Augustinian, Protestant . . . and Liberal?

I like that Presbyterian theologian Douglas Ottati is willing to go to bat for the much-maligned tradition of liberal Protestantism in his recent book (which I’ve just started reading). Liberal Protestantism is pretty unfashionable in theological circles these days. From what I can tell, it’s much cooler to be “post-liberal,” “post-conservative,” “postmodern,” “Barthian,” “Radical Orthodox,” or even just “progressive.”

But Ottati thinks that liberal Protestantism–while probably never destined to be a majority view within Christianity–provides a vital minority position that’s still worth defending. He says that liberal Protestants often know what they stand for in social and ethical debates, but that they currently lack solid theological underpinnings. That’s what he’s trying to provide in this book.

Ottati points out that there’s no such thing as a “generic” liberal theology: it has to be rooted in a specific tradition. He describes the tradition he’s working in as “Augustinian-Protestant-liberal.” It’s Augustinian in emphasizing the priority of grace and the profundity of human sin; Protestant in denying the infallibility of church or tradition; and liberal in making engagement with contemporary modes of thought and social reform central.

I’m only about 50 pages into the book, but I’ve found it really engaging so far. (It helps that Ottati is a wonderfully clear writer.) I’ve long resisted identifying as a liberal Protestant, but if I’m being honest, it’s probably the tradition within Christianity that I stand closest to.

UPDATE: I originally wrote that Ottati characterizes his theology as “Augustinian, Reformed, and Liberal.” It should be “Protestant,” not “Reformed.” I’ve corrected the post.

About these ads

3 thoughts on “Augustinian, Protestant . . . and Liberal?”

  1. Thank you for this recommendation. It may find itself in front of my eyes sometime soon, because I an intrigued. I bristled a bit, thought by your paraphrase stating, “liberal Protestantism–while probably never destined to be a majority view within Christianity–provides a vital minority position that’s still worth defending.”
    I think that if liberal were defined somewhat differently, say as, “engaging advocacy for the powerless, poor, and vulnerable,” I think readers of the sacred texts would likely determine that there is tremendous weightiness to the liberal agenda, established throughout the Old Testament, and then increasingly demonstrated by Jesus’ own teachings and actions.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I agree that “advocacy for the powerless, poor, and vulnerable” should command allegiance from Christians across the theological spectrum. Though in fairness, theological liberalism (at least as Ottati is defining it) also includes a constellation of theological views that are not likely to compel universal assent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s