The Phoenix Journal

I’ve done lots of radio and podcast interviews in the last couple weeks.  A lot of them have been by conservative critics, some have been by friendly conservatives, and some have been by progressives.  Here’s one of the latter, a podcast at the Phoenix Journal, “Documenting emerging, progressive Christianity.”

On that note, I’ve gotten some good comments on my post, “Why Is Liberal Christianity So Boring?”  But there’s one that stood out, from Drew, so I’ll re-post it here:

…To say that the spectrum of emergent does not have the same flavor of liberalism is to miss the meaning of liberalism itself. Emergent is a liberal movement because it is seeking to change current structures of ecclesiology and worship. It is, for the most part, a relationship to change itself (as the postmodern influence would dictate on numerous grounds).

If you want an example of how this is working, it is not unlike a conscious movement out of an existing structure not unlike Thomas Kuhn’s structure of scientific revolutions. But it cannot be confused with that kind of theory of epistemological development. First, it is an intentional departure. Second, it is not rooted in scientifically based evidence, but conjecture based largely on “feeling”. Note: I am not making a value judgment here, just making my reference clear.

However, Tony’s comment here has to do with the politicization of the terms liberal and conservative that have attached itself to the parlance in religious circles. Liberal is term that simply means a self-critical posture towards existing structures and frames of knowledge and a willingness to reconstruct those boundaries in conjunction with experience. It also, therefore, means that one needs to apprehend multiple structures of knowledge to synthesize into one’s own framework. Being conservative in distinction to this means less likely to change boundaries based on experience and more likely to reinforce them. So these are very useful terms if we can just dump the political referent and use them to describe how we frame our knowledge. But as politics bears out, conservative theology and conservative politics and vice-versa have unfortunately conflated the terms to take on different and more polarizing meanings that have only harmed the church universal. Time to re-claim these words for construction rather than the fracturing they have caused.

To this end, the entire premise of emergent is a liberal one. But liberal in the true sense of the term (think liberal arts for instance) rather than the politicized demonization that the religious right has largely incurred in our current common use of the term.

So if you are a conservative evangelical who is also a friend of emergent, hate to break the news to you – you are now a liberal.

As Darren notes, that’s not exactly what I meant in the post — I wasn’t writing about philosophical liberalism but about liberal cultural Christianity.  Nevertheless, I think it’s a great point.

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  • Thanks for the HT Tony.

    I knew that was not exactly what you meant ;-), but I do think that is where the problem sits with how we interpret the terms liberal and conservative in our general parlance… We have adopted the politicized understanding of the terms and that, essentially, makes theology boring.


  • Kenton

    Sorry, but overall I disagree.

    I’ll concede that Drew’s right about the etymology of the words “liberal” and “conservative”, but semantics trumps etymology.

    So, yes, I would be a “conservative” evangelical who is also a friend of emergent and NOT a liberal. 😛

  • Thanks for the h/t, brother.

  • I think the underlying issue here is that people in general like to ‘categorize.’ There is a comfort in needing to structure ideas and it also makes it easier to critique and caricature other’s viewpoints.

    What is unsettling for most about emerging christianity is that it refuses to fit in a neat category, and hence there is this desire to want to define it as ‘something.’ But I hope that EC continues to be trans-denominational, and trans-political, and if it ever does settle into a modernist framework… then it would simply become yet another Christian denomination.

  • The problem is that we cannot function epistemically without categories. Our cognition depends on categories and canot work without categorization. That is why our knowledge will never fully understand God. That which is undefined cannot be known.