Monday, 11 May 2009

The Irony of 'Liberal' Theology


One of the ironies of the "liberal" wing of the church is that when it theologises it jettisons Christianity's best resources to achieve what it wants! The identity of Jesus is a good example. In reaction to smug and conservative Christianity 'liberal' theology reduces the messianic self-knowledge of Jesus, making him the prophet who delivers the message, rather than the message itself. It appears to me a kind of visceral counter-reaction to the misuse of the titles of Jesus by conservative forces. But retaining the messianic self-consciousness of Jesus radicalizes Jesus, uniting him even more fully with the downtrodden of history and sinners than "liberal" theology's great prophet.

Two examples of what I mean. First, if Jesus is 'Son of God' in a unique way, bringing the presence of God's reign in his very person, indeed, if he is God's very own flesh, then Jesus' option for the poor and sinner is a stinging critique of the forces of death, oppression and ordinary religion. "Liberal" theology emphasises the solidarity of Jesus with the underside of history; retaining his titles radicalises the solidarity we see in his teaching, ministry and death.

Second, 'liberal' theology attempts to maintain the deep shock of the cross to ordinary religion, and emphasise the solidarity of the crucified Jesus with all the crosses of history. Exactly right, except that by retaining the titles of Jesus and his self-conscious knowledge of them the rupture of the cross is deepened not removed. This Jesus, who has relied upon and utterly defined himself in terms of his filial relationship, is abandoned. That's the end of ordinary religion's god.

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