Posted by: jadanzzy | January 3, 2008

What I Learned From Liberal Christianity

Happy 2008 to all 5 of our readers!

Yesterday, I read an introduction written by Terry Eagleton (a British literary critic, self-proclaimed left/liberal Catholic, and staunch critic of Richard Dawkins) about a very simple subject: Jesus.

I’ve never given liberal Christian theology much of a chance. I thought Bishop Spong and Dom Crossan were evil (and I still most strongly disagree with almost all of their theology). I thought it was the watering down and bastardization of ideas I used to love like “absolute truths.” I assumed those who were liberal Christians were spineless and engaged in unholy marriages with faithless “secular” scholarship.

Well I no longer think that way, despite my being on the opposite side of the theological spectrum. I’ve learned to put myself in their shoes and even see how their views of Jesus cover some of my own interpretative blind spots. And reading Mr. Eagleton yesterday, I fell in love with his Jesus.

Something that Jesus never represented to the amount it can, and hopefully, will in my life is the idea of kingdom justice (yes, justice is my new favorite Christian word). Jesus had been, more or less, (just) the savior of my soul and forgiver of my sins…

However, in the midst of Eagleton’s strong denial of the historic messianic call of Jesus (to Eagleton, Jesus never claimed to be the Savior of the World, much less the Messiah of Israel), or his refusal in accepting Jesus’ divinity, and bitter deconstruction of Western Christian practices as a result of “unscholarly” understanding of Scripture, I saw a man’s love for a historical figure’s idealistic and absolute need for the poor, needy, and overlooked to be brought in right standing in society. To Eagleton, Jesus was a political/social/economic revolutionary in the way of peace and selflessness. This he made clear by contrasting Jesus with other historical revolutionaries’ need to fulfill their ends with violence and bloodshed.

Eagleton’s Jesus was so bent on making this possible that he was uncompromising in the demands he made for people to follow him. He made them leave their parents. He made them abandon standard jewish customary practices for the dead. He did some unbelievable and heinous things in the eyes of the Jewish leaders (such as making a mess of the moneychangers at the Temple, a necessary service for Jewish pilgrims). He used ambiguous terms like, “Son of God” and “Son of Man” which were very common. All Jewish men were sons of God. And so on.

But in the end, what mattered to me was Eagleton’s statement that “Jesus himself makes it clear in his apocalytic portrayal of the Second Coming that salvation consists not in religious ritual or codes of conduct but in the donation of a crust of bread or a cup of water.” Again, to Jesus, “the things that are God’s included mercy, justice, feeding the hungry, welcoming the immigrant, sheltering the destitute and protecting the poor from oppression of the powerful.”

I believe in Jesus’ divinity. I believe he is the Savior. I believe he came to redeem, restore, and rescue the world back to God as the climax of God’s mission. I believe the Trinity as the object of perfection as I imagine it to be.

But I also, wholeheartedly, believe in Eagleton’s Jesus.

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Responses

  1. Both your article and Eagleton’s words are balm. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  2. I’m not familiar with Eagleton. Thank you for sharing his vision of who Jesus was (and I believe still is).

    I’m on the liberal end of the spectrum, over on the left with Marcus Borg and Matthew Fox. Bishop Spong, though, is so rationalist and materalist that he leaves me cold. I don’t think his theology makes room for an actual experience of, or relationship with, the living Christ.

    John Dominic Crossan used to be that way too, but he has changed considerably over the last two years. He now talks about a relationship with Jesus, something he never did back in the early days of the Jesus Seminar.

    I’m going through a similar process of learning, but from the other end: I’m learning to appreciate and learn from more conservative theologians and writers (though I know “more conservative” is a very relative term) like N.T. Wright, Miroslav Volf, and Shane Claiborne. I’m even driving down to St. Petersburg (from Atlanta) at the end of February to hear Brian McLaren, one of my new favorite writers.

    I’m glad I found this blog! I look forward to exploring it further.


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