Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /home/a26f9f83/public_html/articles/includes/config.php on line 159
Development of Liberal Theology: An Overview (Part 1) > NetSparsh - Viral Content you Love & Share

Development of Liberal Theology: An Overview (Part 1)

The modern historical era of liberal theology basically encompass four distinct phases of change. The Enlightenment phase extends from the seventeenth century to approximately the middle or late eighteenth century. It is followed by the Romantic phase which is prominent until the mid-nineteenth century when it fades and then rise in the form of Modernism. The final, or perhaps more appropriately, the present phase of liberalism (often referred to as Neo-liberalism) began to surface during the twentieth century.

Even though research indicate liberal thought in actuality antedates the aforementioned phases, for purposes of brevity and clarity, this article shall focus on liberal thought as it developed from the age of the enlightenment to the present.

The age of Enlightenment was characterized by the triumph of reason in religion and the evanescence of the doctrine of revelation. Rationalism stressed the a priori ability of human reason to know truth; what could be known could only be known through reason and what could not be known by reason was not truth. Revelation and authority therefore, were not only dismissed as irrelevant but totally unnecessary as well. The chief exponents of rationalism were Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

Rationalism gained its first systematic philosophical formulation in the works of Descartes. He applied the mathematical method to human reasoning and argued for a priori ideas and principles. He attempted to prove God's existence by means of an ontological argument beneath which laid his geometrical method of truth. Mainly, whatever is a certainty (clear and distinct ideas) is truth.

Geisler (Christian Apologetics) believed Spinoza's rationalism was more geometric than Descartes. He felt Spinoza rationalized the absolute perfect idea of a perfect being. Man's reason is competent only up to a certain point; beyond this point man must recognize his incapacity and total dependence. It should be noted that Spinoza's rationalism resulted in pantheistic conclusions.

The basis of Leibniz's rationalism was centered on God around the sufficient idea. His approach begins with an examination of scientific findings from experience. He utilizes both ontological and cosmological arguments for the rationalistic explanation of God.

Theological rationalism then, asserts the claims of reason against authority or revelation. The fundamental principles of religion are held to be innate or self-evident. During this phase of liberal thought rationalism, orthodoxy suffered some serious secular blows. Rationalists were those who believed in reason with a profound faith. They rebelled vehemently against all authorities outside of man's reason and claimed for reason an autonomy which would enable it to examine all questions without interference.

According to Nagler, rationalisms' aim was to liberate the energies of human nature by the free and fearless use of reason. It virtually ignored all dogmas and rules that impeded freedom of scientific inquiry and the questioning of all accepted truth. The Bible, tradition, religious institutions and religious hierarchies had to submit to the rationalists' reason and experience. There was a basic mistrust of tradition and a philosophical analysis of morality and ethics. The Christian faith was reduced to mere reason with prayers playing a prominent place. It was natural then, that God became an impersonal and somewhat aloof deity. And as Nagler pointed out in The Church in History, "rationalism, thinking to explain all life and truth on the basis of pure reason soon degenerated into an intellectual fad." Nevertheless, Enlightenment theology is perceived as the forerunner and ally of liberalism in the struggle against religious intolerance.

As we continue our journey, we enter the Romantic period. Romanticism was to the nineteenth century what Rationalism was to the eighteenth. This phase of liberalism development was marked by the discovery of the uniqueness of the individual and of access to its concrete reality through individual experience. In other words, the human individual was regarded as the path-way into the vast infinite reality. Man and experience was valued over and above all other creative forms. Many believe that a great literary and artistic period was the result of Romanticism. It was a religion of culture which in many ways resembled the religion of the historical Greeks. The demand was for an all embracing concept of life. Nagler observed that one of the most important contributions made to theological thought was its conclusion that intellect was not the only road to truth. Spiritual events were considered to be the release of the individual from the bondage of coercion. Or, as Nagler puts it: "rationalism was rescued from its danger?dangerous tendencies largely by the work of the great philosopher Immanuel Kant?Kant endeavored to show the limits of pure reason in that it could neither demonstrate not overthrow the objects of belief. The latter, such as God, immortality, and freedom-in fact, all the truths and values of the supersensible world come within the realm of what he called the practical reason."

As the emphasis on the worth and dignity of man gradually permeated liberal thought; another great voice rose to champion the cause, W. E. Channing.

From my readings, Channing appears to have been a genuine seeker after a rational faith. He believed in miracles and prophecy as evidences of Christianity. He became a spokesman for American Unitarianism. The concept of a co-equal, co-existing trinity was unacceptable to him intellectually. Like Kant, Channing believed very strongly in the moral perfection of God and the autonomy of man.

(continued in Part 2)

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available in July.

You are welcome to visit AMEN Ministries: Your Soul's Service Station for spiritual refreshing, soul edification or to browse our newly expanded mini shopping mall.

Blessings to all!

In The News:

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at

Religion makes us better people | Faith Matters
One of the exciting aspects of religion writing is that it is so diverse. Hudson County used to be very, very Catholic and it still predominates, but years ago there were more mainstream Christian churches as well as many Jewish temples and synagogues.

Our View: Separating education and religion
The Times
Beaver Area School District Superintendent Carrie Rowe took a brave stand Monday night when she came out as gay at the start of the school board meeting in a proactive move aimed at critics seeking her ouster. In doing so, she turned recent claims that ...

and more »

Some young Catholics shun modern life, embrace religion in U.K.
Britain is among the least religious countries in the world. But it is experiencing a boom in the number of new Catholic nuns.

and more »


'Treat us like a religion' - traditional healers demand greater rights
Traditional healers should enjoy the same rights as religious leaders. That's the view of Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva‚ who chairs the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL ...

and more »

Washington Post

What draws women to a religion that says men should be in charge?
Washington Post
NEW ORLEANS — Growing up in rural Mississippi, Gracie Robinson decided early on that she would never get married. In her Baptist church, she heard the preaching: The Bible orders women to be submissive to their husbands. Robinson didn't want to be ...

and more »

Religion News Service

Does religion moderate politics?
Religion News Service
With the Value Voters Summit under way in Washington this weekend, let's ponder recent evidence that the hard core of President Trump's does not consist of America's most religious people. That was the message delivered by the Cato Institute's polling ...

Religion News Service

Where is the Jewish Mister Rogers?
Religion News Service
Fred Rogers was functioning — not only in a publicly pastoral role, but in the true sense of prophetic religion. Fred Rogers was fighting a cultural war — against brutality in media. That war is far from over. Often, we sense that cultural critics ...

and more »

Voice of America

New Era for Religion in China as Party Tightens Controls
Voice of America
The recent closure of one of Beijing's largest independent churches, and a crackdown on congregations elsewhere in China, are part of a broader effort to bring religion more fully under the ruling Communist Party's control, say Christian leaders ...

and more »

Daily Californian

Art installation 'Haroon Mirza: The Night Journey' is flat but interesting look into religion, censorship
Daily Californian
“Haroon Mirza: The Night Journey,” is a rather dull art installation that nonetheless makes interesting points on storytelling, religion and censorship. British Pakistani multimedia artist Haroon Mirza brings his “custom-built media system” to the ...

Quad City Times

Quad City Times
The information/discussion will include techniques for personal experience with dreams, past lives, soul travel and spiritual destiny, presented by the Illinois Satsang Society, Inc., a charted affiliate of Eckankar, religion of the Light and Sound of ...

and more »
Google News

Peaceful Religions?

If you say that Christianity is a peaceful religion according... Read More

As The Storm Clouds Gather

Revelation 20:8-20:9 Jesus warned us of a time of great... Read More

Early Spring Cleaning

Has anyone noticed how fast 2004 is going? Hey, we... Read More

Religion and Social Engineering - Part of an Introduction

Thomas Carlyle is just one of the interesting characters who... Read More

Gods Favorite Religion

What does your church teach regarding the subject of Widows... Read More

The Power of Thankfulness and Vice Versa

We are soon to celebrate once again the National Holiday... Read More

Rock of Ages

William Jennings Bryan said: "Christians desire that their children shall... Read More

A Time of Suffering

As the clock ticks down to the fateful day of... Read More

The Kabbalah Kraze!

I remember hearing a minister years ago as he quoted... Read More

Worship and Praise in Charismatic Churches

This article was in response to an email about someone... Read More

Cut Off Your Hand!

Cut off your Hand!Arguably the most bizarre command of Christ... Read More

Bible and Kabbalah: The Hardening of Pharoahs Heart

There is continuous creation, out of the new ideas discovered... Read More

Salvation of the Jews to Determine the Lords Return: the Churches Greatest Prayer Responsibility

Jesus won't come until the Jewish people are saved.Why the... Read More

In The Beginning Christ!

As I was doing my studies, the Lord put something... Read More

Mystery, not Myth: Jesus Christ is real!

In the children's section of any bookstore, books on the... Read More

Prophetic Ministry: Affirmations From Scripture to Teach Us Who We Are In Christ

To learn who you are in Christ, you must know... Read More

Helping Others - What Did Jesus Say?

Helping others was something Jesus did on a daily basis.... Read More

The Kabbalah of Love: Part One

(This is the first article in a new series on... Read More

Terror; The Lost War

Zephaniah 1:14-1:18{Terror; Intense, overpowering fear.An emotion experienced in anticipation of... Read More

Teach Your Child to Pray

There are so many books out there on being a... Read More

Undoing a Catholic and an Orthodox Christian Feud

There's an anecdote about twins still in their mother's womb.... Read More

Do You Know What It Takes To Crucify The Flesh?

The flesh is the part of us that resists our... Read More

Isnt There But One God?

I heard a pastor say, regarding people of the Muslim... Read More

Amy Grant Cashes in Once Again on Jesus Coat-Tails

Jesus made her famous, now Amy Grant cashes in one... Read More

Computerized Christians? Get Ready for the New Church!

Isaiah 43;19 declares: "Behold, I will do a new thing,... Read More