Left or Right?

John ArmstrongEmergent Church

It seems to me that there are two dangers, at least ideologically, for the contemporary Church. One is on the Right, the other is on the Left. I offer a very simple (simplistic?) way for describing these two dangers and a possible middle way.

When younger people move toward the postmodern paradigm, which I think is warranted in several important philosophical ways, this usually brings with it a leftward political and social stance. Few that I meet among those who are deeply interested in this postmodern shift, and who embrace it with an openness to learn from it in truly Christian ways, seem able to escape this liberal tilt. They are not so liberal theologically, at least not in the classic sense of liberal theology. They are often accused of this but the accusation is not helpful or generally accurate if you really know liberal theology and then read these modern writers critically and in proper context. But among evangelical postmoderns, or so-called Emergents, this tendency to pull toward the left politically and socially is quite apparent. I have sensed that this tendency is so strong that most younger evangelicals who move in the Emergent conversation speak and write as if anyone who agrees with their basic agenda should also follow them in their political and social solutions. An example of my point can be seen in the global warming debate. Emergents have the tendency to accept as orthodoxy some version of the "apocalyptic" scenario that is promoted by people like Al Gore in his movie "An Inconvenient Truth." While I agree that there is such a thing as global warming I do not agree with the models employed for explaining the causes and effects. I do not agree with most of the solutions being offered for solving this problem from the Left, especially when we are not even sure what causes the problem and what we can really do to solve it. The tendency to talk about this type of issue in these terms is so common in postmodern circles that any other view is seen as out of touch, or worse, stupid and uncaring for God’s creation.

On the Christian Right, which is generally represented by older adults and the massive baby boom generation, the opposite  tendencies are generally exhibited. This generation leans toward the political and social Right and generally does so in rigid and moralistic ways. The agenda that this large group offers generally reflects an uncritical acceptance of a few special issues that are seen as the gold standard for fidelity in public policy and political thought. This group doesn’t do well with verbal and intellectual nuance and often reacts very harshly to anyone who doesn’t agree with a sacred check-list of "Christian" issues. This approach is very often bred by anger, a profoundly modernistic form of certitude, and the deep fear that we are losing our culture and thus our sacred past. The past is always seen as better than the present and the future. (There has always been this tendency among older adults in one very obvious sense.) People in this world often major on strong negative responses to issues. But they only appear to be real conservatives. In reality they do not know the theological and philosophical reasons for a healthy and informed conservatism that is realistic and well-argued. Frankly, the Christian Right generally gives the name conservative a terribly bad connotation in our present social climate. Though I agree with  the Christian Right about marriage and abortion, to name two hot-button issues, I find myself increasingly running away from the ways in which they contend for these issues within our culture.

I find myself drawn to learn much more from my postmodern and Emergent brothers and sisters. I feel I am in the middle of their important conversation without being a part of their church world. They have such incredible insight into people and the present social context of real mission. I also find myself agreeing with the Christian Right about marriage, the sanctity of life and the general coarsening of our culture. But I find neither side is very willing to analyze their own presuppositions critically.  At this moment I have more hope for the younger people precisely because they demonstrate a willingness to still think and listen.  I would love to see  more dialog on both sides of this growing divide. Since I do not fit comfortably on either side it would prove salutary to me personally to provoke such a dialog in a truly respectful and Christian form. Is this too much to ask?