One of My Favorite Quotes

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.

–H. Richard Niebuhr commenting on the legacy of liberal theology in the 20th century.

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7 thoughts on “One of My Favorite Quotes

  1. Hmm… well spoken, but it doesn’t apply to absolutely everything that might get tossed into the “liberal theology” category. I consider myself a liberal Christian — not necessarily on the far side of the spectrum, but certainly far more liberal than my A/G “we’re the ones who have the corner on the truth and we know exactly how God’s going to apply his grace” roots.

    I don’t think the kingdom will be without judgment, but can’t help but wonder how different God’s judgment might be from ours, based on the people Jesus chose, the non-mathematical messiness of the parable of the vineyard, etc. There’s a really big leap from the wrath-filled God of the Jewish Bible to the “God is love” of the Christian Bible that I haven’t been able to wrap my head around.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth. We’re not all out to destroy Christianity… I think many of us are just asking a lot of questions about how we were taught to believe.

  2. Interesting. Niebuhr was certainly aware of the messiness of human history and might even be considered a “liberal” himself by conservative A/G parishioners. It may be the case that some theologies of the liberal strand retain a sense of God’s judgment, but in Niebuhr’s time, it most certainly jettison God’s judgment and replaced it with humanitarianism.

  3. That’s what I mean though — we go from God of wrath and judgment and slaughter to God of love and grace & forgiveness through Christ in Christian scriptures. Spiritual conservatives lean toward the former in a quest for justice, liberals toward the other.

    That presents a huge disconnect for me — like perhaps God has a split personality or something. It’s confusing, even though I was taught that it makes perfect sense growing up in the church and in my classes at Bible college.

    I don’t mean to spam your blog or belabor what is probably clear to everyone else… I just don’t get why a hope for salvation for all through Christ is such a threat or equals humanitarianism. And I shudder at how comfortable I used to be with the idea that God was sending 3/4 of the world to hell.

  4. I have wrestled with those things too, Stacey. I think, though, I have found a certain sense of solace in God’s judgments and that his justice serves the interests of “humanitarianism” if we want to call it that.

    The idea of eternal punishment is something no one should be comfortable with… though our discomfort is not sufficient to overturn it.

    Everything begins and ends with Christ in Christian theology, and we have to remember that our vision of God is shaped by him. We learn about God’s sovereignty by giving himself up to the Roman authorities. We learn about his holiness by his taking on our sin and becoming a curse. We learn about his justice when he confronts the Religious leaders and yet pleas with them while dying.

    The “clear” things we think we know about God are shattered by him and he makes clear things that were once thought to be foggy.

  5. Thanks for this discussion, Adam, it’s really helpful.

    I’m confronted–often–with the difference between Jesus of the Bible and what we’ve made him into. It hasn’t stopped throwing me for a loop yet.

    Perhaps I should simply be encouraged that in his topsy-turvy kingdom, grace might be extended where others refused to give it, and wrath might be reserved for those religiously cruel folks that Jesus was so pissed at back in the day. If Jesus is any indication of God’s value system, I can’t imagine otherwise. The Church has some ‘splainin to do…

    I could easily be found in either group, depending on the day.

  6. Well on the days that I have problems with the Hebrew words of the Bible I try to remember Paul’s words,

    “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6

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