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Friday, June 16, 2017

Conservative and Progressive

These days there is a loud group that assures us that anything "conservative" is bad, that the really good thing to be is ... well, the word for it varies. It might be "liberal" because, clearly, that's more generous. Or it might be "Left" because clearly that's more right. (Huh?) Or it might be "progressive" because, after all, progress is better than regress, right? Well, no ... and yes ... perhaps.

There is a lot of confusion over the term "conservative". "Conservative" is linked with "rightwing" (and "rightwing" always has the implied "whacko" tacked on even if it's not explicitly there). "Churches," they tell me, "are too conservative." And we all know that "conservative" is always, well, wrong. What we apparently don't know is the definition of "conservative".

One reason for this is the old-style contention between "liberal" and "conservative". You see, "liberal" means "generous" and the opposite of "liberal" is "stingy", so clearly "conservative" means "stingy". Nice little word/math equation, but it doesn't actually work. Why? Because we've lost the definition of "liberal" in that equation. The word once meant "generous", and in some applications it still does, but the primary meaning today is different. The Oxford Dictionary says it is "open to new ideas" including "political and social reform" and "Regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change." "Liberal", in this context, seems to mean "generous about changing what is." Or, to put it another way, "progressive".

Often "conservative", when placed in juxtaposition with "liberal", is understood as "stingy". It just isn't so. "Conservative" has a meaning as well. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists, first, the definition of "preservative". That is, "to preserve what is." The 2nd definition is the political one, but the third is the common -- "tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions." That's the same as "preservative". The Oxford Dictionary says it is "Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values." Same concept.

So, having laid down these two -- "liberal" or "progressive" and "conservative" -- which is right? This question is what is called a "false dichotomy". It offers no context and allows only one of two possible answers. "Mr. Jones, answer 'yes' or 'no'. Have you stopped beating your wife?" If Mr. Jones has never beat his wife, he has no answer, yet either of the two required would paint him in a negative light. The question, then, is broader. "Which is right when?"

Well, this isn't as complicated as it might seem at first. The correct answer begins with the question of what we are conserving or moving toward. Take, for instance, the question of theology -- the complaint that "churches are conservative". The question is not whether or not they are conservative, but what are they conserving? If they're conserving human traditions ("Thou shalt not dance", "Thou shalt not drink caffeinated beverages", "Thou shalt serve casseroles", etc.), then they're likely too conservative. If they're conserving biblical principles, on the other hand, then there is no such thing as "too conservative" (Matt 24:35). We don't get an option there.

Conversely, for those who are hard over for conservatism, may I suggest a possible positive for progressive ideas? If we're defending human tradition without biblical support, it might be time to move on. Progress. Adjust. Maybe that's a realignment with Scripture. Maybe biblical principles have no bearing here. You won't find, for instance, "Thou shalt not use PowerPoint in your churches." It's not in there. For those who don't like drums in church, consider Scripture (Psa 150:4-5). For those opposed to dancing, consider Scripture (Psa 149:3). Think progressively. You might want to progress from a judgmental attitude toward sinners since Scripture is clear we're all in that category. You might want to progress into a love for neighbors and even enemies because Scripture is clear on that as well. Maybe there is no Scripture related -- then it's a matter of intent. If there are no biblical principles involved, there is always the 1 Corinthians 10:31 principle: "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

There is a tendency in our thinking today to think of "Progressive" and/or "Conservative" today as "evil", depending on which you think you are. I would argue that you (both) would be mistaken. When "progressive" finds "conservative" to be evil in the face of preserving biblical principles, "progressive" is wrong. When "conservative" opposes "progressive" in the face of mere human tradition apart from God's Word, "conservative" doesn't have a leg to stand on. The question always has to be "What am I conserving?" and "What am I progressing to?" Some things need to be conserved; others do not. We need to know the difference. And conserving biblical principles and a Christian Worldview while progressing in the kingdom of God would be the right approach -- a both/and approach.


Doug Evans said...

1. open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

Isn't it interesting that a political movement is the opposite of their name. I've met one self professed liberal who was able to open his mind to new ideas, the rest are entrenched in 90 year old outmoded, outdated marxist philosphies. For me, a staunch conservative, "It's always been done this way" is the sign of a weak mind. Go figure. The only thing this conservative sees that cannot be change, is above change, is Jesus

Stan said...

What I find disturbing in this day and age is the numbers of "Christians" who tell me, "We need to change, to update, to revise Christianity to make it more up-to-date." They don't say this in reference to decor, musical styles, or the like; they say it in terms of doctrine like the exclusivity of Christianity, the problem of sin, what constitutes sin, etc. I don't adhere to them, as you said, because "It's always been done that way." I conserve them because they comprise "he faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) I'm with you.

Anonymous said...

I like this definition of (fiscal) liberal: generous with other people's money.

Almost on topic... Three times in the last year or so a thin black woman in her 40s has panhandled me for money in parking lots within a couple miles of where I live. I assume anything I give her will go to feed some unhealthy addiction, so I have declined--though she is very persistent and whiny. How do other folks deal with begging by able-bodied people here in the United States?

Stan said...

Some people give them gift cards for food places (McDonalds, for instance). Others pack gift bags with some food, water, and a tract. My dad would bring them home from time to time to feed them. We may not like that they are "able-bodied people" in need, but they surely need love and they surely need Christ.

Craig said...

The two suggestions I've gotten from people who are involved in helping those in need are; 1. Carry a card with the contact information for a place they can get help, 2. Give food or gift cards. The one consistent in not to give cash.

Stan said...

"Carry a card with the contact information for a place they can get help"

That's a good one. I suppose you'd need to know where that is yourself, eh? And it would have to be for a limited locale. Not, for instance, while you're traveling.

Craig said...

Yes it would, but ultimately it seems like putting folks in touch with longer term help is good.