Conservative, Liberal — Must we Decide?
3. ‘Conservative’ and ‘liberal’ change meaning depending on where you are.
For some, ‘conservative’ means ‘holding the line’ on specific issues such as vicarious atonement or a 6 day creation and a young earth cosmology.
In Fundamentalist churches, these are watershed issues. This is dogma. No other options exist for those who are faithful to God and to Scripture. These are the hills on which you stand and die. You must agree, or you are deemed to be in a state of apostasy. Your salvation is very much in doubt.
Yet recently, we noted that Christus Victor and Narrative Christus Victor are alternatives to vicarious atonement with very deep, Biblical integrity. It begs to be asked: might other matters also have solid alternatives?
Revisiting the Genesis Prologue
Genesis 1 and 2 offer differing creation narratives. Using the King James Bible doesn’t change that. What does one make of this? Some take these two accounts to mean that the ‘days’ are not literal days at all, Instead, the ‘days’ are taken as a literary device used to structure the story.
Still others see the Genesis creation account as a product of the exile. It is believed that the author never intended to address scientific questions.
In captivity, Jews struggling to keep their identity. Answers were needed. This was especially so when their freshly taunted children came home with questions they heard from neighboring children: ‘if Yahweh is so great, why was Jerusalem sacked and we got dragged here?’
Jews sorely needed a narrative alternative to Babylon’s creation myth. Comparing the Genesis prologue to Babylonian mythology shows strong parallels. This makes a compelling case for this view.
What Honors the Creation Narrative?
Author intention matters. If an author never meant to address modern questions of geology [the age of the world] or astrophysics [the age of the cosmos], we cannot force the text to say otherwise. Reading our scientific understanding into the text doesn’t honor the narrative; it appropriates the authority of the text to ourselves and for our own purposes.
One real difference between Fundamentalist sects and churches is that whereas the former generally don’t allow discussion of such questions, genuine churches do. And that discussion is sorely needed!
Fundamentalist sects are concerned with adherence to specific positions on an host of questions. Churches are more concerned with the exegetical process by which a position was developed, how that position is held, how it integrates with our faith as a whole, and how it relates to life.
About that Prospective Church Home
Church denominations can have congregations that run the full gamut — conservative-progressive, liturgical-freestyle, traditional-contemporary. All these and more happen in many combinations. Even in the same town, churches in one denomination can differ widely. Sometimes, everyone is fine with that. But if that leads to fights between churches, stay clear.
Less conservative denominations often have some conservative churches. And conservative denominations have pastors who aren’t dipsticks. So you approach churches on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, with an open eye on how that church is responding to church and societal issues. Again, if a fight is brewing, it isn’t yours. Get a sense of where this church ‘is going.’
If terms such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ come up, don’t assume that you know what they mean at THIS church. And if asked where you fit into the spectrum, have a few thoughts to explain how YOU use such terms.
Conservative, Liberal, or Just be Faithful
Each of these positions mentioned above [Christus Victor, Narrative Christus Victor and the differing readings of Genesis 1 and 2 are held by deeply committed Christians who hold Scripture in great reverence, and seek to unfold its meaning responsibly. And yes, this applies to many issues.
Certainly, you must weigh what you hear with Scripture. But rather than endorsing ideas based on conservative or liberal idea lists, listen closely to HOW Scripture is handled in this process. This is lost on many IFB sects. But then, IFB sects desire blind, implicit faith in their doctrines.
True churches nurture explicit, knowledgeable belief arrived upon by honest inquiry and serious study of Scripture. In the end, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are just names. Needed is that we just be faithful.