Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Am I?

Well, sometimes I think I am an Evangelical, sometimes I think I might legitimately be a liberal, and sometimes I simply give up trying to figure it out. But, I can't help but be continually drawn back to the question. See, there are elements of evangelicalism with which I'm quite comfortable and there are elements of liberalism with which I am also quite comfortable. I am quite committed to "the authority of Scripture" (or as I would rather say it, the centrality of Scripture), the centrality of Christ in terms of incarnation and salvation, the concept of "conversion" (or as I would rather say it, transformation), and historical orthodoxy (and/or theological discipline)... so you'd think I'm an evangelical... But, I believe in infant baptism (not that I don't also believe in adult baptism), I am committed to social justice, I am hesitant toward any concept of an "non-negotiable" doctrine, I have no "Biblical" reservations against gay marriage, I'm into liberation theology, I believe that ecumenism and inclusiveness are of extreme importance, I'm afraid of the word "evangelism" (I can seldom distinguish it from "imperialism"), and I think "going to heaven" is really an overrated concept... so you might think I'm a liberal, right? Ahhh! What am I? Perhaps until I find something, some litmus test, by which I can distinguish the two, I will never really be able to figure it out.

So... let's examine a possible litmus test to which there will undoubtedly be exceptions. Let's examine the litmus test of "just or Biblical"? The question is, what is the deal-breaker for you... justice of the Word of God? If, in a situation of social discernment (such as, perhaps, sexual ethics), you can't imagine wasting your time with theology when someone's rights or dignity or basic justice stand in the balance, then you might be a liberal (according to this test). If, however, you can't imagine doing anything or moving forward with any action or activism without first going to the Bible, then you might be an evangelical. Here's what it might look like on a spectrum:
Now, here comes the problem with such a test... what happens if you're somewhere in the middle? What happens if you find yourself fully committed to justice and fully committed to scripture? If you say, "hold on a minute and let's address scripture before we move forward" to a liberal, you'll get boo'd. If you say "who cares about our theological differences, let's feed the hungry and love homosexuals" to an evangelical, you'll get boo'd ("if we can't convert them, we're wasting our time," they may say).

So what about those of us in the "fuzzy evangelical middle" for whom alter calls don't make sense but neither does full-on universalism? Perhaps the middle ground has been left vacant.

The middle ground is by no means vacant of people or of committed Christians but only of clear definitions and identifiable representatives. Perhaps someone like Brian McLaren might represent the middle, maybe even Jim Wallis, or possibly Tony Campolo. But it remains unclear because evangelicals and liberals are constantly labeling such candidates for representation as their opposite. To evangelicals, for example, Campolo's a liberal and yet liberals are quite uncomfortable with him as well.

Perhaps somewhere in the middle, even with all its' fuzziness, is precisely where we should be. And perhaps it's exactly what I am (not that I am necessarily "where I should be"). Will there be clear definitions someday? Maybe. We could find a perfect litmus test with no exceptions. But, does it matter? Perhaps not.

I've been keeping in dialogue with my pastor about these issues as we both find ourselves somewhat uncertain about the whole thing but at the same time, at least in my case, excited for the future. Perhaps the roots of these musings can be found in that I find myself in an extremely conservative city while simultaneously in a very liberal denomination. Balancing the two has presented some challenges but has really helped me mature in my understanding of the Church.

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