John Byron has written an excellent post on the difficulty of theological labels especially the labels that land across the liberal/conservative spectrum. he writes,
Over the years my shirt size has changed. For a longtime I wore a medium, but then all of sudden I noticed that mediums were too small and I had to move up to a large. But then one day I noticed that larges were too big and I was back to the mediums that I had always worn. I suspect there is a conspiracy among the clothing manufacturers since my closet now has a variety of medium and large shirts. This of course presents a challenge for me since, as my wife knows, I hate ill-fitting shirts. It is not unusual for me to put a shirt on and take it off immediately with the comment "well, that's not happening today." Sometimes I find the medium a bit too tight and would rather go with the large. Other times the large makes me feel unkempt since it seems to just hang on me.
I feel the same about theological labels. Many years ago I would have readily identified myself as an evangelical. But, like the medium size shirts in my closet, I began to notice that it was a bit ill-fitting. It didn't allow me to move freely in the areas where I needed some space and was more restricting than freeing. Later I thought of myself as a liberal, but that too didn't seem to fit very well. Like the large shirt, I had to find too many things to help fill out the shirt so it would fit and what I realized is that the shirt/label no longer revealed who I am. Like the shirts, I had begun to find labels to be ill-fitting.
Next week I will attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. And like the dance I sometimes do in my closet when deciding what shirt to wear, I will find that the labels other want me to use to identify myself won't fit. I will spend time in groups or sessions where people proudly proclaim they are liberal (or some variation thereof) and I will realize that the shirt is too large and make me look like someone I am not. I will then spend time with those who proudly proclaim to be evangelical and I will realize that the label is a bit too tight and doesn't give me the room to move that I need. I have been experiencing this situation for some time. In the past I would go to the conference and come home amazed at the situation in which I find myself. Now I think I have adjusted to at least know what to expect.
I'm with you, John, but I would add a personal note-- For some time I have refused to identify with any labels that simply reinforce the liberal/conservative scope, since it is based too much on modern assumptions that are not helpful. In other words, I refuse to wear such a modern theological shirt. Some may find that obscene, but so be it.
I am not opposed to all labels, as long as they don't become stereotypes. We cannot avoid labels entirely. They help to locate people's views in a general way, but in reference to Christianity and theology I think such descriptors as Wesleyan, and Orthodox, et al are much more helpful (and no... Orthodox is not a synonym for conservative, any more than being progressive is synonymous with liberal).
And how people label me is something which has never concerned me.