In brief the two are
- good – “affirms a deep affinity between the gospel and political and cultural liberty” and seeks the “flourishing of Christian culture within the liberal state”; and
- bad – tries to reform Christianity away from “its many irrational components toward a “sort of universal rational morality” (p.2-3).
To move ahead and more fully embrace the good sort of liberal Christianity, Hobson argues that we must reestablish an understanding that it is cultic-liberal Christianity. By such, he means that we must embrace rather than seek to escape the cultic and even primitive aspects of the religion.
Questions to Ponder
- What is your understanding of and experience of liberal Christianity?
- Do you see these two subgroups within that group or not? If so, do you think affirming the good and uniting around it would be helpful to the cause of growing liberal Christianity over the next few decades?