Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 18th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Sometimes labels are a good thing, I guess

Westboro Baptist Church Anti-Jewish Picketing

Westboro Baptist Church Anti-Jewish Picketing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We need labels. I consider myself an orthodox Christianity, at least in practice. I would like to know, however, if I am heading to a Charismatic Christian service or other non-liturgical Christian services. But, the other labels – conservative and liberal – are those often tossed around against others rather than claimed for ourselves. And they are mostly subjective, especially when used against someone.

For instance, how many of us would say we are liberal when compared to Westboro Baptist Church? Yet, their doctrine is often orthodox (Trinity, Calvinist). Or more conservative than the Emergent Church (and depending upon the day of the week, they may old orthodox doctrines too!)? You get the point, right? And of course, there is the entire thing of Ken Ham and Young Earth Creationists actually being the liberal and theistic evolutionary types the conservative.

Dr. David Watson (students shouldn’t call their prof, who is an academic dean, by their first name. Since I learned under Dr. Watson in two classes, I will continue to use ‘Dr.’) has written a very interesting piece on liberal Christianity. As you can see, he has two specific examples on the use of the word ‘liberal.’ I will always fall into the first category.

I generally find no, nor take any, issue with his post. I do not believe, however, he allows Bultmann the necessary room (post-Hitler Germany) to be Bultmann. But, his take on process theology and his take on those who focus exclusively on social justice at the lapse of sound theological teaching is dead on, in my opinion.

I am a United Methodist almost exclusively based on their (or at least my local church’s)  commitment to social justice. As I have detailed before, however, I grow stronger in my commitment to a deeper theology, something the larger UMC does not tend to support. One side is bent towards to social justice while the other side is bent to a legalist morality that, in my opinion, is more about the “individual experience authorized theological claims.” Like Young Earth Creationists, those who read Scripture in the so-called “plain sense” are basing their theology on the individual experience — what Scripture says to them. 

I would self-identify as a progressive Christian, but only to the extent of re-examining Scripture through Scholarship (Reason) to follow the leading of the Spirit (also, Reason) in accordance with John 16. I believe we are to progress. For instance, on women leaders. We have progressed. On doctrine we have progressed. On moral issues we have progressed. I still, however, maintain the authority of the entirety of the Canon (Scripture, Creeds, Tradition). I do not believe we can ever progress away from the Divinity of Christ and the unity of the Holy Trinity.

I have to wonder if the issue of these labels isn’t really one of authority?

But, anyway, this is a solid post. The one I linked too. Have a go at it.

Also, I am a panentheist who believes God does not intervene in history. God controls history. There is no free will either and I affirm that as a Wesleyan.

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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


4 Responses to “Sometimes labels are a good thing, I guess”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    How about knowing if you’re heading to a divorce-prone church-type? With that thought in mind, the following link should prove informative:

    • “research has shown that marriages started with unplanned pregnancies are at higher risk of divorce”. As Homer Simpson would say, “Duh!” Or “have them early, have them often”. Or, “Pregnant? Get married!” Or, “we’re against birth control, let their heads explode!” Or, “abstinence is the only choice”. Funny, mostly all said by cranky old men, holding a bible, and thinking about having an affair with their secretary on the next road trip.

  2. David Watson says

    Thanks for the good post, Joel. I’m appreciative of the fair response. You’re right: I don’t do Bultmann justice in this post. I’m a little curious as to how you can deny free will as a Wesleyan, though I’m sure you have your reasons.



    • Dr. Watson,

      I do not believe our fate is predetermined by God before the Fall, or any other such Calvinistic nonsense; however, I do not believe we are completely free to make a choice. We have influences, such as locale, nature and nurture that will influence us in ways we do not yet know. I believe in God’s ultimate sovereignty and is the chief influencer. However, I cannot affirm free will because I do not believe our will is free. It is marred by our distance from God’s will and conflicted because the human condition.

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