Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 143:571 (Jul 86) p. 266
“Past Imperfect: History and the Prospect for Liberalism—I and II,” William R. Hutchison, Christian Century, January 1–8, January 15, 1986, pp. 11-15, 42–46.
This two-part article is a prepublication form of an essay to be published in Liberal Protestantism: Realities and Possibilities. The title “Past Imperfect” is more a confession than a description, because Hutchison spends very little time discussing the history of liberalism. In fact the complete article is an effort to support the assertion he makes in his first paragraph, “I believe religious liberalism…is doing rather well and does assuredly have a future” (p. 11).
Hutchison rightly recognizes that his statement will be disputed. He writes, “Many both liberals and others, are convinced that the impulse itself is enervated and has little prospect of making further contributions to our religious and cultural life” (p. 11). But he and others see in contemporary forms of radical theology “movements and tendencies that stand in a direct line of succession to the liberal traditions” (p. 11). In this he is right because such radical theologies are the reincarnation of modernism at the beginning of the century in contemporary form.
An interesting area where Hutchison sees evidence of liberalism’s influence is in “the broader currents of social Christianity and critical biblical scholarship that have been running within the new evangelicalism since the 1950s,” which he concludes “surely owe a great deal—just how much scarcely matters—to historic liberalism” (p. 11). Hutchison and many others conveniently forget that applying Christianity to social problems began with evangelicals, not liberals, and that when liberals took control such social ministry quickly became Christian in name only not in reality.
BSac 143:571 (Jul 86) p. 267
As an example of this influence of historic liberalism on the new evangelicalism Hutchison names Fuller Seminary as a major center of the movement that is “now showing a good deal more affinity to neoorthodoxy than to fundamentalism” (p. 11).
Hutchison finds the future of liberalism in two activities. One is focusing on the “reasonably distinctive traditions or emphasis” of the liberal churches, that is, “to own, refurbish and spiritually invigorate these distinctive features” (p. 44). The other is fostering and promoting “religious pluralism on affirmative theological grounds” in order to make a “distinctive contribution to the moral coherence and consensus that our sprawling society needs” (p. 45). This means ecumenism not just within professedly Christian groups but among all religions.
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