First, I want to say that I apologize ahead of time. I want to get a point across, but I don’t want to assume anyone’s motives. I usually try to be articulate and sensitive in my articles, but something needs to be said immediately. We have to do better!
Many Christians pride themselves on being textually “conservative.” The idea is if they call themselves “conservative” (meaning conservative to the text), then any other view than theirs is “liberal” (loose) with the text and cannot be trusted. The “conservative” has found the old path, the corner on truth. Anything else must be against the text and, therefore, against God. Ironically, many times, when I run into individuals who pridefully call themselves “conservative,” they are taking away passages that are hard to deal with or adding rules where the Scriptures are silent. That, by definition, is “liberal” (loose) with the text!
However, most so-called “liberals” I know are not disrespecting Scripture. But instead, they are trying to understand, not just what it says, but what it means as well! And they know God’s grace and guidance must be in the process as they journey through the words. They don’t try to unnecessarily add or take away anything in Scripture that is uncomfortable. They try to understand it and reconcile the Scriptures that seem tension-filled and contradictory. They do so based on literary, cultural, and theological context. They do so based on the character of God that He reveals to us through Jesus.
That sounds “conservative” to me!
Over the last couple of years, I have stopped letting the word “conservative” be stolen or manipulated. I don’t like the labels at all. But sometimes, they are necessary because they describe mindsets that are present in this time. So, if I must identify a view or a mindset that usually describes itself as “conservative,” I say “traditional” or “legalistic.” Legalism means works-based righteousness, binding peripheral ideas as a means of salvation, or saying Jesus plus something is salvific. Traditionalism is not necessarily legalism. Traditionalism is a dedication to a view that has had the majority approval for several years. I could, however, just as easily call these ideas liberal.
When talking about a person or view that is usually considered “liberal,” it really comes down to why the view is held. When the view is held because they say they don’t care what Jesus and Scripture says, then it, by definition, is also “liberal.” Just like the so-called “conservative.”
But if the view the so-called “liberal” has is held because there is an effort to understand the topic in view of Scripture and context, then that person is “conservative,” even if the view is non-traditional. A lot of “liberals” prefer to be called “progressive” not because they think they are better than anyone else but because they see the Christian journey as a progression of understanding, transformation, and character. It’s a process that includes grace and guidance.
There are well-meaning Christians who pridefully wear the name “conservative” and subconsciously (to assume the best) manipulate people with that word. Not too different than the Pharisees in principle. Love these people, give them grace, and be humble. That said, don’t let them act like they have the monopoly on truth or that THEY get to define what Scripture means by taking some passages out of context and ignoring others (as they accuse the progressive Christian of doing). Or by accepting cultural context when it’s good for them but mocking others when it’s not. Saying things like “it says what it means and means what it says.” That’s not conservative; that’s just lazy. Unintentionally, I’m sure. But it lacks understanding.
It seems to me that the claim that those seen as “progressive Christians” are always learning but never coming to the knowledge of “truth” isn’t fair. The claim is that we continually make up new things to learn. First, sometimes there are new things to learn, so there’s that. Second, sometimes the new things are actually just forgotten old things. Third, it’s not that we have to know so much to be a progressive Christian or that Christianity is “so complicated,” it’s not complicated. It’s really that learning isn’t nearly as hard and time-consuming as unlearning taught things that God never intended for us to learn.