Saturday, August 17, 2013

Freeing Protestantism from Liberalism

On the Square - Freeing Protestantism from Liberalism by Peter J. Leithart
Once upon a time, everyone followed a simple, relaxed, guilt-free religion, uncluttered by rites and dogmas. Along came the greedy priests, who complicated and corrupted everything. They added ceremonies and demanded payment for their performance, elaborated precise doctrines, and persecuted deviants, and in all this perverted the God-and-me immediacy of true religion. It’s as predictable as gravity: From the beginning, every religion devolves from primitive purity to decadent ritualism.

This myth, which John Milbank has labeled the “liberal Protestant metanarrative,” has had a remarkably long run...

Despite its age, the liberal Protestant metanarrative continues to influence not only religious studies but also, as Milbank shows, the social sciences of religion. Max Weber was as much a liberal Protestant theorist as Bernard and Picart. Outside the academy, it continues to be a foundation myth for a large segment of Protestantism, and not only liberal Protestantism. Some of the most conservative American Evangelicals are as suspicious of ceremony as Bernard and Picart. For some, immediacy is the defining characteristic of Evangelicalism, and any Protestant who gives too central a place to liturgy and sacraments is driven from the camp. Evangelicals recoil when told they sound like liberals, but the underlying notion of religion is the same, and it suggests that the liberal Protestant metanarrative has become the Protestant metanarrative, pure and simple...

Much depends on recognizing and rooting out this narrative. It distorts Protestant, especially Evangelical, assessments of Catholicism, and makes Protestant–Catholic relations even more challenging than they need to be. For Evangelicals, renouncing the liberal metanarrative is essential to the future health, even to the existence, of a form of Protestantism that can credibly distinguish itself from liberalism.
Post a Comment