Liberalism without Illusions
Renewing an American Christian Tradition
Publication Year: 2010
By the 1930s most mainline Protestant traditions promulgated the key tenets of liberalism, especially an embrace of modern intellectual theory along with theological and religious pluralism. In Liberalism without Illusions, Christopher Evans critiques his own tradition, focusing in particular on why so many Americans today want to distance themselves from this rich and vibrant heritage. In a time when attitudes about “liberal” vs. “conservative” theology have become the focus of the culture wars, he provides a constructive discussion of how liberalism might move forward into the twenty-first century, which, he argues, is indispensable to the future of American Christianity itself.
Published by: Baylor University Press
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This book would not have been possible without the support of the people of Baylor University Press, in particular, Carey Newman, Jenny Hunt, Diane Smith, and Myles Werntz. As an editor, Myles was a wonderful conversation partner in the process of writing, and I am grateful for his critical read of the manuscript at various stages of its evolution. Many of the book's arguments emerged through years of teaching on the faculty of Colgate Rochester ...
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In 1907 Walter Rauschenbusch concluded his book Christianity and the Social Crisis by asserting that the goal of a just society was within humanity’s grasp. “If at this junction we can rally sufficient religious faith and moral strength to snap the bonds of evil and turn the present unparalleled economic and intellectual resources of humanity to the harmonious development of a true social life, the generations yet unborn...
1. Why Do Americans Distrust Liberals?
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Despite its impact upon the religious and cultural landscape for almost two centuries, liberalism has become a sort of scarlet-letter term in contemporary America. During the 1988 presidential campaign between George Herbert Walker Bush and Michael Dukakis, then-Vice President Bush succeeded in hanging the liberal label upon his opponent, seeing this designation as the ultimate sign of weakness. While the early twenty-first century may be ...
2. Evangelical and Modern: Christian Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century
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Part of the difficulty of telling the story of Christian liberalism is that it lacks a clear point of historical origin. Unlike many Protestant denominations who look with reverence to particular founding figures such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley (or more recent outgrowths of American religious history, such as Joseph Smith and the Mormons or Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Scientists), there is no single individual who ...
3. Christian Liberalism and the Social Gospel Heritage
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Most historians tend to see the social gospel’s origins1 around 1880 and cresting at the end of World War I in 1918.2 However, the movement’s genesis began long before 1880, and extended well beyond 1918. The classic definition for the social gospel came in the early 1920s from Shailer Mathews, who referred to it as “the application of the teachings of Jesus and the total message of the Christian salvation to society...
4. The Diffusion of Liberal Theology
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Throughout the twentieth century, liberal theology went through a number of transformations. The legacy of the social gospel remained a powerful force within many Protestant denominations, influencing traditions as disparate as 1930s neo-orthodoxy and various post-1960s movements of liberation theology. Additionally, movements of liberalism flourished not only within theological seminaries and universities, but carried to the center of ...
5. Did Liberalism Win?
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The twentieth century represented a time when theological liberalism flourished in America. Far from dying out after World War I, liberalism entered new creative periods of critical reflection and development that gave birth to innovative incarnations of theology. By 1960 liberalism not only was represented by a range of theological traditions, but its influence extended into social movements beyond the parameters of institutional ...
6. Does Liberal Theology Still Matter?
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The 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s saw many efforts by historians, sociologists, and theologians to reassess the future of mainline Protestantism, especially in response to the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and the numerical gains of conservative Christianity. For some scholars, it was a time to challenge the complacency of middle-class religion, which essentially had chained liberal denominations to a "suburban captivity" mentality, in which mainline ...
7. Liberalism without Illusions
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One day in my office, I was contacted by a local newspaper reporter who was doing a story on the religious history of our region. He inquired about an Episcopal priest named Algernon Crapsey, who in the early twentieth century was tried for doctrinal heresy by the Episcopal Church.1 The interview was going fine until the reporter asked me whether Crapsey would be considered controversial if he were alive today. I could tell that my ...
Epilogue: Past Imperfect
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Among many of the things we learn from the study of Christian history is that Christians have never been especially prescient at predicting the future. From Paul’s belief that Christ would return in his lifetime, to 2,000 years’ worth of prophecies about the end of the world, to various projections throughout American history about which churches would grow and which would decline, forecasting the future has always been elusive for scholars, church leaders, and public intellectuals...
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Page Count: 217
Publication Year: 2010