A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Friday, April 12, 2013
Heretics as Conservative and Liberal
Yesterday I was sitting in a workshop dealing with educational diversity, and this quote stuck with me:
“If the goal of liberal education is to move students from their own embedded worldviews and broaden their perspectives—diversity is a vehicle for achieving this goal.”
Liberal here, of course, is not a theological or political label, but a term reference to a broad type of educational experience that exposes the student to a wide range of thought and scholarship.
But the quote caused me to think of a billboard I saw recently from a local Christian university:
“Think Biblically About Everything.”
I think I understand the intention behind this statement. Christians are people of the Bible, and our texts help to form our thinking about ourselves, our faith, and the world.
But what if our way of thinking biblically comes out of an embedded worldview that has any number of misconceptions about the world? What if “thinking biblically” really means, as I think it does, thinking with our embedded way of interpreting the Bible?
For example: Quite of few people in the southern part of the US in the 18th and 19th century believed that slavery was a practice that was biblical. After all, there is no specific prohibition against slavery in scripture. In a sense, the abolitionists—many of whom were committed Christians—were seen as running cross-grain against the Bible. They could be seen as religious, economic, and political heretics.
When I believe I have my answers all nailed down, I can easily and effectively identify the heretics: They are the ones who think differently from me.
That doesn’t mean that people who think differently from me (or you) aren’t heretics. They might be. But their challenge to my way of thinking is not tantamount to heresy. Otherwise, we would have to say that the canon is closed on debate and on thinking in general. Without that dynamic, there would not have been a Protestant Reformation (or, for that matter, a Catholic Reformation).
Are we done thinking, challenging, and reforming? A common Reformation declaration is “Reformed, and always reforming.” Are we really always reforming? Or do we have everything figured out?
Two labels that have become increasing unhelpful are conservative and liberal. They currently seem to identify two large camps that hate each other. I wish we could reform those terms and the thinking that goes with them, maybe this way:
Being conservative is great when there is something of deep and lasting value that needs to be conserved.
Being liberal is great when old and new ideas are both allowed at the discussion table, and cognitive dissonance is resolved through listening and dialogue.
Conservatives tend to see liberals, by default, as heretics.
Liberals tend to see conservatives, by default, as idiots.