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For liberal political views within Christianity, see Christian left. For liberal social views within Christianity, see Progressive Christianity. For the particular intra-ecclesiastical form of theological Modernism considered heresy by the Roman Catholic Church, see Modernism .

Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onwards. The word "liberal" in liberal Christianity does not refer to a progressive political agenda or set of beliefs, but rather to the manner of thought and belief associated with the philosophical and religious paradigms developed during the Age of Enlightenment.

Contributions to biblical hermeneutics

The theology of liberal Christianity was prominent in the biblical criticism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The style of scriptural hermeneutics within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements but instead documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historic/cultural context. Thus, liberal Christian theologians do not claim to discover truth propositions but rather create religious models and concepts that reflect the class, gender, social, and political contexts from which they emerge. Liberal Christianity looks upon the Bible as a collection of narratives that explain, epitomize, or symbolize the essence and significance of Christian understanding.

Liberal Christian beliefs

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.

Influence of liberal Christianity

Liberal Christianity was most influential with mainline Protestant churches in the early 20th century, when proponents believed the changes it would bring would be the future of the Christian church. Despite that optimism, its influence in mainline churches waned in the wake of World War II, as the more conservative, yet radical, alternative of neo-orthodoxy (and later postliberalism) began to supplant the earlier modernism. Other subsequent theological movements within the Protestant mainline included political liberation theology, philosophical forms of postmodern Christianity such as Christian existentialism, and conservative movements such as neo-evangelicalism and paleo-orthodoxy.

However, the 1990s and early 2000s saw a resurgence of non-doctrinal, scholarly work on biblical exegesis and theology, exemplified by figures such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong. Their appeal, like that of the earlier modernism, also is primarily found in the mainline denominations.

Liberal Christian theologians and authors

Anglican and Protestant

Roman Catholic


  1. Montgomery, John Warwick. In Defense of Martin Luther. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1970, p. 57. “Luther’s Hermeneutic vs. the New Hermeneutic.” Quoted in

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