Liberal Christianity in Three Books

Liberal Christianity in Three Books October 15, 2013

Rod Dreher shared a challenge aimed at combating religious illiteracy: offer a list of three books – and no more than three – that will together give an adequate introduction to a particular religion. Other bloggers have already responded.

So which would I choose for my own liberal Christian tradition? There is a real sense in which, if the aim is to provide a history of this tradition, then my choices would be different. But if the aim is to introduce the substance of the worldview itself, in a way that made a powerful impact on me, then I would probably go with these:

Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

Keith Ward, What the Bible Really Teaches

Rudolf Bultmann’s contribution to Kerygma and Myth

There are other works that I am probably neglecting, whose impact on me is greater in substance than it is in my own recognition of indebtedness. There are certainly other works by authors like John A. T. Robinson, John Hick, John Macquarrie, A. T. Hanson, Marcus Borg, Arthur Peacocke, and many others that have influenced and challenged me. But of them, these three seem to pinpoint key aspects of liberal Christianity: the issues related to expressing an ancient faith in a modern setting, the nature and meaning of religious language, and how we interact with the Bible. These seem to me to be more fundamental than any specific attempt to articulate a theology.

Which three authors would you pick to convey the core of your own tradition?

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  • Evidence2Hope

    Not sure if these books sum up my “tradition” or just articulate views that best reflect where I am right now but here goes;

    Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns
    Healing the Gospel by Derek Flood
    Surprised by Hope by N.T Wright

  • Brian P.

    Maybe Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, and Daryl Domning’s Original Selfishness: Original Sin And Evil in the Light of Evolution. Hard though to also skip Alan Watts, Douglas Hofstadter, and especially Karen Armstrong. I do though like a number of the voices you mention.

    • I’m curious what tradition or viewpoint the books you recommend would serve as an introduction to. What label, if any, would you place on the viewpoint that these books introduce one to?

  • Norm Englund

    Anthony de Mello “The Way to Love” He challenges and improves my understanding of God and love.

    John Shelby Spong “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture”

    Richard Foster “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth”
    12 spiritual disciplines, many of which get overlooked in today’s

    Since I’m limited to three, these just miss the cut:
    Jaroslav Pelikan “Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History
    of Culture” for a look at how our view of Jesus has always been colored
    by our expectations.

    Dennis Linn “Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God” For those that have heard bad things about God.

  • spinkham

    Ernest Becker’s “Escape from Evil” (and/or “Denial of Death”, it’s hard to choose. They should really be one volume. 😉

    Johnathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis”
    Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”

    These books all contain modern insights from a number of fields about who we are and how to best clarify and instantiate our values.

    I’m not sure there’s a label for it, but “cognitive science informed post-enlightenment humanism” is about as short as I can summarize.

  • Kevin Daugherty

    I don’t consider myself a liberal Christian. Due to my postmodern context, I am more “progressive” or “emerging,” but those are terms that I don’t like either. Generally, I find that I am too progressive (or liberal, etc.) for conservatives, but too radical for progressives. I am not “radical” in the sense of Radical Theology (e.g., Peter Rollins, Thomas Altizer, etc.), but in sense of radical discipleship (e.g., Anabaptism, Christian anarchism, etc.).

    If I could summarize by thinking into three books, I would probably have to mention these:

    1. The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
    2. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez
    3. God of the Oppressed by James Cone

    As a Mennonite, you would probably expect me to include some Yoder in there as well, but I find that he is only a minor influence on me.

    • Norm Englund

      Since you’re a Mennonite, I expected “Martyrs’ Mirror”. 🙂

      • Kevin Daugherty

        Well, I am describing my own personal flavor of Christianity with those books, but for the broader Anabaptist tradition, the Martyrs Mirror would definitely be up there.

  • Just Sayin’

    The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

  • arcseconds

    I wonder what someone who’s entirely unfamiliar with Christianity would make of any of these selections.

    I’m particularly wondering about Just Sayin’s suggestion of the Bible. If you gave that to someone from, oh, I don’t know, China, who doesn’t know the first thing about Christianity, what would they make of it? They’d probably be rather baffled, and they certainly would have very little idea of how Christianity is practiced today. They wouldn’t know the first thing about churches, they wouldn’t know about the practice of Eucharist, they wouldn’t know about the Trinity, they would have no idea about ministers, and precious little about hymns and prayer, they wouldn’t know what a church looks like. They might even suppose that the Temple still exists and the Aaronic priesthood still makes blood sacrifices there, in accordance with the regulations set out in the Torah, and that this is an important part of Christianity (I mean, why else would you insist on them reading this material?).

    But similar considerations, I think, would apply to the other selections too, wouldn’t they? I’ve not read any of the other books mentioned (except for some Hofstadter and some Tolstoy (on religion, not sure where the passages came from)), but I get the impression that they assume the reader has at least a passing familiarity with Christianity.