The recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church has prompted a broader discussion of the fate of liberal Christianity. No surprise—the Episcopal Church has been one of the most aggressively liberal influences in American Christianity in the past few years, pushing hard against the traditions of the broader Anglican Communion. In The New York Times, Ross Douthat goes so far as to ask, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" But that question necessarily prompts two others: What is Liberal Christianity, and Should it be saved?
Liberal Christianity is dying on the vine. Mainline denominations are taking big hits across the board. According to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, among Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, more adults are leaving the church than entering it. Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans are retaining less than half of their children. And in these denominations, no one is sitting in the pews! Gallup reported in 2005 that weekly and near-weekly church attendees made up less than 45% of self-identifying Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, with Episcopalians at a dismal 32%. And the numbers aren't getting any better.
But what, exactly, is liberal Christianity? Over the past several decades, liberalism has primarily defined itself by what it is not. Its message is "We're not like those stodgy old traditionalists—we're hip and accepting" (as long as they're not asked to accept unchanging morality or the truth of Scripture). Liberal Christianity rejects the core tenets of Christianity, including the belief that Jesus is God, that all of mankind is guilty of sin and condemned to hell, that God sacrificed His Son to bear the punishment for our sins, that Scripture is the absolute, unchanging, perfect Word of God, and that the only path to salvation is through believing in Christ's sacrifice and accepting His gift of eternal life by grace through faith.
In place of these tenets, liberal Christianity embraces a series of denials: Christ is not divine, mankind is not inherently sinful, the Scriptures are not authoritative and unchanging, heaven and hell are not literal, morality and theology are not absolute, and social mores do not flow from Scripture, but are an ever-changing product of our evolutionary enlightenment.