Dear Christian, are we both guilty by association?

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So perhaps you read Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, Peter Rollins, Marcus Borg, Rachel Held Evans, Henri Nouwen, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Doug Pagitt, Maggie Dawn, C. S Lewis, N. T. Wright, Steve Chalke, and sundry other ‘liberal’ Christian writers. I might prefer an eclectic mix of D. A. Carson, David Bosch, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Francis MacNutt, Francis Chan, Bill Johnson, Heidi Baker, Greg Boyd, Bob Ekblad, John Wimber, J.Gresham Machen, Kevin de Young, R. C. Sproul, Derek Prince, Terry Virgo, and similar neo-conservative/charismatic/hard to categorise authors. Are we both therefore guilty by association?

Does your bookshelf/Kindle library automatically designate you as an authentic liberal-progressive, relevant, engaged Christian, and me as a profoundly confused, hypocritical, out of touch, foot-in-both camps kind of Christian?

Maybe you’re more emergent/unfinished/new kind of post-Christian non-conformist Anglo-Catholic who knows how (not) to speak of God, and vaguely agrees that Jesus needs new PR. Therefore, perhaps I’m more of a borderline reformed/evangelical/Pentecostal-Charismatic(with a seat belt)/liberation theologian, who would agree that Jesus is frequently misrepresented by those who bear his name (including me).

On some issues we might agree to differ, on others we draw dividing lines. Yet all too often, our tendency is to embrace divergent expressions of Christian subculture within a broadly Western context, rather than follow the example of Christ. It’s painful to admit, but the reality is that unless we’re walking like Jesus, we’re way off the mark when it comes to claiming biblical fidelity or legitimacy.

It troubles me that Western Christianity could all too easily be defined as a bizarre kind of dysfunctional, evangelical soap opera, characterised by a select few larger than life actors who take it upon themselves to speak for the masses. We are engulfed by a barrage of endless tweets, status updates, blog posts, YouTube clips, and entire websites devoted to various partisan agendas, from both conservative and liberal voices on a daily basis.

Is this the reason that Christ died? So that we could denounce our perceived theological enemies as liberal heretics or conservative fundamentalists? Is that lifestyle really the way of the cross Jesus commanded his followers to bear?

If you’re of a ‘liberal’ persuasion, do you feel accomplished in your attempts to intellectually bludgeon one of your brothers or sisters who is struggling in their faith, with your superior, liberated grasp of theology and/or postmodern philosophy (whatever that is)? Would you belittle their Biblical literalism, earnest desire, and traditional views from a position of arrogance and dare to consider yourself Christ like?

On the flip side, from a ‘conservative’ perspective, have you armed yourself with the latest raft of reformed evangelical doctrines, and then proceeded to digitally assault your brothers and sisters with them when they disagree with you? Have you found yourself feeling smug and sneering at so called ‘liberal’ Christians for being barely a sin short of becoming apostate, backsliding heretics? Whilst we’re on the subject, how is that plank of wood in your eye? I have the same problem, we really really ought to get that seen to..

Is this the kind of freedom Jesus bought for us on the cross? Freedom to argue? Do either of these (admittedly over-simplified) positions represent biblically sound theology? Have we been given a ministry of judgemental accusation rather than reconciliation? Is the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints really a systematic theology designed in the shape of a cage, which is meant to imprison you in a web of guilt and inadequacy? Is dogmatic, doctrinal affirmation a hallmark of Christian maturity? Is the fury of rigid fundamentalism the real deal?

By contrast, do you think that ignoring, denying, demystifying, or deconstructing the ‘difficult’ parts of the Bible, and rejecting Jesus’ commands in the sermon on the mount (and elsewhere) is in some way liberating? What about your understanding of Pauline theology? Are you really qualified to quibble with his ecclesiology, eschatology, soteriology and hard line stance on ethics/biblical sexuality? Is your ‘progressive’ liberalism really more authentic than dogmatic fundamentalism? Are you as enlightened as you think you are? How can you be sure in a world of uncertainty? What about Heisenberg!?

All of which is to say, that perhaps we’ve both got it wrong and are both in dire straights unless Jesus sets us free to pursue a much more uncompromising standard for Christian maturity than Liberal Protestantism or Neo-Calvinist fundamentalism: himself.

We need to reframe the so called emergent conversation, and start having some respectful, meaningful dialogue about the true meaning of Christian orthodoxy.

Why don’t we start by putting the stones down, walking away, and seeking urgent spiritual care for the uncomfortably large planks sticking out of our eyes? Then maybe we can come back and talk to each other face to face, with not a speck of dust in sight.

M