May 1 2016

The Progressive Problem

“… progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” ~C.S. Lewis

I tend to relate to a lot of people who fall under the “progressive” Christian category, probably moreso that most other categories in current use.  I’m definitely not a fundamentalist, and am not a good fit in the contemporary evangelical category either (something which will be the subject of another post).  I’m too conservative to be liberal, and too liberal to be conservative.   And “moderate” is just too lukewarm-ish.   Like I said, I tend to relate the most to people who fall into the progressive category, but unfortunately I don’t belong there either.

The term “progressive” obviously comes from the root “progress,” and I guess that’s my issue.  I simply reject the enlightenment notion of progress.  A wise man once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  I tend to believe that assessment. While progressives may be moving on from the status quo (which is usually the remnants of the last progressive movement), I don’t believe they are actually “progressing.”  Moving is not necessarily going forward, and not all evolution is a step forward.

Progressing implies improvement, or leveling-up, if you will.  Each generations progressive movement has moved away from the status quo of its day, but it’s debatable whether any such movement has actually moved forward, or if Christianity has actually gotten any better because of it. Luther’s Evangelical movement (which I do identify with) did not claim to be progressing, but the goal was to actually regress (i.e. reform) to the gospel evident in the New Testament that had been lost in years of Western nonsense. As the Lewis quote above indicates, moving backwards can be progress from a certain point of view. But, nothing that Luther taught was new, at least intentionally.  If a movement does, in fact, come up with something new and different, I would argue that it’s not progressive, it’s just possibly heretical.

There are some contemporary progressives which I think may be borderline heretics, having thrown out too many things with the bath water.  Perhaps more importantly, I think there are more than a few non-progressive evangelicals who are possible heretics as well–at the very least, they are terribly mistaken about a number of things.  Conservatives, for the most part, are those who hold on to yesterday’s progressivism. The thing I like the most about those under the current progressive banner is that they are willing to toss out the heresies of the status quo evangelicals, and in the process discover some of the attitudes and truths that were expressed by Jesus and the early church. But as far as becoming “a new kind of Christian,” that simply isn’t happening.

Jesus, and Paul, perhaps, were the only true progressives in that the revelation of Jesus was a new understanding of something old.  The Gospels, especially, are very progressive books, from Jesus’ interpretations of the Old Testament to how he viewed people.  Referring to the Law of Moses as “you have heard it said?” Refusing to judge sinners? Forgive, turn the other cheek? A Samaritan is your neighbor?   Then, of course, there’s Paul, breaking down racial, cultural and sexual barriers even further, and declaring the Law, for all practical purposes, dead.  I suppose, in that sense, anyone who follows this radical gospel of grace and reconciliation is a progressive, in that Christianity is itself the only true progressive movement. Humanity has always been going to hell in a hand basket, and we’re not any better or worse than at any prior age. However the New Covenant is the progression from the old, and sets the only way of true progress: redemption of creation and the full revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the only way of true progress. Apart from this, mankind has not progressed at all, in spite of science, technology and knowledge.

I really dislike labels, but understand why they are necessary, or at least convenient. “Postmodern” was a very unfortunate term, and “emerging” was even more so. Postmodernism was post-nothing, and you can only be emerging for a moment before you become the past. As hard as people try, we can’t escape the past, or we risk following the flight path of Icarus. “Progressive” is somewhat unfortunate as it is a relative term; the challenge, it seems, is not defining “progressive,” but rather to define what it is you’re progressing from, and what you think you are progressing to.

I can’t claim to be a progressive, because I am not sure that I am in fact progressing. I’ve thought I was many times in my past, and I’ve spent a great deal of time doubling-back to venture out in a new direction, hopefully just a tad bit wiser. But, the only thing I can be really sure of is that I’m probably wrong about a great many things.

 

 


Mar 16 2016

How Not To Become A Liberal

One of the greatest fears a conservative has is that of becoming a liberal. The next greatest fear is that someone you know will become a liberal.  In these confusing times, I thought it would be helpful to give a bit of advice on how to stay solidly conservative.

  1. Avoid the Mainstream Media.  News outlets like CNN, NBC, The Washington Post, and PBS will constantly challenge conservative thinking and values by quoting liberal sources and facts.  Stick with news sources that you can trust to provide you with good, common-sense conservative information, like FoxNews, Breitbart, The Blaze, and folks like Rush and Sean Hannity. You need to have your conservatism constantly reinforced.
  2. Don’t listen to your children, especially if they attend public school or liberal arts colleges. If you can’t indoctrinate homeschool your children in a good, science and philosophy free environment, there is no telling what kind of liberal concepts they will adopt. It’s common for schools to teach things like equal rights, which in reality is just a way to erode white male privilege, and unproven scientific theories like evolution and climate change. They will try to challenge your conservative ideals, and they may even make sense. But ignore them anyway.
  3. Regular Evangelical Church Attendance.  There’s no better way to fortify your conservatism than to surround yourself with like-minded conservative Christians, and to hear good, Evangelical Bible teaching. But, beware of those churches who talk too much about grace and forgiveness; grace is just a slippery slope toward liberalism.  And, in that same vein:
  4. Don’t Read the Bible on your own, especially the Gospels, without a good conservative Study Guide or Devotional.  Reading the Gospels without external guidance is a sure way to start thinking like a liberal.  It’s very easy to misunderstand Jesus’ teachings on social justice, loving your enemies, and not judging sinners, which on their face can seem contrary to the conservative evangelical doctrines we hold dear. If you have to read the Bible on your own, read it in small bits, so you can avoid taking the verses in context.

I hope you have found this helpful.  It may sound like a daunting task, but take comfort as you look around at the millions of other people desperately hanging on to good old American conservatism.


Jan 27 2016

Things the Apostle Paul did not say

I think my favorite kinds of sermons are those that I can riff off of. Not audibly, of course, but I tend to think tangentially anyway, so I like a sermon that raises points that I can explore while I’m sitting in church. Even better if I continue to think about them afterwards. They don’t have to be great sermons, as long as they provide food for thought. (I do not, however, enjoy a sermon that causes me to mentally analyze every bit of tortured logic and twisted scripture. It may be a great exercise in critical thinking, but it’s neither edifying nor fun.)

In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard one of each. I will talk about the good one. The topic was love, and referenced a few good quotes by Paul that got me thinking about what Paul did not say, which leads me to my topic today.

THINGS PAUL DID NOT SAY

Let holiness be your highest goal. (1 Cor. 14:3)

And above all these put on correct doctrine, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)

Without our church I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)

Owe no one anything, except to judge each other, for the one who judges another has fulfilled the law.  (Romans 13:8)

The greatest of these is truth. (1 Cor. 13:13)

And there’s more, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Paul was undoubtedly the master of proper doctrine and logic. He bragged about winning an argument with Peter and the rest of the church leadership. However, Paul was, at heart, a softie. He was concerned about widows and orphans, the poor and the weak of faith. In Paul’s mind, everyone had value, and had gifts to share. There were no favored classes, and no one had the right to judge anyone else (even themselves).

What has happened to Paul’s message that grace is a gift, and cannot be earned?  That God loves all of us unconditionally, and we should in turn love others unconditionally?

It seems that in today’s evangelical circles, putting love first makes you a liberal. Love is conditionalized, as it seems to be a scarce and finite resource, not to be thrown around indiscriminately. Or, perhaps the definition of love has been retooled in a type of Platonic dualism; we can love in a universal, ideal sense, but we must be careful who we love in a practical, earthy sense. We love sinners Platonically, but not incarnationally. We love refugees, just only where they can’t touch us. We love the GLBT community, but not as equals.  

And that’s what happens when you start to think about what Paul (and Jesus) really said.

 


Nov 24 2015

A BEHAVIORAL CREED – or why I can sometimes be such an annoying pain in the ass on Facebook

I adhere to a confessional or creedal form of Christianity, which means that I hold that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds set forth the basics of orthodox Christianity. Most of the traditional churches, such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and of course the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, are creedal. As for the others, theology is more up for grabs, it seems. And, a lot of contemporary evangelicalism seems more behavioral than creedal; that is, what you do is often emphasized more than what you believe.

Now, creedal churches also emphasize some aspect of “right living,” but what they believe about right living differs considerably, from having no relevance whatsoever to gaining holiness or salvation (my view) to believing that works is essential to righteousness or salvation.

This is not to say that I don’t believe that behavior matters; I believe it matters a lot. It matters to others, it matters to the church, and I believe it matters to the world. It just doesn’t provide us with any “grace points” because I believe we’ve already received everything we need; we just need to spread good works around to those who need them the most.

So, I thought I would start to set out why I will call my Behavioral Creed, until I come up with a better name. It’s in the same “I Believe” format, because it’s what I believe is important in determining how I should act toward others. It’s not a set of strict rules or standards, but perhaps more of a “Best Practices” for Christians. It’s an ideal that I don’t claim to meet, but hope to get better at, for the sake of the world.

A Behavioral Creed

First and foremost, I believe in Grace—in the powerful presence of God that saves me and empowers me to live for others. This means setting aside judgment and seeing the imprint of God in people.

I believe in Mercy and Forgiveness—that I have been forgiven and have no alternative but to forgive even those people who don’t deserve forgiveness. Mercy and Forgiveness eradicate the need for justice.

I believe in the Golden Rule—to treat others how I would hope to be treated.

I believe in Generosity and Hospitality—not “tithing,” but giving to others responsibly and extravagantly.

I believe in Humility—in taking the lowest seat, giving credit to others, being a servant, and empowering all those around me.

I believe in Peace—both external and internal, and strive to spread it wherever I am.

I believe in the other Fruit—joy, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.

I believe in Loving others as I love myself—impossible, it seems, as I am incredibly self-centered and sometimes misanthropic; but I believe it.

I believe in Truth—being truthful about who I am, and in what I believe (which includes the theological creeds). I believe in proclaiming truth, to bring freedom to the unfree, and bringing life to the unliving.

I believe that all humans were created in God’s image and have great potential, and that God truly desires all to be saved.

I believe that the Church is called to be the light set on a hill, a beacon of hope, and a source of healing for the nations.