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Faith Without Certainty

Faith Without Certainty

Liberal Theology in the 21st Century

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Much more than a primer, Rasor writes for clergy, theology students, and interested laypeople who want to better understand the liberal religious tradition.

Author: Paul Rasor

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In the tradition of James Luther Adams, this clear-eyed yet hopeful analysis explores the dynamic tensions of liberal theology, committed to individual freedom on the one hand and community on the other. Much more than a primer, Rasor writes for clergy, theology students, and interested laypeople who want to better understand the liberal religious tradition. Rasor's audience reaches beyond Unitarian Universalism to mainline Protestant Christians, modernist Roman Catholics, post-Christians and humanists and liberal Quakers, among others.

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Introduction

The Liberal Religious Mind-set

Sources of Liberal Theology in the Modern Period

The Postmodern Challenge

The Problem of the Self

Religious Experience and Language

Liberation Theology

The Challenge of Racism

Final Thoughts

Liberal theology is characterized by the belief that human religiousness should be understood from the perspective of modern knowledge and experience. It goes back just over two centuries. This is not very long in the Christian tradition and is but the blink of an eye in the larger context of human religiousness. Even in its short history, liberal theology, like other theologies, has suffered its ups and downs. A century ago, it was the dominant theological force in the West, and especially in North America. After a period of serious crisis, it has reemerged to again become a healthy current in the larger theological stream. It has not regained the prominence it once had and is not likely to do so in the future. Yet this is true of all other theological options as well, as theological pluralism has become the order of the day. But all in all, liberal theology is alive and well and remains one of several important theological options today.

At the same time, as we enter a new century, liberal theology must face several important issues. Many of these emerge out of the shifting historical circumstances that create the context for liberal theology's voices. Simply put, we live in a world today that is very different from that which witnessed the emergence of liberal theology two centuries ago. Several features of this new context, especially those gathered under the postmodern umbrella, have forced liberal theology to reexamine some of its deepest and most cherished beliefs.

Not all the challenges facing liberal theology today are from outside the tradition. Liberalism has generated several of its own crises over the years, and it continues to do so. Indeed, liberal theology has some critical tensions built into its very structure. These tensions cannot be resolved; they are simply inherent in the liberal religious worldview. Living with them is part of what it means to be a religious liberal. In different historical circumstances, these tensions express themselves in different ways. We will begin by describing some of the tensions and confusions among religious liberals today. These observations will form the points of departure for the analyses undertaken in this book.

"The twenty-first century is marked by events that raise a new questions concerning the nature of religion and the utility of theological discussions. Rasor's book brings religious liberalism into this conversation: What is liberal religion? What is liberal theology? How do they function? His response to these questions is carefully constructed, and it is insightful. This book is an important contribution to theological discourse. All who struggle for or against liberal religion do well to read this text. I highly recommend it."

—Anthony B. Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies, Rice University

"If there is one thing that is certain about liberal faith in the 21st century, it is this: everyone who tries to think clearly about how liberal theology can meet the challenges of the post-modern era will cite the clear thinking and sharp analysis of Paul Rasor."

—John A. Buehrens, author, Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers and Religious Liberals; UUA President, 1993-2001

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