Just read a number of posts touching on liberal and conservative again, so here is some thoughts…

I guess the liberal/conservative debate just wont ever stop. I actually find it quite funny. I remember earlier in my studies often saying that the problem with fundamentalists is that they simply define themselves by what they are not: “We are not like those liberal people who don’t believe in the resurrection”. Today I must acknowledge that many of my non-fundamentalist and non-conservative friends, are just that, non-conservative: We are not like those conservative people who take the Bible literally.

OK, I know I’m making a caricature again, and many evangelicals or reformed people (I guess the two groups I have the most contact with) would be able to talk about what they are. We believe that sin is the problem of the world (see Nati Stander blogging on the blog of his father Hennie Stander yesterday), or we believe in the grace of God (for the Reformed people), and obviously many would say that they simply believe in God.

So while it’s funny to see people identifying themselves by who they are not, it’s just as funny to see people asking excuse for who they are, Nati is a good example. In a way I think it’s a manner of speaking, saying “I’m sorry but this is what I believe”, but there also sometimes when there seem to be a factor of having this gut feel that the other one is saying something that makes sense, but not being comfortable with what is being said, and thus saying sorry because you just can’t get yourself to agree, but can’t really disagree without this nagging feeling that you might be wrong.

I’m pretty sure that those who know me, and those who’ve read the blog for a while, would be able to point me to places where I’ve done similar things, and I won’t mind you joining me for a laugh when you notice me doing it.

I guess I could go on for quite some time with stories on liberals and conservatives, but let’s get this post done. Two things I just want to point to: One, I’m not sure what liberal or conservative mean. I learned the terminology in the context of Theology and Biblical interpretation, but later found that the terms is much more complex than that, so complex that I usually consider the terms useless in a conversation, just a way of saying that I disagree without giving a reason. Two, and this is well-known, people can be labeled conservative on one aspect of life, and liberal on another, which further adds to the complexity.

More and more I think that there must be something much deeper than this divide. I have conservatives that I love to work with, while in our context most would consider me a liberal (not sure if this is an appropriate label though). Steve also point to something similar when he write about the real liberal. And for fun read this post about how liberals and conservatives really sometimes seem to play for the same field (a feeling which many of us must have had quite a lot of times in our lives).

As a footnote let me just point out that I think there might be a difference between not something, and not anymore something. The not something state which I’m describing is finding identity in whom I’m against. Philip Harrold wrote an article about Deconversion in the Emerging Church which talk about not anymore whatever I’ve been. But this is seen as a transitionary state, even by those who find themselves in this state, it’s the post state of being. This state of self-critique, of looking back at where I was but cannot be anymore I think should be taken very seriously, but let us all strive to find identity in who we are right now, rather than in who our enemies are.

I actually attended TGIF this morning, how I got out of bed I do not know, but I did it. Michael Neumann form Hatfield Christian Church was speaking on spiritual formation… well, actually more like on a narrative approach to scripture, the spiritual formation would come in two weeks time in part two I guess. What he did was to describe the two streams in Christianity (more like protestant Christianity actually) to be Evangelicalism and Liberalism; Evangelicalism rearrange verses in the Bible to fit there picture, and Liberalism throw out of the Bible that which do not fit there picture. Well, I guess you could argue the descriptions and labels, but few who actually follow the theological conversation would deny the fact that there is a deep division between at least two major streams of Protestant Christianity, and that a major reason for this division is how we approach scripture (although deeper reasons have been identified by many).

The attempt to bridge this divide is becoming more and more popular, with Christians on both sides realizing that we need a unified witness if we are to have any impact on the world, and sometimes also that this is simply not in line with the Jesus-tradition, no matter which way you look at it. I guess it’s also the result of a generation less troubled by dogma, maybe also the fruit of a couple of decades of ecumenical work on an international level. Whatever the reasons may be, if you follow the conversation, you would probably also agree that for a large part (fundamentalists excluded) attempting to bridge these divides is becoming very important.

Also, the use of narrative as a category for reading the Bible in order to bridge this divide is becoming popular. The idea is basically that by using narrative as category we can get away from the literal and dogmatic approach of reading scripture, but still read all of scripture on the same level, and thus not succumb to the feared pitfalls of historical criticism (an approach which in various ways attempted to discover the traditions behind passages, the development of the Bible on a human level, and various other things).

But as Neumann began giving his summary of the story of the Bible, I heard basically evangelical doctrine being described: creation, fall, redemption on the cross, a second coming, and God being there throughout this all. Not that this is necessarily bad, but just seem to again proof that we cannot that easily escape where we come from. Although he use the “new” language of narrative, the underlying theology is still mainly within the Evangelical framework, still a way of approaching it with which I’m much more comfortable.

The discussion afterwards again established this, it was not about bridging the theological canyon, but about bridging the gap between Evangelical (not in the recent American definition of it, but in the classical Reformation definition) and this new narrative approach. No one even though about the “Liberals”, who in any case throw out half of scripture, so this cannot even be considered.

I like Micheal’s answer when I portrayed this problem to him, talking about a communal conversation, in which others must also take part to sketch a holistic picture, but admitting that he come from he certain side of the story, which deeply influenced how he now see the story. And then he had to ask how I would summarize the narrative, since I also like the category of narrative, now that will require much more thought, but I’ll make an attempt in the next few weeks.

Just maybe a last thought. How should these divides be described? Liberal and conservative? Evangelical and liberal? Fundamental and critical? A lot of ways can be considered, but at the moment I think systematic and historical might help us. On the one had the systematic tradition, which remain in line with the church theological tradition, attempting to clarify whichever tradition you are part of or a new time. But I’m less sure whether the systematic label is the right one than the historical one. The historical approach: coming out of the historical work of the Von Rad, Bultmann and Schweizers of the past 200 years or so, rereading scripture while attempting to reconstruct the history within which it came into being, and then attempting to reconstruct theology from that.

Obviously this do not take the Orthodox tradition into account, probably not the Catholic tradition either, but it might be another way of looking at the current affairs in Protestant circles.