Ten Explanatory Areas
for Liberal Stances
in the Church of England

01 Biblical Scholarship

Liberals value open and critical appoaches to biblical texts. Whilst recognising that the Bible is normative, it is not privileged in its hermeneutical treatment from any other text.

  • Recognition of the Hebrew Bible as its own entity
  • New Testament reads back to the Old
  • The New Testament was written in the context of early believing church communities
    • They had their own thought-forms
  • The Canon is seen as constructed by authority
  • Many doctrines developed after the Bible
  • Authorship is important
  • Non-canonincal texts draw some interest

There is still an interest in uncovering the historical Jesus within the texts if possible but texts are layered and can be a barrier to such uncovering. Inevitably the history of the writing of the New Testament is a history of early Churches, some of which have been lost and ought to be recovered if possible.

02 Culture

Stress is laid on relating belief and practice to the contemporary world, either through negotiating Christian boundaries or using the contemporary world in the defining of Christianity. Contemporary means intellectual, progressive and those practical this-worldly explanations and problem-solving assumptions.

There is a great interest in postmodernism in all its aspects, but some remain loyal to modernism and high modernity.

03 Service

Liberals are committed to serving others. They want to use the Church and its membership to build up the Kingdom. It means:
  • Low level and high level social and political engagement
  • The pursuit of freedom
    • (The individualist and collective are sometimes in tension)
  • Ethical behaviour
  • Dedicated service to others

The model is Jesus the exemplarist.

04 Theological Traditions

Liberals draw from scripture, traditions and reasoning, with an emphasis on reasoning.

  • German biblical criticism in the nineteenth century:
    • A key transition
  • The Anglo-Catholic tradition, separated out from traditionalism and authoritarianism:
    • Symbolism
    • Identity
    • Means of spirituality
    • Christian cultural expression
    • Sacrifical giving and receiving
    • Glory of the Divine
  • Open Evangelicalism:
    • Use of the Bible and methodologies
    • Incorporating postmodernism
    • New ways of being Church
Liberation theology is important, which translates into forms of service as mission, and involves incorporating radical political theory.

Most liberals are mixtures, but some, perhaps who started out as evangelicals, and are more modernist in outlook, come to a simpler view of what it is to be Christian, that perhaps overlaps with some Quaker and some Unitarian stances:

  • Love for God and neighbour as belief in God
    • Love of neighbour may be the primary stance of belief in God
  • Jesus is the man who lived for others in service and self-sacrifice and is an ethical model of life
    • The ethic of service and sacrifice may be the primary matter
  • Christ in hearts or an attitude of loving kindness
    • The attitude of loving kindness may be the primary matter
  • Christianity and being faithful is about quality of relationship
  • Christianity and being faithful is a way of life or a philosophy of life
  • Importance of religious practice in personal development and communal growth
  • The church is a place of religious nurture

Curiously, it is among these liberals that lay presidency at the eucharist becomes acceptable, and indeed a freedom to preach, although they would stress the value of training and education. Most liberals would retain formal provision of roles as a guarantor of form and quality, especially among Anglo-Catholics, and so a priest or qualified minister of another denomination presides and (in general) certified people preach.

Postmodernists are happier with religious content, unlike the simpler liberals, and are more likely to remythologise rather than demythologise, or after demythologising.

05 The World

Liberals are world-affirming and look for co-operation with other agencies including other denominations. They strongly approve of ecumenical co-operation, and many would seek formal mergers especially with the Methodist Church and also the United Reformed Church. Co-operation works with those called General baptists. Greater co-operation with Roman Catholicism is useful but centralised authority is a problem. Good relationships can be sought with the Orthodox, if reciprocated.

Many see overlaps between Christianity and other faiths:

  • Judaism:
    • Heritage of ancient Judaism
    • Understanding Jesus better
    • Reforming newer traditions
  • Islam:
    • The transcendence of God
    • Community identity
      • (Directive leadership a problem)
  • Buddhism:
    • Pathway of spirituality
    • Simplicity and practicality of approach
    • Focus on a prime inspirer
    • Adaptations to cultures
    • Deep philosophical paradoxes
      • (Comparable with the Trinity)
  • Hinduism:
    • Richness of common devotion
    • Revelations into unfolding scriptures
    • More recent modernist movements with theological rationality
      • (Gandhi, Vivikenanda, Brahmo Samaj)
  • Sikhism:
    • Equality
    • Social provision
      • (Community kitchen)
    • Musical and liturgical tradition
  • Bahai:
    • Unity
      • (Literalism and democratic centralism a problem)
    • Modernity
    • Diversity of peoples
  • Pagan:
    • Ecology
    • Reinvention of traditions
      • (Tendency to supersitions a problem)
    • Drawing on feminism
Thus liberals will meet people of other faiths and even share some worship and carry out joint social projects. They mix even more with people of other denominations. Liberals further learn from:

  • Secularisation
  • Secular philosophies
  • Science as it is evolving
    • Complete acceptance of astro-physics, quantum mechanics and evolution
  • Political theories
    • (Application into Liberation theology)
  • Educational and related psychological theories
    • Personal development
    • Community empowerment
      • (Paulo Freire - application into liberation theology)

06 Equality

Liberals believe in full involvement of all at all levels, without discrimination:

  • Women, men, transgender
  • Different sexualities

They understand that relationships are many and varied but stress faithfulness.

The Bible does not concern itself with long term, stable and positive homosexual relationships, and recognition of these are seen as adding to the stability of society along with heterosexual marriage, and declarations of intended faithful relationships can be blessed in church.

Many liberals would also have solemn services for divorce, recognising a regrettable breakdown and giving the opportunity to move on.

07 Evangelism Means Conversation

Liberals learn from others as well as offer their own insights. No one has the whole truth. This means listening as well as talking.

The Church is not there for itself, though its churches are places to take time to contemplate, to meet and discuss. The Church is to be a sign of the Kingdom. Small practical steps are as good as grand gestures. The international aspect is important, with practical support offered.

08 The Church of England

Many liberals value the checks and balances of bishops, priests and deacons with levels of autonomy. Others see the Church system as probably something like a least-worst rational way to organise. There is always the possibility of reform.

Some regard themselves as Anglican liberal Christians (recognising common identity with liberals elsewhere) but most are liberal Anglican Christians (that they are Anglicans). However, all liberals recognise those of similar thought and outlook in other Christian denominations, and indeed similarities of outlook in other faiths.

The Broad Church inheritance continues to provide an ethos of inclusivity and joining with those who are different. The Oxford Movement is recognised for the rebirth of rich worship. The evangliecal movement is recognised for its biblical witness and social work.

Most liberals benefit from and would help to maintain the breadth of the Church of England. Liberals draw on the tradition of essays, from Essays and Reviews in 1860 through to The Honest to God Debate, the impact of The Myth of God Incarnate, and (for some) Taking Leave of God and its critics, among many such works. They draw on many Doctrine Commission reports.

Important is the official absence of literalist commitment to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Creeds (though this can be taken further).

They wish to see university theological scholarship and trainee discoveries in ministry training brought ever more clearly into the churches.

The State-Church link is increasingly problematic and the parish system whilst valued is becoming uncertain as people have become ever more mobile.

09 Worship

Many liberals prefer formal worship and tradition. They approve of regular, shared book worship. The Book of Common Prayer gives a sense of mystery.Others would experiment, but experimentation is likely to be heterodox for doctrine in some places.

It is not enough to simply modernise expression because thought forms have changed as well as language. Liturgical change can move towards the searching and the uncertain.

There is much interest in liturgies from afar and wide, including the Reformed, Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox, as well as some minor traditions. There may be interest in the work of past liberal reformers, such as Samuel Clarke and James Martineau.

In postmodernity, the visual is as important as the literate: changed worship may come from the dance culture, from New Age forms and recovered ancient sources. Some worship may be radically simple, such as an agape meal or simplified eucharist. The poetic is as important as the literal, indeed it is necessary.

10 Belief (God etc.)

Revelation is never fixed, even if insight to the same revelation is considered the only change. For many, doctrines are human metaphors. Even the Trinity is a development of the people of faith and a human construction, either towards an objective mystery or as part of spiritual expression. Clearly for all the insights of the early Churches have an historical existence, but these existed in cultural settings of the Jewish, the Hellenistic and Roman. Nicaea and Chalcedon are not the last words in understanding; the Apostles Creed is sometimes seen as the friendlier, and newer shorter summaries are often welcomed.

Christ may not be exclusive. Some uphold some details of the Incarnation and Resurrection in a historical sense, whereas others hold on to the overall scheme either in a historical sense or in a systemic joining of faith connections.

God and drawing on God is to enable change in individual and community, thus uses the language of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a sense of encounter with the spiritual, again either obnjectively understood or within postmodern insight.

Prayer and meditation may overlap: images of God as depth or as a direction lead to a more contemplative understanding and can affect practice.


Updated 29 May 2007

Inspired by Bishop Pete Broadbent, who did the same for Open Evangelicals first, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/forum/thread.cfm?thread=3666&sort=creatasc, Fulcrum, [Accessed: Monday May 28 2007, 14:29]


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful