When cultural conflict skews your theology …

At his blog Bill Evans writes a follow up post to his earlier article on Presbyterian squabbling. Evans worries that Reformed pastors are losing the ability to distinguish between primary, secondary, and even tertiary issues. He also worries that some are coming to view the confessions as substitutes for (or as the source of) doctrinal consensus, rather than as expressions of genuine consensus grounded in Scripture, a phenomena he calls “confessional fundamentalism.”

On the way he makes a poignant argument about the way in which obsession with the culture wars contributes to a skewed view of theological priorities:

[T]he ever-present context of cultural conflict has become the lens through which many theological issues are viewed.  Whether it be odd speculation about an “eternal subordination of the Son,” or the rise of the so-called “Biblical Patriarchy” recently and properly critiqued by Rachel Miller, or opposition to the ordination of women even to an office of service like the Presbyterian diaconate, a lot of conservative theology is being driven the desire not to give an inch to the feminists.  Likewise, the recent trend in conservative Reformed circles toward literal six-day young-earth creationism is certainly not driven by any new exegetical insights into the meaning of Genesis 1 or any new scientific evidence, but rather by the desire to exclude Darwinism and its cultural implications a priori.

Unfortunately, what has emerged is theology that is often just as “political” as anything on the left, and from this political polarization flows an approach to theological controversy in which there is increasingly little room for complexity and interpretation.  Nuance, judgments of charity, the recognition that reality is often more complex than we might wish, and necessary shades of gray have been replaced by the binary logic of black and white, truth and error, faithfulness and compromise.  Little wonder, then, that the Balkanized conservative Reformed theological landscape looks more and more like an exercise in Manichaean politics.  Little wonder that positions long regarded as acceptable are now suspect and even unwelcome in some presbyteries, or that a view almost extinct in 1960 (except among Seventh-Day Adventists) has become a touchstone of orthodoxy.

As I wrote in an earlier response to Evans, we need to learn that the conservative position is not necessarily the biblical, or Christian position. ‘Liberal’ is not a bad word, and as its usage by an older theologian like John Calvin demonstrates, orthodox Christians used to think of liberality as a virtue. Jesus and his apostles, like the reformers, were as liberal as they were conservative because they understood that their obligation was to the word of God, not to the status quo. Our allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom, not to the way things once were.

Read Evans’s whole post here.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on March 15, 2013, in Culture War, women and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on When cultural conflict skews your theology ….

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