Recently I have been observing and/or engaged in various conversations in the blogsphere with Christians who believe that the bible is verbally inspired, inerrant and infallible.
This might blow up in my face completely, but I would like to offer here some suggestions about "how to talk to 'liberals'". (Just one remark. I'm thinking of a number of different web conversations, so if you think this is a veiled dig at you, it isn't.)
First, a definition. I'm defining "liberal" as anyone who does not believe the bible is verbally-inspired, inerrant and infallible. (Hearafter "VIII") I am aware that this definition is simplistic and non-nuanced. So....
1) Be aware that the group of people do not believe the bible is VIII includes a huge range of theologies and approaches to the bible. Many "nonVIII" people self-define as evangelical. Ask an individual what he or she believes on a particular point of doctrine and don't assume that you know their views.
2) Many or most of us think that we believe in the bible and we think that we value and respect the bible. Many or most of us are very sincere in our desire to read the bible faithfully and to be obedient to God.
3) Many or most of us probably don't think that you are insincere or that you have bad motives. We just disagree with your theology.
4) Most of us probably think that we have given quite a lot of consideration to our theology, especially those people who have degrees in the subject.
5) Please do not expect to convert us to your point of view after a couple of exchanges on the internet. Patience is required.
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It's hard to tell sometimes who the liberals or conservatives are, as you mentioned. I've noticed in myself an impulse to disregard the scripture passages I don't like, but to be pretty attached to the ones I do like ... not very consistant.
I hope you have a very happy Christmas, Pam :-)
Thank you, crystal. Many blessings at Christmas and I hope you have a happy Christmas too.
None of us are consistent inthat regard, I'm afraid!
Well done. My only gripe is that your definition of liberal is an entirely negative one, which I think falls into the inerrantist's hands. That is, we are defined by what we don't believe rather than by what we do; what we reject rather than by what we affirm.
So I would add to your definition a clause which describes liberals well, though it does not pertain to us exclusively:
A liberal is one who values context in interpreting a text.
While this is also true of many conservative scholars, it seems rarely true of those who argue for inerrancy in blog conversations. I might also add this clause:
A liberal is one who makes a sharp distinction between myth and lie, realizing that a myth can be both fictional and a vehicle for truth.
I wanted to drop in to your blog and wish you a wonderful Christmas. Over time, I've given a lot of thought to this topic that you raise. I've come down to thinking in terms of "dangers" that threaten the liberal and "dangers" that threaten the conservative. For the conservative, I believe, the danger is being "anti-hermeneutical." I.e., not realizing that the biblical texts often require sophisticated wrestling in order to yield their truths. You can't be pedestrian in your reading of the Bible! For the liberal, the danger is being "anti-Kerygmatic." I.e., not realizing that the biblical texts bear a powerful witness, Word, Kerygma, and vitality, that transcends the limitations of their human authors. What do you think?? Best, ---Stephen L. Cook, Virginia Theological Seminary
Sandalstraps said:So I would add to your definition a clause
Thanks, Sandalstraps. My goal in this particular post really is just "How to talk to us". It isn't to give a definition of "liberal". I came out of a very hard-core VIII culture and I'm using the language of that culture, so that we have can a common terminology.
S and C saidOver time, I've given a lot of thought to this topic that you raise. I've come down to thinking in terms of "dangers" that threaten the liberal and "dangers" that threaten the conservative.
Again, I was trying to isolate this particular post to a "How to talk to us" conversation. But what I think of your approach in a more general context is that it totally resonates with me.
As my Profile states, I used to work in pensions and one thinking tool in the financial world is that of "risks and benefits". What are the risks of this approach? What are the benefits of this approach? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? And by naming the risks ahead of time, one can watch out for them (the tricky bit, of course, is that one doesn't always spot all the risks, but at least one has a roadmap!)
Don't think that I think that all financial tools apply to theology, but I think this one does. I think it's a good tool. And I think it helps one be dispassionate as well!
Thanks for the idea, and maybe this deserves a separate post somewhere.
I appreciate you stopping by.
Stephen: I'm now rather amusingly aware that my post might sound awfully arrogant - you're biblical scholar and I consider myself an amateur theologian at best. But I DO agree with you and I think your approach sounds exicting and I'd like to hear more about it.
Pam, rather like Sandalstraps I am concerned that your definition is playing into the hands of the inerrantists; but so is his. According to the traditional definitions of evangelicalism, at least here in the UK, the Bible is not necessarily "inerrant and infallible", although it is inspired and authoritative, and it certainly should be interpreted in context.
It is the inerrantist or fundamentalist minority, at least a small minority here in the UK and not an overwhelming majority in the USA, who have hijacked the word "evangelical" to describe themselves to the exclusion of others. Meanwhile, "liberal", which used to be used by evangelicals as a more or less pejorative description of a theology which rejected the authority of the Bible completely (and in fact more precisely to one particular strand of that theology), has been redefined as a pejorative word for those who used to be considered evangelicals but are not completely inerrantist.
So, it seems to me that you have accepted the inerrantists' pejorative description for yourself. Well, you have also accepted "Christian" and "Methodist", both of which started out as similar pejoratives. But I am not sure that I will accept "liberal", as it seems to me that it simply causes confusion between my position and the totally opposite position of the 19th century liberal theologians.
Perhaps we need a completely new term to describe us evangelicals who are not inerrantist or "anti-hermeneutical", and who do "value context in interpreting a text". Any suggestions?
I'm sort of feeling like another conversation is starting up here.
All the blogsites I have in mind define Christians as people who see the bible as being verbally inspired, inerrant and infallible. To these people, I *am* a "liberal" and I'm not a Christian and yes, that is all pejorative.
If I call myself "mainstream", they will say "no you are not mainstream".
So should I entitle this thread "How to Dialogue with Christians Like Me?"
I'm happy to start - yet another - post about "what is a liberal", but how do you suggest I better speak to VIII people? Shouldn't I use their language?
(To be honest, I don't actually know if I'm evangelical by British evangelical definitions anyway. The people I most seem to resonate with theologically (but not ecclessially) are believing Roman Catholics. I *am* more liberal than most Methodist Evangelicals. Dave may call himself evangelical but I'm not sure I am. Radical, definitely.)
This conversation is awfully interesting... Pam, you did not sound the least bit arrogant to me, and I can tell from your various reflections and sermons that you are not an amateur at all at these things. ---SLC
This is indeed an interesting conversation, although one that sadly I can't continue at the moment as I am going away in the morning. Well, I don't think we should let your VIII people (are they more like Henry VIII or Edward VIII?) hijack for themselves alone names like "evangelical", let alone "Christian".
I would suggest that the definitive definition of an evangelical here in the UK is that given in the Basis of Faith of the Evangelical Alliance, which was revised not long ago, at least partly in response to the fuss about Steve Chalke. Note that in this the Bible is said to have "divine inspiration and supreme authority" and be "fully trustworthy for faith and conduct", but none of your VIII words is used, except for "inspired" without "verbally".
There is also at this site an article Evangelicalism: A Brief Definition. This includes the following interesting point:
an important distinction needs to be drawn between the terms Evangelical and
fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is now often used to refer to any type of dogmatic (and often backward-looking) thought, usually in religion. ... After the Second World War, a division between relatively progressive and conservative American Evangelicals on issues like biblical criticism, ecumenism and social engagement became evident in North America, and gradually the term Fundamentalism was reserved for the latter group. On this basis I think we can reasonably call the inerrantist group "fundamentalist", although maybe they would not now accept this name because of negative connotations related to other religions.
Pam, would you accept the Evangelical Alliance statement of faith, as I do? If so, you could call yourself an evangelical, at least in the UK. But even if you don't, I can accept you as a sister in Christ and work with you. Indeed I would find it easier to work with you than with many who call themselves evangelical but with a tighter definition.
On this basis I think we can reasonably call the inerrantist group "fundamentalist", although maybe they would not now accept this name because of negative connotations related to other religions.
I do not use the word "fundamentalist", because in my experience most inerrantist people see it as an insulting term (much as I feel insulted when they call me liberal!)
Pam, would you accept the Evangelical Alliance statement of faith, as I do?
I'm not sure that I do. It's not so much because I can't read it and agree with it as it is that when I mix with people who self-define as "evangelical", I find myself to be considerably more "liberal" than they are. So I wonder what do these words mean. To put it in perspective, I can probably be reasonably comfortable with evangelicals who identify with the "Fulcrum" movement in the UK. But even then, they are slightly more conservative than I am - but I can certainly relate comfortably.
My specific niggles with the EA statement of faith are about 1) scriptural interpretation and 2) penal substitutionary atonenment.
1) In my experience, most people in the pews who see the bible as having "divine inspiration and supreme authority" tend to approach the bible in a fairly inerrantist way. For example, I don't believe King David wrote all the psalms. I believe there two or three different sources for the book of Daniel. I believe that the Gospels present a faithful witness of the teaching of Jesus, but I don't think that all the sayings applied to Jesus are all factually true. (Otherwise Jesus seemed to do and say a lot of different things whilst hanging on the cross.) Most evenaglicals in the pew who I know would not be too welcoming of those beliefs. (I accept it would be a different story with many evangelical clergy.)
2) I've followed the "Steve Chalke events" quite closely and I know that the EA has revised its approach to atonement which might theoretically be able to bring me in where I definitely could not have signed up before. However, as a Girardian, the more I study, the more I think that penal substititonary atonement is just plain wrong. I'm gettting less comfortable holding it as one theory among many. I think it's underlying social/philosophical foundations are pride and violence and I think that the bible witnesses against both these traits as sinful such that I do not believe that God used these traits to redeem the cosmos.
If so, you could call yourself an evangelical, at least in the UK. But even if you don't, I can accept you as a sister in Christ and work with you. Indeed I would find it easier to work with you than with many who call themselves evangelical but with a tighter definition.
Peter, I hope that I can communicate to you that I sincerely believe that you view me as a sister in Christ. I have seen you as a moderate evangelical from first reading your material and it never occured to me that you would feel or behave otherwise. I *do* realise that the category of "evangelical" is also a very wide one and I never saw you as an inerrantist or as a "complimentarian".
I'm coming late to the conversation, but I think part of the problem of dialogue with "VIII" Christians is that most of them tend to think in binary. If you don't believe what they belive, you must believe the polar opposite. That leads to all sorts of assumptions about "liberals" that may or may not be true.
In addition to the advice you give, I'd add this one piece: If you're going to label people, be sure you have enough labels to go around. Dividing the world into two camps does not do justice to the diversity of theologies that exist.
Bruce, I think that's a helpful clarification of what I said - maybe not too clearly - in my original post.
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