Theology for Liberal Presbyterians (And Other Endangered Species)

Theology for Liberal Presbyterians

Theology for Liberal Presbyterians


Above is the title of a book I’m blogging in conjunction with the Transforming Theology Project. The author is Douglas F. Ottati, an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, VA.

One may wonder about the author’s bother to write a theological book with a specifically liberal Presbyterian audience in mind. Like liberal Protestants generally, liberal Presbyterians are part of the “mainline decline” seen among Episcopalians, United Methodists, and the United Church of Christ over the last 40 years. Membership losses have dropped steadily and some critics of the mainline Protestant churches might even say the death rattle is soon to be heard. Professor Ottati offers a simple answer:

“…I want to support an alternative to ascendant evangelical and conservative pieties… ”

Despite the swell of popularity for evangelical, conservative and fundamentalist brands of Christianity in recent American memory (Southern Baptists, Pat Robertson, and the Christian right for instance), Ottati insists unashamedly that liberal voices will positively influence the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He wants to say boldly, “Liberal Protestantism isn’t quite dead yet.”

He writes to liberal Presbyterians for three reasons:

  • He is one
  • He believes liberal Presbyterians (and liberal Protestants) represent a unique way of being faithful
  • Liberal Christians have important contributions to make in this increasingly complex and pluralistic world

So what makes a liberal Presbyterian liberal exactly?

Ottati says that liberals at their best seek

“to retrieve, restate, rethink, and revise traditional theologies and beliefs in the face of contemporary knowledge and realities.” (viii).

This is what makes them liberal.

If liberal Presbyterians and Protestants are going to be relevant in the contemporary world, Ottati asserts passionately that this is what they must continue to do: to reflect critically and theologically in a liberal style.

Yet to Ottati, this crisis of relevance is not for the sake of church growth. He is not simply offering a last-ditch plea to “save the family farm.” If either were the case, there would be no good reason to read any further.

His is a summons to marshal the rich liberal legacy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to provide an intellectually critical and spiritually faithful Christian witness in a constantly changing world desperate for moral and theological imagination. Ottati believes this is reason enough to write the book.

As a Baptimergent with a free ecumenical spirit (and as one who flirted with the Presbyterians during Divinity school), I am stirred by Ottati’s optimism in the prophetic wisdom of his liberal Presbyterian tradition. While his call is made to the people he knows best, liberal Presbyterians, liberal Christians of all stripes can be responsive to his treatment of evangelism, the ordination of gay and lesbian persons, and preemptive war. Issues that are anything but endangered.


Transforming Theology Project: More Context

Check out this video from fellow Wake Forest Divinity alum Tripp Fuller and Emergent Church expert Tony Jones to learn more about this project I’m participating in through the blogosphere.

And, speak up when you’re ready. What are your biggest and best God questions?

Transforming Theology Project: A Reason to Blog

For over a year now, I have approached blogging in fits and starts. “To blog or not to blog” has not been the question so much as “what to blog about.”

I actually don’t mind having “un-published thoughts,” so chronicling every detail of my day never has appealed to me.  I needed a purposeful reason to blog, and I think I have finally found it.

I have agreed to blog books for the Transforming Theology Project funded by the Ford Foundation and facilitated by some good folks at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, CA.

I’ll not belabor the point. Instead, here’s a video explaining what this project is about. Soon, I’ll begin blogging the book I’ve been assigned. Until then, hear this.