Over Reactions and the Search for Balance

Over Reactions and the Search for Balance August 17, 2015

I’m a historical theologian and I tell my students that the history of Christian theology is a series of pendulum swings–reactions that are often over reactions to events, movements, etc. I think this is true of cultural history in general. Let me give some examples.

The second century Christian bishops’ response to Montanism was an over reaction that had extremely negative consequences. Instead of the church being where the Spirit is, the church became defined as where the bishop is.

Luther’s reaction to Catholicism was valuable but included some very deleterious over reactions–such as calling all good works sinful.

Fundamentalism started out as a correction to the liberal drift of Protestantism in the U.S. but quickly became an over reaction.

Pentecostalism was partly, at least, a reaction to a perceived neglect of the Holy Spirit and to evangelical cessationism, but it became an over reaction as it elevated one gift, speaking in tongues, to the status of the special sign of fullness of the Spirit.

Those are just a few examples. But noticing this in church history/history of theology has caused me to observe culture this way as well. I think I see over reactions before many people see them. I’m always cautious of over reactions. Sometimes I blow the whistle on them while most others even in my own circle of friends and acquaintances don’t see them as over reactions. I am always looking for movements to lean too far in one direction or another.

Much of what I write here must be read in that light. I am often trying to correct the leaning of the cultural or theological ladder and set it as right as I can–balanced and steady. I often think I see middle ground between extremes others don’t see or ignore.

My reactions to feminism and even Christian-evangelical egalitarianism must be viewed this way. I am very sympathetic to the overall goals of destruction of patriarchy (although I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that phrase for hierarchy) and total equality of the sexes/genders. On the other hand, I see some people with whom I generally agree leaning too far. In the progressive evangelical circles I live and work in, I think I see a certain neglect of males–even a tendency to disdain males–because of the history of oppression of women. I think there are “blind spots” in many egalitarians’ vision about males. I am simply trying to steady the ladder; bring about balance–so that especially boys and young men don’t get left behind in the rise of girls and women.

I am fully aware that in fundamentalist churches (including most that call themselves “conservative evangelical”) the ladder still leans way, way too far the other direction. I have left behind and abandoned that subculture a long time ago. And I urge both women and men to abandon churches and organizations that demean girls and women by denying them full equality of privilege and power in home, society and church.

But having moved around in egalitarian circles for most of my adult life, I think I see their ladder leaning the opposite direction too far. I’ll explain that in my next installment of my review series of Carolyn Custis James’s book “Malestrom.” I want to ask questions most egalitarians are not asking and that are often considered inappropriate–especially in light of the continuing dominance of patriarchy in conservative evangelical (and other) Christian circles. My question to people in those circles is “Why are you still there?” “Come out from among them….” And my question to them is whether they can achieve a more balanced view of males–one not colored by the victimhood of females under patriarchy.

No movement wants to be questioned as to its possible imbalances, and yet, we know from history, most movements, even ones for justice, can easily become unbalanced, extreme, jaundiced toward outsiders–lumping them all together as part of “the enemy.” In many, I would say, most cases, people who attempt to point out blind spots in a movement’s ethos get vilified or marginalized because the whole movement depends on its over reaction–to garner attention and followers.

I’m never comfortable with over reaction. I see it as inevitable but always needing re-balancing. Believe me, it’s not a comfortable job to take on. Seeking balance and middle ground gets you shot at from both/all directions. Try being a true moderate in anything. My goal is to be an extreme moderate in most things.

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