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WHO’S RIGHT? THE LIBERALS OR THE CONSERVATIVES?

Today’s church is plagued by political bias. And its leaders have turned this bias—whether left/right, blue/red, liberal/conservative—into a pseudo-religion, something sacred in itself.

Yet, there’s really no such thing as a "liberal Christian" or a "conservative Christian." The world views of both liberals and conservatives may offer helpful insights into justified concerns, but the tragedy comes when they get trapped—and stay trapped!—in their own agenda. Jesus’ message, after all, was never a political message. And in our time, an older and wiser Billy Graham insisted the Gospel plainly "transcends party lines."1

The Fear of Form

Obviously, every spiritual vision gambles on the future, but most traditional leaders label most emerging leaders as "liberal"—or more to the point, "too liberal." Of course, emerging leaders refuse this tag. In the words of one, "We have no politics . . . (we’re not) liberals . . . (or) the new Christian Left."2

Yet, most observers agree with Shakespeare, "Methinks he protests too much."

Liberals, for example, fear form. They fear any spiritual "anchor"—any spiritual accountability, validation, verification. . . . They have no interest, in other words, in bedrock decisions, conclusive judgments, or anything rock-solid "to stand on." For they are certain about their uncertainty.

So they are happy with an anything goes, unknowable world. That means they are more interested in freedom than faith—they care more about the medium than the message. It’s as if the winners of their debates actually get the privilege of "changing God’s mind."

In this same "fear of form," they have become informal and unformed to an extreme. And forget about "authority." For they shape their own life, make their own destiny, provide their own authority.

That means they refuse anything that is an affront to their "intelligent"minds. And that refusal includes blind faith, gut-level convictions, and prophetic visions. So, of necessity, they mold all mysteries into politically correct, "user-friendly" ideas.

After all, they’re "cool," and they enjoy a "cool" religion.

The Fear of the Future

Conservatives err in other ways. Seldom can we call them, for example, truly "emerging." For they usually defend the church against the future. Hidebound, conservative churches are often big, but seldom far-sighted—often influential, but seldom forward looking.

Admittedly, history traces their origins to a true move of God. But somewhere along the way, their leaders started hammering authentic inspiration into doctrine and dogma—chiseling pure revelation into answers for any and every question—constructing elaborate defenses against any and every attack.

With most conservative churches, of course, their original, pristine movement is now over. Spontaneity and innovation is finished. So their leaders continue "mistaking the oyster for the pearl." But if God ever forgets what He is about, they will certainly remind Him!

Self-Destructive Wars

So both political wings of the emerging church have locked themselves within their own realities. But for different reasons. One fears form, the other fears the future. One pushes questions, the other pushes answers. One is certain of its uncertainty, the other is certain of its certainty.

Lethal and immaculate in their own vanities, each side accuses the other of lasting damage to the Gospel. They have polarized their positions. They have become suspicious and defensive—counting those who are "with us" and those who are "against us."

But their wars are self-destructive wars. Incapable of critiquing their own biases, their battles are pathological, even suicidal. Consequently, neither group leads society.

Both have built dams across rivers of pure spirit. Both have failed history.

A Cycle of Grace

So, what’s the answer? Surely all leaders treasure the memories of their inspired visions. But their report of truth is always several steps removed from their revelation of truth. In other words, rendering the infallible Word is not without error, and living this Word is not without distortion.

That’s the human condition.

So a good dose of humility is appropriate for all spiritual leaders—especially when the thin crust of our reality no longer supports the status quo. This imminent collapse is the moment between danger and opportunity, but the honest fear neither correction nor new direction.

This rebirth requires a leap of faith, but few have the spiritual maturity to risk the leap.

In place of hardened dogma or skeptical logic, the faithful allow a benevolent Mystery to break into the present and transform it. In other words, they embrace blind belief prior to bold understandings—they embrace a "wisdom of the heart" prior to the intelligence of the mind—and they embrace aesthetic Truth prior to conceptual truth.

For their inspiration has only begun its long journey toward insight.

Sooner or later, though, they must make sense of their senses—they must understand their understandings. The Spirit must take on body, and the body must take on Spirit. So they give "substance," "evidence," and "proof" to things previously unknown.3

And what a relief it is to return to the secure sanity of grounded knowing.

. . . but they can’t stay there long. Their "knowing" is a cycle of grace, an ongoing rhythm of repentance, revelation, and interpretation. . . . In this perpetual dialogue, they weave in and out of having answers and not having answers. Because God’s world is not so much a "Creation" as a "Creating."

All of us . . . are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another.4

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

Endnotes

1. Anonymous, to protect an emerging leader.

2. Billy Graham, quoted in Jon Meacham, "Pilgrim’s Progress" Newsweek, August 14, 2006, p. 41.

3. Hebrews 11:1.

4. II Corinthians 3:18, The Amplified Bible.



Future Church Administrator