WHO’S RIGHT? THE LIBERALS OR THE CONSERVATIVES?
Today’s church is plagued by political bias. And
its leaders have turned this bias—whether left/right, blue/red,
liberal/conservative—into a pseudo-religion, something sacred in
Yet, there’s really no such thing as a "liberal
Christian" or a "conservative Christian." The world views of both
liberals and conservatives may offer helpful insights into justified
concerns, but the tragedy comes when they get trapped—and stay
trapped!—in their own agenda. Jesus’ message, after all, was never a
political message. And in our time, an older and wiser Billy Graham
insisted the Gospel plainly "transcends party lines."1
The Fear of Form
Obviously, every spiritual vision gambles on the
future, but most traditional leaders label most emerging leaders as
"liberal"—or more to the point, "too liberal." Of course, emerging
leaders refuse this tag. In the words of one, "We have no politics .
. . (we’re not) liberals . . . (or) the new Christian Left."2
Yet, most observers agree with Shakespeare,
"Methinks he protests too much."
Liberals, for example, fear form. They fear any
spiritual "anchor"—any spiritual accountability, validation,
verification. . . . They have no interest, in other words, in
bedrock decisions, conclusive judgments, or anything rock-solid "to
stand on." For they are certain about their uncertainty.
So they are happy with an anything goes,
unknowable world. That means they are more interested in freedom
than faith—they care more about the medium than the message. It’s as
if the winners of their debates actually get the privilege of
"changing God’s mind."
In this same "fear of form," they have become
informal and unformed to an extreme. And forget about "authority."
For they shape their own life, make their own destiny, provide their
That means they refuse anything that is an
affront to their "intelligent"minds. And that refusal includes blind
faith, gut-level convictions, and prophetic visions. So, of
necessity, they mold all mysteries into politically correct,
After all, they’re "cool," and they enjoy a
The Fear of the Future
Conservatives err in other ways. Seldom can we
call them, for example, truly "emerging." For they usually defend
the church against the future. Hidebound, conservative churches are
often big, but seldom far-sighted—often influential, but seldom
Admittedly, history traces their origins to a
true move of God. But somewhere along the way, their leaders started
hammering authentic inspiration into doctrine and dogma—chiseling
pure revelation into answers for any and every question—constructing
elaborate defenses against any and every attack.
With most conservative churches, of course, their
original, pristine movement is now over. Spontaneity and innovation
is finished. So their leaders continue "mistaking the oyster for the
pearl." But if God ever forgets what He is about, they will
certainly remind Him!
So both political wings of the emerging church
have locked themselves within their own realities. But for different
reasons. One fears form, the other fears the future. One pushes
questions, the other pushes answers. One is certain of its
uncertainty, the other is certain of its certainty.
Lethal and immaculate in their own vanities, each
side accuses the other of lasting damage to the Gospel. They have
polarized their positions. They have become suspicious and
defensive—counting those who are "with us" and those who are
But their wars are self-destructive wars.
Incapable of critiquing their own biases, their battles are
pathological, even suicidal. Consequently, neither group leads
Both have built dams across rivers of pure
spirit. Both have failed history.
A Cycle of Grace
So, what’s the answer? Surely all leaders
treasure the memories of their inspired visions. But their report of
truth is always several steps removed from their revelation of
truth. In other words, rendering the infallible Word is not without
error, and living this Word is not without distortion.
That’s the human condition.
So a good dose of humility is appropriate for all
spiritual leaders—especially when the thin crust of our reality no
longer supports the status quo. This imminent collapse is the moment
between danger and opportunity, but the honest fear neither
correction nor new direction.
This rebirth requires a leap of faith, but few
have the spiritual maturity to risk the leap.
In place of hardened dogma or skeptical logic,
the faithful allow a benevolent Mystery to break into the present
and transform it. In other words, they embrace blind belief prior to
bold understandings—they embrace a "wisdom of the heart" prior to
the intelligence of the mind—and they embrace aesthetic Truth prior
to conceptual truth.
For their inspiration has only begun its long
journey toward insight.
Sooner or later, though, they must make sense of
their senses—they must understand their understandings. The Spirit
must take on body, and the body must take on Spirit. So they give
"substance," "evidence," and "proof" to things previously unknown.3
And what a relief it is to return to the secure
sanity of grounded knowing.
. . . but they can’t stay there long. Their
"knowing" is a cycle of grace, an ongoing rhythm of repentance,
revelation, and interpretation. . . . In this perpetual dialogue,
they weave in and out of having answers and not having answers.
Because God’s world is not so much a "Creation" as a "Creating."
All of us . . . are constantly being
transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing
splendor and from one degree of glory to another.4
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Anonymous, to protect an emerging leader.
2. Billy Graham, quoted in Jon Meacham,
"Pilgrim’s Progress" Newsweek, August 14, 2006, p. 41.
3. Hebrews 11:1.
4. II Corinthians 3:18, The Amplified Bible.