If we are to get beyond what divides conservative and liberal Christians today, members of both groups will need seriously to re-think their current standoffishness toward one another. The truth is, the core emphases of both groups are not all that far apart.
With this premise in mind, in a previous blog I offered some suggestions to conservatives about recovering a center that will hold. Now, it’s liberals’ turn to think along this same line.
For liberal Christians, the way back from ideology to faith is to continue holding courageously to the task of reconstructing the historical center of apostolic faith by using the best scholarship currently available. In doing so, however, it is important to acknowledge that from that center comes the first but not necessarily the final expressions of the Christian message.
Tradition is not a repository for unchanging truth. It is a process of reframing a message from one culture and era into terms that make it credible in another. As a process of handing on and reinterpreting what is handed on, tradition has more to offer faith and theology than either liberals or conservatives sometimes seem willing to admit.
Along with learning from people who represent social, historical, and religious traditions different from Christians’ own, there are times for Christians to share openly and confidently — but not imperiously — their own beliefs. The heart of the sharing is what one believes about the life and teachings of Jesus and what they reveal about the God for whom he willingly gave up his life.
Unity in faith does not require that everyone believe the same things in exactly the same way. But neither does it imply that every belief is just as valid as every other. And if serving the needs of others is without conditions, it does not have to be devoid of giving expression to what has led its servants to engage in it in the first place. Social ministries are good, but social ministries that make room for expressing what one believes and why, are even better.
Finally, liberal Christians need to temper their radical individualizing of faith and spirituality with a healthy respect for building an enduring “fellowship of kindred minds.” Liberal Christianity at its best is as interested in the mission of communities of faith as it is in the flight of the alone to the Alone.