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Liberal, Charismatic, Moderate, and Passionate

My blog subtitle reads: Thoughts on Religion in the World from a passionate, moderate, liberal charismatic Christian. One common response to this line is to tell me that it’s impossible to combine those four things into one, so I’d like to provide a few notes on why I use these four labels when self-identifying.

First, let me note that I did not take any of these from the subtitle of Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN. Much as I appreciate Brian McLaren’s writing, I use these labels to identify specific elements of my theology, not to indicate breadth. That characterization may be mildly unfair to McLaren, but I’ll have to live with that.

I must also note that these terms came to me in two parts, and I usual use them that way. Liberal charismatic was an epithet used of me by an opponent in an online debate, which was accurate enough that it has stuck. When I was considering using it in the subtitle of my book Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic, even my wife said, “That’s you, honey!”

Passionate moderate is a label I created for myself. I discuss this combination in my post On Being a Passionate Moderate. Those two previous posts go into more detail than I plan to do right now. I’d just like to define how I connect these four labels with myself.

1. Liberal. This is the one label many of my Christian friends would like to avoid. Because they are kind people, they also want to resist applying it to me. “I don’t see you as a liberal,” said one. “You’re really just a very open evangelical.” My main concern is just the opposite. There are things a liberal is expected not to believe by many. I can’t count the times someone has assumed that I deny miracles and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Instead I affirm both. In politics it’s often assumed that I will favor government intervention in various economic activities. Actually, I lean rather strongly toward laissez faire capitalism.

In what way am I liberal? In terms of my Christian faith I am doctrinally open. I do have those doctrines that I believe, but I do not assume that if you disagree on any of these that you are not right with God. In fact, I don’t assume that I can know the spiritual state of any other person. I lean more toward concern about practice than about belief, though I would maintain that real belief generally results in action consistent with that belief. In studying the Bible, I use the historical-critical method, and I don’t always come up with conservative results. On the other hand, sometimes I do.

2. Charismatic. I call myself a charismatic for one reason: I believe that any and all gifts of the Holy Spirit are still available to the church. I do not believe they ended after the apostolic age or at any other time. I differ from many charismatics and Pentecostals in that I do not believe that speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I believe that every Christian “receives” (I really dislike the word, thus the scare quotes) the Holy Spirit, and that every Christian is gifted.

3. Moderate. The term on this list that I like least is “moderate” yet I have not found a good alternative. It is too often used for a centrist or for someone who does not feel strongly about anything and thus lives by compromise. I use it to indicate two things. First, I don’t believe that doctrinal choices are binary in nature; there is a range of options. Second, I believe in examining the entire spectrum and recognizing the actual extremes. I have found that I also end up not being at the extremes, but sometimes I do. For example, I am a strictly orthodox trinitarian. I am careful to keep my view of the trinity in accord with the church councils that formed the doctrine.

4. Passionate. When all is said and done I pursue that which I believe passionately. My moderation does not involve not caring or simply taking a compromise position in order to avoid having to defend a more extreme one. One could almost say that I hold my moderate positions in an extreme way.

I hope that helps explain my subtitle. Again, for a more detailed explanation, see my previous posts on liberal charismatic and passionate moderate.

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