Liberal Christianity at the Crossroads

by John B. Cobb, Jr.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is

Published by Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1973. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Says the author: “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.”


  • Preface

    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.

  • Chapter 1: Liberal Christianity at the Crossroads

    We liberals have come down the road from historic Christianity progressively using up the capital of our heritage and doing little to replenish it. We have come more and more to mirror our culture, or certain strands within it, rather than to speak to it an effective word of judgment or healing.

  • Chapter 2: Does It Matter?

    Because everything matters, we can endure without rest and without self-satisfaction. We matter as individuals. Our every hope and fear, our angry and generous feelings, our little gestures for good and ill — all are important. We are people of worth.

  • Chapter 3: The Story We Live

    We do need honestly to recognize that what is most important and precious in our lives we owe to a history of which Jesus is the hinge. The attempt to understand ourselves more fully and more critically will then lead us to seek a clearer understanding of him as well.

  • Chapter 4: Jesus the Disturber

    Something happened when he turned the world upside down. Men saw their lives in a new and very disturbing light. It was disturbing because on the one hand it showed them things about themselves that, once having seen, they could not forget, whereas on the other hand there was no adjustment of their lives which could comfortably reconcile them to this new truth.

  • Chapter 5: Heeding the Cry

    If history has no Lord, and if we individually do not stand under the moral judgment of a transcendent maker, then does our continued concern for critical openness and historical responsibility make sense? There is a cry of terrifying Love, to which it is so much more comfortable to shut our ears and hearts. This cry leads us to the God whom we have been trying to heed as liberal Christians. It is not a figment of our imagination or a product of our wishes. It is there to be discerned if we will be attentive and perceptive.

  • Chapter 6: Renewing the Vision

    What we attend to determines to a great extent how we think, feel, and act. It shapes our vision of reality. Worship is one very important means of influencing what we attend to. It makes a lot of difference whether and what we worship.

  • Chapter 7: Gratitude for Life

    Grace is the final word of worship and the underlying experience of Christian life. This chapter attempts to make real the historic meaning of grace. Life is grace. It is given to us, and what is given is good. That is the gospel, and it can renew itself in all its strangeness to the modern ear.

  • Chapter 8: Trusting and Deciding

    Trusting grace by no means excludes reasoning. The tendency to disparage reason on the part of both the human potential movement and some existentialists must be countered. The question is not whether to think but what to think about. If we try to decide what to think about by thinking alone, we are driven into a fruitless circle.

  • Chapter 9: The Grace That Justifies

    Grace touches us in the very ground of our being at that point of gnawing anxiety about ourselves which is deeper than all the particular worries and fears in which we express it.

  • Chapter 10: The Faith That Kills and the Faith That Quickens

    The word "faith" means so many different things, and it is so easily used to conceal an absence of meaning. The common use of this slippery word falsely suggests agreement where there is none. And yet it is claimed that salvation itself depends upon what it names, or faith is even identified with salvation. But the gospel is not about faith so much as it is about grace.

  • Chapter 11: Pandora’s Box

    Christianity is on the side of hope. The degree of our need for hope is a function of the seriousness with which we take the threats to man’s well-being. But it is also true that the seriousness with which we take these threats is partly a function of our hope. A man of little hope cannot face the threats.

  • Chapter 12: Christ as the Image of Love

    The love that is expressed in the willingness even to die for others is called in the New Testament agapé. We could only hope to move toward such a love if that love is grounded beyond ourselves. And it is.

  • Chapter 13: Joy

    The objectivity and universality of the good news should guard us as Christians against the dangers of privatism and individualism. It should establish a sense of our solidarity with all men in receiving the wholly unanticipated and undeserved gift. We are members of one another, and what God has done for us he has done for us all.