A Christian fundamentalist at another blog told me that if I am a member of the United Methodist Church, then I am a liberal Christian—with the clear implication that anything liberal is always bad. She then boldly announced that United Methodists are all liberal Christians because they do not believe Jesus was Divine. I hardly knew what to do with such rank ignorance, so I simply responded with the unvarnished truth. We United Methodists have always believed that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human—and that He was and still is the only Divine son of God and that He is our sole Savior by faith alone in him.
We United Methodists do not run around classifying ourselves as liberals, progressives, or anything else other than just Christian. I have never heard a United Methodist say:
Hi. I’m Jennifer, and I’m a liberal Christian!!!
Quite frankly, I would have to go to a reference book and look up the terms Liberal Christian and Progressive Christian, and study them closely, to fully understand what these two terms actually mean. But even then, I would be immediately suspicious of who is defining the two terms, their educational qualifications for doing so, and what their motives are in defining them that particular way. Why? The average Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical tends to define anything that falls outside of their own circles of belief—as either liberal or progressive—and they then follow it up with various nasty putdowns about adherents being evil, apostate, and sold out to Satan. Quite often, even they do not know the actual meanings and differences between these two terms, and they too have never looked them up in a reference book. They have just heard their ignorant fundie friends wildly slinging the two terms around in conversation to be mean-spirited with some poor soul—and they have merely picked up on the general gist of whatever ignorant things their friends are saying.
Yesterday, I ran across an interesting manuscript of a talk given by Professor and Reverend Keith Ward. Dr. Ward is one of my favorite Christian writers and speakers. I seriously doubt most United Methodists, Christian fundamentalists, or conservative evangelicals have ever even heard of Keith Ward. Suffice it to say that he is a current heavyweight in the world of Christian theology. Before his retirement from Oxford University, he held the professorial chair in the Oxford Divinity School that was the effective equivalent of the professorial chair in mathematics held by Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University. In his manuscript, entitled Why the Future Belongs to Liberal Faith, he laid out seven major points about liberal faith in Jesus Christ. Rather than representing some sort of monolithic liberal faction in the Body of Christ, these were just his own personal reflections on what the notion of a liberal Christian faith means to him.
Once upon a time, I took a formal test that was designed to specifically identify and categorize the set of beliefs held by any Christian. The results of the test indicated that I fell within a zone called neo-orthodox. What is that? Beats me? Go Google it and let me know. Actually, in terms of basic Christian beliefs, I see myself as being somewhere along the spectrum between orthodox and neo-orthodox. However, after reading Dr. Keith Ward’s thoughts on his particular view of liberality in the Christian faith, I have to say that it was extremely compelling on most points—and count me in. So, it appears that I am orthodox to neo-orthodox—with a powerful leaning toward Keith Ward’s overall concept of Christian liberality. If in someone’s mind that labels me as a Liberal Christian, then so be it. I gladly and graciously take on the mantle.
The full manuscript of the talk on Christian liberality by Dr. Keith Ward will be provided to you next time in Part 2 of this post. It is a truly wonderful discussion, and I hope you will want to take some time to read it. It should be posted shortly.