I have a confession to make. It’s going to surprise some of you. But it’s time to come clean.
Ready? Here goes.
I am a liberal.
Some of you just shook your head and said “I knew he was hiding something! I knew he couldn’t be trusted!”
Hang with me here.
The word liberal has a range of meanings. The word can mean “generous.” One of the dictionary definitions of the word is “lacking moral restraint.” When I say I’m a liberal, I don’t have either of those definitions in mind.
I also don’t mean that my political views are in alignment with elected officials who would identify themselves as liberal and not conservative. In that area, I more often find myself leaning to the right.
And I’m not a theological liberal. One dictionary says that theological liberalism is characterized by “regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change.” Uh, yeah, not so much here.
Here’s the kind of liberal I am.
| If you couldn’t read the fine print, here’s what it says. A liberal is someone who is “willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.”|
That’s the kind of liberal I am. Not always. But usually.
And being that kind of liberal can get you in trouble. Here’s why.
There are behaviors and opinions that are bad. Some ideas are dangerous. Some behavior can be menacing or harmful. There are some new ideas that need to be rejected and even preached against.
As I understand it, there is a difference between respecting or accepting ungodly ideas or behavior and validating or affirming those ideas or behaviors. I can respect you and your opinions even if I respectfully disagree with what you believe. I can respect the choices you make even if I think they are poor choices. I can be open to new ideas and still operate with a framework that puts those ideas to the test and rejects some of them as wrong-headed.
Being this kind of liberal doesn’t mean I don’t have personal convictions. It doesn’t mean I don’t think there are absolute truths or behaviors that are clearly wrong and harmful. But it means for me that in the marketplace of ideas, I’m going to extend to those who would disagree with my views a certain level of respect. I’m going to apply the biblical mandate to treat my ideological opponents with the same respect I would want them to extend to me and my views.
I’m that kind of liberal. And like I said, that can be problematic. Because there are some hills that we ought to be ready to die upon. Some new ideas we’re not open to entertaining. Some behaviors we can categorically reject.
This is not a good season for liberals like me. Our culture at the moment rewards those who draw hard lines in the sand, who make bold and inflexible pronouncements and who fire back hard against those with whom they disagree. You won’t get your own cable news TV show if you’re someone who is willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own and open to new ideas. Your ratings will plummet. Our culture doesn’t currently have an appetite for respectful disagreement. We prefer insults and demonization of your adversaries. We can’t just see them as wrong. We have to see them as evil too.
Sometimes they are. Some people have a wicked agenda. They are aligned with our enemy, who came to kill, steal and destroy. But I think we have to be careful not to assign a malevolent motive to everyone who sees the world differently than we do.
What got me thinking about my “liberalism” is a recent book written by pastor Gavin Ortlund. The title of the book is “Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage.” Ortlund’s desire is to help us think about where we draw our theological boundaries as Christians, and where we can respectfully disagree. It’s an important subject.
There are some theological lines in the sand that must be drawn. The reason for many of the ancient church creeds and councils was to wrestle with right ways and wrong was of understanding what the Bible teaches about God, about Jesus, about the nature of the Trinity, about our salvation – a whole variety of essential doctrines. The primary reason we recite portions of a catechism in our corporate worship each week is so that we can declare together that these are truths we hold to and (for the most part) hills on which we are willing to die.
I say “for the most part,” because there are some important theological issues where, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we may have a different understanding of what the Bible teaches. Eschatology is a perfect example. People who know and love Jesus and who believe that the Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible word for us have landed in different places in their understanding of how the return of Christ will happen. Some Christians dig in hard on their views here, and leave little room for any disagreement. They would qualify as “illiberal” – with little openness to or respect for any other way of seeing things.
Ortlund’s book seeks to offer us a framework for how to determine which theological issues are indeed out of bounds and which ones can fit into the “respectful disagreement” category.
Can a person be a Christian who disagrees with your understanding of what the scriptures teach about whether a woman can serve as an elder? Can a person be a true child of God and not believe in a literal hell? Is someone who is “gay affirming” out of bounds? You can see how any of these issues can be problematic, at least for someone who is a liberal like me.
Ortlund has four questions in his book that he suggests as a way to help all of us determine what is out of bounds and what isn’t:
How clear is the Bible on this doctrine?
What is this doctrine’s importance to the gospel?
What is the testimony of the historic church concerning this doctrine?
What is this doctrine’s effect upon the church today?
Obviously, people will not agree on how each of those four questions should be answered. Some will see the Bible as crystal clear on a matter, while someone else will read the text differently.
For example, there are people who believe there is no room for any disagreement on whether the Bible teaches in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created the world in six 24 hour days. They will doubt the authenticity of your faith in Jesus if you see the passage any other way.
So while Ortlund’s four questions don’t solve everything, they do give me help as I think about where the theological borders of our faith should be.
I’ve gone on too long here. This is something Christians have wrestled with for centuries. We’ll continue to wrestle until we move from seeing in a glass, dimly, to seeing Jesus face to face. Until that day, my goal is to seek to follow the familiar maxim that has served the church well for centuries: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity (love).”
That’s the kind of liberal I want to be.
On the four Wednesday nights in June, we’re hoping to all get together for some fun and fellowship. We’re also hoping to reach out and invite some of our David O’ Dodd neighbors to stop by and have dinner with us.
While we’re working to nail down specifics so we can let you know what to expect, we’ve had some preliminary conversations with a food truck operator about being on site the first Wednesday in June (June 2) to serve tacos. We’ll have a flat rate for each family, and for one low price, you can have all the tacos you can eat (singles, you’re welcome to be an official member of any family of your choosing that evening, so you can get in on the taco deal). On other evenings, we’ll cook hot dogs or maybe burgers. And we’re thinking that on the last of our four Wednesdays, we’ll bring in a bounce house or other fun kids activities.
Each evening will include games and activities for parents and kids (think cornhole, for example). We’ll pop up a couple of outdoor gazebos for shade. You can bring your own folding chairs.
In addition to inviting neighbors from David O’ Dodd, these four evenings give you a chance to invite another family or friends to join at church for a low key event. In fact, anyone you bring as your guest can be part of your family that evening – so their tacos are on us.
We’ll have more details nailed down soon. But I hope you’ll start now praying for each of these evenings – for the weather, all the logistics, for our neighbors to feel welcome, and for God to use these events to give us a chance to enjoy being together as a church (it’s been a second, right?).
Can you answer yes to any of the following?
Do you like to go to amusement parks?
Do you like to go to water parks?
Are you a Rend Collective fan?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should think about this event on July 10:
|Anyone know what this is?|
|That’s right. It’s a sheep gate. And this Sunday, we’ll be together in John 10, where Jesus describes Himself as both our Shepherd and as the sheep gate. What does He mean by that? We’ll find out as we come together to worship this week. |
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!