Last week at the Boar's Head Tavern, Josh Strodtbeck noted how easily we refer to any ideology as "liberal" or "conservative," and how those ideologies, even when theological, mirror those of the Democrats and Republicans.
The problem with those labels, however, is the same pothole I discussed in my post "Either Faithfulness or Relevance?" We're perpetually forcing dichotomies where none should exist. Instead, we cling to one ideological side or the other without ever asking if the truth can be found somewhere in-between.
I'm sure that most of you readers would self-label as conservative Christians if forced to choose between that and being a liberal Christian. But I wonder if a more "radical middle" exists that blurs the stereotypes we commonly attach to both of those theological ideologies.
Consider the liberal/conservative Christian trait emphasis table below:
God is Love
God is Holy
Jesus the Servant
Jesus the Savior
The Holy Spirit quickens
The Holy Spirit convicts
The Bible is the story of salvation
The Bible is the Word of God
The authority of the believer
The authority of Scripture
The Gospel is for Man
The Gospel is for God
Christ in community
Christ in the individual
The least of these
The stewardship of Creation
The New Heaven and New Earth
The poor in spirit
The rich in Christ
Salvation is a process
Salvation is a singular event
Doubt is healthy
Doubt is crippling
For the one who is not against us is for us.
(Mark 9:40 ESV)
Whoever is not with me is against me….
(Matthew 12:30a ESV)
Is it possible that the boundaries defined by these oft-used traits are false? If so, why do we cling so readily to arguments that reinforce one side over the other?
What would a Christianity look like in 21st century America that sees no paradox in combining mystery and certainty? Or uniformly emphasizes both Christ in community and Christ in the individual?
Is it possible to be neither a conservative Christian nor a liberal one, but something altogether better than either? And if so, why is it so hard for us to live that out?
14 thoughts on “Just Plain Christian?”
“The truth is somewhere in the middle,” is an expression I use often with both my conservative Christian and liberal friends. I agree with you: why can’t a Christian walk embody all of these things, as opposed to there being a dividing line, where one is more “superior” than the other? I am an enigma to my liberal friends who label all Christians as conservative, bible-thumpers, and to my conservative Christian friends who are so black and white about how a life in Christ should look. I fit in neither mold, and I never want to. I appreciate you starting this dialogue, as it is sorely needed.
Someone said something like “error is a truth taken to its extreme”, which I think has an element of truth.
But I reckon the problem is not that people are too extreme, but we are not extreme enough. We often try to go to one extreme, but neglect another (truth without love, or love without truth, for example). The answer is not to have a half-measure of both sides, but both to the full at the same time. We need to go to all the right extremes at once, and indeed, can only reach them by doing them together (you can’t really have real truth or real love without the other, for example).
I think we really need to realise that many of these issues aren’t things that should be either/or but rather both/and. Christ is Lord of all, reason and feeling, beliefs and practices, individual and community, and so on.
Yes, the “both/and” approach works more often than not.
We like to create a box to put everything in. It’s easier that way, isn’t it? This is what I believe and you’re wrong if you don’t. This holds true for both politics and religion.
Looking at the list above in light of the Word of God, I can’t see where God so neatly bundled things up to fit in one box or the other. Yet we want to stuff each into a box, not willing to see what the other box may have to offer.
The paradox is that there is validity in both boxes. We just need to seek the truth in light of scripture.
Yes Yes Yes. Why is it that we can accept that Christ was 100% human and also 100% divine, a paradox is there ever was one, but have such trouble accepting what you discuss?
I’m a little confused by your definition of “liberal.” The use of the word which I’ve found is that a liberal denies the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture and the supernatural truth of Scripture (i.e. denies the virgin birth, etc.). On these things, there can be no middle ground.
You’re right. On some things there can be no middle ground.
But are there no problems with conservative Christianity? Isn’t there an area conservative Christians are failing in that could be improved by delving into the so-called “liberal” side?
We can look at those we view to be opponents and arrogantly say they have nothing at all to offer in the way of correction to our own deficiencies, or we can carefully consider what they are doing and saying, then correct ourselves.
Many times, the issues of liberal vs. conservative are little more than two sides of the same coin. But we force them to be mutually exclusive and that’s remarkably myopic.
Great list, Dan. After I was glancing down it, my first thought was that the much of the dichotomy has been entirely bogus.
You take out about a half dozen hot-button issues and you’re right. I didn’t really include those issues in the list because I wanted to get away from the typical rhetoric and to get us thinking about Christianity as it’s existed for two millennia, no as simply a pre-modern, modern, or postmodern argument.
Dan, thanks for this list. I have been spending (too) much time watching my old denomination self-destruct, so it is good to be able to go right down the middle of your list!
IMHO, most of what divides us into “Liberal/Conservative”, “Evangelical/Pentecostal/Catholic”, etc., is apart from this kerygma. (And, incidentally, these divisions admit to no middle ground.)
Yours in His service,
Has anyone ever met someone who is totally sold out the Christ in every area of their life? If you have, you would probably have a hard time putting them in either category at any one time. Mainly because these types of labels would not matter a whit and that would be obvious by their fruit.
The strength of sound theology is it directs us to the Word. The weakness is it sometimes assumes there is no mystery that can’t be resolved, as if the wholeness of God is revealed in 66 books.
There are some things in the Bible seemed to be written to titilate our curiosity about the nature of God: “Jehovah never sleeps;” “one day with the Lord is as 1,000 years”; etc. Other things are clear directives, in case we thought out job was to sit around all day and contemplate the incomprehensible: The Ten Commandments; the Great Commission; etc.
One thing I’ve learned is as I practice the clear directives of the Bible, I tend to gain a better understanding of the nature of God. I don’t think you can put that under label except what Paul described as “doers of the Word.”
“Is it possible to be neither a conservative Christian nor a liberal one, but something altogether better than either?”
“yes. it’s called eastern orthodoxy.”
i then wink and smile at my own attempt at humor.