Does Post-Conservative Equal Progressive

Derek Ouellette —  June 11, 2012

Post-Conservative is about returning to the source.

For some reason people tend to equate “post-conservative” with “progressive.” While the two are closely related, they are not identical – though it’s ironic that being post-conservative means returning to the original, traditional sources handed down to us by the apostles while progressive suggests the idea of moving forward with the times.

A post-conservative is a “Bible Christian” in the truest sense of the phrase because he’s always willing to rework – though with caution – any tradition if, through further biblical reflection and insight, the teachings of that tradition can be shown to not be what the Bible teaches.

This is why I reject some of what the great Reformed Tradition has handed down to us; in particular, their doctrine of Justification (not that I reject it wholesale, I do think the reformers framed the discussion wrong and set the pace for a great deal of misunderstanding.)

It is also why I think open theism has a great deal of merit. Not that the Bible writers themselves held to an explicit Openness view, but that they held to a tension that is best synthesized by the philosophical systemization known as open theism.

And again, it is why I don’t think Genesis 1-11 tells us anything about how God created the heavens and the earth, much less when. Yet it was Walton’s compelling book (along with others) which showed that scripturally Genesis one never intended to tell us those things in the first place. In fact by reading it as if it did was to make the Bible say something it was not saying. So, “progressive”? Well, maybe. Post-conservative? Definitely. For me it has never been about trying to solve the dilemma of “science and religion.” It has always been about what the Bible itself says and means and when and how to apply it.

Yet people have read into my post-conservative convictions and come away thinking me a progressive. If by progressive you mean always willing to go back to the original source and see what they actually meant and intended to say, than I am progressive. Though that seems to be an oxymoron.

So when Rob Bell set the blogosphere aflame with discussions of hell, some of my readers were shocked to discover that I hold to the traditional view (in so far as we are talking about eternal conscience separation from God). One person said flat-out that they expected me to embrace annihilationism on the grounds that I’m an open theist. In other words, they read into my post-conservative convictions and came away with the idea that I’m generally progressive.

More recently the same is true regarding the emotionally charged egalitarian-complementarian debate. People just expected me to be an egalitarian. I’m post-conservative which, to them, must mean I’m progressive. I am progressive in a sense. When I say I’m not an egalitarian – in the modern sense – I get people screaming, “But Wesley himself was a forerunner for egalitarian’s, appointing women as preachers and leaders”. Yes, of course. But I never said I wasn’t for those things either. I am progressive… but only in so far as I am post-conservative.

In other words, show me in the Bible.

And give me some credit by not insulting my hermeneutic with things like, “stoning your child is in the Bible; abstaining from pork is in the Bible; gouging out eyeballs is in the Bible.” Yes, yes, I know all about the important role context plays in interpretation.

And this is why, for me, the egalitarian position has thus far been unconvincing. They point out how Jesus lifted the status of women, how Paul said there is neither male nor female in Christ, how the first expositor of Romans was a woman and how there was a female apostle among the first Christians.

Well yes, I agree with all of that. But what about the other bits – much of which are far more pointed and explicit? That Jesus chose twelve male apostles, that Paul speaks often of male servant-leadership in the home and in the church and of roles generally fulfilled according to “gender” which, as a concept, was far more defined for Paul than for many people today.

I am being of utmost serious and sincere when I say that I am sympathetic to the egalitarian cause. It’s why I’m a functional egalitarian. Not – as one person tersely charged – to maintain peace in my home (what a brassy judgment of motives!). But because I recognize the biblical tension in this debate and – tentatively – believe that the best way to make sense of God’s message here is by adhering to the freedom we have in Christ which, in this debate, means embracing functional egalitarianism.

If an egalitarian – or complementarian too for that matter [keep in mind, my egalitarian friends, that in the complementarian camp I’m the unwanted rebel cousin who is forced to pitch his tent alone on the outskirts of our encampment; after all, I reject the notion of assigned or regulated roles based on gender]; if either view wants to convince me of their position they have to biblically do justice to those passages that the other side use in support of their belief.

So far both egalitarians and complementarians have failed to convince me that Paul and Jesus belong to them. And that is why the egalitarian (and complementarian) position has thus far failed to convince.

To be progressive is to convey the idea of changing with the times. I’m only progressive insofar as I am post-conservative. Sometimes what we learn and a perspective we receive thanks to our time and place forces us to go back and reexamine what we thought the Bible always said (the New Perspective on Paul is a great example, as biblical research into the First Century Judaism has revealed a lot in the past fifty years). Other times, however, our time and place pressures us to re-envision the biblical message to make it more palatable for what we want our cultural norm to be. A post-conservative always asks, what did the original Bible writer believe and intend to communicate? Only then does it ask how (or if) what they believed and intended to communicate applies today. Bible first.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Leslie

    What a balanced, winsome post on what can be such a gut-reaction issue! I may not agree with your views on the gender debate, but I respect your logic and your commitment to Scripture.

    More importantly, I think you’re nailed the subtle, but very important distinctions between progressive and post-conservative. (I identify with the latter as well).

    This is going on the TRM Facebook page

    • Derek Ouellette

      Thank you Leslie! I’m very open to a full-fledged egalitarian view. In the meantime I’m comfortable as a functional egalitarian until I’m convinced.

  • Dan Martin

    I appreciate this article, Derek. I often describe myself as too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives. I have the same concern you express in that far too many systems of belief seem predicated on one of these labels rather than on careful and humble biblical hermaneutics.

    Part of my own concern with both egalitarian and complementarian positions is that each deals with authority…that is, who’s on top, rather than with submission of all parties to each other, which is the biblical approach.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Well said Dan. Nice articulation of my own concern too. I try to use phrases like “servant-leadership” but many people interpret that as “soft-patriarchy”. The emphasis should be on submission, not on “who’s on top”. Great comment.