Allow me to direct your attention to a blog post over at the wonderfully named “Hobo Theology.” Full disclosure: the blogger is my brother-in-law. That influences this response in two ways: the first is that I love him more than I love most other bloggers with whom I disagree. Second, I know that the conversation that happens here is one we have been having and will continue to have for years and years to come. God save our poor children.
The main argument of the piece, entitled “Why Liberal and Conservative Christians Can’t Dialogue,” is that the Rob Bell controversy (I know, sorry) is a “case study in conservative-liberal dialogue.” I think this is partially true. He issues the following theory by way of explanation:
For those with a higher view of scripture, this controversy of doctrine is a matter of exegetical engagement and interpretation. For those with a lower view of scripture, this controversy is more of a social, relational issue.
This is where I have a couple of disagreements, one is relatively minor and the other is a bit more serious. First, I think in this particular instance, the lines cannot be drawn so evenly in terms of liberal/conservative. Rather, there are those who saw Justin Taylor’s initial post about Bell’s unreleased book as an opportunity to discuss the theology they believe it professes, and others who, rather than speculate, chose to consider what the controversy says about contemporary evangelicalism. I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think it is wrong to launch into a theological discussion based on an unreleased book – it is wrong, I think, to make judgments on an author based on what we think he is going to say, but to say his book seems to be about universalism and then have a discussion about universalism, is perfectly appropriate.
But I’m not sure that the choice of which angle to take on this is drawn along conservative/liberal lines. The post looks at Sessions’ piece here at Patrol as an example of the liberal side, but fails to acknowledge that we hardly ever discuss theology in posts on this site, as our main concern is the way that religion exists in culture. In my couple of ruminations on the issue, I also left the theological discussion alone and viewed this in a more “meta” way. I would argue that I did this based on what I’m primarily interested in, and not because I’m liberal.
Secondly, I take more serious exception with the categorizations of a higher or lower view of scripture. I definitely fall into the liberal camp, obviously. But do I have a lower view of scripture? Absolutely not. The insinuation is that if one’s view of scripture doesn’t align with another’s, one view is higher and the other lower. This value judgment can not stand.
With so many ways to actually talk about interpretive methods when it comes to scripture, to confine these to high or low really misses something huge. True, I don’t believe the Genesis story should be read as science, nor do I think we must read Paul’s words written in a specific time to specific readers as generally applicable to contemporary Christians (Of course, many of those who claim a “high” view of scripture don’t actually believe this either, but that’s another issue), but this does not mean my view of scripture is low.
I have a tremendously high view of all literature. I’ve spent six years of my life studying it formally. I love stories. How much more then – how much higher – must my view be of the book that contains the greatest story, the story that has the power to literally save lives?
Certainly some classifications like liberal or conservative are useful in order to quickly understand – generally – where someone is coming from. But let’s be careful how and when we use them, as often situations are far more complex than this easy delineation let’s on.
Oh man, I can’t wait until our next family vacation!
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