Friday, March 16, 2007

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

(In case you're wondering, no, I haven't gotten Astrotrain and Airazor yet. But I do at least have a back-up entry ready this time....)

In a recent post on Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight posited his ideas of what the greatest fears are of three broad groups of Christians. Although the full article is worth reading, his general synopsis is:
  • Liberals fear intolerance of any kind, which pits them against conservatives and traditionalists, who have guidelines (some strict, some not so much, but present nonetheless) which, by necessity, keep some people "out."
  • Evangelicals fear change to what they consider central aspects of their faith. Even if they aren't "big C" conservatives, there will be some things that they hold to very tenaciously, and fear changing those things (note that "what they consider" is important here. Whether the aspect truly is "central" is up for debate).
  • Christians who consider themselves part of the "emerging church" do not have strong doctrinal leanings, but in fact borrow many practices from more traditional churches, giving them bits in common with both Liberals and Evangelicals. However, their greatest fear is centralized power and authority. Many have seen the abuses of power and authority all too often, and now have a deep mistrust of these.
Although one might quibble with the names given to each group (Why use the name "Liberals" if "Conservatives" isn't the corollary in the next category. But is "Progressives" any better? I'm not sure what name I'd use.), and with the particular fears McKnight cites (see the "comments" section on his blog to see what some other people think), I would agree that these three categories can be used to broadly describe the vast majority of Christians. No particular category is perfect, of course (the "emerging church" label is particularly difficult to define. In fact, some of the presuppositions of people in this movement dictate that this label will continue to defy a single, accurate, description for quite some time), but I expect that most would place themselves in one group or another.

And, let's be clear, I do think that self-labeling is more useful in this context than listening to how some other person thinks a particular group should be considered. For just one example, Fuller is often called "liberal" by those more conservative than we are, and "conservative" by those more liberal than we are. And, of course, some of our own professors have been advancing the "emerging church" movement. It would be very easy for someone to attribute motives and fears to people connected to Fuller that are, in fact, misrepresentations of who we are.

And, of course, as is the case with Fuller as an institution, people as individuals often fit more than one of these groups at the same time, perhaps depending on what issue we're talking about. So it's entirely fair to say that we may have fears about intolerance, and about changes to our core doctrines, and about potential abuses of power and authority, all at once--even if we most closely identify with just one of these three groups.

But there are questions here that are worth considering: What is the thing that we most fear, and what does that say about ourselves? Are these fears justified? Can we do anything about them? Should we?

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