Sometimes I like to browse the religion section at major book retailers (Borders, B&N), not because I usually buy anything, but because I like to see what perspectives on Christian faith people are interested in (or at least what publishers think they’re interested in).
One thing I’ve noticed recently is that there seems to be nearly as much liberal tripe on the shelves as conservative tripe. It used to be that anti-evolution screeds and “purpose-driven” drivel dominated the shelves, but I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in left-of-center tomes.
The problem isn’t the liberalism, per se; its the dessicated, uninspiring version of Christianity that so many of these books seem to be peddling.
One book I was flipping through yesterday, written by a confessedly liberal pastor, urged the reader to stop worshiping Jesus and start following him. This is a classical liberal trope, that Christians (or Paul or the Catholic Church or someone) took the “simple” religion of Jesus the mystic/activist/countercultural prophet/shaman/whatever and transformed it into a religion about Jesus.
In this particular book, following Jesus coincides neatly with a litany of left-liberal causes. But what baffles me about this particular strain of liberal Christianity is why anyone would bother with it.
I mean, if Jesus is divine, then we really ought to be worshiping him. Sure, worship will entail, among other things, doing his will, as the gospels attest, but presumably it will also involve the religion about Jesus that some liberals are so eager to jettison.
But if Jesus isn’t divine, but rather is (was?) a mere wise man/prophet/social critic, etc., then why organize your religion around him? In fact, as a moral exemplar, I can think of any number of people who are more immediately appealing than Jesus, not to mention more successful. Plus, if the entire religion about Jesus is a mistake, then he has to be judged one of history’s biggest failures as a teacher, doesn’t he?
The liberal Christianity of, e.g., the Jesus seminar–the one that wants to jettison Christianity’s entire metaphysics and economy of salvation–simply can’t offer a compelling reason why we should take Jesus–particularly the shadowy and fragmentary Jesus of historical reconstruction–as the model and meaning of our lives. At best he would be one member of a pantheon of prophets and sages whose insights we might or might not find helpful and whose lives we may or may not find inspiring and relevant.
You certainly don’t need Jesus to be a good liberal. If Jesus is the norm for human life, it’s only because he’s also divine.