I am grateful to Wm. B. Eerdmans for sending me a free review copy of Michael J. Langford’s book, The Tradition of Liberal Theology. Langford’s book is not about the radical liberalism that sometimes gets the most attention, but what could be called “liberal orthodoxy” or “conservative liberalism” – although Langford is aware that the one term is already used with other specific connotations, while the other may seem too paradoxical to be helpful. But the tradition he brings into focus in his short book is that historic one, which can be traced back at least as far as the earliest church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. It is orthodox in the sense that it embraces certain elements that became normative in various creeds. But it is nonetheless liberal in the sense that it is intellectually rigorous, open to learning from other traditions, and takes a high view of human reason, without being rather eager to jettison historic elements of the Christian tradition in the way radical liberals sometimes seem to be.
In addition to highlighting specific figures who represent this historic spectrum of Christianity, Langford also brings a number of specific issues into focus: salvation outside of Christianity, homosexuality, miracles, the Trinity, and inter-religious dialogue, to name a few that get particular attention.
This is an important book, and it should be read by those Christians who consider themselves liberal, those who consider themselves moderate, and (perhaps especially) those who consider themselves conservative and thus view themselves as the torchbearers of the historic Christian tradition. As Langford demonstrates with ample evidence, there is a vibrant liberal strand to Christianity, and it goes back at least as far as more conservative strands do.