The struggle against extremism.

I am known as “decisively moderate”. This is a very difficult hat to wear in the “bible belt”, where the bible is adored, quoted, and even worshipped; all while there is little interest in understanding the historical development of the text or the varying and often contradicting views held by orthodox Christians throughout the history of the church.The reality of “God said it and I believe it”, became all the more clear to me in my fifth week as a new pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Although I am not a conservative nor am I a Calvinist, I really like Tim Keller. In spite of his conservative Calvinism, I see in him a seriousness about the transformative nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a humility that is missing among far too many preachers; left, right, and center. I find him intriguing and even inspiring.

Recently I came across a Youtube video of Keller speaking on hell. In short he believes in hell, but instead of committing to hell as a literal “fire pit” of eternal torture, he is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis and even Billy Graham. In other words he understands hell as eternal, consciously experienced, but one more of the suffering of unbearable anguish as opposed to literally burning in fire. His view was thought provoking and if true it is a terrible condition in which one may find oneself.

I shared the video on my Facebook page and to my surprise I was lambasted by a self identified “fundamentalist” Baptist because it was “a man’s opinion” and not the “Word of God”.

I tried to be charitable. I tried to offer as a token of peace that yes I believed in hell as does Keller but we really don’t know exactly what hell is. Yet it certainly is real and a condition that should be avoided.

It devolved into a continuous verbal assault that was CAPITALIZED to make the person’s point. It became a real “bur in my saddle” and it became a minor public spectacle that was only made worse as the days dragged on.

This experience tells me quite a bit about ideological extremism. Extremism, (and by extremism I mean, taking a position that is far enough removed from the “solid center” of Orthodoxy, whether in word or spirit, that it becomes contentious), is fruitless and driven by fear, loathing, and wrath.

It happens both left and right. There are really mean, fearful, and angry people at both ends of the spectrum, but here in the “bible belt” it tends to be most evident from the “fundamentalist” perspective.

So what is a “moderate” UMC pastor to do to deal with this? I guess I could curse and be angry, laugh and deride the inability to understand nuance, literary genre, and the historical development of theology. This might make me feel superior but in the end it accomplishes nothing.

I think that the cure might consist of a fresh immersion into Paleo-Orthodoxy, Ante-Nicene Christian thinkers, narrative theology, as well as Reformation and Wesleyan theology.

It may not convince the fundamentalists of anything, but perhaps it might help those faithful and humble United Methodist Church “church folks” that I serve.

This should be fun but hopefully it will help us Methodists to understand our faith a bit better and to show love and patience with those who refuse to do the same to us.

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