Spectrums: Liberal to Conservative Is not Enough

Spectrums: Liberal to Conservative Is not Enough

nt church booksLast weekend Dave Black was our guest here in Pensacola. I recorded some videos for promotional and educational purposes and Dave also preached and talked about missions (with plenty of pictures) at Chumuckla Community Church. I will be posting some of these videos soon, but they are not quite ready yet.

Dave is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m a United Methodist with the dreaded ‘L’ word in my blog tagline (“Thoughts on biblical studies, religion, and living from a passionate moderate, liberal charismatic Christian”). Obviously this is some sort of liberal-conservative dialogue.

Not really. I’ve written recently about dialogue and why, as a publisher, I publish books from a variety of perspectives. In a video I produced in the early days of Energion Publications I used a triangle, with the points being charismatic, liberal, and evangelical. I would note that for this to work now it should be “conservative evangelical” as the label “evangelical seems to have lost some cohesion. This will happen to words, especially those that are perceived as positive labels.

But even those three points fail to catch some of the issues, and there’s a bit of a tendency to think of Christians grouped at the points of the triangle. One of the reasons many have trouble with labels is that people don’t fit into the center of the semantic range of a label. In addition, on different issues one may take different positions. I have political views on some subjects that seem very conservative, while on others I seem quite liberal. Similarly on theological issues I don’t try to fit all in one camp.

There are two points (I think!) in all this rambling. The first is that we don’t fit cleanly into one label on all issues. The second is that we may be able to connect with people in other camps on particular issues. In all cases (should this be #3?) this should suggest options for learning from one another.

For example, when many charismatics talk about modern revelation they use theological arguments that are also commonly expressed by liberal or progressive theologians. Not a few of those I’ve talked to want to deny any connection, but behavior and practice tell a different story. There is some theology to be learned here! Similarly many charismatics should—and do—learn biblical studies from their evangelical brethren.

Many liberals or progressives, on the other hand, don’t want to be linked to charismatics because of emotionalism or other extremes. Yet too frequently progressive biblical reflection tends to be more a matter of challenging the conclusions of evangelicals rather than developing a robust theology and application of scripture. Yes, this can be a stereotype. I have several authors in the Energion Publications list, such as Dr. Bob Cornwall, Dr. Bruce Epperly, and Dr. Drew Smith, none of whom fit the picture. And there are many more like them.

9781631990465mOne of the interviews I conduced with Dave was about his book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Dave goes back to the book of Acts for keys to how the church should behave now, in the 21st century. And this brings up a very different spectrum: church structure.

We could make a spectrum that runs not from conservative to liberal, but from strongly hierarchical to mutually submissive, from high church to low, from central control to local. Similarly we might look for a spectrum of views on who is in charge of the church, how much, and in what way. That could run from Jesus in charge directly to a highly hierarchical view of how the lordship of Jesus is implemented in the life of the church. None of these would exclude people from any liberal-conservative, charismatic-evangelical, or any similar ideological spectrum.

My plan is that as soon as I’ve posted my interview with Dave on his Seven Marks book, I’m going to start blogging through the Marks. As I do so, I’m going to bring in points from some other authors, such as Bruce Epperly, whose book Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel also goes back to Acts to ask what we can do in the church today. Beside both of those I’m going to reference the book Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations by Dr. Ruth Fletcher. There are definite differences of approach in these books, but there are also many points of contact.

So I’m going to ask two questions in my series:

  1. Can we find a way to apply these seven marks in other theological and ecclesiological traditions? (I fully believe we can, though there are places where our ecclesiology needs to change, and that’s a good thing!)
  2. More specifically, how can a United Methodist congregation look back to the New Testament and so become a more authentic witness for Jesus in the world today? There are those who would say many of these ideas are not possible under denominational rules, but I wonder. How much would a simple commitment to being “servant of all” on the part of those at the top of the organizational chart might change the reality without altering the paperwork?

So watch here over the next week. I’ll post the video and then begin the discussion. I hope I can find some people to discuss this with me vigorously. My comment policy is largely open. If you don’t threaten the family friendly nature of the blog, you can express yourself.

 

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