Tag Archives: progressive christianity

Loving the Truth Without Losing Your Mind — 7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes

I’ve seen it time and time again. We’ve all done it at some point. We passionately reject one extreme only to embrace another. O how the proverbial pendulum swings to the opposite end of the spectrum! Regrettably, when it’s happening we usually don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.

About 10 years ago I left vocational ministry due to several bad experiences that left my family hurt and confused. The time away was a real blessing from the Lord, but it’s no secret that for a season I was influenced by the thinking that the “institutional” church was of the devil and that the only faithful Christians were those who met in house churches with no leader.

Yes, that was extreme. But some people out did me! The church to these extremists was some sort of nebulous idea involving a couple Christians getting together in a coffee shop—a concept born right out of Western individualism.

But Paul didn’t write letters to saints scattered throughout Starbucks or those who choose to “worship God in nature” while out hiking the trails with a friend on Sunday morning. He wrote to intentional worshipping communities.

It took me a few years to start coming out of this reactionary thinking and see it for what it is. Since then I feel like the Lord has heightened my senses to all manner of extremes embraced by well-intentioned people, especially within the church. So now I see it everywhere I turn. And I’m continually examining my own beliefs and behaviors as well. We’re always susceptible.

I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that it is our embrace of the extremes that has become our greatest hindrance to peace and understanding today, in the world and the church. It’s in politics, academia, and in religion.

These extremes begin with the either-or, in or out, love us or hate us, for us or against us mentality. In the church we even fight among ourselves over who is the most faithful to Jesus in their doctrine and church practice, we want to argue that our group is more “authentic” than your group.

(Sigh) Man, this stuff gets old.

As I recently said in a sermon about justice, I even see many “progressive” Christian friends of mine, particularly young Anabaptists, leaving right-wing politics (which I applaud) only to embrace the left and its agenda, which amounts to a purely secular worldview baptized in Gospel lingo.

Clearly we’re still playing Caesar’s song, just a different verse.

What’s so refreshing about Jesus is that he rejected the polarities and extremes. He rejected them because he saw through them. It’s merely different sides to the same coin. It’s easy and expedient, but it’s not the way forward.

Let’s admit it. It’s hard to break free from the polarities.

Good news! Jesus gives us a way out. While I’m not always sure what that way looks like, if I’m honest, I usually know what it doesn’t look like. And if I’ll listen to the Spirit within me, I’ll eventually stumble down the road of Christ.

Jesus was a radical rabbi, but he wasn’t jumping to extremes. He wasn’t a fundamentalist. He challenged the polarities. We should do the same.

Fundamentalism is an attitude. It can be conservative or progressive. It is elitist and violent, in words and/or actions. It is dogmatic and narrow-minded about many issues. It’s emotionally charged and needs to offend people in order to survive. Without her enemies, fundamentalism has nothing to say.

Now that isn’t to say that God’s truth and the third way of Christ isn’t radically subversive or provocative within a culture of scoffers and skeptics, but it is to say that any ideology that purposely spends its time ridiculing, shaming, or doing violence to others is most definitely an extreme to be rejected, dare I say repented of in Jesus’ name. We need to stop it now. Not tomorrow. Now.

So I want to ask myself, where do I have a tendency to accept the extremes and spread the infection that is having negative effects on our families, churches, society, and culture?

It needs to be said that fundamentalism of any kind is born from a mixture of pain and irrational fear. Her symptoms are superiority, arrogance, and intolerance. You can find this sort of thing among Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists… from Franklin Graham to Richard Dawkins.

If you’re truly concerned about peace and understanding, I would look elsewhere, where there is no fear-mongering, name-calling, and bitterness. Even from those who do it in subtle ways.

The following are some questions that I’ve often asked myself when listening to the news, examining an idea, surveying social media, or reading a book. I think these questions can help disciples of Jesus avoid the polarities and extremes.

7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes
  1. Do I love the truth or just my version of it?
    Contrary to postmodern relativism, there is such a thing as objective truth. Asking this question can help us step outside of ourselves and our cultural conditioning in order to consider the truth that is usually hidden beyond and beneath our personal biases, presuppositions, and emotions.
  2. Can I see a spectrum of views (or a third way)?
    There’s usually more than just two sides to a matter. If it’s always black and white to you, you’ve probably not paid enough attention to Jesus and his “third way” living. This myopic attitude leaves no room for grace or the possibility that there is more than one way to be faithful.
  3. Have I honestly considered other respectable positions?
    In other words, have you listened to the best voices on the subject–qualified folks you may not agree with but can still respect? If you haven’t, you’ll end up demonizing one extreme only to embrace another. You’ll become another version of what you hate. Ironic isn’t it?
  4. What does my community think?
    We are more fully human in healthy relationships. What does your church, organization, or your circle of trusted friends think? Are you listening? Shutting out an opposing opinion might make you feel better about your position, but it doesn’t make you right.
  5. Where is Jesus in this?
    That’s much different than asking what “side” is he on. It should allow us to see Jesus in more places than one. This may seem totally subjective, but it really isn’t. Our discernment comes from a full contextual reading of the Gospels (historical Jesus) and our sensitivity to the Spirit.
  6. Where am I in this?
    Following Jesus isn’t simply doing whatever you imagine him doing. It means obeying and acting out of the time spent listening to his desires for you and the world. Once you’ve felt his heart on a matter and have seen where he’s at work, are you willing to join him there?
  7. No really, where are you at with Jesus?
    If you’re busy trying to serve Jesus and do ministry but not regularly practicing spiritual disciplines in order to abide in Christ, I wouldn’t be so confident about your positions and heart on any matter. We must be connected to the Vine if we want to know his heart and bear his fruit.

I think these questions can help us to see that we’re always dealing with people created in God’s image and not just hot-button issues. This helps me to love people while simultaneously loving the truth and boldly navigating culture, even if it means hardship and suffering for being faithful to Jesus.

Can we rise above the extremes in our pursuit of truth? I believe so. But we need to know that the truth lay quietly in the fertile soil of grace and humility. Out of this soil will come conviction, but never condemnation.

In this way I get to love the truth and keep my mind.

Will you join me?

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

This article was also posted online at Relevant Magazine.

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Shapeshifting Hippie Jesus

A popular progressive blogger recently said that Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” in connection with his yoke being easy and his burden light (Matt 11:28).

So if Jesus’ teaching seems too heavy and hard for folks (Lk 9:23), does this mean that they merely need to reinterpret Jesus or soften his commands in order to ease their discomfort? I sure hope not.

I prefer Bonhoeffer’s sentiment that those who accept Christ’s commands are the ones who find his yoke easy and the burden light, but to those who resist them (him) his yoke is hard and the burden too heavy for anyone to carry. Just ask the rich man, or those listening to the Sermon on the Mount for the first time.

Jesus didn’t say, “accept yourself and take up your sword and follow me.”

Which translates this way today: I’m fine the way I am and I’ll fight (by whatever means necessary) anyone who says otherwise.

This seems to be particularly reflective of our narcissistic, morally relativistic American society still experiencing the destructive political and social consequences of the 1960’s. We can easily see the error of the tactics used by the Religious Right in the 1980’s to promote a power-over, politicized Jesus, but it was the social “hippie” revolution that completely emasculated Christ and transformed him into an anything-goes “love” guru.

If you follow my writings, you know that I’m not down with the cage-fighting Jesus. I’m an Anabaptist. I believe that Christ is love (agape) and peace as revealed on the cross, but these truths are understood in their purest form after letting Jesus define them for us in word and deed, even in the hard stuff.

It doesn’t happen, and will never happen, by shaping Jesus to fit a new cultural trend, what is politically correct, or what the current zeitgeist (spirit of the age) would have us believe about ourselves, the Messiah, and the sacred Scriptures.

Anyone who reads the Gospels will hear Jesus teaching a radical repentance to come into the Kingdom (Matt 3:8; Mk 1:15; Lk 5:32; 13:1, etc.), but our shape-shifting of Jesus to accommodate our cultural presuppositions about ourselves and our world appears to be keeping us from actually repenting of anything.

Jesus didn’t lay heavy teachings on people? No, quite the opposite. But this is where we are today: well-intentioned folks fed up with fundamentalism not realizing how dangerously close they are to reshaping Jesus to further their own interests and agendas—another version of fundamentalism, the libertine sort.

As Jesus said, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” to those who lived by the law. I’d say it equally applies to those who use fancy-free language that make folks feel better about their sin in order to promote an easy believism, or a moral therapeutic deism. They both stink to high heaven!

To be clear, I don’t think the one who said Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” really believes that the love of Christ is an “anything-goes” sort of thing, but this misleading rhetoric inevitably sets a person on a trajectory of disaster. It’s not the pathway of repentance for the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Christ ought to be forming us into his image, not the other way around. That is the critical difference. It’s certainly what has made all the difference in my life.

What do you think? When you read the Gospels, is Jesus laying down some hard stuff? Do you hear Jesus extending a high invitation and high challenge to those who would join him?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Support Us or You’re a Bigot?

If you read my blog much you know that I’m far from a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, but I also don’t espouse Liberal theology, nor am I a card-carrying member of the increasingly “progressive” branch of Christianity. I never liked cards anyway.

I see the whole of fundamentalism and “progressive” Christianity as two extremes—both missing the mark. Let me explain.

I grew up within a mild form of Fundamentalist Christianity, and I’m still surrounded by it here in Texas. It is known for being dogmatic, legalistic, obsessed with biblical inerrancy, militant in defending creationism, escapist in eschatology, and committed to nationalism and the Republican party.

For all its flaws, I do think that fundamentalism has been very forthright about the person and saving work of Jesus, even if that message is often a bit muddled with poor atonement theories and hell-fire, pulpit-pounding.

Nevertheless, a clarity about the person and work of Jesus is refreshing after you’ve been bombarded by many competing voices in the culture that wish to turn Jesus into a gnostic guru, a civil rights leader, or reduce him down to a social revolutionary, and nothing more. Liberalism at its finest.

Liberal Christianity today is really just a post-enlightenment version of Thomas Jefferson’s sanitized Jesus—a Jesus stripped of his divinity, his miracle-making, and muzzled from making exclusive truth claims.

If a person comes to believe in such things, they shouldn’t even call themselves a “Christian” anymore. If you can’t affirm Christ’s divinity, his saving power by the cross, and his literal resurrection… you’re not a Christian in any historical sense of the term. If you want to start the Church of Jefferson, fine. But please leave historic Christianity to us Christians.

Progressive Christianity has much to say in response to pop-culture evangelicalism. Progressives like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and many others need to be heard.

I can see and hear Jesus in these guys. I’ve benefited from them.

For example, I agree that the teachings of Jesus have been neglected and that doctrine (orthodoxy) has been emphasized over Christ-like living (orthopraxy). I believe that salvation begins in the here and now, that social justice is integral to discipleship, and that evangelicalism needs a more responsible biblical interpretive method.

I’m passionate about those things!

But I must say that I particularly take issue with how “progressives” have created a synthetic fog over a handful of biblical passages dealing with homosexuality, and seem to be using a “join-us-or-you’re-a-bigot” approach to responding to evangelicalism’s overall failure to love our gay neighbors.

Progressives appear to want nothing less than full support of the LGBT community, meaning that you agree that homosexuality is an acceptable way of being human, and that Jesus would approve of gay “marriage” (going beyond civil unions to the church blessing the relationship), or you’re “homophobic” and an enemy of all that’s good.

Let’s be honest. If this is the way progressives are going to frame the issue, reflecting the typical polarities of hot-button issues within politics, they are only going to perpetuate the vitriolic climate in society—a climate they say that they lament. But I do wonder if they’re not being just as divisive and dishonest as the folks over at Westboro Baptist.

Is it “bigotry” to disagree with someone on a moral/religious issue? Is it “hate” to believe another person’s life choices are destructive to that person and to society? Is it “homophobic” to believe that homosexuality is a sin like adultery, greed, or idolatry, and oppose elevating it to normal human behavior, as if it were an obvious evolution of mankind? Is it “intolerant” to want to maintain laws (church & state) that support a historical, time-tested institution (heterosexual monogamous marriage) for the good of society?

As many of you know, all of this has been leveled at those who disagree in any way with the LGBT community and her “progressive” supporters. I see a constant stream of this stuff on social networking and online magazines, especially in light of Rob Bell’s recent affirmation of gay marriage.

This is the message I’m getting: You’re either a supporter of LGBT or you’re likely an intolerant bigot who hates gay people.

I think this is unfair and dishonest. It leaves no room for a third way of responding to the LGBT community and those in our local communities that have embraced a gay identity. It claims that in order to love your gay neighbor you must accept their lifestyle.

Why must this be the case? Do I have to accept the violence, greed, and idolatry of my neighbor and enemies in order to love them? Of course not. So why should it be any different with gay folks in our communities? One extreme (fundamentalism) doesn’t justify another (liberalism).

If you consider yourself a “progressive” Christian, I want to encourage you to consider how LGBT supporters can be more honest and fair in their treatment toward those of us who disagree with you, but at the same time want to love their gay neighbor and accept them as created in God’s image.

Listen to Tim Keller represent a third way with grace and truth.

What do you think? Do you believe there is a third way that’s being overlooked? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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