When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11
Some strains of Christian thought are intellectually very shallow and reliant on oral tradition and unquestioned myth. This is my experience and is widespread amongst the less educated, or those wanting simple answers that do not challenge their childish notions of a cosmic Santa Claus. Some churches value conformity over intellectual integrity.
Fundamentalism, though it emphasizes reliance on the sacred Scripture, is primarily a religion in the Oral Tradition. The beliefs, which have a certain flexibility, are disseminated through the sermons and lessons and by person-to-person conversation. People share sermons, pass around tapes, and attend conferences where they hear the leaders of the religion make their pronouncements. Bible reading, rather than being systematic or scholarly, is performed selectively in order to “hide God’s Word in the heart,” which is a euphemism for memorization. At the appropriate time, learned texts are slapped onto a situation. But sermons carry the beliefs and transmit them. Bible reading serves the sermons.
From A Sociologist Lives Among Christian Fundamentalists: His Conclusions
Sam Keen has described myth as referring to “an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community or culture. The myths we carry around inside include unspoken consensus, the habitual way of seeing things, unquestioned assumptions, and our ‘automatic stance’.”
A society lives on its own unconscious conspiracy to consider a myth the truth, the way things really are. Do we belong to the majority who are literal without thinking; men and women who are not critical or reflective about the guiding “truths” – myths – of their own group?
As Keen implies, “To a tourist in a strange land, an anthropologist studying a tribe, or a psychologist observing a patient, the myth is obvious. But to the person who lives within the mythic horizon, it is nearly invisible.”
From: Liberal Christianity: Personal assumptions & Internal Myths
Those who take the greatest exception to the influence of Fundamentalist Christian thinking differ with a literalist “black/white” and “either/or” way of perceiving reality.
A literal reading of the Bible as an inerrant and absolute divine document that contains multiple references to an ultimate judgment and divine wrath against sinners seems to lead inevitably to a highly judgmental and critical Christian society. Liberal Christians resist and reject this approach.
Over 50 years ago Allan Watts made an impressive advocacy for a departure from devotion to a commanding and punitive God. In his preface to the second edition of his book, Watts wrote that, “the God of mystical experience may not be the ethically obstreperous and precisely defined autocrat beloved of religious authoritarians; but as experience, not concept, as vividly real as indefinable, this God does not violate the intellectual conscience, the aesthetic imagination, or the religious intuition. A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.”
From: Liberal Christianity: Introduction
What is a Liberal Christian?
Sometimes liberals are thought to be Christians who have backslidden; people who don’t have enough faith, or are too “in the world.” Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. Liberal Christians are committed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have thoroughly studied the scriptures and traditions of the Church, and have examined their faith in the light of reason and experience. They believe in:
Perhaps the defining characteristic of liberal Christians is that they are comfortable with ambiguity and diversity. They realize that life is a complex spiritual journey, and that each person on that journey is confronted with unexpected revelations and unique experiences. Liberal Christians therefore welcome a variety of approaches to understanding God, and are open to new ways of talking about the divine. Religious questions are seen as complex, and answers only tentative. Certain that “now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), liberals are cautious about making dogmatic statements or claiming to have a monopoly on the truth. They see the search for truth as an ongoing task, rather than one that has already been completed.
A Non-Literal View of Scripture
Conservative Christians are often content to answer religious questions by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, find such an approach to be flawed. Many see the Bible as a witness to revelation, or generally inspired, rather than completely inspired in all its parts. Just as Jesus was fully human and wholey divine, so one must also see the Bible as a product of both human and divine influences. Indeed, liberal Christians are quick to point out that the falleness and imperfection of its human authors gives the Bible an imperfect quality and authority.
Liberals view Scripture through a critical lens, and are not afraid to challenge traditional assumptions and interpretations. They rely heavily on higher criticism of the Bible, which looks into the origin and composition of the biblical texts, revealing a great deal about the human aspect of Scripture. Modern philosophical, biological, and cosmological theories that are well supported by evidence, and reflect the true nature of the world around us, can also shape the way liberals interpret Scripture. Traditional Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the Resurrection, are sometimes given new interpretations by liberals.
Perhaps more so than evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, liberal Christians see the teachings of Jesus as having a central place. Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience are each given equal footing in determining Christian faith.
An Intimate, Personal View of God
Imminent and personal images of God in Scripture are attractive to liberals. For some this takes on the form of a belief in panentheism (Everything-in-God-ism). Liberals also see little distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and therefore do not look for “miracles” to confirm the existence of God. Instead, they feel that faith in God allows one to see the Spirit moving in the everyday stuff of life.
The concept of personal salvation is not typically stressed by liberal Christians. Accordingly, traditional images of heaven, hell, and the End Times are not given much weight in their theologies. When salvation is discussed, liberals are more apt to stress its “this worldly” aspects, and appeal to a universalist interpretation of Scripture when confronted with questions of eternal punishment and rewards.
For many liberal Christians, social justice is a central concern, and the transformation of society, rather than that of the individual, is more typically stressed. Equality for racial minorities, women, homosexuals, and the economically disadvantaged is seen as an essential part of the Gospel message. A concern for the environment, and other typically liberal social issues, also find a great deal of support among liberal Christians.
Fellowship & Community
Liberals tend to stress the centrality of community in the Christian experience. They can be found in almost all churches (from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist), but tend to be in greater numbers in the mainline Protestant denominations.
From John Mark Ministries: Understanding Liberal Christianity