Friday, July 28, 2006

To Be Or Not To Be?

Scott posted some questions on his blog concerning the liberal-conservative Christian divide. I started to comment and it got too long, so I posted it here instead! If you're interested you should check out Scott's post first.

The problem with the definitions Scott uses is that when they are used in Christian circles as adjectives they define a particular generally definable Christian view. The definitions he uses are general definitions and don't really help define "liberal and conservative Christians." Of course thats part of the problem with the way these labels are thrown around - no one wants to be conservative! But is liberal all good either?!

Liberal Christians are hard to define because they are by definition retreading orthodox Christianity. Liberal Christianity is often characterised by the following features:

> internal diversity of opinion

> an embracing of stronger criticism of the Bible with a corresponding willingness to question supernatural elements of biblical stories (e.g. the resurrection, the virgin birth)

> the rejection of biblical literalism and the inerrancy of the Bible

> the freedom to construct different views of God

> broader views on salvation than those held by conservative Christians, including universalist beliefs (which flow to some extent from the frequent rejection of Christ's resurrection)

> an emphasis on inclusive fellowship and community, often applied in recent years to racial minorities, women, and lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people.

> a willingness to consider and adopt viewpoints which have their roots outside of Christianity (e.g. other faith/philosophical traditions)

> a willingness to combine theology with modern scientific theories

> a commitment to the social gospel that fuels a high level of involvement in charitable, medical, educational, and relief work, such as adoption agencies, crisis pregnancy centres, shelters, food banks, medical clinics, things like Auckland City Mission etc

So its liberal in that its open. But, in my opinion, fatally misguided in that it tends to reject orthodox Christian starting points.

Conservative Christianity on the other hand does not necessarily mean that its closed (although it often does!) Conservative Christianity is often characterised by the following features:

> A belief in the authority of the Bible and a belief that it is an incontrovertible source of God's revelation to humankind.

> Bible prophecy and Bible inerrancy are typically affirmed.

> The resurrection of Christ is seen as a historical event

> A central focus on Christ's redeeming work on the cross as the means for salvation and the forgiveness of sins and an accompanying acceptance of his divinity

> Encouragement of evangelism - sharing one's belief in salvation through Jesus Christ with others - through both organised missionary work and personal evangelism.

> Traditional views on a literal heaven and hell.

> A high level of involvement in charitable, medical, educational, and relief work, such as adoption agencies, crisis pregnancy centres, shelters, food banks, medical clinics, things like Auckland City Mission etc

So its conservative in that its mostly orthodox, but often misguided in that it adopts a siege mentality.

I think I am more conservative in my beliefs, but more liberal in the way I process the world. But I reject either of those labels as getting even close in defining my faith. And that's the problem the conservatives have - they often can't handle that - you're either conservative or you're liberal - well welcome to the world, its a lot bigger than they think! As for liberal Christianity it falls into 2 camps for me: those that maintain a belief in the divinity and humanity of Christ, including his death and physical resurrection, and those who don't. For me, the second group are not Christian in belief. In fact I have heard some describe themselves as post-Christians, which is about right - post-Christ. Of course among the 2 or 3 readers of this blog there may be those who don't feel adequately described by my descriptions - I'm not trying to be exhaustive, just somewhat descriptive.

One of the reasons I am attracted to the emerging church conversation is because it tends to be orthodox in its foundations but asks questions of the established order that I think are healthy. But I think there is a danger for the emerging church in becoming seduced down a liberal theological path. It is possible to follow Christ and be neither liberal or conservative.

In fact I'd say its essential.


servant said...

Nice post. I didn't need to write the reply I did on Scott's blog.... trying to keep it short didn't do it the justice you did :o)

I should have read this first.

BJ said...

Except you gave a good example of how the terms can be used in different contexts - so that one could be religiously conservative, socially liberal and politically conservative all at the same time...

...And still be wrong ;)

Kelso said...

thanks for going deeper into this gentlemen. sk

Steve said...

well put, jonesy. i would classify myself similarly.

i have encountered the same dilemma politically as well. i'm neither conservative nor liberal (republican or democrat here in the US) but some kind of hybrid... yet this is also founded completely on Jesus' death and resurrection.


Tony Myles said...

The problem with labels is that we need them in order to function and yet they are completely incomplete. The emerging church will be what it is... bigger than what we label it to be, and smaller than any generalization we make.