To my way of thinking, religious ideology is as far from expressing genuine faith as political ideology is from inspiring genuine patriotism. So it bothers me whenever I see Conservative Christianity assume an ideological form that undermines time-honored conservative emphases at their strongest and most convincing.
Conservative Christian ideology equates the message of the Bible with the Bible itself, with all the verses, chapters, and books taken together, as in “The BIBLE says…” A better approach is to bring out the message of the Bible that is in the Bible, but not to assume in the process that every passage of the Bible expresses that message equally well. Only in the light of the message of the whole can the meaning and truth of individual biblical passages be rightly understood and appreciated.
Conservative Christian ideology judges very harshly other societies, cultures, ideas, and practices by applying to them a rote understanding of church teachings that rarely reflect the Christian tradition in its manifoldness. A better approach is to see Jesus as the light of the world, not just of the church. This would lead to an appreciative discerning of his God’s presence wherever and however human beings are experiencing a transforming relationship with the Divine in their own lives.
Conservative Christian ideology drastically narrows human beings’ options for seeking and responding to God to its own limited and limiting doctrines, worship practices, and expectations for conduct. A better approach is to remain open at all times to fresh disclosures from God about the spiritual life. Today, other religions are offering much on their own to people willing to embrace religious pluralism as an enduring part of humankind’s present and future existence in the world.
Finally, Conservative Christian ideology insists that a deep and personal relationship with the Jesus of their own experience and tradition is the only way to new life in God, here and in the hereafter. A better approach is to share humbly the meaning that Jesus’ life, ministry, and future with God has on one’s own personal faith and to invite others to explore his story in the light of their own.
Is there anything new about this approach to being a conservative Christian? Not much. It’s what apostolic Christianity at its best has always been, long before the alienating terminology of conservative and liberal began showing up in our linguistic currency.