A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Why Moving to the Left or the Right is Irrelevant for Christians

Timothy Dalrymple has written a thoughtful post as a response to another thoughtful post by Scot McKnight that concerns whether or not moving to the right or left (theologically, morally, or politically) is always either right or wrong. Both posts are worth a read, but what they highlight once again for me is the irrelevance of the categories of right or left for the Christian; and when we continue to utilize them, especially in reference to God's kingdom, we will by necessity distort that kingdom allowing modern categories to control the kingdom narrative. Now, I know I have won few converts on this, but I will continue to beat the drum nonetheless.

Let me give just two examples of why the right/left spectrum is irrelevant:

Bishop John Shelby Spong, mentioned by Dalryple, is said to be left in his theological views. For example, he rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus in favor for a more "spiritual" understanding. But if left is supposed to be "progressive" (and I debate that), then Spong's perspective is hardly left. A rudimentary knowledge of early church history will reveal that Spong's view of Jesus' resurrection was around early on. There is nothing new and certainly there is nothing progressive, here.

In another example from the other side, many on the right assume that the early Christians all interpreted the Bible literally (whatever that means), and that only since the rise of modern biblical scholarship has the literal reading of the Bible been rejected. But if the right is supposed to be conservative (and I debate that as well), a rudimentary knowledge of the history of biblical interpretation in Judaism and in Christianity reveals that early Jews and Christians took a variety of approaches to the text. While some interpreted the creation accounts in Genesis literally, others did not, including St. Augustine. So, what is supposed to be an ancient conserving method of reading the Bible turns out not to be so unanimously ancient. Thus to insist on a literal reading of Scripture is conserving nothing. (Dalrymple doesn't mention this issue, but Ken Ham and creationism, which is an equally valid comparison.)

So, it seems to me that the left/right conservative/liberal categorizing simply gets in the way and hinders the kinds of critical discussions that Christians need to have in regard to theology, ethics, and politics. Dalrymple writes,

I am conservative, measured against the American median. But I don't seek to be conservative. I don't want to be conservative; I don't want to be liberal. I want to be faithful. Sometimes that faithfulness will require me to hold fast to an ancient belief in the face of the world's mockery; sometimes faithfulness will require me to let go of my hidebound forms of understanding, and venture forth into an unseen and unstable future.

Good words indeed, but I would take it even further. I would add that my desire to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his kingdom makes the labels of conservative and liberal (progressive) irrelevant. I am uninterested in whether or not my understanding of the Trinity is left or right. I do not care whether my views on abortion or capital punishment are conservative or liberal. I have no time to discuss whether God's Kingdom lines up more with the values of the left or the right. I find such a question to be beside the point. I have no interest in conserving anything or progressing toward something in and of themselves. I only desire the truth and it's around truth that the debate should revolve. Bishop Spong and Ken Ham are not harmless and both do damage to Christianity, not because they are extreme left and right (though in my view, neither one is good), but because they are wrong in a way that leads people away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints (and I am indeed serious when I say that).

The fact that the religious left and the religious right continue to use Jesus to further their political and moral agendas should tell us something about how Jesus himself will not be bound to such categories.

Is Jesus a liberal or a conservative? If your answer involves either the former or the latter on any scale, you will have trouble encountering the Jesus of the Gospels, who is the Truth.


Andy Stoddard said...

Wonderfully said. Beautiful.

Randolph Carlyle said...

I am a member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, which is said to be theologically "conservative," and I suppose I am as well.

However, on the political spectrum, you will not find me in agreement with the Republican Party, especially on matters concerning the poor, needy and health care.

Those labels of "conservative" and "liberal" have got so abused that they don't mean anything anymore.

One of THE most RIDICULOUS statements I ever heard was back in the '90s, when Rush Limbaugh said "you're either conservative or liberal...there's no in-between."

Anonymous said...

You are starting to sound Emergent.

Allan R. Bevere said...


There is much I like about the Emergents, but I think in reference to politics they generally say that left and right don't matter, but they in practice lean left.

Mike said...

I whole-heartedly agree with you, Dr. Bevere. To reduce faithfulness to someone's political or ideological preferences does do damage to the Scripture and to one's ability to live faithfully to them.
It's a difficult place to live...in faithfulness. Especially, when so many are pushing and pulling us in one direction or the other.
Thank you for this post.