I’m running into a growing group of Christians — especially pastors — who are trying to figure out where they fit. They find themselves in an awkward and unusual place in the Christian world.
Most Evangelicals (not to even mention the fundamentalists) are going to think they’re far too liberal because they’ll put up with the likes of Rob Bell and may not have a problem accepting theories of macroevolution.
Most “liberals” find them far too conservative because they actually believe that Christ rose and that the Bible has more than just moral or literary authority. And if these people hold that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, the liberals might as well write them off as full-blown fundamentalists.
Among the ministry utilitarians — who may fall anywhere on the “liberal” to “conservative” theological spectrum, or may just not care — these people are going to have an even harder time because they put theological integrity before results, something the utilitarians often can’t even comprehend. The utilitarians have focused so long on how to grow the church and get results that talking to them in nuanced theological terms is like Alton Brown explaining the science of making a perfect hamburger to a McDonald’s manager.
Are you one of these people — searching for where you fit? Does the below describe you?
You may find yourself at an evangelical Bible study where you’re clearly the “liberal” in the room who doesn’t take the Bible seriously enough (see, e.g., “What if I don’t believe the Bible?”), and then find yourself at a mainline Bible study where you’re clearly the “conservative” in the room who keeps wanting to talk about what God was intending to say through a particular passage. [I’m referencing theological liberals here. John Meunier and Roger Olson have both captured well why I’m not a liberal. You should read both of those.]
And then, in ministry circles that are more focused on “church growth,” you just seem like a nuisance because you keep pressing theological considerations at the expense of utility. (See, for instance, any of my attempts to talk about the church’s use of money, which are attempting to ask how our theology should influence our use of money, but are consistently refuted in utilitarian terms.)
Is this you? You don’t fit the “conservative” mold conservatively enough? You don’t fit the “liberal” mold liberally enough. And yet, you also wouldn’t say you’re a “moderate.” It seems a difference of category, not just degree.
You find yourself wanting to be more theologically faithful in the way you do ministry, even if the results might suffer. And you have a gut feeling that in the long-run, the results will be better. That we’re stifling the much greater growth that could take place if we would truly live according to the calling of Christ, even when it’s unpopular or ignores what Jim Collins would say we should do.
If this is you, you’re not alone. I talk to so many who think they’re nearly alone in this. Everywhere they look, they’re surrounded by people who just don’t “get” them. Indeed, all of our denominations seem overrun with utilitarians and conservatives, or utilitarians and liberals, or somehow in the case of the UMC, all three at once! And so wherever you are, it means you’re likely in the minority if you don’t fit nicely into one of these groups. But you’re not alone! There are others. Many others!
Perhaps you’re speaking up and making it known how out of place (out of line?) you are. Perhaps you’re staying quiet because you know it won’t go well if you speak up.
Is this you? I’d love to hear more about your experience, your thoughts, your stories, where you’re finding like-minded people, where you’re finding hope that this odd form of Christianity you represent can spread and grow.
How are you navigating situations where you know your position won’t be received well? Where your job might be at risk if you act on your beliefs? Tell us more in the comments. And if necessary, feel free to tell us anonymously.
See my follow-up: Liberal and Conservative theologizing — a caricature using song lyrics