I recently read an article that was basically saying that liberal theology was a blight upon The Salvation Army and that it must be driven out in all its forms. As a Salvation Army Officer who finds that the label of liberal theology is the label that closest fits my own personal theology, reading this hurts. It makes me wonder whether I am an accepted part of the Army. It makes me wonder whether I have a place. It makes me wonder about my own beliefs. See, the hatred of liberalism is a common argument often put up by conservatives, particularly in Christian circles. As such, when an argument such as this is put up, it can make me wonder if I have a place in this wonderful place called Christianity.
My faith is stronger than that of course, and as I reflected upon the article, thoughts turned to what I could do about it. The standard human responses are to fight or flight. Flight was certainly out – I feel so strongly convicted about my calling to officership within The Salvation Army, and so strongly convicted about what others may describe as a liberal theology, that leaving these things behind is by no means an option for me. So I considered fight. I considered writing an article about how conservative theology was a blight on The Salvation Army – basically a rebuttal of the original article. I considered defending liberal theology in the Army, saying that there are many examples where it is perhaps the best fit to Salvation Army theology. But it still didn’t feel right.
Eventually, as I reflected upon my own liberal theology, one that prioritises love and grace over all, one that highlights the holiness doctrine that The Salvation Army cherishes, where I try to be more and more like Jesus, I realised that there was only one thing that I could do – because I love my conservative colleagues.
Three things I love about Conservative Christians
See, the thing is that while the article may hurt, there is always something that can be learnt out of it. And there are many things that conservative Christians do really well, and it’s worth pointing them out. It’s probably worth taking on board, and developing into the liberal theology as well, because it would make us stronger. So here are my three things that I love about Conservative Christians (because three is a holy number, and makes for memorable reading).
A complete and utter urgency about Salvation
Conservative Christians are fantastic about placing the importance on Salvation. Us liberals probably talk more about the journey towards Salvation, but for a conservative Christian, everything points towards Salvation, and they want to get people there as quickly as possible. The journey can happen after that, but let’s get them saved. And it’s true, Salvation is a wonderful thing and something that should be promoted and pushed. We never know when the return of Christ will happen, so it could be in 500 years, or it could be tomorrow. Either way, there is an urgency to get people saved, and that is something that the conservatives have done really well.
A love for every word of the Bible
Now, don’t get me wrong on this one – liberals love and cherish the Bible as well, but the love that conservatives have is certainly to be admired. Their knowledge and memory of the bible is something that is to be admired. I may be wrong here, but I feel like most conservatives have a higher level of recall – that is, more often they can quote passages of scripture word for word, where as many liberals may know the general gist of the passage, they may have to read the passage to quote it word for word.
A strong conviction about right and wrong
While liberals and conservatives may not agree on all the finer points, the final thing I love about conservatives is that they hold a very strong conviction about what is right and wrong. While the liberals often deal in the grey areas of our faith, it means that we hold a lot more flexible opinions, so that even when we do feel strongly about something, we are never as strongly convicted about it as the conservatives are, who will study an area, work out where they stand, and stick to it. This is something that is to be admired, and I feel like liberals often need to have this same sense of conviction about the things that they believe.
So that’s it. Three things that I love about conservative Christians (not that I don’t love more things, three just makes for a good, short blog post). And for me, while I hold strongly to my liberal theology, I value the input that conservative theologians add to our rich tapestry of faith, and strongly believe that through all of us working together – both on the fringes of liberal and conservative, and in the comfortable middle ground as well – we will all save souls, change the world, and be good and faithful witnesses of Christ’s love for our world.