Mike Bird offered a caricature of Liberal Christianity which it would be wrong to dismiss out of hand. The trends and pitfalls that he highlights on the liberal end of the spectrum are real dangers. The churches which were so flexible and so in tune with the social norms of their time that they had only support to offer to Hitler are a reminder that a Christianity or any religion that loses its ability to critique society has lost something vital.
But it must be remembered that liberal and conservative are tendencies and emphases, not absolute stances. I can safely say that Mike Bird is more liberal than some Evangelicals. I can safely say it because there is perhaps only one person in the world about whom it cannot be said – whoever has managed to get furthest along the spectrum. Everyone (or almost everyone) is more liberal than someone, and more conservative than someone. These are terms of comparison, not precise definitions.
It must also be remembered that loss of ability to critique one’s culture is not an issue found only among liberals. Far from it. Conservative Christians focus for the most part on issues that are not the focus of historic Christianity, and very often reflect the economic and social values of American culture uncritically. Indeed, it is ironic that Mike chose to focus on an issue like gay marriage, mentioning that Nero was involved in relationships that are certainly the closest thing to “gay marriage” that existed in that time. But what he neglected to mention is the fact that Paul says nothing explicit about this practice, nothing specifically critical of Nero and his relationships, and the most likely candidate for a passage condemning homosexual intercourse – Romans 1 – is there only to get conservative religious readers to join in condemnation, only to be told that they are in fact condemning themselves.
Paul doesn’t read like a conservative Christian. And that shouldn’t surprise us if we realize that he wasn’t a Christian, if explicitly using that label is what matters. He still considered himself a Jew, and by arguing that Gentiles should be included in the people of God without circumcision, despite clear teaching of Scripture to the contrary, Paul showed exactly what the best expressions of liberal religion seek to emphasize in our time: putting people above passages, putting principles above proof texts. Paul included those in whom he saw God working in his own time, in spite of what Scripture seems to plainly say, and found more creative and less obvious readings of texts in order to defend this course of action. If that is not liberal, then the term has no meaning.
Liberal Christianity stands in that tradition, and although I am in many respects more Bultmannian than classic Liberal, I am still proud to stand within that broad tradition of Christianity. I appreciate Mike’s reminder of the dangers on this end of the spectrum, as on the other. I hope he will take a closer look and see some of the beautiful aspects of the Christianity on this end of the spectrum as well.