Moving beyond conservative and liberal


Moving beyond conservative and liberal


It seems we are still living out the battle for the bible. In the minds of some you either believe in the inerrancy of scripture or you are a godless liberal. This has become the unfair litmus test people use to judge the authenticity of one another’s faith.

I believe that the bible is the highest authority for faith and life. I also believe that the reformation got it wrong. One person, by themselves, cannot accurately interpret and apply scripture with absolute clarity. There are several reasons for this.

Scripture was written in an ancient language that is translated in to our language. The translations often vary as the translators are forced to make best guesses.

We are biased by our culture, insecurities, spiritual experiences, upbringing, mood, education, race, gender etc… We each have a lens with which we interpret everything around us, that lens skews what we see.

There is an element to truth that is spiritually discerned in the body of believers.

There are some things that are abundantly clear and held in common throughout the history of the church. There are others that are less clear due to the complexities of interpretation and illumination. This is why we have thousands of distinct theologically divided groups each claiming they know the truth better than the rest.

There are some who chose to ignore this and maintain that everything they hold to is abundantly clear in scripture. I believe that these people are not being honest with themselves. Instead of admitting this they act out of fear. In their mind as soon as they admit that other perspectives might be valid they have become a relativist, a liberal, or even a heretic.

By the old definitions I’m far more conservative than liberal. I admit I have friends on the other side of spectrum and I disagree with them. Before I engage anyone on these issues I make sure I understand exactly what their position is. You have no credibility when you start making unfair accusations. Through friendly dialog both sides can learn and change.

In a great many debates I’ve encountered online I found myself arguing against the people I’m closer to theologically. Usually because these specific people were dishonest, poorly researched, and very unkind.

What I’ve found is “liberals” are often terribly misunderstood by the other side. They can be very hurt when people question the authenticity of their walk with God. Many are following Christ as best as they know how.

Jesus said that “by their fruit you will know them.” I’d say that the general fruit of liberalism hasn’t been that good. Churches that modernized through liberalism are in steep decline and have failed to inspire a lot people to a life of discipleship. The fruit of conservative evangelicalism is different but I’m not sure it is much better. They have more people in their churches but those people often don’t exhibit any change in behavior. They have sold out the gospel and discipleship in favour of perceived ministry success. A lot of these people start freaking out when they perceive that someone has stepped out of their doctrinal box but don’t seem to care that very few people in their ministries show any evidence of Christ’s character.

I think people all across the spectrum have realized that we are missing something.  Many have decided we need to move beyond modern era categorizations of Christianity. 

  1. #1 by graham on March 29, 2005 - 11:55 am

    Great post! Completely agree.

  2. #2 by Marc on March 29, 2005 - 12:19 pm

    Excellent thoughts.

  3. #3 by Darryl on March 29, 2005 - 3:48 pm

    I agree with your comments on how to understand others from a different theological persuasion. I wish that this was the norm.

    I do wonder how easy it will be to move beyond the distinctions of liberal and evangelical. This comes, partly, after hearing Bishop Spong talk about his understanding of the resurrection in a debate recently. It struck me that we are not just dealing with modern categorizations; we are talking about profound differences in foundational (for lack of a better word) matters.

    It can’t hurt to begin to understand one another better though.

  4. #4 by Michael on March 29, 2005 - 4:41 pm

    I agree with what you are saying. Anything that is divisive in the church should be removed. Liberal, Conservative, Catholic, Protestant….all wonderful ways of dividing the church and making it fight itself.

    I would like to ask, though, liberalism to what extent is ‘acceptable?’ I’m not an expert on American/Canadian Church matters, but here in the UK, we have so many Liberal Christians whose beliefs are so lacking in core areas. Political correctness has infected vast swathes of the church corrupting basic Christ-taught morality and allowing all manner of evils which should be utterly renounced! Now, I don’t want a debate over belief…I have mine, rightly or wrongly…but we should at least have an idea of what constitutes Christianity, rather than the PC New-Ageist propaganda spouted by much of the established church!

  5. #5 by Leighton Tebay on March 29, 2005 - 5:21 pm

    Michael:

    I think you have a good question. Where, if anywhere do we draw the line. In scripture I see three tests. John talks about discerning spirits. Jesus talks about knowing people by their fruit, and Paul talks about good doctrine.

    I look at someone with bad doctrine and say he/she is out but then what do I say about the vast amount of people I think have good doctrine but show no evidence of renewal in Christ. I think it is easy to pick on doctrine and ignore the rest.

    I have never been shy about engaging people who I believe have weak theology. I have no problem saying to someone I think my theology is stronger than yours. But I must admit it has never been a test of fellowship or friendship. I planted a house church once with a guy that I thought was very sincere but believed some pretty crazy stuff. When other people rejected him, I accepted him. Later on he ran in to some people that changed his mind.

    I’ve always like the approach of Eastern Orthodox, we know where the church is, not where the church isn’t. The EO use that phrase to discuss whether we are in or out, but I like the general direction of it.

    I definitely draw the line on the occult though. I believe there are evil spiritual forces in this world and they do nasty, nasty things to people.

  6. #6 by Michael on March 29, 2005 - 6:07 pm

    Leighton,

    Though I agree entirely with your comments, especially the last paragraph (the occult is dangerous and very easy to get mixed up in), I do have to ask the question: Does the Western Church need to have a discussion on Spirituality?

    We live in a Spiritually-devoid society where millions of people fill the God-shaped hole with all manner of things – Possessions, drugs, sex etc. Perhaps, we should stop pulling the usual trick of trying to separate ourselves from God, by separating Physical and Spiritual. The two are inextricably linked. Only western church doctrine has created this rift, that isn’t actually there.

    The spiritual realm is little understood. I personally believe that God’s creation, whether heaven or earth, are similar in all manner of ways. God created countless diverse animals and plants and yet we limit him to the angels in heaven.

    I like Paul Yonggi Cho, unlike the writer of the only internet article that actually expresses what he says:

    http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/exposes/cho/general.htm

    His ideas seem wrong initially, but I cannot find anything unscriptural in his teachings. They may conflict with the teachings of the Western Church, but isn’t that the fun of being a heretic? Here is a man with the largest church in the world that has an attendance larger than the entire church in the UK and they attack him?

    Now, to quote the old adage, size isn’t everything, but here is a man open to God’s teachings and doing what he’s told and God has blessed him to a level that you or I can barely begin to imagine. And yet, because his beliefs are not westernised, sterilised and compartmentalised he is viciously attacked.

    In short, we need a sensible serious scripture-based debate, rather than a few hundred year old ramblings from men who offered to get souls out of purgatory for a few gold coins!

  7. #7 by Andrew on March 29, 2005 - 6:51 pm

    I’m not sure how you define “the reformation”, but certainly the ‘big’ Reformers Luther and Calvin did not believe that the individual can “accurately interpret scripture with absolute clarity”. Calvin in particular believed that the bible’s interpretation should take place within the community of believers, the Church, and not be left to the individual. The Reformers of course differed with Catholic views on the place of tradition in Church matters, but certainly they were not ‘solipsist’ interpreters. 19th century revivalists (also reformers, I suppose) fit more into the individualistic interpretation you describe.

    I know it’s a small part of your entry, and I certainly agree with the balance of your post!

  8. #8 by LT on March 29, 2005 - 7:15 pm

    Andrew:

    You are right. I must be getting the original reformers confused with some folks I’ve been dialoging with. I may just edit that part out.

  9. #9 by thelogo on March 29, 2005 - 11:27 pm

    As an idea, or starting space, towards figuring out where we draw lines and how we draw christian, I would suggest that we stop looking for any one thing.

    It was already mentioned about three tests in the bible, but moving beyond that, I think we need to realize that there is no such think as one dimensional Christianity. Truth, in the form of right belief or doctrine, has its place, but so does love, ethics, behavior (i.e. the religion God accepts is to care for widows and orphans, from james) and so much more. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your lord. Etc. etc. etc.

    I think it has been very damaging for us to try to limit everything to one defining test, because we end up with people who put all their effort into passing that one test and never move beyond it.

    If were not drawing lines, then things suddenly become personal. In order to make any statements about whether someone is a christian or not (presuming that they claim this status) it would have to be done from a perspective of actual understanding of the individual, and be done out of love and friendship.

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