Liberal Christianity at the Crossroads
by John B. Cobb, Jr.
During the academic year 1972-1973 I have served as theologian-in-residence at the Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu. This congregation was founded fifty years ago as a liberal interracial church, conscious of the need for Christians to he open to the religious traditions of Asia. Because of its openness to fresh winds and currents, it has had a stormy history, experiencing in intensified form the passions and hopes that have flowed through liberal Protestantism generally. That has meant in recent years continuing interest in East Asia, active involvement with the counter-culture, opposition to the Vietnam war including giving sanctuary to deserters, and sponsorship of human potential programs. It has also meant an inner struggle with the ideas of secular Christianity, the church as mission, the death of God, and worship as celebration.
This book owes both its title and its content to the opportunity to work in this context. Most of these chapters are adapted from sermons preached here. Although the more obvious homiletical touches have been removed, along with most local references, the discerning reader will perceive traces of the sermonic origin. One of these traces is the relative autonomy of the chapters. Whereas in writing a book one usually builds explicitly upon the early chapters as he proceeds, a sermon must stand on its own feet and, in terms of its particular topic, communicate the gospel. The sermonic form remains in that each chapter ends on a note of grace, and there is very little explicit transition between chapters or reference from one chapter to another. Also, I have left untouched the extensive use of the first person plural pronoun.
I have tried in these chapters to share as a liberal Christian with other liberal Christians an understanding of where we are and where we are called to go. I am convinced that liberal Christianity has little future unless it can articulate its stance to itself in such a way as to differentiate itself from the activist, mystical. and psychological movements toward which it gravitates from time to time. Theologically it cannot exist as a watered-down form of conservative Christianity. if we liberal Christians are unable to state the authentic Christian gospel meaningfully and relevantly in our own terms, there is little value in our survival. Unless it is the Christian gospel that makes us liberal, and not simply an erosion of faith, we are not in any serious sense liberal Christians. I am personally troubled by the extent to which we have lost our centeredness in the gospel, but I remain quite sure that the gospel requires of us that we be liberal.
My particular perspective within liberal Christianity has been shaped by years of living with the philosophical vision of Alfred North Whitehead. The understanding of grace, which is the single most pervasive theme of these chapters, is derived from him, although the word is not his and he might have been surprised by this use of his thought.
This book is dedicated with gratitude and admiration to the Church of the Crossroads in honor of its fifty years of pioneering Christian service. May it dare to continue making mistakes when that is the price of blazing new trails!