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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Limits of Liberalism: A Historial Theological and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism - Leroy Seat The liberalism being discussed here is theological, not political, as is made clear by the subtitle.  One could infer from the title that it's written by a fundamentalist attacking his opposition, but that's not the case. This same author has written another book titled, "Fed Up with Fundamentalism"(Link to my reveiw). This book is addressing the other side of the theological spectrum.  The combination of the two books is intended to provide a defense of what the author refers to as the "radiant center" position that retains the essential portions from both sides.

I have only vague impressions of what liberal Christianity is, even though I self identify as a liberal (or is it progressive?). The book provides a concise history and description of the spectrum of various theologies that have developed over the years which enabled me as reader to achieve a bit of an understanding of where I might fit it. In normal circumstances I probably would not be attracted to this book because, well why should I read about "limits." Who wants to be limited? But upon reading the Preface, I saw that the author actually says, "...liberals tend to be tolerant, accepting, and open. ...Those are characteristics that I, personally, find appealing also." From that I surmised that the author's heart is in the right place, so that gave me the incentive to read the rest of the book.

One of the first things the reader will notice about this book are the lengthy footnotes that include significant biographical detail about the various authors referenced.  The references include an impressive array of 20th and 21st century theologians and their published works. This author has done his homework.

The first two chapters are largely historical and provide an understanding of the beginnings of Christian liberalism as well as of the growth and influence of liberalism in the past few decades. From these chapters I learned that what I thought was cutting edge new thinking had already been thought of by post enlightenment liberal thinkers over 200 years ago.

The third chapter describes the main appeals of liberalism and then the fourth chapter tells of some of its problems. I had warm and fuzzy feelings while reading the third chapter, and a bit more reserved feelings while reading the fourth.

Chapters five through nine deal with specific issues that the author finds problematic with liberalism. The issues covered by these chapters are liberalism's understanding of the Bible, of God, of Jesus Christ, of sin and salvation and of missionary work. There's plenty of discussion material here.

In the final chapter the author discusses the various options of words to describe the theology he is proposing. He ends with the following:

"So in conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend that we Christians move intentionally toward creating a viable center for contemporary Christianity. And I pray that all of us who are fed up with fundamentalism but who are also aware of the limits of liberalism will join in making that a radiant center."

The book deserves five stars for quality of writing, research and achievement of its stated goals. Many readers will find this book to be a defense of the radiant center of theological thinking with which they can feel comfortable. Even readers who don't agree with all the positions supported by the author can benefit from thinking through their own positions on the various issues discussed. The book provides a perspective on where the reader's own beliefs fit within a wide spectrum liberal theological thinking. The reader will finish the book with a better understanding of their own beliefs.

--Chapter 6 review--

The following is a review I wrote of Chapter 6 after reading it first. I considered writing reviews of the other chapters at this level of detail but decided that would make this review too long. So here's a more detailed review of Chapter 6 which can give you a feel for the nature of the other chapters.

Chapter 6 is about Liberalism's concept of God. In Chapter 6 the author begins by making liberal minded readers feel good about themselves by reviewing the positive aspects of liberalism’s concepts of God. Liberalism rejects the various outdated physical images of God, the God of the gaps, the punitive God, and the tribal God. Also, liberal theology has generally included an emphasis on a God who cares about social justice. Then the book turns to the author’s objection to positions taken by various liberal theologians. The author's objections generally involve a loss of divine transcendence in some form. One trivial detail that was new to me was the difference between pantheism and panentheism (I’m still scratching my head over that one). The following quotation summarizes this section.

". . . the over-emphasis on divine immanence and the neglect, or rejection, of the transcendence of God is a major problem of liberalism . . ."

Then Chapter 6 makes a case for what the author refers to as “theistic realism.” He supports the contention that God is an “objective” reality, a being who really exists. He proceeds to the argument for this position from experience of various Christian believers. He maintains that denial of a theistic God makes it impossible to experience God.