In this first of three volumes, Dorrien identifies the indigenous roots of American liberal theology and demonstrates a wider, longer-running tradition than has been thought. The tradition took shape in the nineteenth century, motivated by a desire to map a modernist "third way" between orthodoxy and rationalistic deism/atheism. It is defined by its openness to modern intellectual inquiry; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people. Dorrien takes a narrative approach and provides a biographical reading of important religious thinkers of the time, including William E. Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Bushnell, Henry Ward Beecher, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Charles Briggs. Dorrien notes that, although liberal theology moved into elite academic institutions, its conceptual foundations were laid in the pulpit rather than the classroom.