Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Post-Conservative, Post-Liberal...

I had an interesting call from a new friend out there in blogland. He was interested in how I would categorize myself and mentioned some fairly recent terms, "post-liberal" and "post-conservative." Both of the terms tend toward each other somewhat in the middle, the biggest difference being the direction from which they're coming.

"Post-liberal" is a term whose origins trace quite a bit back to Yale in the 80s (e.g., Lindbeck, Frei).  A lot of people at Duke and Princeton have some of that influence.  These are people who've come from a more or less liberal background who have rejected the faithlessness of former liberalism. They are "unapologetic" about faith (versus apologetics). Think radical orthodoxy. This sort of person seems to really like Barth.

"Post-conservative" is more appropriate for people who don't like the way previous generations of conservatives have framed a lot of issues.  Roger Olson favorably quoted this description from Steven Sherman:

"Basically, they [postconservative evangelicals] compose a loose coalition of thinkers who are seeking to facilitate a number of ‘beyond’ moves, theologically: beyond the agenda of the modernist/fundamentalist dichotomy toward what they see as a more holistic theology... beyond concentration on rationalism toward incorporating additional ways of knowing; beyond inerrancy debates and concerns toward an instrumental use of scripture; beyond academy-centered theologizing toward ecclesial and community-oriented thinking; beyond gatekeeping on boundary-setting doctrinalism toward a generous orthodoxy with pietistic emphasis; and finally, beyond what they view as a fixation on the concerns of modernity often motivated by a fear of liberalism, toward a more positive view and selective appropriation of postmodern insights."

To me, that really sums up Wesleyan well, by which I mean the spirit of Wesley across Wesleyan denominations like the Wesleyans, Nazarenes, and Free Methodists.  It is an excellent description of the thought ethos of the religion division at IWU in the 00's.  I am convinced that the previous paragraph will describe the broader Wesleyan thought-leaders of the days to come.


John C. Gardner said...

The Wesleyan Articles of Religion hold to inerrancy of the original autographs. Many Wesleyans also seem to see Scripture operating within an instrumental framework. Is post modern Wesleyanism more fundamentalist(outside perhaps its leadership and universities)? It seems to me that Wesleyan congregations may not necessarily fit a post conservative model.

Ken Schenck said...

What I think that line is saying is:

1) beyond inerrancy debates and concerns... 2) toward an instrumental use of Scripture.

While Wesleyans affirm inerrancy and as far as I know have no intention of changing that affirmation, I can document the phenomenon mentioned above, for example, in 1) a paper Bob Black gave at HQ a few years ago where he argued that the term was somewhat of a foreign body in our theology, transplanted from Calvinist circles and 2) in rhetoric from people like Keith Drury who would say that the primary function of Scripture is to form a holy people and my own repeated suggestion that Scripture is sacramental.

But whether the WC moves in this direction or not, I believe the thought leaders of the Wesleyan tradition (i.e., broader Wesleyanism including Nazarenes and Free Methodists) will continue to move in this direction.