Sunday, April 26, 2009

Room in the Middle

I'm reading a book published by Alban entitled Lost in the Middle (Alban, 2009), by Wesley Wildman and Stephen Garner. I'll comment more fully on the book and the points it makes at a later date, but I'd like us to consider what it means to live in the middle. The last time I asked the question about where people stood, the respondents generally took the discussion in a political rather than a theological direction. I think its important to note that one's politics and one's theology can be different.

So, today I want to pose a different question -- it's a question that the book poses as well: Can one be both liberal and evangelical?

The authors of the book note, rightly so, that while liberal and conservative may be opposites, liberal and evangelical need not be. Going back in history, Charles A. Briggs, a biblical scholar at Union Seminary, who was defrocked for heresy because he engaged in historical critical study, was still in his profession of faith very evangelical.

As for me, my politics is fairly liberal, I use historical critical tools. I find great value in the social gospel tradition, and I'm actively involved in interfaith work. I lean toward a universalist perspective. But, I preach Jesus. I pray in Jesus name (when that's appropriate to the occasion). So, I'm a Jesus centered, evangelical universalist, who takes the bible seriously, though not always literally.

That's where I stand, which probably puts me in the middle. How about you?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always figured I was liberal as a result of being an upper-middle kid (the 5th child of 10) AND being raised by Christians.
I just wanted everyone to get along. It (liberalism) sure didn't rub off on all of my siblings.

I'm middle still I guess, but it doesn't mean I'm not passionate.

David Mc

John said...

For me to address your question I would need to know your definition of evangelical.

John

A. D. Hunt said...

I'm in the middle because I believe with no shadow of turning in the Nicene Creed and in the canonical thrust of Scripture and the Church's teaching; but I am wed to almost no particular reading of individual passages and prefer to find "objective" unity between Christians in the Eucharist rather than shared confession.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

When F. F. Bruce, who was an evangelical's evangelical was asked if he was a "conservative evangelical." he replied "Certainly not! I believe many things that some consider to be conservative, but I don't believe them because they are conservative, still less because I am conservative. I believe them because, rightly or wrongly, I believe them to be true. I believe other things that some would consider liberal or even radical, but I believe those for the same reason: I believe them to be true."

Even though I expect many would think my use of critical biblical studies to be to the "left" of Bruce, my theology to contain more "progressive" elements than his, and my politics on the left wing of the Democratic Party, I still think Bruce's answer works for me.

I am evangelical because I am gospel centered as the word implies. I am NOT a capital "E" Evangelical because I do not fit in the U.S. Evangelical subculture.

Tripp said...

I will hang out in the middle with you.

Ryan McCarl said...

An excellent, short book on being "in the middle" is Paul Tillich's "On the Boundary: An Autobiographical Sketch." He discusses his life and his values from the perspective of living and thinking "on the boundary" between philosophy and theology, between home and away, etc. I recommend it. It's out of print, but you can find it through a used bookseller (I prefer www.bookfinder.com) or in most library systems.

-Ryan
http://ryanmccarl.blogspot.com

W.H. said...

If by evangelical you mean spreading the gospel, as defined in Scripture, then no, you can't be evangelical and liberal too. The reason is that liberals do not believe the Biblical gospel, don't take it seriously, and don't believe that it is essential for others to know (hence the tendency of liberals to be universalists). The term "universalist evangelical" is an oxymoron.

I would go a step further and say that you can't be a liberal(theologically) and be a real Christian, since liberals take the Bible neither literally nor seriously, despite your claims that you do.

John said...

W.H.,

I can be succinct:

You are wrong in virtually every generalization you asserted about Christian liberals.

John

Anonymous said...

I tell you don't judge people, I expect you to give unconditional love, I want you to believe in individualism, equal rights (free will) and opportunity for all and freedom of thought etc.

You don't have to call yourself a liberal.

Just act like one.

JC (kidding, it's David Mc)

A. D. Hunt said...

W.H.

I'm not a liberal (in the classic "liberal-protestant model) at all and I know that to be false of many liberals.

Some of the church fathers (origen, gregory of nyssa) were universalists and were arguably more orthodox than any modern evangelical.