What is the difference between liberal and conservative christians and does it matter?

A little of my background

I attended three colleges before I finished my Bachelor’s degree.  All three of them were affiliated with a Christian denomination.  Each denomination seemed to have their own views regarding how the how the Church should be run, how Christians should interact with culture, how worship should go, how we should view the Bible etc…  It was not long before I noticed differences.  Each group tends to latch on to a verse or set of scripture verses that they want to focus on or find see as very important. There is sometimes strength in diversity as seen in the 12 tribes of Israel, each having a specific strength and role. However, the church has been splitting for a long time.  It is not an inter-denominational split but an intra-denominational one. Churches within the same denomination can be identified as liberal, moderate, or conservative. Churches are splitting over who and what we vote for in election years and what we watch on television.  Why is this? In my 28 years on earth, most of which have been in the church, I have encountered just about every type of Christian in this spectrum.

The purpose of this blog is not to demean or name call but to share observations and posit thoughts that might help the divide to slow down. This does not necessarily mean that finding middle ground is the correct solution to the problem.  Frankly, I would be happy if every church started shifting back to the right. Maybe this is directed at churches that are middle of the road or moderate.  This type of church has a mixture of ideologies among its members and is thus finding it hard to have shared identity.  These churches are usually perceived as inviting and open and therefore safe and comfortable to be a part of.  Should this be why we attend church though? As this essay unfolds the reader (if a Christian) is encouraged to think critically about what the goal of “church” is.  What was the original charter for believers in Christ?

I tend to be conservative in my political and religious views but that does not mean that there are not things that I can learn from a liberal churchgoer.  There should be a method of taking the good things from each group and making the church the way it ought to work. In other words, a desirable church for me is one that cares about both the eternal salvation of the individual and the physical earthly needs that they have.  Too many liberal churches tend to minimize the importance of eternal things and shift the focus to “social-justice” and “social-agenda” items.  In my opinion (as will be seen below) these liberal, often mainline, denominational churches fall into one of two categories in their ideology (postmodern or naturalistic).  These churches do serve a purpose in their communities with social programs and should continue to do their best.

Private organizations including churches that provide medical treatment (hospitals), food kitchens, job training and placement, etc… are an efficient way help communities grow and thrive.  The alternative is a public, centralized, dependency producing, nanny-state that is detrimental to society.  Although these churches are helping in some ways, I do want to caution them to stop borrowing from a tradition that is based upon the belief in a supernatural and real God who actually exists.  It seems superfluous and dishonest to charade as a group that believes in God but when it really comes down to it, does not. The type of god that this group believes in is any god that fits its agenda. I realize that the name of God has been used to do terrible things in history. Any use of the name of God that is not in line with who God is should be avoided and that goes for everyone. The question at this point should be, “how do we know who God is and what he requires of us?” Well, I would say that the Bible is a pretty reliable guide that can answer that question. This is not to say the Bible is easy to understand or that everything in it is obvious. However, it is a way to come together on the issue at hand.

How do we become liberal or conservative?

I would like to find out what it is that attracts people to become a liberal or conservative Christian. It, no-doubt, can often be linked initially to what your parents taught you then later what your college professors taught you and what popular media thinks.  I will not pretend that my upbringing has nothing to do with my views today.  However, I wonder how many people truly introspect and know why they hold certain viewpoints regarding the world and how it should work.

I do not want to believe something just because it is currently fashionable to believe, my parents taught me, or I have a predisposition to believe it.  This does not mean that if something is fashionable, taught by parents, or easy to believe it is a false belief.  On the contrary, basic beliefs should be trusted unless there is sufficient reason to distrust them.  It is unlivable to be skeptical about everything. If anything, it can be helpful to be skeptical about your skepticism before dismissing something that you feel strongly is true.  I want to be open to critique as I have often been wrong about things. However, I need to have a foundation of beliefs that allow me to make decisions and live my life without constant anxiety and second-guessing.  Truth should be the ultimate goal for those who care to think about their worldview.

A theory

I just finished a book called “Kingdom Triangle: recover the Christian mind, renovate the soul, restore the spirit’s power” (2007) by J.P. Moreland.  In it Moreland posits that there are broadly three competing worldviews in American and western culture today: Postmodernism, Naturalism/atheism, and Ethical Monotheism.  The book is written well and I cannot argue too much with his basic contention regarding the competition of these worldviews.  His focus is the religious and philosophical outcomes of such worldviews on the individual and on the culture at large.   Along the same lines, I have noticed that there is a correlation with liberal political thought and postmodern and naturalistic worldviews. There also seems to be a correlation with ethical monotheists, which is composed of the politically conservative “right-wing”.  This is not 100% true all the time but can be an initial gauge. The rest of the essay I will be using Moreland’s “three competing worldviews” idea as a lens through which I will focus on the church.  His book does not specifically focus on the division in the Christian church as much as it does in the broader cultural context.

I am not naive to believe that all church-going folks are politically conservative. Ironically I have met and am friends with many postmodern thinkers in churches as well as naturalists.  They might not identify themselves as a naturalist or a postmodernist but their actions, words, or political bend betray them. For actual data on where church-going Americans stand on their views of God, the Bible, etc… go to https://www.barna.org/. This website has shocking data from surveys that are up to date.

In a nutshell, postmodern churchgoers don’t like to think that what they believe is any better or truer than what anyone else believes. In fact they will often assert that truth is not dogmatic (which is self-contradictory). Everyone can have his or her own truth.  To say that someone is wrong is mean and not what Jesus would do.  Unfortunately their view of Christianity is not orthodox by any means and strays far from much of what the New Testament teaches. They may be unaware of this or they ignore it in order to be involved in a group of people who care about family and social justice so they continue to attend church (ethical monotheists also care about loving and caring for the poor, week, and lonely. But they also believe that there are objective truths that pertain to everyone).  This group views the bible through the lens of social justice, feminist, and liberation theology and does not claim that it is inspired by God or can be objectively known.

The church-going naturalist is someone who does not really believe that what is being preached is actually real and can be considered a nominally religious person.  They go to church with their family but do not want to get involved because church consists of a bunch of superstitious, uneducated charlatans. They often believe that the Bible is consists of a bunch of fairytales that propound a xenophobic, chauvinistic, homophobic, immoral god. Nothing beyond nature can be known and science is the only way to measure true knowledge (scientism).  This statement is self-contradictory but they have not opened their mind to be challenged by the truth of God because they are comfortable where they are or they are scared to be wrong.  In my opinion even, well-meaning Christians can have naturalist tendencies when they start going through the motions of church.  This has happened to me and I try to fight the tendency.

Because of the social script in the media, movies, and college campuses well meaning Christians are brainwashed without even knowing it and allow themselves to slip into a naturalist or postmodern way of thinking.  They have not seen (or been looking for) answered prayer and when a prayer is answered they subconsciously say, “This would have happened even if I did not pray”.  This is a major problem because Christianity, in its essence, is a supernatural religion. Although there are a few Christian physicalist (we are only a body and don’t have a soul) the New Testament teaches that we are a soul and a body. It also teaches that God raised Jesus from the dead and that many miracles have been and can be performed in the name of God.  This means that the whole religion is based upon a supernatural presupposition.  With this said, it is interesting to me that we (in conservative, “Bible-believing” churches) will believe that we are a supernatural composition of body and soul and that we pray to a God that transcends nature just to check it off a list.  I am guilty of this.  I no longer want to live inconsistently with what I say I believe.  When I pray, I want to expect that God hears me and that things can happen that might not have happened if the prayer were not attempted. This obviously does not necessarily mean that I always pray for the right thing or that I get whatever I pray for.  However, I would rather pray and have 1% of them answered then never try.  I am going off topic. Apologies.

Moreland makes the point in his book that Christianity is a knowledge tradition.  This point is in response to the assertions made by postmodernists and naturalists when they try to nail Christianity down as a “faith tradition only”.  They try to put Christianity in with every other religion as a touchy-feely emotional believe that cannot be taught as objective truth.  Many of the New Testament writers present their information as truth according to eye-witness accounts that were falsifiable. Paul says in 1 Cor 15:14 “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  This seems to show that our Christian faith is actually trusting in what we know to be true. This is the opposite of what some people call “blind faith”. (If you are interested in the problem of religious pluralism read my other posts Relativism, Religious Pluralism, and Tolerance or Searching for a Religion? Try Christianity First, or Correspondence with an atheist/skeptic).  He brings up 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV) – “…For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,…” He describes an aspect of spiritual warfare as being involved in the creation and proliferation of ideas in our culture.  Christian apologists should be ready to address and refute ideas that are contrary to the knowledge (truth) of God. In the book of Romans, when talking about his the Jewish people, Paul again asserts, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4).

There is much more that could be said about this subject but my wife (whom I love dearly) just informed me that this post is getting very long and that not many people will read a long article (not many people will read this anyways). I might re-address this topic in a posting at a later date.

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