+ Today’s post was supplied to us by The Procession of the Holy Spirit.
If you want to see their previous post, please click here.

The Greek words ‘logy’ and ‘Theo’ basically mean ‘God’ and ‘study’. In practice the word really means the systematic study of God and the nature of religious beliefs, or just the study of the divine.

The study of the divine might be undertaken for many reasons. One reason is to increase our knowledge of the Bible and see how it all fits together; some people would extend this practice to spiritual matters outside the Bible. The emphasis here is on systematic study and the coherence of the material. Other reason for studying theology would be to defend a religious tradition, or to separate Biblical ideas from latter traditional practices. Some might want to compare religious traditions. Others might want to find a biblical answer to a present situation. Else, individuals might want to challenge a biblical idea, or interpretation thereof, in order to justify something that others consider to be in opposition to tradition or the Bible.

Is it not uncommon for people to feel theology is very much divided from religion or spirituality. People may feel that theology is dry and detached from its subject matter as a map is detached from the territory it purportedly represents. Such an understanding fails to realize that a map can be used to better appreciate the territory, that the two need not be separated. Nonetheless it is quite possible to be so concerned with the map that one forgets there is a territory. It is also possible to falsify a map because one does not like aspects of the real world. Theology can end up detached from the reality of its subject matter, and people are right to be concerned with this.

Theology is supposed to be concerned with a truth, the truth of God’s creation. A deeper understanding of the truth is always a good thing, even if people sometime prefer to be dishonest with themselves. When theology is used as sophistry, when it tries to misrepresent truth and reality and make a misconception or lie appear convincing, then it contradicts the very thing it aims to study.

A property of truth is that it is coherent; no part of a coherent thing can contradict itself. If a theology gets something wrong, if an individual is not honest about a minor thing, then contradictions start to appear in any deeper understanding of the topic. Mistakes and misconceptions can be the result of dishonest or plain honest misunderstandings, but once an error is part of system it is very difficult to make the system coherent, and a non-coherent system cannot represent any coherent truth.

Every theology from the most simple to the most advanced acknowledges God as infinite. As such, there is no way an infinite mind can comprehend God because the finite can never fully comprehend the infinite. Out earthly understanding will always be less than the later ‘glory that will be revealed to us.’ [Romans 8:18]

Liberal Christianity

Some background information to help understand the Procession of the Holy Spirit.

+ This post has been supplied by The Procession of the Holy Spirit.
If you want to see the previous post about the Procession of the Holy Spirit, please click here.

Liberal Christianity does not refer to a political movement or Progressive Christian views. Rather, it is a broad area encompassing many views that all seek to interpret the Bible as an ancient text that is the product of its time.

More traditional interpretation of the Bible saw all scripture as ‘God Breathed’, inspired, divine revelation. They were not so much to be interpreted as simply learnt and obeyed. This was felt to be supported by 2nd timothy 3: 16-17. Liberalism saw the Bible text as allegorical; it was symbolically important, but not literally true. The virgin birth and resurrection were literary devices, something only a simple mind might take literally.

The moral teachings of Christ were respected in Liberal Christianity. Christ’s teachings were often conveyed by stories that illustrated his concepts, using analogies such as fishing, harvesting or sheep grazing that would have been familiar to the people of the time. Christ’s life, or the recorded version of this, was interpreted in the same way – an illustration of his moral idea.

The recorded history of Christ’s life (the gospels) was interpreted by the Liberal Christians as a product of the Disciple’s wish to further their mission. The disciples were thought to have fabricated the miraculous stories in order to give their teaching and authority more weight.

Hell is either downplayed or considered fictional in most Liberal interpretations; no loving God could send people to Hell. More tradition, and literal, interpretations considered mankind to be doomed to Hell after having fallen from grace. Christ’s intervention was to set people free from something they had bought upon themselves. God was not sending people to Hell, he was offering them a way out of this otherwise inevitable fate.

Because of their disbelief in Hell the Liberal Christians had no need for a literal resurrection. Traditional and literal interpretations had Christ’s death and resurrection as the conquering of Hell and death. Liberal interpretations saw it as symbolic only, perhaps symbolic of the teachings surviving their creator.

Liberal Christians believe those traditionally thought to have written the Bible were not the actual authors. As prophecies about the future were not taken literally the Liberal Christians believe that the books were added to or rewritten afterward, after history had already unfolded, to make the predictions appear valid. Historical evidence sometimes supports the existence of historical figures that Liberal interpretations consider fictional.

There is a great deal of emphasis on loving thy neighbour. While every Christian denomination approves of this there are two problems. One is that traditional interpretations consider mere human beings incapable of loving all without God’s assistance; but that things impossible with man are possible with God. The other is that the liberal view tends to accept addiction, perversion and other human failing without question. Traditional views accepted human individuals, but wanted to remove the human faults that held them back, as a parent loves a child and wishes the child to develop well. The difficulty in doing this is acknowledged.

Traditional and literal interpretations of the Bible note the scriptural references to false prophets and those who would deny the deity of Christ. Liberal theologies do exactly that.


A little background information

A little background information to help understand the Procession of the Holy Spirit

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in the mid-17th to later 18th century that sought to replace faith, superstition and the acceptance of divine rule with rationality, the belief in one’s own intelligence and a more empirical approach to the world. This brief explanation it inevitably misleading as the enlightenment included a diverse range of thinkers and lasted many generations.

Early Enlightenment thinkers such as Descartes and Isaac Newton had strong connections to the church; some later thinkers such as Voltaire and Spinoza were critical of religion; yet all emphasised rationality. The enlightenment overlapped with the Scientific revolution.

Liberal Christianity developed in the later 18th century, influenced by the rational ideals of the preceding Enlightenment. They tended to disregard miracles and factual views of the Bible; they saw the scriptures as a record of what the Biblical authors’ of the time believed rather than an accurate record of what actually occurred. The teachings of Christ were valued as the potential basis for an improved society, with love, charity and social justice strongly emphasised; superstition, belief in miracles was seen as backward and discouraged.

As the word ‘liberal’ is applied to many political movements, political parties, social reforms and religious ideologies it is easy to get confused. Even in the 19th century Liberal Christianity was confused with political liberalism, and the Pope had to clarify the issues as parishioners were being discriminated against because of their political beliefs. Similarly, liberalism should not be confused with progressive Christianity. The names of movements are often misleading.

It is a little strange that liberal movements that purportedly advocate rational thinking could result in greater religious diversity. Of course liberalism fits with diversity, especially as no one authority is accepted as the source of all beliefs. What is strange is that so many different views can all consider themselves rational. The premises for different perspectives are different, even if the structure of the developing logical arguments were the same. Intelligence is no guarantee that different minds will come to the same conclusion. Something other than rationality is at work here. Different individuals and groups come to arrive at different opinions; each makes sense to then mind that follows them. At least with liberalism we are expected to tolerate the different views, and understand that they are also the product of at least some rational thinking.

*Today’s blog post has been supplied to us by The Procession of the Holy Spirit submitted to the UCS University of California for completing the degree of Master of Theology.