Jesus Was A Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All:

“McLennan’s writing is that of a thoughtful scholar. . .This book will reward any reader with an open mind and a curiosity about the breadth of the Christian faith.” — Library Journal

“McLennan’s presentation is remarkably thoughtful, respectful, and balanced as he argues that liberal Christianity is a vital expression of faith.” — Publishers Weekly

“An immensely readable book that reclaims the honorable word ‘liberal’ for a vision of Christianity that is persuasive, compelling, and faithful.” – Marcus J. Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity and Jesus: The Life, Teaching and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary

“A wonderfully readable and very timely book. It makes Jesus available again, as he has been at many times in history, to a much wider spectrum of people, and not just ‘liberals.’ Will be appreciated by those who want to ‘conserve’ what he stood for, taught and died for.” – Harvey Cox, author of When Jesus Came to Harvard and The Future of Faith

“A clear-eyed, hopeful manifesto of belief, written with style and integrity. At last – the progressive case for faith, powerfully made.”–James Carroll, author of Practicing Catholic


Review & Commentary

One thought on “Jesus Was A Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All

  1. Review

    "Liberal" is anything but a dirty word for the Dean of Religious Life, and pastor of Memorial Church, at Stanford University. Scotty McLennan is proof that while Christians may be a minority group within it, publicly professing followers of Jesus still thrive in the Unitarian Universalist Association in which he is ordained. He has written his opus on progressive Christianity without disparaging the conservative Christians or the public atheists to whose positions his book carefully responds. With his typical generosity of spirit, Scotty shares how much he respects and learns from those with whom he substantially disagrees, while using them to locate progressives in the center of the Christian tradition. Scotty is the real person behind the figure of Rev. Scot Sloan in Doonesbury, created by McLennan's Yale roommate, Garry Trudeau. Contrary to his comic-strip caricature as the pastor of a nearly empty church, McLennan's big audience will grow bigger with the launch of this new book.

    JESUS WAS A LIBERAL is the best introduction to theologically and socially progressive Christianity that I've read in the past several years. McLennan offers a concise definition of "liberal" Christianity, and applies it concretely to hot-button social issues and common confusions about biblical interpretation. He describes what is right about the long, venerable liberal religious tradition more than he argues against what is wrong with atheism or biblical literalism. He makes his cases unequivocally but without being shrill. He offers a defense of abortion rights grounded on the Christmas story in Matthew: "Precisely because Mary's situation is utterly unique, it places in bold relief other girls and women who have not voluntarily chosen to become pregnant." (p 16) He shares the bases of his public opposition to the war in Iraq in Christian "just war theory". His analysis of the impending conflict, and his predictions of the outcome of the war expressed in his sermons and a newspaper editorial, turned out to be uncannily accurate.

    The book is flavored throughout with both the earthy and the intellectual. Scotty moves between insights from religious scholarship and stories from his own and others' experiences of pastoral ministry. He illustrates with stories from his stints as a poverty lawyer, as a disciple of a Hindu priest in India, and as a university lecturer. He neatly addresses the common concerns of lay people who are struggling with basic Christian concepts like the Trinity, the "body and blood" of communion, being "born again", and the apocalypse. But he doesn't talk down to the reader: he also salts the text with scholarly analyses of biblical texts and historical details.

    The most distinctive feature of his book is his detailed response to four highly visible public atheists of the past few years; Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. He engaged with them personally in their appearances at Stanford, responding to their indictments of liberal, progressive faith. Scotty's book is a call for critics of supernaturalist faith to refrain from throwing the baby Jesus out with the bathwater. He vigorously argues against their accusations that progressive faithful people unwittingly aid and abet the perpetuation of archaic, harmful religion. At the same time, he calls liberal Christians to join atheists in ecstatically experiencing the natural world. "…I congratulate Richard Dawkins on his enthusiasm, awe, and wonder forged as an atheist in the realm of science alone. We religious people need more of his spirit." (p 127)

    The book ends with McLennan's rousing defense of the "L" word. "Too many (liberal Christians) choose silence, afraid to use the word "liberal" to describe where they stand. That leaves them lying low, sitting quietly in their pews at church or in private prayer at home… I bellow, ‘Stand up, stand tall, and proclaim the positive power of liberal Christianity! Do it now, before it's too late!'" (p 219) In the cause of redeeming the faith, whether we use the word "liberal" or "progressive", nobody stands taller – literally and figuratively – than Scotty McLennan.

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