A spectrum of Christian dispositions

I have recently been asked what I would consider a “liberal” Christian.

Well, for one thing, although I buck at calling myself as a liberal Christian, I recognize that I am more “liberal” than many others on certain issues. I think from a typical evangelical POV, a “liberal Christian” is thought of as not caring enough about sound theology; this makes me extremely uncomfortable given my hard-won theological views.

Another angle that might help is in evaluating one’s disposition toward traditional teaching. Please allow me to offer a categorization I’ve noticed, most phases of which I feel I have passed through, so bear in mind the probability of personal bias. Also note that I am aware I have not described every variety of Christian belief system.

1) Fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals assume that the main body of church teaching is correct. When they encounter opposition to that teaching, they tend to marshal their most trusted apologists to defend the teaching.
Distrust: All unbelievers and Christians who disagree with certain (varying) core teachings except for on matters not perceived as influencing worldviews.
Boundaries: Uncertainty is strongly resisted. Very stable; those who unwillingly stumble into doubt tend toward a treacherous disillusionment with faith. May become progressive if enticed to begin critical examination of their tradition.

2) Progressive evangelicals hold to the main body of church teaching somewhat more provisionally. When they encounter opposition to that teaching, they more open-mindedly and critically evaluate the evidence.
Distrust: Fundamentalists; anti-Christian secularists except on non-worldview matters.
Boundaries: Certainty is still largely assumed possible and sought out. Tends to be a transitional stage; an overriding “thrill of the hunt” has been aroused. May become post-evangelicals or liberal Christians when core traditional assumptions are rejected and/or the belief forms that highly formulated theology is artificial and limiting.

3) Post-evangelicals have identified a very few core teachings and hold somewhat loosely to others until they are problematized, which they find happens fairly easily. Characterized by a pronounced agnosticism (in the general sense) and distrust of any systematic theology purporting to be based on Scripture/tradition alone. The assumption is still present that the Bible in the main presents an adequate and accurate picture of spiritual reality, but the burden of proof is not as heavily weighted toward the opposition’s side as it is for progressive evangelicals.
Distrust: Strident conservative evangelicals and strident anti-religious secularists in matters of worldview.
Boundaries: Content with or resigned to uncertainty. A potentially stable position for those who are more content with uncertainty, but many move on to agnosticism or liberal Christianity.

4) Liberal Christians are those whose view of God and spirituality is shaped almost exclusively by the ethics of Jesus/the Christian tradition, clinging to no teaching of the Bible or tradition without subjecting it to thorough critical scrutiny. They have (to varying degrees) adopted the conviction that such critical scrutiny has proved virtually all traditional conceptions of the Bible’s origin, nature, and accuracy to have been inaccurate. Typically regard Scripture as fully human and merely reflective or suggestive of the spiritual realities to which its human authors attest, lacking any coherent theme imposed upon it by God. Needless to say, there are at least as many different varieties of liberal Christian as there are evangelicals.
Distrust: Fundamentalists and the more conservative evangelicals.
Boundaries: Bask in uncertainty. Extremely stable.

Please don’t be offended if I mischaracterized your position: just correct it below in the comments! I repeat: This is in no way intended to be an authoritative breakdown of all Christian positions. It’s heavily weighted toward the Protestant side of things, for instance. I just thought I’d throw it out there as a semi-autobiographical description of many of the categories of Christian belief with which I am familiar.

Once again, please pipe up if you have any major critiques. Also, if you could come up with an example of well-known Christian leaders who fall into these categories, please let me know and I’ll include them. Finally, just for kicks, tell me which one you think I am.

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