Through Our Own Lens: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I was intrigued this last week with some of the discussions surrounding comments made by Albert Mohler. The comments and his comments in response to criticism were ill-advised, or at least badly chosen. That, however, is not what fascinated me. Rather it was the reaction to Mohler himself. He has long been considered a moderating voice in the Southern Baptist Convention and, it should be said, he is a fine and competent theologian within that tradition. Yet, it also must be said, many of the more conservative voices in that tradition regard him as a dangerous and, perhaps, radical closet liberal. On the other hand, many in the more moderate or even liberal elements of his own tradition (as well as those outside of that tradition) considered his remarks as proof that he was, in reality, simply a fundamentalist, albeit with an expanded vocabulary.
It occurs to me that we all tend to see what we want to see through the lens of our own particular theological positions.
I’m sure, for instance, that there are some readers who, owing to my articles or comments on threads, harbor the suspicion that I am really a progressive liberal who, most likely, entertains all sorts of heterodox views. Meanwhile, the view in my own denomination would be more along the lines that I am a theological conservative with traditionalist opinions and tendencies. There is, most likely, ample evidence for each to arrive at their widely disparate opinions as to who I really am in terms of my theology and practice. The root of the opinions, however, is not necessarily to be found in what I have said or written, but rather in the theological viewpoints of those making the assessment. In reality, I tend to lean to the right of center in terms of my theology, and I tend to lean to the left of center in terms of my politics. (That, however, is not unusual in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, at least so far as the first few generations were concerned.) As to me being a traditionalist in terms of liturgy and worship, I will plead “Guilty”. I revel in the beauty of holiness. Even here, however, there is an anomaly, as, on the side, I write songs, produce and record rock musicians, and have done so for some years.
So, if you wish to view me through a consistent, all embracing conservative lens… you may see someone whom you can define as “liberal”, even if I’m trying to hide it! On the other hand, if one is looking through an all embracing and decidedly liberal lens, you will most likely arrive at the conclusion that I am a conservative, most likely with underlying fundamentalist tendencies! Moreover, the truth of the matter is that both would be equally right and equally wrong. In truth, most of us in or Christian lives and experiences encounter the strain of holding in balance contradictory elements relating both to our theology and our practice. Done well, this becomes a “creative tension” that allows for growth and the consideration of other views. (Note, I have said, “consideration”, which is not the same as “acceptance”.)
Some, however, cannot, or do not wish to entertain, such a creative tension. Some find it difficult and/or confusing. They want certainty. This is an assessment that is usually leveled at conservatives or fundamentalists. In my experience, however, this can be equally true of liberals, who, failing to convince others of their viewpoint, are anything but “liberal” in their treatment of those who disagree. You see, they also want “certainty” and, as with many conservatives, they are not tolerant of dissenting voices, or even of unspoken, suspected, dissenting opinions. So, on both sides of the divide, we devise our shibboleths, our tests, to see who is “in” and who is “out”. The big tent of a generous orthodoxy becomes a distant memory and, meanwhile, we wonder at our decline…
Perhaps we need to stop seeing others through the lens of our own particular theological position. Perhaps we need to reconsider imputing hidden motives to those who truly are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am afraid, however, in this age of fragmentation and binary thinking, it may be too much to hope for; but then again, I’m conservative enough to believe in prayer, and liberal enough to believe in change.