Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Letters to Emerging Christians

posted by xscot mcknight

Here is a letter passed on to me; I’ll respond next week.
“I have to admit, I’ve been very discouraged in the past few years with the whole polarization of Evangelical Christianity between those of us who want to gently challenge some filters and habits of the mind, and those who want to retreat to fundamentalism. Is it getting worse or was it always this bad and I’ve only lately noticed it?
For example, in the latest issue of CT:
1. Several letters slamming Stan Guthrie for even thinking about ways of integrating some aspects of Evolution with the Christian faith. Unless you hold to a literal seven day creation you’re a heretic!
2. The article by Ted Olsen on p. 20 noting how frequently Conservative Christians conflate Christianity with American patriotism and/or the Republican party. One commentator says Jim Wallis can’t call himself an Evangelical because he’s a “left- leaning socialist” who made a speech on the Democrats’ weekly radio address!
3. The editorial on pp. 22-23 describing the latest from Dobson & company, attacking a member of the NAE for daring to suggest that global warming might actually be a problem. I guess if you’re not making an anti-abortion or anti-gay marriage statement, or if you seem at odds with the Bush administration, you don’t have a right to speak out as a self-identified Evangelical.
I find myself constantly making caveats when I call myself an Evangelical to separate myself from a whole segment of the religious right. I might be an Evangelical in the tradition of John Stott or Mark Noll, but increasingly I feel like they’re in the minority. Maybe I should stop calling myself an Evangelical and just say that I generally have an Evangelical understanding of doctrine, but I don’t subscribe to much of the baggage that comes with the label.
Ok, this one is just a quirk, but it bothered me nonetheless: on the very first page of this CT issue there is an ad for a published edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible. I just got done reading a good, interesting book by Alister McGrath about the King James Bible in which he talks at length about its predecessors, including the Geneva Bible. I thought to myself: “that would be interesting to browse through, from a historical perspective…”
Then I read the quote from D. James Kennedy, a pastor and seminary leader in Florida: “The publication and promulgation of the 1599 Geneva Bible will help restore America’s rich Christian heritage and reclaim the culture for Christ.” What!? A 1599 Bible which, incidentally, comes with a middle-English glossary to help you understand what the heck they were saying, is the answer that will reclaim the culture for Christ??? The implications of that statement are just staggering. Apparently the NIV and The Message are on the wrong path in trying to translate the Bible into everyday language. We need to go back to a way of speaking that is over 400 years old so that we can give it to our youth and the un-churched among us. Then, they can read what the Puritans read and in no time our culture will be reclaimed for Christ. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
I’m so sick of dealing with the mentality of conservative Christians….”



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Brad Boydston

posted April 27, 2007 at 6:13 am


It doesn’t happen all that often. So it’s good to hear you rant — once in awhile. :)



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Diane

posted April 27, 2007 at 6:40 am


I too get distressed by some of the statements put out by the far right evangelical movement but the last thing to do is to stop calling oneself an evangelical. Don’t give up the ground. While the news can be distressing on one hand, on the other hand there’s a welcome buzz in the blogosphere and in the press about evangelicals moving left. I’ve received two essays from “Sightings” (Marty Martin, U of Chicago) on just that topic in the last several weeks. And the mainstream press has run stories about environmental evangelicals. I see a great deal of hope. I see some of the over-the-top far right rhetoric as the lashing out of people who are losing the battle. Time Magazine listed Brian McLaren as one of its top 25 evangelicals two years ago … The right wing evangelicals must have had vapors, but maybe Time is catching the whiff of change.
Part of the genius of the early Church is that rather than come up with new labels to define themselves against the Roman empire they simply used the same words as the Empire and subverted their meanings. The Romans called Caesar, who had the power to command anyone to die for him, king … the Chrtistians called Jesus who died for them king … the Romans called their hierachical state a kingdom, the Christians called their equalitarian state a kingdom. The Christians called wives wives and then radically redefined what that term meant … etc. I am disturbed when people, and I know many, refuse to call themselves Christians because they don’t want to be identified with the Falwells and the Dobsons … that’s too much to give up! Let’s take back the words evangelical and Christian.
On the same note of not backing down, I was bothered, when on the eve of the Christian peace march in D.C. organized by Sojourners, IRD put out a startlingly ugly press release calling the marchers unAmerican and referring to them as Christians in quotation marks. Those kinds of slams are bullying and damaging and I think need to be stood up to.
I’m also bothered by what I call a wilful blindness to audience. When someone like McLaren makes what appears to be an unorthodox statement, do people truly NOT understand that he is talking to an audience hostile to traditional Christianity? People who NEED a different set of terms? Do people really NOT want other people to come to Christ unless it is using their exact terminology and formula? My way or no way? Why was it OK for Paul to become weak like others and feed people milk before meat, etc etc and we can’t do that today?



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Joel Frederick

posted April 27, 2007 at 6:50 am


I’m looking forward to the reply because I could have written this letter.
I love Greg Boyd’s phrase…. “If it doesn’t look like the Jesus of the Bible…”



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RJS

posted April 27, 2007 at 8:01 am


Scot,
I wrote far too much on this – but will hold myself to posting only a comment of close to appropriate conversational length.
As I see it, the point of this letter passed on to you hits one of the key issues and struggles. This is a Christ/culture battle. The issues themselves are not as important when taken rationally and separately. So consider the interpretation of Genesis pronouncements or the women in ministry or role of women issue as examples – since these have been dealt with at length periodically on this blog over the last year. These issues have become encumbered by the baggage of carrying the load of Christ against culture in our society. Therefore – in some circles of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, neofundamentalism – they become sacrosanct, not intrinsically as much as symbolically. Giving an inch is viewed as starting the irreversible slide into apostasy or heresy.
The tragedy is two-fold; first individual Christians are hurt and alienated in the battle and second – to paraphrase Augustine – The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that unbelievers are unnecessarily turned off.



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Paul Deveaux

posted April 27, 2007 at 8:45 am


The reason that we cannot re-claim the term Evangelical is because it now doesn’t really mean anything. When Brian McLaren, TD Jakes, Tim LaHaye, Rick Warren, and Billy Graham are all called Evangelicals (in TIME magazine) we have lost the meaning. In reality it seems that Evangelical is just a politically correct term for fundamentalist (just look for anyone actually calling themselves a fundamentalist). If you examine the history of the term its meaning has evolved and changed over the years. We should not panic-just keep talking about what God has done through Jesus and our response. I am not too concerned with labels but the substance of the conversations and the lives lived.



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Gordon Hackman

posted April 27, 2007 at 8:49 am


Scot,
I largely feel the same way as the letter writer and look forward to your response. I think it bears stating, though, that some left leaning folks can be just as reactionary and uncharitable, even though they don’t tend to be equated with evangelicalism in general.
I think RJS is right about the fear that many evangelicals have that to give any ground on certain issues is tantamount to beginning the slide into apostasy. I remember many years ago when I was in my late teens someone at my parents church saying, in effect, that it was better to err on the side of safety by being too conservative rather than risk being too liberal. What was missing from that claim was the realization that an error is an error and always produces bad things rather it be a conservative or a liberal error.



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Joel Scandrett

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:12 am


Part of the problem, as this letter points out, is that “evangelical” is such an ambiguous term. I always stick in a qualifier; my preferred are either “moderate evangelical” when I’m speaking sociopolitically, or “catholic evangelical” when I’m speaking theologically or ecclesially.



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Phil

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:21 am


I used to consider myself “Evangelical,” but when the term got so muddied and confused I dropped it. Now I just say I’m a Christian, and if any further identifier is needed for clarity I’m considering adopting the term “creedal.”
Labels are funny things though; sometimes I think they’re helpful and sometimes I wish we could just lose them.



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J-Marie

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:23 am


I guess I am tired of conservative Evangelicals being picked on.



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theonlypj

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:23 am


I think the term Evangelical in the mainstream has come to be synonymous with the idea that Rodney Clapp (in the vein of Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon) calls retrenchment: a church fighting to regain its position as the sponsor of Western civ. So fundamentalists will cast you out of the loop if you don’t fit into the retrenchment model.
PJ



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Joel Scandrett

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:31 am


This polarization that the letter mentions is taking place at every level of the evangelical movement, and yes, it is getting worse. But I’m hopeful. Things are polarizing because the old rationalist and sectarian guard is losing its predominance in the movement as more historically and ecumenically minded evangelicals increasingly push the envelope. So the polarization is actually a sign of imminent change, and that change IS going to happen.
Unfortunately, it’s the reactionaries that get most of the press because they are so often inflammatory in their rhetoric. And that can give the impression that they actually represent all evangelicals, such that moderate evangelicals start to wonder if we’re, well, not “really” evangelical.
But we are. We do believe in the authority and supremacy of Scripture, we do believe in the centrality of Jesus Christ, and we do believe in the power of the Gospel to transform both church and world. So we need to hang tough and quietly claim the term “evangelical” in the name of people like John Stott, Mark Noll, Richard Cisek, Greg Boyd and, yes, Billy Graham!



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Bob

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:40 am


I think this letter highlights a long-standing problem in the church that started at the Great Schism and exacerbated in the Reformation. The destruction of monolithic unity led to the need for distinctiveness. Laying out borders of distinction called for denominations–this is what “we” believe and what “we” will call ourselves.
So we adopt names for what defines us.
The problem is that once you adopt a name, you immediately notice your own distinctions.
The problem here isn’t with “conservative Christians”. It isn’t with “left leaning socialists”. It lies in the “othering” that such titles portend. As soon as I call you something, I have ceased to look at you as an individual and begun to look at you through my definition of my ascribed title. As soon as I call myself something, I begin to enforce certain notions and behaviors in my own life that will conform me to the standards of the title.
Both of these paths lead to the angst the writer describes.
My advice? Let go of the names you ascribe to others (and more importantly) to yourself. Take criticism from others seriously–it is from people who don’t think as we do that we learn the most. Invalid criticism can be ignored. All the rest should be considered opportunities to either grow in our understanding of the other or in personal growth.
But please, drop names–they turn people into things (idols).
“my children, keep yourself from idols.”



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ben

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:51 am


When the president of the SBC is making statements that one can not accept Christ and accept evolution, I think it’s our responsibility to pick on him.
I don’t have anything against individuals that are conservative evangelicals, I know many and they are good people. I just take issue with irresponsible leadership.



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John K.

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:55 am


Wow for once a reasonable sounding christian. As a non-beliver I am appalled by the militant aspect christanity has taken on in recent years. I don’t fear christianity, I do fear CONSERVATIVE christanity and it’s mad rush to reject all of the political, intellectual , and social progress of the Enlightenment and the centuries which followed it.
My biggest concerns are the attemps to destroy science standards in schools, even public colleges like what is happening now in Missouri. And the blatant distruction of church / state seperation, sending billions in unregulated money to churches in the name of “faith based initiatives”.
These things hurt all of us, belivers and non-belivers alike.
I belive that it is rational Christans who must take their faith back from the wackos, if we are not going to end up living in a chrito-fascist America.



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Bob

posted April 27, 2007 at 10:36 am


Ben,
So then where does it stop?



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Nathan

posted April 27, 2007 at 10:54 am


I don’t think a lack of charity is a good thing from anyone, but I think it is disengenuous when the Evangelical Right complains about some untoward reactions from the so-called “left”.
Within the Evangelical community–as broad as that is–those who self-identify and militate as “right” or “conservative” or “pro-family” control most of the evangelical institutional structures. They have the power. While polemic shouldn’t be derisive or personal they are deserving of the scrutiny. Especially since they their public identity is premised on an assumed right to scrutinize just about everyone else.
The measure with which they measure is rightly applied to them…and it hurts. Doesn’t feel good when you experience the effects of your own offense does it?
The key difference is that what is seen as reactionary, untoward many times is really people expressing distress, hurt and justifiable anger at being sinned against by brothers and sisters who hold power.
When I hear “traditionalists” or “conservatives” within the Evangelical world complain about “attacks” it strikes me as silly.
It’s like saying that an abused spouse is to blame for ruining a marriage because they put their foot down and wouldn’t take their daily beating anymore. And maybe when the offended party left they told the abuser that they were a jerk and wished they would die–so meanspirited! (sorry, that might seem snarky.)
The point is not that there is a moral equivalency with spousal abuse, but that the imbalance of power clearly places some untoward reactions from the oppressed in perspective.
The whole “They do it too” argument just misses the point and confuses the reality of the responsibility of our “leaders” for much of our bad press.
Instead of freaking out that those “leftist Christians” are angry, they should take a deep breath and ask, “Why are they hurt and how do I help my brother/sister?”
just my nickel…
love to everyone…=)



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Scot McKnight

posted April 27, 2007 at 10:56 am


John K,
I’ve been teaching, and just got back to my office to read the comments. I’d like to take gentle umbrage with your opening paragraph:
Wow for once a reasonable sounding christian. As a non-beliver I am appalled by the militant aspect christanity has taken on in recent years. I don’t fear christianity, I do fear CONSERVATIVE christanity and it’s mad rush to reject all of the political, intellectual , and social progress of the Enlightenment and the centuries which followed it.
I think “for once” is unfair to the many who are fair.
I think the word “militant” is also unfair. It is a trope of the media; there is no widespread basis to think conservative evangelicals are “militant” — they are an embattled minority fighting for their point of view. We are entitled to do this under the law.
And I don’t think they have rejected all those Enlightenment things (by the way, they may well be more Enlightenment than postmodern). They have absolutely traded on tolerance and the principle of one person one vote. And they know full well the potency of education and its universalization.
I’m not a cons evangelical (my blog shows where I stand on such issues); but I think they have the right to fight for their views. The broad-brush spin of the media to make them “militant” is scare tactic. A book like Greeley-Hout’s book about conservative Christians is the sort of thing we need more of and less of the sloppy, mischaracterizations of those with whom we disagree. One of my big concerns is that the media insists on finding extremes in order to get a good sound byte and a flurry of interest and good ratings and good advertizing. Not all media — but there is too much of this. I have far too many media friends who know the truth; their voice isn’t so popular and their articles so widely read, but they are there and they are waiting for you and me to read them and tell the world that there is a more accurate story.
I’m for fairness. Yes, I think some of the leaders are extreme. I think some liberal leaders are just as extreme. Where are the moderates? Everywhere. Often unheard.



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Diane

posted April 27, 2007 at 11:00 am


Bob,
Thank you for your very wise comments. I agree that we have to stop caricaturing each other and that we do learn our best lessons from “the other.” I have learned so much and been changed so much by people outside of my comfort zone and I bless that. I find it difficult to hate any group per se because I have sat and listened and understood where each is coming from … However, we do have to use some names and labels. We live in a world of language. At least I think we do. Do we stop calling ourselves the name Christian? Some do. They call themselves Jesus followers or followers of the Way. But I have problems with the rush to embrace new terms.
John K, post moderns would say that our best critique of the limitations of the Enlightenment come from fundamentalists. Personally, I think science can withstand a few assaults and come out stronger for them. And science needs to think about the boxes of rationalism it puts around the world, that can sometimes cut out compassion, morality, etc. I think Ghandi spoke to this.
And the fears of apostasy are real: I’ve seen up close and personal that groups can really get out of whack.



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Timbo

posted April 27, 2007 at 11:09 am


“I have to admit, I’ve been very discouraged in the past few years with the whole polarization of Evangelical Christianity between those of us who want to gently challenge some filters and habits of the mind, and those who want to retreat to fundamentalism.”
I have to admit, I’ve been very discouraged by this kind of polarization as well but I think the categories are stacked to favor one over the other. Is this dichotomy between “gently challeng[ing] some filters and habits” and “retreat[ing] to fundamentalism” really accurate? If someone finds some of the challenges more militant than gentle, are they therefore fundamentalist?



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Josh

posted April 27, 2007 at 11:22 am


I also want to take a stand for conservative Christians. I think it is crazy to label all conservative Christians as anti-enlightenment or unprogressive. I attend a conservative Christian university in the south and the driving emphasis is on providing a well rounded liberal arts education. I also took a biology course here. The teaching centered not on UNDERSTANDING the many facets of biology and thinking through contemporary issues CRITICALLY. Many conservative Christians don’t accept assumptions from the secular world simply because they do not conform to reality. Many conservative Christians don’t believe in the phrase “homosexual orientation” because they know that humans are not determined by genetic data. We know that life is complex and that our decisions in life affect our biological functions as much or more than genetics affect our decisions.
I am also tired of hearing these rants. I recently was part of a church that set around ranting about the conservatives. And that is what they were good at, sitting around. Some of you need to get outside and live with ordinary people, not intellectuals like yourselves. In the real world, those who have a strong faith in Christ and the witness of the apostles and the prophets make a real difference. I have witnessed a lot of emerging criticize evangelism practices (and rightly so) but then react by not evangelizing at all. The emerging community better be careful that it does not over react and become a bunch of sad sacks who sit on the opposing teams bench and boo and hiss. There is a middle point between being obnoxious and vague. Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him not sit around and blow off steam. I know we all want to sometimes but I don’t think it is a constructive habit.



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Michael Kruse

posted April 27, 2007 at 12:18 pm


Scot #17
“I’m for fairness. Yes, I think some of the leaders are extreme. I think some liberal leaders are just as extreme. Where are the moderates? Everywhere. Often unheard.”
A call to radical moderation! :) I have a friend with a blog called “The Gruntled Center” (as opposed to the disgruntled left or right.)
I am a mainliner (PCUSA). As someone who is more conservative on theology, and on some social issues, I could almost write this letter in reverse, so to speak. Liberal theology and the party line of the Democrats are ubiquitous with the hierarchy. The vitriol is just as shrill coming my direction as it is toward Emergents in the Evangelical world. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in small groups where it was just assumed because of my status I was one of the “good guys” and conversation turns to how “evil” those people are who hold this or that position (which happens to be my position.) “Evil” seems to be the choice adjective.
It is good to be passionate about issues. It is better to just as passionate about people. (I think someone wrote about “truth in love” once.) This stridency is not unique to Evangelicals. It pervades our culture.



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Bob

posted April 27, 2007 at 12:19 pm


Diane (#18),
Certainly we are creatures of language and names are very useful descriptors but I think conscious effort must be taken to keep from using them to define each other in totality.



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RJS

posted April 27, 2007 at 12:41 pm


Bob,
I agree with you – when we use names as labels to “other” (read “dehumanize”) individuals or groups it is a real problem. The context usually conveys a meaning beyond the word itself. This is especially problematic since the labels are always only approximations to reality – caricatures.
Michael,
In my case the conversation often assumes I must be one of the “good guys” and uses labels and caricatures to “other” some brand of Christian. This stridency isn’t unique to evangelicals or even to Christians – it pervades all culture.



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Nathan

posted April 27, 2007 at 1:08 pm


I agree the stridency pervades the culture as a whole, but things need to also be seen from within a particular community or stream.
What can a person do?
I mean…where does someone go when they get told that they can’t be a Christian if they don’t believe in a 6 day literal creation?
This is always a conundrum for my family.
We can’t find a sense of connection with churches that don’t talk about Jesus and function like performing art centers and we are clearly going to be (and have been) subjected to the “disfellowshipping impulse” within the current hard turn if we don’t conform to every secondary issue of practice/doctrine.
Where do we find a community of faith?
On reactions to cons evangelicals:
I think there is a lot of vitriol that gets pushed back on evangelicals because that is where we see people claiming the moral/doctrinal high ground, but being awful to people and having extreme leaders say things that are just, frankly, really dumb. We also deserve the polemic because we don’t disown these leaders en masse.
To me, the only logical reasons for not disowning them are:
(1) A failure of imagination and courage.
(2) The pathetic fear that we will lose cultural/institutional/political power.
(3) More Evangelicals actually agree with extremist leaders than we want to admit. (If true, then very scary.)
If 3 is true, then the substance of even the media’s critique is warranted, IMHO.
The simple truth is this: Evangelicals may be right on a lot of issues, but our comportment ends up betraying the very things we seek to stand for. That deserves critique and I don’t believe it deserves a single bit of defense.
(The theologian Howard Thurman spoke often of making the truth a lie by our delivery, attitude and timing.)
To wit, so long as cons evangelicals who don’t agree with extremist leaders just hang their head in shame and quietly suffer embarrassment instead of actively and vocally distancing themselves then they’ll have to sack up and take some lumps.



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Peggy

posted April 27, 2007 at 1:17 pm


Michael (#21), that’s me…a radical moderate! :) How fun to have another paradoxical tag to add to my list, like “holy rebel”…
I join Scot (#17) in looking for voices that speak the truth respectfully and constructively, rather than with inflamed rhetoric that tears down, ridicules and spins.
And I agree that there is much challenge that modern science must be willing to take if they are going to be, um, scientific. I’m for calling things “theories” until they can be proven true or false, and while they’re still theories, our educational systems need to provide some other options to encourage critical thinking rather than brainwashing–from any point of view.
I’m also for admitting that some things that we wish we knew absolutely, just aren’t now known–and may not be able to be known. That doesn’t stop us from searching for answers; it just keeps us from demanding that others believe as fact what is still theory. If they want to require belief that is faith-based rather than fact-based, then they have to give up the “science” label.
There seem to be quite a number of unpopular radical moderate positions…I frequently have to endure the “tirades” of those who falsely assume I believe as they do! That whole “assume” problem, again ;)



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Ian

posted April 27, 2007 at 1:31 pm


I think the word “militant” is also unfair. It is a trope of the media; there is no widespread basis to think conservative evangelicals are “militant” — they are an embattled minority fighting for their point of view. We are entitled to do this under the law.
“Militant” is not unfair; it almost seems that whenever there’s something “bad” going on the world, “evangelical” “conservative” “Christians” want to go smash it with bombs and guns.
No, it’s probably not most. But it’s amazing to me how many Christians actually support going to war.
Tell me this: when, ever, did Jesus say it was okay to go shoot other Christians?
When, ever, did Jesus say it was okay to kill your enemies?
When, ever, did Jesus say it was okay to torture people?
When, ever, did Jesus say it was okay to call for the assassination of people?
Many “conservative evangelical” leaders say these things are okay. If that’s not militant, I’m not sure what is.
And then there’s Reverend Phelps (Conservative?, Evangelical?…).
Militant is all too appropriate a word, unfortunately, to describe many evangelical conservative Christians.



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Tom Hein

posted April 27, 2007 at 1:58 pm


Some responses to the letter….
1. “Evolution/6 Day Creation….” There are many options in between. I like the approach of Hugh Ross; old earth/young man. Hugh is a phd. Christian astonomer with many insights. Hugh gets slammed by 6 day creationists and by evolutionists.
2. “Conservative Christians conflate Christianity with American patriotism and/or the Republican party.” This is probably true, but again there are many variations of Christians believers. I am strongly environmental and strongly pro-life, so where does that leave me to vote?
3. Just state what you believe and give reasons why you believe it. Most people eventually respond to the facts if the facts are clearly presented in a rational and reasonable manner.
4. John Stott… As a new Christian twenty five years ago John Stott was very helpful to me in his book “Basic Christianity.” I love “The Cross of Christ” and have a signed copy that I treasure. But, I don’t agree with his conclusions in these latter years regarding the destiny of the unevangelized (he basically doesn’t believe in a literal hell) because I don’t think they agree with Scripture.
5. I don’t like labels either without definition, and I also agree that the term “evangelical” may be overused to cover too wide a spectrum of believers. But, the root of the word means “good news”, the gospel, and if we use it in that sense, as a label to describe all who subscribe to the gospel, then it is a useful term.
6. “D. James Kennedy… the Geneva Bible” It’s just a marketing technique!! It’s no different than Scot marketing his books on this website. I have no problem with it. People market all sorts of things all the time. Also, I suggest you read some Puritans. My favorite is John Owen, and you can find all sorts of his writings online. You may have to dig for the gold when you read the Puritans, but what you find among them is worth the digging.
7. “I’m so sick of dealing with the mentality of conservative Christians…” I’m not sure how to take that. Again,”the mentality of conservative Christians” is a vague concept, and real people are far more complex and deserve grace, regardless of whether they are conservative, moderate, or liberal, and everything in between.



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Krista

posted April 27, 2007 at 2:36 pm


Two comments and I’ll make them quickly as this appears to be old news now.
One, the tem “militant” is very unfair. When names and adjectives are used to describe those with whom we disagree, we instantly lose the priviledged dialogue with them. In other words, just as I would become instantly defensive and angry if someone called me “militant,” I feel that many of our brothers and sisters are equally offended. We are called to love God and love others. That means holding our tongues and rhetoric in order to listen to why those who support the war, etc do so. Although it is incredibly irritating to seemingly have “Evangelical” run through the mud, aren’t we also completely fallen people running the same name through the mirk of our lives?
Two, for another opinion on the evolution debate, Darrel Falk wrote a book called “Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds of Faith and Biology.”



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ben

posted April 27, 2007 at 2:47 pm


Bob,
I should have probably been more precise with my language. I feel it’s our responsibility to prayerfully engage with those leaders that speak in exclusionary terms; especially on second tier issues.
What’s at stake is the perception of Christ to those out side of a faith community, as well as the alienated Christian who has had a case of bad leadership. That’s a lot of souls.
I left the church for several years exactly because of that sort of rhetoric. It’s divisive, it’s arrogant, and it’s un-Christlike.



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Michael Kruse

posted April 27, 2007 at 2:59 pm


#25 Peggy
“Holy Rebel” Batman! :)
I actually shy away from the term moderate. Moderate to me suggests that I am trying to find a comfortable place between to poles, which means those poles are still the defining realities for me. Often the reality is embracing two poles as part of an organic reality. Is there no gyroscope that gives us direction apart from and beyond the prevailing ideologies? The debate within the church is overwhelmingly framed by ideologies from outside the church rather than by the narrative in God’s revealed Word.



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Ted Gossard

posted April 27, 2007 at 3:53 pm


Michael, Great point. I agree. We ought to be the one who presents the controlling (a bad word, probably) narrative before the world (and to ourselves). I do think what we speak does speak to people where they’re at, but leads them where they would not go or not know where to go apart from this way of whom we speak.
I have wondered about the term “moderate”. Maybe it defines not being a part of two opposing idealogical stances but finding some good and bad in both and then striking out where we stand.
I’ve been criticized by some in my factory work setting, albeit Christian, of waffling and going back and forth and not being able to make up my mind. I really don’t agree with that. I see life as nuanced and I like to consider both sides on any given issue. And then after that continue to be open.



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Mark Pike

posted April 27, 2007 at 4:07 pm


“those of us who want to gently challenge some filters and habits of the mind”
This letter and many of the comments do not strike me as gentle.



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Tim Irwin

posted April 27, 2007 at 5:43 pm


Evangelicalism as an ideology is displacing evangelicalism as a living faith in Christ. When it becomes more important to vote Republican (which I usually do) than to reach the lost, we’ve lost what’s evangelical about Evangelicalism.



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Michael Kruse

posted April 27, 2007 at 6:57 pm


#33 Ted
Thanks Ted. I’m not so sure that it is trying to find a balance between two poles so much as embracing both poles. Which is more important to breathing, inhaling or exhaling? A great many problems we try to “solve” are actually polarities to be managed: rights vs obligations, structure vs spontaneity, Cubs vs Cardinals. (Okay…the last one should always go to the Cards no matter what a certain blogger says. :) ) Take rights and obligations. The goal is not to have some watered down milquetoast expression of these that reaches a tolerable medium. Just like we want to be able to inhale and exhale vibrantly we want to have robust rights and robust obligations as a part of our lives.
The problem is that we all have temperaments, personal experiences, or some other factor that inclines us to one pole or the other. The temptation is to absolutize our proclivity and make it prevail over against the other pole. The way we win is by diminishing the other. Imagine if part of your body favored inhaling and another part exhaling. Each seeks to win by diminishing the other. You eventually end up dead. Welcome to the Church today. Welcome to Western culture.
There are some ultimate issues that don’t lend themselves to this analysis but I think they are very few. Scratch very deep and really listen, what you usually find is a polarity question.



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Peggy

posted April 27, 2007 at 6:57 pm


Michael (#32),
Being a radical, I have come to define moderate differently–no surprise there ;)
I believe God’s greatest attribute is his restraint…how much of his essence does he restrain so that he and I (and all of us) can have the amazing relationship that comes to us in the New Covenant with Jesus Christ? I shudder in holy awe to think of any of his attributes being unrestrained….
As a result, I have come to view restraint as the primary context for relationship/communication/commuity. It is what empowers dynamic mutual submission. So, for me, moderation is that place of restraint that allows me to evaluate the issues at the extremes, but which keeps me from camping at either extreme.
I have been accused of being many things…but wishy-washy isn’t one of them :)



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Scot McKnight

posted April 27, 2007 at 7:01 pm


Michael,
Lakoff says there are no “moderates”. How can, for instance, one be a “moderate” on war? Instead, he says there are lots of “biconceptuals” rather than moderates. They think “liberal” on one thing and “conservative” on another. It is this biconceptuality that creates tension — the pure conservative or pure liberal does not know how to deal with the seeming inconsistency. Most of us are not “wishy-washy” but see one issue from one angle and another issue from a different one.



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Peggy

posted April 27, 2007 at 7:04 pm


Scot,
I like “radical bi-conceptual” even better ;)



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ChrisB

posted April 27, 2007 at 9:44 pm


One quick thought because it’s past my bedtime.
Unless you hold to a literal seven day creation you’re a heretic! etc etc
Both sides are bad about this. Those on the right say that those on the left are heretics. Those on the left imply, or say outright, that those on the right only read every other verse in the Bible (or some variation of ignoring large chunks of the Bible).
Both act as if their interpretation is the only reasonable one and if you disagree you’re just wrong. (Of course, the dispensationalists are the same way, as are the amillenials, the calvinists, the arminians, the charismatics, the cessationists….)
We should study the Bible for all we can, determine to the best of our ability what it means, and live by it by God’s grace. And we need to be charitable to those who understand it differently and are also trying to live out their understanding by God’s grace. Alas, this rarely happens. Galileo’s experience, in less dramatic forms, continues today.



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Michael Kruse

posted April 27, 2007 at 10:44 pm


#38 Scot
I’m not entirely satisfied with Lakoff’s biconceptual idea though I think it has merit. I think many people he calls biconceptual actually think organically, in terms of a human ecosystem, rather than in terms of binary options (liberal or conservative approaches).
For example, liberals tend to fear concentrated economic power and believe that if people were just economically empowered, then virtuous human behavior would spring forth. Conservatives tend to fear concentrated government power and believe that if people were free to live their lives and organize their communities as they see fit, then virtuous human behavior would spring forth. Both seem heavily tinged with a modernist belief in the innate goodness of humanity. Some of us fear concentrated power of any type because we are aware of power’s corrupting influence on people in institutions but we also recognize the need for economic incentives and government intervention to channel fallen individuals toward more virtuous behavior. I think this makes it hard to come down with a solidly conservative or progressive commitment. I don’t see this as fitting Lakoff’s biconceptual model.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 28, 2007 at 6:08 am


Michael,
I’m not sure I’m satisified with Lakoff’s biconceptuality, but it does explain variation within a general partisan orientation, esp when there is no real “moderate” option. “Moderates” then mean those who are biconceptual rather than those who hold to less conviction on specific topics.
On your point, I’m not so sure “choice” (which seems to be the preferred goal of both liberals and conservatives) is the same as virtuous behavior. In other words, I think you’ve skipped a step here. Liberals and conservatives work for increase of freedom — the former through government and the latter through less government — and that results in more choice/freedom. But, do those then suggest that virtuous behavior follows or that choice gives people better opportunity?



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Michael Kruse

posted April 28, 2007 at 10:34 am


“But, do those then suggest that virtuous behavior follows or that choice gives people better opportunity?”
I agree that choice is the core issue. I just think that both conservative and liberal politics have at their core an Enlightenment based belief in the goodness and perfectibility of humanity. Set people free from oppression and, in a Rousseau-like mindset, natural goodness will emerge. That is why choice is so important. The problem is that liberals and conservatives locate the source of oppression in opposing ways.
As a Christian, I think Romans 3:10-18 is a much better assessment of human nature. All are sinners and inclined toward sin. Yet God chooses to transform us by giving us freedom to choose the good. Without freedom, we would merely be automatons. Thus, human freedom is essential to God’s purposes in the world. This creates the organic tension between enough constraints on freedom to avoid sinking into the chaos created by sinful human beings dominating one another and creating a broad venue of freedom where people have the opportunity to respond to God by doing good.
While many people may not lay it out as theologically as I have, I think many intuitively sense this tension. I think it is that to which they are responding, rather than be conservative on this issue and liberal on another. So while one may not be able to be a moderate on war, they may be able to embrace war in one context but not in another. War is not the issue for them. The trade-off of with this tension is the issue.



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pam

posted April 28, 2007 at 12:29 pm


The commitment to live into the tension is the process of sanctification, IMHO. Holding and living into the paradoxes to which we are called is our lifelong walk with God.
Lakoff’s biconceptualization is a start, but the complexities are much deeper than he entertains. We are called to be ‘in the world and not of the world’, told stories about those following Jesus who sold all they had and gave to the poor, and those who were good stewards of the resources allotted to them…many other seeming opposites are part of the narrative of the Gospels. Christians in both parties can take those verses and make a case for the ‘Christian’ response to/for a particular policy. You hear this come through quite clearly in the sessions at the National Prayer Breakfast where folks from both parties show up and talk about the integration of their faith with their responsibilities in policy making. Democrats and Republicans pray together in the name of Jesus, love eachother, respect the other person’s love and commitment to God, and completely disagree about the writing of policy to embody/be true to the verses they just prayed through.
As someone who worked with political leaders in the administrations of Clinton and Bush, I am compelled to point out there is no consistent meaning of ‘liberal and conservative’ anymore. Especially the above referenced definition that the liberals are for big government – that makes this administration quite liberal. As someone who is more ‘republican’ in the original definition of the word – favor the strength of the ‘republic’ – I see more leaders within the Democratic party bringing forth those values right now.
Great thread!



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Michael Kruse

posted April 28, 2007 at 3:58 pm


“…no consistent meaning of ‘liberal and conservative’ anymore.”
I very much agree. I find it all but impossible to properly nuance distinctions in a blog conversation like this where I don’t know folks or their contexts, so I try to give a “flavor” of what I am saying rather than precision. :)
I do think the notion of “oppressive forces interfering with peoples’ choices as the root of all evil” is at the core of a vast array of political philosophies. The differences come in defining what those oppressive forces are and how to address them. I think there is an almost eschatological undercurrent that elmination of those oppressive forces will bring considerable tranqulity and human progress. I think what usually happens is the trading of on form of oppression for another.
I think the biblcial message is that we should resist all of the oppressive forces but should also create freedom in which people can choose good. We also have obligations to balance against rights. There is little talk of obligations from any political perspective.



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Peggy

posted April 28, 2007 at 5:19 pm


Some way or another we always come back to the fact that life is complex and resists simplified categories or boxes. It is only as we forget this little fact that we make “us” and “them” statements.
It must always be “we”–for we are interconnected, we humans. The number of ways we are interconnected boggles the mind. It is when we forget that we are interconnected that freedom becomes a problem…because then freedom can become entitlement or permissive.
I am entitled to something because I am here, just because. Sometimes this is true, sometimes it just isn’t. I am permitted to do something because “it’s a free country.” Not because it is a good and healthy thing, but just because it isn’t illegal.
The creative tension of making thoughtful judgements concerning what I will do every single day is a tremendous responsibility–in my life and in the lives of those around me and those to whom I am interconnected. That would be all of you, brothers and sisters in Christ, or not.
I guess that means that I am an radical-organic-multi-conceptual…this is getting complicated, Michael! ;)
Perhaps I can describe the tension as being and doing. Being a Christ-follower, loving God with all that I am and have, and loving my neighbor as myself. And doing that by work the details out in radical, organic and multi-conceptual ways.
The knowing always has to empower the doing for God and neighbor. Knowing for knowing’s sake leads to legalism. Doing without knowledge and properly thinking through the interconnected consequences can lead to idols and sacred cows of personal perspectives and preferences.
Can it ever be truly binary–yes/no, black/white, either/or, up/down? Doesn’t is always have to both/and, multi-directional, and the entire spectrum? Not all the time, mind you…that would be dizzying chaos! But perhaps you get my drift….
To quote Peck’s opening words in “The Road Less Traveled”: Life is difficult. The life of a Christ-follower is also difficult. It is in rising to the challenge that we allow the Holy Spirit to call forth his gifts and bless the world as he helps us grow more like Christ.
Be blessed,



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Michael Kruse

posted April 28, 2007 at 6:29 pm


Peggy #46
You mentioned being and doing. R. Paul Stevens writes about three “orthos.” Most of us are familiar with the first two:
Orthodoxy – Right worship
Orthopraxy – Right practice.
Stevens adds to this (taking from Richard Mouw):
Orthopathos – Right passion
We must develop a passion for the things and the people that God has a passion for. I fear too often our “passion” is to have our worship and practice (including our politics) prevail as the the right ones rather than hungering for the right worship and practice that transforms our passion into what God is most passionate about: Humanity and creation in shalom with Him.



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Peggy

posted April 28, 2007 at 7:01 pm


Okay, this list of orthos is getting complicated…as long as orthodontia doesn’t slip in, since my second son begins the journey in two weeks ;)
Seriously, this reminds me of Alan Hirsch’s progressional equation in “The Forgotten Ways”: Christology > Theology > Missiology. Would that translate to Orthopathos > Orthodoxy > Orthopraxy?
The Orthopathos, it seems to me, has to be the starting place, which is why Alan starts with Christ. If our passion is to be like Christ, we will share his passion. That will then lead us to hunger for proper knowledge of Father/Son/Holy Spirit, which will propel us to join Christ in fulfilling God’s mission of reconciliation.
Is that what Stevens is getting at? Or is he’s talking about end-produce mission rather that starting place?
I think I’m with you, here, Michael, even if I use a different definition or a different order…or do I need some other “ortho” here? Maybe orthopedic, so I walk a straighter path? ;)



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Allie

posted April 29, 2007 at 4:03 am


As I chuckle at what you said, Peggy, I realize you’re right about Christ and being passionate about reconciliation as He was. (Incidentally, until this moment, I’d never heard of “orthopathos”…that’s a really neat concept). Once we get that right, I think all of our disagreements will become less and less important. We (hopefully) will be willing to hold opposing views in tension, recognizing that while both sides have some of the truth, no one has all the truth, except God Himself, and He will reveal it to us as we search for Him.



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Michael Kruse

posted April 29, 2007 at 6:37 am


#48 Peggy
I don’t see the relationship between the three as linear. Each ortho should draw us into the other. How do you end up with right passion? I don’t think we can will ourselves into right passion. Worship and action is part of what God uses to transform our passions. Our transforming passion is what draws us deeper into worship and action.



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Kyle

posted April 29, 2007 at 9:48 am


I’m one of the last people anyone would suspect of being a CT subscriber, but I really enjoy the magazine. I can’t stand the ads (Answers in Genesis, anyone?), but the commentary is usually very thoughtful and timely. Scot, I hope you checked out that short article by Ted Olsen referenced by your letter writer. I prefer to focus on the fact that a CT editor is decrying such attitudes, rather than the fact that they exist. I think that those folks are a force for proper formation in the American church’s internal culture war as we learn to struggle to be far less “American” and far more “Church.”
Olsen’s article is posted here.



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Peggy

posted April 29, 2007 at 11:31 am


YIKES! And here I was hoping that everyone would have been getting ready for Sunday…and not notice my boo boo in #48 about Alan’s equation, which bothered me all night until I had a chance to look it up!
I should have said Christology (person of Christ) determines> Missiology (purpose of God/church) determines> Ecclesiology (form/function of church) and not Christology > Theology > Missiology. Looking at it this way, perhaps I think the orthopathos may be closer to the issue of form/function in ecclesiology…which I had left out the first time through….hmmm. Maybe sometimes these things just defy our clever little boxes! ;)
And perhaps the “orthos” are not linear, Michael (#51). I’m not terribly linear myself…more lateral. And, of course, I usually have to put things in words before I think them through clearly. Sorry for muddying up your post, Scot, while I process….or, providing this place where we can process together!
Maybe I see the “orthos” as in a circle–or triangle–where there is give-and-take interaction between them in a kind of synergistic dance?
My passion is to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself. The unique person that I am manifests this passion differently from any other person (part of God’s genius) and it comes out in an ever-changing variety of patterns, as I walk in step with the Holy Spirit. A little touch of that creative chaos that bubbles up from the ordered covenant community.
Blessings, all.



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Peggy

posted April 29, 2007 at 11:35 am


Allie #49
Thanks for sharing my humor :) and a vision for a time when we are held together tighter by what we have in common than when we are separated by our disagreements
May that day come sooner than later…and start today with some!



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pam

posted April 29, 2007 at 7:41 pm


Peggy, Michael and Allie – really like the conversation on the ‘orthos’, and tieing that to Christology, Missiology and Ecclesiology. And Peggy, you have me designing a visual for the conversation. Ortho/Christology/Shalom at the center of the circle (and the background of the entire circle actually), radiating out to ‘pathos’, ‘doxy’, and ‘praxy’, with a 3rd dimension representing the resulting missiology and ecclesiology – the manifestation of us individually and collectively living into the tensions of the circle.
As we use to say after a great discussion in seminary – that’ll preach!
And seriously, I think there is a place for orthopedic…
Thanks, Pam



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Peggy

posted April 29, 2007 at 9:49 pm


Hey, Pam (#55), when you get this visual/graphic worked out, I want a copy!!! :) And if you actually preach it, I want to hear the sermon, sister!
Hmmm…maybe the orthopedic hearkens back to our feet being shod with the gospel of peace…
The visual I have coming to me (bear with me…I have young children) is of Dorothy with the ruby slippers on her feet at the center of Munchkinland where the yellow brick road begins…and circles around until it becomes a broad path that she and Toto are skipping along…
It was a long, difficult, dangerous road to Oz…but when it came time for Glenda to send Dorothy home, it turned out that the shoes were always key…they protected her from the Wicked Witch of the West and were the way home…to her true home. She was just an alien and traveller in Oz…
Woah, I need some sleep…or more adult interaction, or something, it seems ;)
Love the conversation here, friends. You are a treasure from the Lord.
Be blessed.



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