Social Question

fundevogel's avatar

Is liberal Christianity still Christianity?

Asked by fundevogel (15042 points ) March 20th, 2012

It’s becoming more and more common among liberal Christians to believe that hell is not the ultimate destination for all people that haven’t been washed in the blood of the lamb. As far as I’m concerned it’s win for religious tolerance. However, the way I was raised the defining feature of Christianity was that the purpose of Jesus’ coming was to be crucified and that it was his sacrifice that was going to get your ass out of the fire. But if avoiding hellfire was as simple as having a good heart or doing good deeds or not being a complete douche doesn’t that strip the crucifixion of it’s theological significance and make Christ’s sacrifice a pointless act of violence?

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52 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

Since religion is a social institution, it is subject to change and the redefining of its terms. Obviously, there are many types of christians, but as time progresses, we’ll see more “Just accept Jesus as your savior and be a good person.” and less “Accept Jesus as your savior and also vote yes on Prop 8.”

chyna's avatar

According to the bible, you can only get to heaven by believing in Jesus dying on the cross for your sins. You can’t get to heaven only on your good works.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

The importance of the hell thing has always been debatable.

The basic creed is Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected to provide those who believe in him remission from sin and eternal life. Many Christian denominations believe in Conditional Resurrection; you don’t come back from death unless you were good. Conceptions of a literal hell have always been open to debate. The general trend is the soul ends.

wundayatta's avatar

I would think it depends who is judging. I don’t think a fundamentalist would think a liberal Christian really deserved to call themselves a Christian. Then again… they’re still more on the same team than not, compared to, say, Islam.

But I’m in no position to argue the theology of it. I’m a liberal. I’m big into personal interpretation of texts and making things work for yourself, not for the religious leaders, whoever they might be.

marinelife's avatar

Yes. These “liberal Christians” as you call them still believe in the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

Earthgirl's avatar

This is nothing new. Jesus was a liberal

jaytkay's avatar

Everyone thinks they’re the judge of what is “true” Christianity.

Baptists don’t believed Catholics are Christians. Mormons know you are all deluded. Seventh Day Adventists will be happy to tell you the real story. None of them adhere to the correct Pentecostal beliefs. And on and on and on and on…

Enjoy!

Fly's avatar

Why not? They still subscribe to the basic ideas of the religion. Religion is subject to interpretation; especially so in the case of Christianity, as more and more people have come to the conclusion that the Bible was not meant to be taken literally, and one should determine what it means to them. From my observations, the lines have always been blurred about different aspects of Christianity- new denominations and sects have been breaking off from mainstream Christianity since its establishment as a religion. It’s just that we are now noticing more obvious deviations from the original teachings of the Bible.

DominicX's avatar

I think it is because I’m not sure “conservative” Christianity is the right interpretation of Christianity. I’m not so sure the idea of the threat of hell being the ultimate motivating force behind the religion and life itself is such a great thing. And I don’t necessarily think it’s the right thing either. Maybe the proper interpretation doesn’t involve such a thing.

fundevogel's avatar

I’m not trying to oust them from the club or anything, it just seems to me that the crucifixion and even Jesus himself loses all theological significance once salvation doesn’t come down to a blood-sacrifice.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

He is a blood sacrifice.

Remember Abraham and Isaac? God asked his greatest prophet to give up his son to form a covenant.

Jesus is god’s son. It is full circle and a new covenant.

fundevogel's avatar

Yeah, but you don’t need a blood-sacrifice if the price of salvation isn’t a blood-sacrifice. Which is why I wonder if the crucifixion and Jesus are going the way of button shoes.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I always got the vibe that the arrival of Jesus, thematically, was an evolution of YHWH to a new phase. The Jews had been faithful, offering lambs in lieu of their firstborn. In return for their fealty, finally, here is the “lamb of God”.
There is still a blood sacrifice in Judaism. Circumcision.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Not gonna do it.

chyna's avatar

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought Circumcision was in the old testament. Not in the New Testament and not expected nor needed as a sacrifice. Jesus was the sacrifice in the New Testament.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@chyna exactly. That is what I mean. YHWH, for the first time, makes a sacrifice to man.

It is like the passages at the end of Job, where YHWH shows regret, but won’t vocalize it. Instead he restores Job to a wonderful life after Job calls him out for being mean to those who love him.

Judi's avatar

Jesus didn’t die to save us from hell, he died to save us from sin. It’s as much about the current life as it is about the after life.
As for the “is Ghandi in hell?” question, the liberal Christian (like me) just says, “what’s that got to do with me? God didn’t make me judge and specifically told me to stay out of the judgement business.”
God calls me to be available. I am called to give voice to the voiceless, feed the poor, visit the imprisoned, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly. He doesn’t tell me to change hearts, or to insure everyone adheres to the correct theology. He commands me to speak the GOOD NEWS, not hell fire and damnation.
Judge me if you will, but I AM a Christian.

JLeslie's avatar

In my opinion it is still Christianity, the same way Catholics, and Baptists, and Methodist, and all the other sects of Christianity are. If someone believe Jesus is their savior and is God’s son, they are Christians in my book. If someone identifies as a Christian, I would honor that, I would think of them as a Christian. Not that I really think about what religion someone is, I just mean why would I question what they call themselves, what they feel for themselves regarding their own religion.

But, I’m Jewish so what do I know. A Jew can be reformed or orthodox, and I feel they are all Jews. Jews believe behavior matters most, that we carry out in life what God wants for us, and even if we are atheists, we believe our actions count. If liberal Christians are moving towards that line of thinking I like it.

Religion is part of people’s identity. Asking them to have to give up one of their identifiers, or what might be a strong social network seems very harsh. Plus, the bible can be interpreted many ways, and everyone ignores some parts and attaches themselves to others. I would assume there is biblical justification to say God would care most about our behavior and good deeds for others.

Judi's avatar

The behavior question, for me, as a “liberal Christian” is different. If Jesus died for me, he gave me HIS righteousness. He transformed me like a caterpillar transforms to a butterfly. With my wings, I have the power to fly. I AM the new creation. That doesn’t mean that I don’t forget who I am sometimes and continue to crawl around like a caterpillar. And when I do struggle like a caterpillar, it doesn’t make me any less a butterfly.
Doing good deeds (flying) is not what makes me a butterfly, it’s just what you do once you’ve been transformed.

fundevogel's avatar

@Judi “Jesus didn’t die to save us from hell, he died to save us from sin. It’s as much about the current life as it is about the after life.”

How does Jesus’ death save you from sin?

Of course different people believe different things but it has always been my understanding of Christianity that:

A. people are sinful (possibly from birth)
B. the penalty for sin is death/damnation
C. Jesus pays the price of your sin so you don’t have to if you ask him to

I’m not sure what being saved from sin means if it isn’t having your punishment waved. Is it just that you feel better about being a sinner and the wrongs you commit? I’m not sure how I feel about that.

@JLeslie “Asking them to have to give up one of their identifiers, or what might be a strong social network seems very harsh.”

That’s not what I’m asking. I’m trying to figure out how Jesus fits into a variant of Christianity that no longer thinks accepting the blood of Christ is the lynchpin of salvation. It undermines the crucifixion and Jesus’ sacrifice. So I’m not really asking if so-and-so is really a Christian, I’m asking if Christ is still all that important to liberal Christianity (referring to theology not politics).

Judi's avatar

@fundevogel, you don’t have to wait until your dead to experience the devastating consequences of sin.
Gods Grace isn’t a license to sin, and so much more than a “get out of hell free” card. It’s wings!
It frees us from standing in judgement of our brother. It frees us from worry.
It frees us to believe that we are royal, not by birthright, but because Gods only Son traded places with us. He put our sin on himself and gave us his royal robe of righteousness. How can I help but be humbled by that, and how do I dare stand in judgment of anyone else?

Buttonstc's avatar

I think it depends upon how you define a “liberal Christian”

And if your theological position entails viewing Christianity as merely a “Hell-Insurance Policy” and no other viewpoint is acceptable, then you wouldn’t view anyone who disagrees with this as being a “true” Christian. There are tons of Fundamentalists who hold precisely that position.

But, as @judi pointed out, Christianity (and the sacrifice of Christ) is about SO MUCH more.

And this may be news to you, but there are significant numbers of Christians who realize that the entire issue of an eternal, unending Hell has far more to do with faulty translation, Dante’s Inferno and the influence of the harsh punitive attitudes of the Roman army than it has to do with the plan of a loving God for his creation.

They actually believe the many Bible verses which speak of the ra t that Christ died for ALL of creation (not just the elect, as John Calvin postulated) Even many of the early church Fathers believed in Ultimate Reconciliation, ie: the unification of God with ALL of his creation.

This is an equally valid reading of the Scriptures and theological position even tho Fundamentalists hate the very thought of it.

If you’re interested further in how the Christians who believe this way have come to the conclusions they have, there are numerous groups of believers and websites describing it precisely but the most thoroughly researched one is in the link I will include which will answer your basic question more than adequately. I think you’ll find it quite interesting.

www.remember.

Sunny2's avatar

We’ll get the true answer when we individually die and not before. And there’ll be no “told ya so!” either. Faith being what it is, ( believing without proof); there is, in my mind, no point in arguing about it.

Buttonstc's avatar

EDIT

www.tentmaker.org

http://www.tentmaker.org/forum/

_________________________________________________

Sorry about that. Damn You, Autocorrect ! !

TexasDude's avatar

Gandhi is in hell for being a womanizer and for driving his son to alcoholism.~

Judi's avatar

@Fiddle, so glad you got that judge job. I really didn’t want that assignment.

TexasDude's avatar

It ain’t easy.

fundevogel's avatar

For the record when I say “liberal Christianity” I mean variants of Christianity where there either is no hell or there is a hell but God won’t send you there just because you haven’t asked Jesus into your heart.

@Judi (and possibly @Buttonstc), I’m apologizing in advance if this is based on an inaccurate interpretation of your take on salvation, but what I’m getting through your poetry is that being saved from sin makes it easier for you to let go of the guilt and negative emotions that come from your bad choices. In other words it gives you absolution, if not literally then mentally.

So, if that’s what you meant, what is the connection between between executing a man/god and your peace of mind? I understand Jesus dying in your place/paying the price of your sin. That’s a classic blood for blood scapegoat, your sins are transferred to the scapegoat who is punished in your place. But how does Jesus’ death sooth your conscience? I don’t see a relationship between the two.

People feel better about their missteps when they are forgiven, when they are loved in spite of them and when they’re able to make up for them. If you feel the presence of a loving god he should be able to show you the depths of his love and forgiveness without anyone dying. Normally I wouldn’t expect the death of someone to make anyone feel better. If Jesus was dying selflessly to rescue you from hellfire that would at least be like a fireman dying to save a child. It’s not his suffering that saves the child it’s the action he achieves in spite of his suffering.

But to sacrifice a life because I’m feeling guilty about something? That doesn’t strike me as a…productive death. Jesus was tortured to death. He didn’t save his regiment by refusing to reveal secrets or offer his body to be tortured instead of your own*. It was just death and torture. If I thought anyone was put through a thousandth of what Jesus went through because of me I would be wrecked. It definitely wouldn’t make me felt better.

When I make mistakes or choices I regret there’s a process I go through to deal with the consequences. It can’t be avoided and I can’t pass it off. That’s how you learn to be a better person. I think you go through the same process, because you’re a good person.

Which leaves me back where I started: not knowing the place of Jesus’ crucifixion in a Christianity without damnation.

*I say this because it sounds like you don’t think Jesus’ death & torture was suffered lieu of you suffering such a punishment for your sins. It wouldn’t apply to versions of Christianity that hold that he did suffer in place of sinners.

@Buttonstc Thanks for the links. I did some browsing, but I couldn’t find anything on the role of the crucifixion. I’ll do some more poking around later.

JLeslie's avatar

@fundevogel I see. Well, I have to admit I still don’t understand the whole Jesus died for my sins thing, so I think I can’t really answer your question. For me, I always think what Jesus did during his life, what he wanted for people, for society, his peaceful, tolerant message is what I think matters, not that he died on a cross. Back then lots of people died that way.

Judi's avatar

@fundevogel;
Sin separates us from God. That is hell. Separation from God. Jesus sacrifice didn’t just soothe my conscience. God and sin can not occupy the same space just like light and darkness can’t occupy the same space. His sacrifice erased my sin so I can enter Gods presence.
I used to be a fundamentalist. The more I study scripture the more I realize that Gods plan for salvation is way bigger than the little box we tried to put him in. He came to reconcile ALL of creation to himself, not just those that had the pastor who was charismatic enough to convince them to pray the sinners prayer. All of creation! The trees, the rocks, the entire creation. If I trust him, I’ll do what he said, and I won’t do what he said not to do. I’m not going to judge and I’m not going to worry. I’m going to do my best to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly. I’ll trust him to hold up his end.

Buttonstc's avatar

@fundevogel

With your latest post, if I’m understanding you correctly, your question is now more specifically focused upon Christ’s substitutionary atonement (and how this relates to the lack of belief in unending suffering in hell )

Thats not something which lends itself to a facile quick answer. It would also be helpful if you could more precisely describe the type of teachings regarding this which permeated your early (or childhood) life. I’m going to start with two links. The second is not necessarily an easy read, especially since it ends with a ton of Bible verses to back it up. But it probably comes the closest to articulating the bulk of thought train which I find eye opening on the subject as a whole.

The most critical point is that much of Calvinistically-leaning Christianity is very focused upon a very limited atonement, with the majority of the rest being relegated to endless torture and suffering. I agree with all the agnostics who state how much that paints a picture of a cruel and callous God.

How refreshing to realize that the atonement is unlimited and will eventually encompass ALL of God’s creation. What a shift in perspective ! !

Anyhow, I include this first link primarily to point out that there is much more than just one viewpoint on substitutionary atonement to which Christians subscribe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitutionary_atonement

Buttonstc's avatar

Sorry about that. Heres the second which speaks more directly to the whole issue of why an unending hell is simply untenable.
.
.
http://www.ais-gwd.com/~cdevans/unlimited.htm
.
..
I donti nxcessarily agree 100_% with everything this guy writes but the basic outline comes close enough.

Judi's avatar

@fundevogel, I like you. You seem way more respectful than most Fundamentalists. You remind me of Nicodemus.

mattbrowne's avatar

It’s actually the other way round. I would consider ultra-conservative Christianity not part of Christianity anymore. People who engage in homophobic hate speech and who pray for Obama’s death are not followers of Jesus.

Liberalism is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus challenged the common conservative views of his time and demanded reforms. He believed in equal rights before God. He promoted human rights. He supported the poor, the weak and the sick. If he were alive today, we would promote health insurance for all citizens. Liberal Christianity is Christianity. You just need to read the New Testament.

Earthgirl's avatar

mattbrowne Amen to that!

fundevogel's avatar

@Judi ”@fundevogel, I like you. You seem way more respectful than most Fundamentalists. You remind me of Nicodemus.”

Thank you @Judi, I like you too. But I’m not a fundamentalist, I was raised Christian and am now and atheist/anti-theist. The more I studied the Bible the less I believed it and the more it turned my stomach. It’s painful to read about God telling Abraham to abandon his child and the slave who bore him in the dessert and even worse to think he created a whole world of people and creatures which he later decided all deserved to be drowned like kittens. I’ve got no sympathy that sort of assholery.

Even if I did believe in him I’d go the Shalom Auslander route and be a maltheist. I’m not interesting in aligning myself with the God of the Bible. His actions are too often vile and his promises don’t impress me. Though none of this is really relevant to what we were talking about.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Since leaving ten years of Catholic school, I have agreed with the sentiments expressed above by Matt Browne.

Also, I know way too many devout Jews—who have devoted their time and money throughout their lives, have avoided violence and promoted dialogue in critical situations to make this a better place in general for everybody without discrimination—to believe that they would be relegated for all eternity to some Christian hell simply because they will not submit to a bath in “the blood of the Lamb” as you so cryptically refer to accepting the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God. That idea, to me, is insane. If I believed in this crazy strain of mythology, every time I read the names upon the many Walls of Honor (donors) in our local hospitals here which are far and away dominated by Jewish family names, I would grimace at the thought that I supported a church that believed that these people’s final reward would be to burn forever in a mythical christian oven.

So, if one wishes to blindly live the ideas of Torquemada in order to fullfill one’s self as a benevolent Christian, so be it. Not I. Ever.

This new, aggressive strain of christianity that has become popular since Reagan is a product of greed, radical right-wing politics, mafia-style capitalism, and fear. It is not Christianity. It is not about love and benevolence. As the bumpersticker says: Jesus called. He wants his religion back.

fundevogel's avatar

@Buttonstc “Thats not something which lends itself to a facile quick answer. It would also be helpful if you could more precisely describe the type of teachings regarding this which permeated your early (or childhood) life. ”

We started at the Catholic church because it was the only church my dad would tolerate, but it drove my mom nuts so after a couple years my mom started church hunting and my dad quit going. First there was a Restoration church for a few years where I saw my mom baptized (it was weird) then when my parents got divorced, mom took up with a bunch of evangelicals that took turns hosting services in their living rooms. Also weird. Then there was a smallish subsect of Protestants, followed by your basic Baptist-bashing Methodists and in between there were visits to Southern Baptists, Lutherans, mega-churches, a couple summers at Biblecamp and after that I don’t know their names.

In general I’d say the overall it was somewhere between standard Protestanism and Evangelism. There was a fair among of Bible-literalism going on, though just how serious God was about Jesus being the only source of salvation involved some waffling. Mostly when asked hard questions about what would happen to the soul of a person who had never heard of or had an opportunity to be saved by Christ the answer would be that even though they didn’t know it and couldn’t be considered Christian in anyway at all they actually were saved by Jesus in their hearts. I think they used the same reasoning to get animals into heaven.

“Heres the second which speaks more directly to the whole issue of why an unending hell is simply untenable.”

I looked through your links and while they’re interesting they didn’t really address the role of the crucifixion in the absence of hell/damnation.

I don’t believe in hell. I’m not trying to find which version of Christianity is “right” I’m interested in whether or not the crucifixion is compatible with otherwise non-draconian versions of Christianity.

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne “It’s actually the other way round. I would consider ultra-conservative Christianity not part of Christianity anymore. People who engage in homophobic hate speech and who pray for Obama’s death are not followers of Jesus.”

I know what you mean, but ultimately I disagree that fundamentalists are any less Christian than other Christian groups. To single them out for that reason is really just a No True Scotsman fallacy. You’re right that fundamentalism is more likely to miss the more loving teachings of Jesus, but liberal (and other sane Christians) are perfectly happy to overlook the not so loving arts of the Bible: the stoning, the slavery, the general xenophobia, sexism and so on. Certainly those are the things I prefer peopleto neglect in their religion, but overlooking these things is just as much a departure from the Bible as is overlooking the loving stuff.

There’s a long history of cherry-picking your Christianity, I really doubt anyone practices the Christianity in accordance to everything in the Bible. I doubt it’s possible. As such I don’t think omission or selection of what bits to believe/practice has ever been a reason to take away the title “Christian”, at least not unless you’re running the empire and looking to lockout rival sects. But I think we all kinda roll our eyes at the word “heretic” these days no matter who it’s applied to. What you’re really saying when you question if fundamentalists are Christian is if they don’t fit the definition Christianity you hold…and that is of course true. But your definition of Christianity is just as much an interpretation as theirs. That’s the thing with the Bible, there are so many was to read it that no one has ever been able to lock down any definitive version of Christianity.

fundevogel's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus “Also, I know way too many devout Jews—who have devoted their time and money throughout their lives, have avoided violence, promoted dialogue in critical situations, and generally made this a better place in general for everybody without discrimination—for them to be relegated for all eternity to some Christian hell simply because they will not submit to a bath in “the blood of the Lamb” as you so cryptically refer to accepting the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God. ”

“So, if you, fundevogel, wish to blindly live the ideas of Torquemada in order to fullfill yourself as a benevolent Christian, so be it. Not I. Ever.”

I’m an atheist. I said “bathed in the blood of the lamb” because that is one of the ways Christians describe salvation by grace. My interest in this is just that, interest.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@fundevogel: Yes. I saw that in the nick of time and changed it, as you can see. I was hoping you wouldn’t comment before I finished. Accept my appology and embarrassment.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@fundevogel ” I don’t think omission or selection of what bits to believe/practice has ever been a reason to take away the title “Christian”, at least not unless you’re running the empire and looking to lockout rival sects. ”

This is something I’ve thought about a lot. You may not agree with me (i.e., I’m not claiming you would), but when I listen to things said by members of the Westboro Baptists, I have to respect their faithfulness to the text, and their relative lack of hypocrisy. And in the end times, if the Christians were right, the WBC folk would be as welcomed in heaven as any other Christians, even if many other Christians revile their ideology. And a lot of other people wouldn’t be. That is something to think about.

fundevogel's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus It’s cool, I agree with the sentiment.

fundevogel's avatar

@dappled_leaves “You may not agree with me (i.e., I’m not claiming you would), but when I listen to things said by members of the Westboro Baptists, I have to respect their faithfulness to the text, and their relative lack of hypocrisy. ”

I know where you’re coming from. I’ve spent some time eating up JoHo’s time and while I find their sect grossly conservative and their theology and practice awfully distasteful I do respect that their knowledge of and adherance to their text exceeds most Christians by about a million. Ultimately though I’ll always take the person who practices a more loving version of a religion over someone that practices more book-accurate/less loving religion.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@fundevogel Yup. They’re far more pleasant to converse with.

fundevogel's avatar

And how!

mattbrowne's avatar

@fundevogel – You are correct, of course. Therefore I wrote ”I would consider…”, but that’s not a general agreement. People who were baptized are Christians, even if they end up becoming crusaders or murderers of Giordano Bruno or murderers of abortion doctors. The 911 terrorists were Muslims, even though they ignored important parts of the Quran. So likewise many decent Muslims would not consider Atta and the rest of the mass murderers to be Muslims.

Thulenord's avatar

I am Paul’s, I am Timothy’s, I am John’s, I am Peter’s…. No says Paul, we are all one in Christ. Most “Liberal” Christians can be recognized by their wearing of earth tones, Norwegian-toed hush puppies, and speaking conversational Minnesotan or such.
I try not to be too hard. The original liberal christian was Adolph Harnack, one of the great minds of the church who by 1900 was an old man when he wrote What is Christianity? Doctrinally I have some issues with his magnum opus, Dogma, 7 vols. but his vision is of the church militant (the living) and the church triumphant (the saints who rest.) He’d have referred you to Freud if he saw what we think are liberals today. He’d have you treated for the “Lutheran Sickness,” despair. If someone IS liberal and acts or speaks like it, or someone is concerned about another being too liberal, both types have too much less-than-idle time on their hands. Trouble-makers. The real question is: Are you comfortable making truth claims, and is your “Sickness unto death” the real reason for believing in the resurrection? If you are just along for a smorgasbord of doctrine & liturgy the gas afterwards is a real killer.

Judi's avatar

@Thulenord, I think the original liberal Christian was Jesus.

Judi's avatar

I just read this article and it made me think of the many questions like this.

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