The term liberal most comprehensively relates to Enlightenment rationality, which posits an autonomous self which can arrive at a one-dimensional certitude. With regard to scripture study it refers to historical criticism, which seeks to locate each text in context and to contain it therein.
When applied to preaching, the liberal approach may take one of two extreme forms. The progressive option features a kind of naturalism that refuses the notion of revelation and the supernaturalism of miracles, along with the tradition that attested them. One can see how historical criticism helped to explain away what was unintelligible to this rationality: “It is the Sea of Reeds, not the Red Sea.” The second liberal approach, in response to such progressivism, is a conservative attempt to reduce unmanageable mystery to a set of propositions that can provide a reassuring certitude.
Both modes of liberal preaching are alive and well as the body of Christ is divided up, like Christ’s robe, into blue and red. The problem with such approaches is that they leave one with nothing to say: nothing for progressives to express except ethical admonitions, nothing for conservatives to convey except concepts, neither telling any gospel news that could be transformative. Progressives have been epistemologically embarrassed by the gospel, and conservatives are tempted to a reductionism that knows too much.
—Christian Century, June 12, 2013 edition