Essence - Identity - Liberation: Three Ways of Looking at Christianity


  • John May


In short, we have become aware of the need to scrutinise more closely the interpretative schemes or frameworks with the help of which we inevitably look at Christianity, whether as believers or as scholars. I should like to discuss three such interpretative frameworks or methodological paradigms in the historical order in which they were proposed. Each of them, I believe, improves upon its predecessor, though without supplanting it entirely. I shall try to criticise the deficiencies of each whilst highlighting possible complementarities, in such a way
that, cumulatively, the three concepts might provide at least the elements of an approach adequate both to the complex historical phenomenon of Christianity and to our present stage of reflection upon it. I shall begin by reviewing a debate about the 'essence' of Christianity which occupied historians at the turn of the century, and I shall then discuss an alternative proposal based on the social science concept of 'identity' (2). I shall conclude by trying to assess the merits of a more recent approach which emphasises the concrete praxis of 'liberation'.