Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why I call myself Post-Conservative

This is hard post for me to write, because I can't do it justice without writing pages and pages. I've already written and then deleted somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 words trying to get this thing right. The reason wording is so important in this case is that I don't want to misrepresent my younger self as being too legalistic and unloving. Likewise, I don't want to represent my current self as if I have either a.) arrived (I haven't), or b.) have completely rejected all evangelical ideals (I haven't). I guess I'll just take a stab at it and sort it all out later.

The short version of my younger Christian story is that while I wanted to be as loving and compassionate as the Christ I read about in the gospels, I just wasn't. Being raised in a conservative and reformed tradition, I believed in the classical definitions of inerrency of scripture, of the incarnation, of the immutable nature of God, of salvation only through Christ, of utter corruption of man. I believed that loving God meant you did this certain thing and didn't do that certain thing. When I encountered non-christians or "liberal" christians, I didn't find myself hating them for disagreeing with me, but rather I found myself secretly looking forward to the punishment they would recieve for being such blasphemers.

But, as I mentioned before, I was conflicted about this. I wanted to feel love and not the longing for revenge, but I just didn't. And with this realization, my real Christian journey began.

The ups and downs of the journey I'll skip for now, but one day not too long ago I was talking to a non-christian about life, death, and spirituality. We disagreed strongly, but when we walked away from each other, I mourned for him. Instead of being indifferent as to his direction in life, I felt the pangs of despair like Christ did when he looked down over Jerusalem and said,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matt 23:37)

Though upon reflection I had felt this way many times before, it wasn't until this particular time when I realized my faith had created a change in me that was so Christlike that his very words of mourning were my words. And truth be know, at that point in time, when the mourning was the freshest, I would have paid any price to have that non-christian understand the real point of life, death, and spirituality - I would have even given my life.

After this realization, as I looked back on my Christian journey it occurred to me that I couldn't have experienced this Christlike change without partially abandoning my hyperconserative tradition. Instead, as I asked hard, hard, questions about my faith, about the bible, about theology, and about God, I realized I had to get far off the beaten path to find answers that satisfy. This does NOT mean answers that foward some personal agenda or deep seated need to feel good about myself. It means answers that truly satisfy - answers that are living water to my soul, that cause me to live a life of love because I'm full of love that springs from within; answers that cause me to become more Christlike without even knowing it.

All this would take thousands of words to unpack, but fundamentally this journey through hard questions and hard times caused me to become more centered in the Spirit. My evangelical heritage is so burdened by the fear of the unknown that it replaced the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the Father, Son, and Holy Scripture. But the fact of the matter is that scripture testifies about Christ (John 5:39-40), who gave us a Spirit to teach us all things (John 14:26). When I finally moved my Bible over six inches, and gave more room for the Spirit, I finally found the narrow way. It is a way that's full of ambiguity and uncertainty and hard questions. It's a way that tears you down, and makes you humble and contrite. It's a way that makes you angry and want to kick over tables when the Church gets it wrong, but also makes you compassionate and loving when the downtrodden are in need. It's a way of messiness and tension, but also a way of hope and life.

When conservatives approach real life in the Spirit, it freaks them out. They think that as Christians they should have the answers about life, but the Spirit teaches them that life is messy and ambiguous. They think that life in the Spirit leads to anarchy and heresy, so they cling to the Bible as if it is a book has any power to save on its own. But the Spirit teaches otherwise - that individuals work out their salvation not through the Roman road, but through fear and trembling. So, conservatives insulate themselves, they cling to theological categories that are no longer relevant, and they worry their lives away about how to protect themselves from Hollywood, or political agendas, or liberal theologians.

It is because of this life in the Spirit that I call myself post-conservative. Because I would rather have a conversation about full life with the dirtiest politician in America, or the most salatious porn star, or the most relativistic philosopher than spend time in a church with its gleaming walls and squeeky clean people. I call myself post-conservative because I would rather risk being a heretic by throwing out all our old theology and making new stuff than let more of my generation get caught in the mire of despair. I call myself post-conservative because I would rather get my hands dirty helping the poor than argue with anyone over whether or not scripture is inerrant. I call myself post-conservative because I believe what the Spirit has revealed is that real life is found outside the bounds of Church and the Bible, and is found instead as we look into the face of the suffering in love, and see not the face of a man or woman, but the face of Christ.

So, as my friend Jessica blogs about what authentic biblical community looks like, I find myself formulating it more as I live in the Spirit, and not as much as I read my Bible, and even less as I look at my tradition. Maybe the key for us evangelicals to create authentic biblical community is, ironically, to move the Bible over six inches, and let in a little more of the Spirit.


lorri said...

thought provoking. i like to hear what other people think/believe. i will be gone for several days-- talk at you later.

Jessica said...

you know, ben, for quite some time i have had great difficulty articulating what this divine discontent is in my heart. every time i find someone who can put words to what i'm pondering, i thank God. when i find others with like-mindedness, it just confirms for me that God is indeed taking me somewhere new in my relationship with Him. i don't want to simplify these layers of thought in any way. and some days when it feels like no one (including myself) can understand what is going on inside of me, it makes me just want to abandon my thoughts. the Spirit just used you one more time to tell me to keep testing things and hold on to the good--as heretical as it may seem to others!

i agree with you on what it will take for authentic community. i think that so many people believe that they are experiencing community because they have a solid lesson at small group, they pray for one another's needs, and they have fun hanging out together. there's nothing wrong with what takes place in the average small group or sunday school class, but the community that i'm searching for or trying to help create is a community that, just as you said, gets its hands dirty. one that understands that true community takes place at more than once a week at a small group gathering--people who go deeper than just good fellowship. to me, one major element of community is so outwardly focused that you don't even realize that your own needs (and more) have been met.

and you're right--it will rarely happen within the insulated confines we have erected for ourselves. since when did non-Christians or *gasp* the left wing of politics become our enemies instead of our neighbors that we are commanded to love and meet the needs of?

thank you so much for sharing your heart.

Benjamin said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jess. It seems that an increasing number of us ex-BSU-ers (can you ever be such a thing) are becoming increasingly honest about the questions and issues we don't see addressed in Christian ways. I, like you, look forward (in fear and trembling) to the time when this movement of the Spirit bears fruit.

Alethia: I'm looking forward to feedback, too. Hopefully people won't read me as being all crazy liberal, but more of a questioning conservative. I guess the comments will tell.

BTW, you going anywhere fun?

Jessica said...

they'll probably call you a flamin' liberal...from one who knows!

alethia is going to alabama to visit steve's family. she asked us (the good doctor and myself) if we could trek over there, but, alas, it is not possible.

b-nut said...

Ben, this is one of the most refreshing posts that I have read on any blog. It captures much of my own journey as well Thanks...I wanted to say 'Amen' several times.

Glad to see you are blogging!

Benjamin said...


Thanks for the feedback - it's good to hear from you, though I'm not sure how you found my blog...

Hope things are going well for you.

jada said...

Ben WOW! what a great post. Your posts, as well as Jessica's always cause me to think (even more than I already do, the nerd I am).

I relate to much of what you guys think and put into words.

BTW ever hear from jeremy or Catherine? Just wondering, haven't seen them in ages, but haven't lived in La. in ages, either.

Benjamin said...

Hi Jada!

Of course I see Cat and Jerms - they're family after all. In fact, I'll be seeing this this weekend.

They live just outside of Dallas, where Jeremy is a music minister (graduated from Southwestern), and Catherine is a speech pathologist at an elementary school. They've been trying to have kids, but having a really hard time. I'm sure they'd appreciate any encouragement you would like to share.

And, on a more personal note, thanks for the feedback.

jada said...

Okay! Hey if you would mind giving her my email I would SO LOVE to re-connect with her. Got to a bit when I was back in La. for grad school but after a few years we lost touch after we moved.

My email is

That would be great!
Thanks so much.

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