Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Liberal Theology part 2 Dorrien excerpt

Please see the previous blog for introduction to this excerpt.

What I have underlined so far in the theologians I have focused on in the book, The Making of American Liberal Theology, vol. 3: Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity, 1950-2005:

D: The opening: "The idea of a liberal approach to Christianity--that theology should be based on reason and critically interpreted religious experience, not external authority--has an ironic history in the United States....The idea of a liberal Christain third way between conservative orthodoxy and secular disbelief retained its original relevance. And in the late twentieth century liberal theology experienced an unnoticed renaissance in the decades following its supposed demise."

[As I may have blogged before, Dorrien is helpful with his definition; this is what i mean by our strength begetting our institutional weakness. we have a tendency, as mediators of a message, to spend so much time wondering how we differ from orthodox and secular disbelievers, or don't or shouldnt' differ, that we stay stuck in the middle unable to reproduce and multiply. That and a hidden longing to be back in the cultural center of things, so that we try to replicate the churched culture way of being and doing things as our default mode from a time when church and culture were more intertwined. A way out is to tap into various streams of the renaissance of progressivism that he chronicles and don't worry about which is our center.]

D: Despite not belonging to a vital movement, liberal religous thinkers kept alive the idea of a progressive Christian alternative to authority-based orthodoxies and atheistic secularisms, fashioning some of its most creative and sophisticated variations...Liberal theology reconceptualizes the meaning of Christianity in the light of modern knowledge and ethical values. It is reformist in spirit and substance, not revolutionary. [again, that is part of the problem for the movement as a movement of people and not just ideas, not only is it stuck in modernity and answering Enlightenment questions but in a revolutionary time it is evolutionary in nature]

D: My attempt to carry this definition into recent theology is complicated by the rise of liberation theologies, including feminist liberationism, and the pluralization of theology and religous studies, to which liberationism contributed significantly. It is further complicated by poststructuralist critiques of modern rationality and post-Christian developments in Unitarian Universalism and Chicago-school naturalism. [I am beginning to see the more I read in Dorrien how Chicago school naturalism affected the so-called evolution of UUism beyond anything considered even liberally as Christianity.]

D: quoting liberationist Gustavo Gutierrez, "The question is not how we are to talk about God in a world come of age, but how we are to tell people who are scarcely human that God is love and that God's love makes us one family. The interlocuters of liberation theology are the nonpersons, the poor, the exploited classes, the marginalized races, all the despised cultures. Liberation theology categorizers people not as believers or unbelievers, but as oppressors or oppressed." [I just love this quote which is why I added it. The critique of liberationist theology, which I resonate with, lies in its own critique of modern liberalism, but it is a good place to start.]

D: Thandeka also identifies with liberal theology, in her case as a Unitarian Universalist, a theologian trained in process thought, an activist for racial justice who prizes the integrationist spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and an advocate of Fredrich Schleirmacher's theory of religious feeling and approach to theology...A great deal of process theology is based on the philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, so he is an obvious exception [to not including philosophers]. Social ethicist James Luther Adams is too large a figure in American liberal theology not to include, and from the standpoint of his Unitarian Universalist tradition, he was a theologian...The chapter on 'rethinking the traditions' also discusses a few thinkers who are not systematic or constructive theologians. Forrest Church, a minister, represents the transcendentalist stream of Unitarian Universalism...Throughout the twentieth century, the post-Christian trajectory of the Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist tradition threw into question the "Christian" part of liberal theology. Did one have to be a Christian or believe in God to be part of the liberal theology movement, especially if one otherwise identified with it? Most religious humanists and Unitarians of the 1930s viewed themselves as having moved beyond theology [hmmm. not sure of this], including even its naturalistic versions at the University of Chicago. However, some post-Christian naturalists in the orbit of the Chicago school regarded themselves as participants int he liberal theology tradition, and in his later career the leading Chicago-school theologian, Henry Nelson Weiman, moved very close to a posttheistic position.

Here are some of the contributors to liberal theology that Dorrien chronicles. While in future posts I may focus now on the Unitarian Universalists, those of us who see ourselves in or nourished by liberal Christianity and its liberationists followers have been blessed by so many of these writers. For me, a few of them have been as equal to or more significant than contemporary UU theologians. One of the best things this book of Dorrien's can do is to introduce UUs to these other theologians of the liberal spirit.

Major theologians mentioned: Walter G. Muelder, L. Harold DeWolf, S. Paul Schilling, Nels F.S. Ferre, Charles Hartshorne, Bernard M Loomer, Daniel Day Williams, Bernard E. Meland, Alfred North Whitehead, Henry Nelson Weiman, James Luther Adams, Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, Valerie Saiving, Rosemary Radford Ruether, W. Norman Pittenger, John B. Cobb Jr., David Ray Griffin, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Langdon Gilkey, Schubert M. Ogden, James M. Gustafson, Gordon D. Kaufman, Peter C. Hodgson, Edward Farley, Sallie McFAgue, Robert Cummings Neville, Gregory Baum, Richard P. McBrien, David Tracy, Anne E. Carr, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Thandeka, Forrest Church, Rufus Burrow, Jr., Nancy Frankenberry, Jerome A. Stone, William Dean, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Roger Haight, Ian G. Barbour, Catherine Keller, Kathryn Tanner, Delwin Brown, Peter Gomes, John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, and Philip Clayton. And there are a host of others mentioned in the book but not highlighted, including some interactions with the more conservative and postliberal and evangelical theologians like Hauerwas and Lindbeck and Grenz. I'd love to have had more of them but you can go to some other of Dorrien's works for that or to their own writings.

You can imagine maybe that Dorrien's lecture to us during the UUCF Revival struck a lot of folks as pretty heavy and heady and historic stuff. His q & a, and his talkback workshop, I hear, were very lively and engaging and illuminating. He did a good job of catching himself every so often and in a self-deprecating way making allowances for the 200 years of theology in forty-five minutes impossible task. Look forward to the comments of others who were there particularly or may have heard a variation of this talk in other places as he has been active travelling lately.

I consider myself fortunate to have been exposed to many of these theologians during my seminary years (i have other drawbacks needless to say); for me particularly it was Hartshorne, Loomer, Whitehead, Weiman, JLA, Ruether, Cobb, Griffin, Suchocki, Gilkey, Ogden, some Gustafson, Kaufman, in depth with Hodgson's work, McFague, Tracy, Elizabeth Johnson, Forrest Church, post-seminary to Thandeka, Keller, all of Tanner, some Brown, Gomes, Spong, Borg. It was great to lay these on top of Channing, Ware, Emerson, Norton, Parker, Hedge, WG Eliot, Jenkin Lloyd Jones. From what I sometimes hear, and I hope it is wrong and mistaken, many a UU seminarian and other liberal but non-UU seminarian hasn't had the same opportunity or calling. There is always the perennial concern or calling to cut back on theological and historical requirements along with biblical studies. I hope Dorrien's work is a doorway for some to an important world with day to day practical issues for church and community ministries.

More blogging to come about Dorrien's' views of JLA and Church and Thandeka and others and the way ahead for liberal/progressive theology.