Is Liberal Christianity Actually The Future?

A friend of mine noticed that my blog is all baby, all the time now. She’s right. In fact, all I really want to do is talk about Oliver. I mean, this guy is fantastic. He’s already made it to almost three weeks, he is gaining weight, and he’s actually alert and looking around! I feel like bragging all the time and becoming that dad who can only talk about his kids. Watch out world, I’m gonna be ridiculous.

But, alas, I can’t be only a daddy-blogger. Mommy bloggers have that area of the internet sewed up and the title says Seminarianzilla not Dadzilla (though Oliver might be allowed to call me that in the future). And you’d might be surprised to learn that the world of religion and faith doesn’t stop just because I have an awesome newborn. Last week, Ross Routhat posted a response to Diana Butler Bass. Is he just copying me or is he doing what I do and just see what his facebook friends post on their newsfeeds? Either way, lets take a look at this latest article in the battle over “Liberal” Christianity.

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for over a week now. I wrote several drafts of this post offering my analysis of the back-and-forth between Douthat and Butler but nothing that I wrote seemed worth sharing. In many ways, my analysis always ended up focusing on definitions because that’s what I see Butler and Douthat indirectly arguing about in their articles. Both are arguing about a vibrancy that they see in Christianity and that they believe will be picked up and propagated by my generation. Any question about “survival” instantly points its giant finger at “the young people” who are growing up and, sadly, I am in the vanguard of that group. Both argue a set perspective on how Christianity can “survive” by being relevant (or anti-relevant) to future generations and both assume that where they witness vibrancy (and I’m assuming that they find this vibrancy life giving in their own lives) is where the church will survive. And…yes…I see their point. However, their argument about what will survive is like reading science or historical fiction; although the setting is not in the present, the substance of the story is grounded in the here and now. So any argument about Christianity’s survival is really about today and both folks are arguing that a form of Christianity framed in a certain set of definitions will be that which survives. And what are those definitions? That’s what I find interesting and I think they both would have stronger arguments if they laid that out on the line. Sure, they only have short opinion pieces so there’s only so much to do but without those definitions, what I see is a lot of talking around the issues rather than engaging with them at their core. And if they both decided to engage those definitions, they might have realized that “liberal” Christianity is a terrible phrase and completely improperly used in the present day. Rather than continue that, state definitions and assumptions in the beginning and I hope that salvation and Christ will show up there. Sadly, I didn’t see much of that in these articles.

That’s what gets me about all of this. There’s a talking around definitions rather than nailing down specifically what those definitions are. And if we’re going to argue about Christianity and make Christ not necessary to that argument, well, I’m just not really following that. That doesn’t mean I don’t think their argument needs to be made – it probably does and their arguments can be paralleled throughout Christian history – but there’s nothing compelling about that argument for my life right now. Instead of arguing as if the definitions are known and set it stone, I’d like to argue over the definitions themselves. I’d like to struggle with the propositions proposed by the Church over the years. I’d like to take the frameworks that spoke to prior generations and engage them with the present day and my life. And I’d like to engage in that way because I think those definitions are not just intellectual assets but, rather, are all encompassing, directional, practical, and define how it is I will live my life. And I wish both Douthat and Butler would play and live there because then I would find myself willing to dwell with them there.