What I Believe (a.k.a. My Scary, Ultra-Liberal Ideas)

man with ideas

Image courtesy of  thewoodenshoes on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

[This post was originally published on June 24, 2010. The content has been edited, updated, and expanded.]

I write this coming off a hard week of Facebook exchanges with a conservative Christian.  Good guy, from what I can tell, with a good heart.  Just very conservative.  So I now have this picture of myself as a scary, ultra-liberal.  I don’t think that’s who I am (and he never used those words), but here, for the benefit of all, I will “come clean” about my views (both political and theological).

1. I believe Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God and that salvation comes through him alone.  I also happen to believe that if he is in fact God, then he will unite people with God who do not fit the formula the church has established.  People get upset with me for thinking this, but why?  Can I not leave it to God to do what God will do?

2. I am pro-life.  God cares as much about the already-born as he does about the unborn, so I believe social justice is critical as well.

3. I am pro free-market.  However, because so  many people lack internal constraints based on well-grounded moral principles, the market must be regulated to keep individual self-interest from shipwrecking the country (if it hasn’t already).

4. I believe in “Just War” theory.  I am not a pacifist, but lean strongly in that direction.

5. I believe that not only are individuals responsible before God, but so are countries and societies.   

6. I believe that people who do not believe as I do should have the basic right to live the way they want to live.  God grants this right to his children, why should governments not grant it to their citizens?

7. I believe that private citizens and institutions should shoulder the burden for caring for the country’s poor.  However, for various reasons they are often unwilling to do so.  Until they are willing, the government must continue to do this in some basic way.

8. I believe the lives most of us enjoy today are possible because some scary, ultra-liberal people in the past thought a 40 hour workweek, restricting child labor, and letting women and black people vote were all good ideas.  Our lives and our society are better because of those ideas, and some of the ideas conservatives fear today will make life better for us twenty years from now.

9. I believe that point-by-point “give me the scripture references that back up your views” arguments between Christ-followers are usually counterproductive, and are more deeply part of “what’s wrong with the church” than whatever is being argued about in the first place.  There are times and places it is appropriate, but not as a general mode of communicating.

10. I believe neither the Republican nor Democratic platforms embody Christian principles and ideas completely.

11. I believe that you will find spiritually searching people as often (perhaps more often) in bars than in churches.

12. I believe that Christians do more harm than good when they stand constantly prepared to blast people for having different views than they do.  [Listening to them justify their anger and paranoia is fascinating.]

13. I believe that on many things, the mystics (the Desert Fathers and Mothers) got it right and the evangelicals got it wrong.  They did a better job understanding how both intellect and emotions fit into human life and the spiritual journey.  Evangelicals are too influenced by Enlightenment-era ways of thinking and therefore are often too comfortable with “faith” that exists almost completely in their heads.

14. I believe that the super-conservative politics of many Christians allow them to live day to day in ways that lack much of the compassion Jesus modeled for us, and that many excuse this with political arguments.  Just because vast portions of the church have adopted a certain politic does not mean that that politic represents God or God’s views.  The scariest assumption made in politics is, “God is on our side.”  Start down that path and there is no end to the horrors you are capable of.  That is the lesson from history.

15. Christianity that is not strongly based in deep, inner, transformation will be ineffective in bringing about the peace Jesus promised.  (We lack peace because we are incapable of receiving it.)  In the absence of transformation, we will either try hard to fake it, approaching faith as merely a set of behaviors, or we will give up altogether the notion that transformation is possible, approaching faith as a list of abstract ideas.  From either of those perspectives, it will be tempting to expect more from politics than it can deliver.

16. I believe in science. Our current understanding of the science tells us, among other things, that 1) the earth is getting warmer and mankind has something to do with it; 2) a thing called The Big Bang is what got the universe started. Science is not an enemy of faith, regardless of what dogmatists on both sides believe. If the evidence changes, the science will eventually change with it, but I have no problem accepting what science tells us about things.

17. In the classroom (I teach graduate school), we must agree on what constitutes knowledge. What constitutes knowledge is, and must be, that body of information that has come to be accepted, by and large, by the scientific and academic communities. I am open to people’s opinions in class, but not to conspiracy theories. Anyone who strongly disagrees with any current body of knowledge can launch their own study and see what results they get. There is no such thing as Christian truth and secular truth. Something is either true or it isn’t. (By the way, we should agree on what constitutes knowledge in the church, too, and it shouldn’t be that different from what constitutes knowledge in the classroom. Knowledge is knowledge.)

There.  That’s my list of scary, ultra-liberal ideas.  Obviously to me they are neither scary, nor ultra-liberal, nor are they theologically flimsy and watered down.  I will not spend large amounts of time arguing my positions on this blog or this post, but I thank you sincerely in advance for your thoughts and comments.

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  • Great done and keep posted. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  • Tracy

    I have a broken leg. Therefore, I spend WAY too much time on the internet.
    I was wandering around on facebook and came across your page. This is Bob’s niece, by the way. I’m not just some creepy facebook stalker. haha
    Anyway. This post is very interesting. Your ideas remind me a lot of Donald Miller.
    Have you ever read Searching for God Knows What? If you haven’t, you absolutely must. It’s SOOO great. I WILL NOT rest until you read it.
    Just kiddin. But really, you should read it.

    “Just because vast portions of the church have adopted a certain politic does not mean that that politic represents God or God’s views. The scariest assumption made in politics is, ‘God is on our side.’ Start down that path and there is no end to the horrors you are capable of.”
    I think one of the biggest struggles we have as Christians is using scripture to justify our own ideas. Not that it’s always deeply intentional, but we become more concerned with winning a debate and being on “the right side” istead of trying to follow Jesus. I have a hard time not getting angry with people who are so religiously bitter towards homosexuals and the idea of gay marriage while they seem to have no problem with the premarital sex in their own lives. We spend way too much time arguing about what’s right instead of actually doing it.

    Ramble over. Great post.
    ;D

    • David Flowers

      So glad you are doing well. Close call there!! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Regarding Donald Miller, wow, that’s quite a compliment. I’ll definitely take that! I have read SFGKW and Blue Like Jazz. I have enjoyed his work.

  • VJT

    Interesting thoughts, Dave. Growing up as a P.K. in a very conservative home, I had many sincere but skewed ideas about God. In my early 20’s I remember discovering some writings from the Desert Fathers and also from some more contemporary writers such as Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. These writings resonated deeply with me, but I almost felt “guilty” for reading and connecting with their content, because they weren’t authors from the main stream of my denomination. Fortunately, I continued reading and pursuing Truth with all that was within me. I find myself today, many years later, still pursuing Truth and at times caught in the “tension” that I feel exists in the Church. It seems we have entered a new age in which it is “cool” to bash the church, to jump on the liberal band-wagon, to condemn Christians who hold conservative views, to swing the pendulum from legalism to antinomianism, both of which are harmful. With some recent contemporary authors (whose books I have read), I sense almost and “arrogance” in their writings; as though they are now the “enlightened ones” and Christians who fail to see things from their liberal perspective are just not “spiritual” and stuck in the dark ages. While I can see the value in some of the things they have to say, I don’t view them as the new “gurus” for the church. The Church is diverse and always will be. And while there are human flaws that are present, there is also a unity that should be present as well, despite our differences. This includes the liberal Christians embracing the value that conservative Christians have in the Church and vice versa. The newest focus seems to be the focus on the social justice stream, which I believe strongly in. But it is not more important than the holiness, evangelical, contemplative or incarnational streams of Christian life. Each focus has a place in the Church and any one of these can become an obsession, taking the focus off of God and putting it on the “cause”. I appreciate what you wrote in this blog because it does not have even a hint of “arrogance” in it. It is clear, intelligent and non-judgmental. It resonates with me like the writings of Henri Nouwen when I first read some of his thoughts. I teach part-time at a Christian University and will share this website with my students. I believe it will give them opportunity to think critically and deeply about their own assumptions and beliefs, and hopefully lend itself to meaningful dialogue in class.

    • Wow, I am humbled and honored by this comment. Thank you for reading and taking the time to give me your perspectives. You have been a great encouragement to me, and I hope indeed that some of what I have written can be helpful for your students. I look forward to reading their comments in the future as well!

  • Casey

    After clicking on a link in a friends facebook and looking through this site I have found myself here reading this blog. I will keep this short but I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. As a Christian who has extreme left-sided views I find myself in the minority during conversations and more frequently than not getting the impression that in order to be a true Christian one must conform to a right-sided ideology. I just find it nice to hear of others who share my beliefs in God as well as my scary, ultra-liberal ideas. Thank you again.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, and you’re welcome. I find it interesting that those who identify with both conservatism and liberalism have written in expressing similar opinions on this post. I’ve always thought of myself as a moderate (neither conservative nor liberal), and I’m beginning to feel confirmed in this. Thanks again, and good to hear from you.

  • Dave!
    I am not sure how Amber found you but she passed this on to me. I just wanted you to know that I loved your #11. I’ve spent a lot of time with my husband (long before he was my husband) and many other people talking about spiritual stuff in not very spiritual places.

    Are you still a Letterman fan? I still remember how you would watch Letterman at Covenant Hills and I think he came on at 12:30 back then.

    Janel Toal (formerly Bauer)

    • Hey Janel, nice to hear from you! I hope all is well.

      Who’s Amber?!

      As for Letterman, I don’t watch late-night TV often anymore. When I’m up late, I’m nearly always writing these days. But when I do watch the late shows, Letterman’s still the guy.

      Again, great hearing from you. Now you know how to find me!

  • Mickey Campbell

    Dave – I have listened to you preach in the past and I have also read many of your posts. I believe that if anyone truly listens to you – you always “come clean” with your beliefs. I do not believe that you are ultra-liberal, I am really tired to people putting a stamp on what they are. I believe it all boils down to being a believer – broken, ready, and willing to do what God has in store for us (no matter how uncomfortable or difficult that is).

    Even though we do not attend the same church any longer, I appreciate your posts. I feel that I can stay connected in some sort of way with you and your family.

    Mickey

    P.S. I loved the pictures of you, Christy and the girls. Where has the time gone?

    • Thanks Mickey. Again, I want to say (I should add this to the article!) that this other person didn’t call me a scary, ultra-liberal, or any names at all for that matter. That’s simply how I felt he must be feeling based on his response to my comments. I could be completely wrong about that. My point was that it got me to thinking about what kind of politics my views actually do represent, and about my own need to be clear about them.

      I have appreciated your encouraging words. It reminds me that though we’ve been gone a long time, we still have family and people who love us back at DFMC.

  • Kelly

    I think you have done a great job articulating your beliefs. I could not agree more with your points # 9 and #12. I have seen christians do such damage when the heated debates begin. Great job, keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Kelly. Nice to be in touch with you again!

  • I agree with the vast majority of what you’ve said here, Dave. I’m more liberal, but not too much these.

  • nathan

    I’m giong to change my mind on some things, throghout my life. This is only a sign that I am learning and growing. It’s a good thing.

    I use a different translation than I used to, becasue the translators of the previous edditions of the bible didn’t know as much as translators do now.

    I consider moral issues differently now than I have before, becasue there are different issues to consider and the magnitude of some of those issues effects more people than it has before and some issues effect many people more deeply.

    But somewhere there is an anchor that holds me to the heart of a God who is bigger than I am. That anchor will keep me close to his heart, not perfectly close but close. John Wesley made his anchor a four grapple claw. The claw is important but so is the place where that anchor is dropped. We tend to drop anchor where we are most comfortable. I don’t think being anchored to God is going to be that comfortable.

    In the end a person needs to anchor and they need to grapple. Thanks Dave for the example you have given to me and others as it regards your thoughtfulness and transperency.

    • I think this is a completely beautiful response. “Not perfectly close, but close.” Fantastic.

  • nathan

    Confirmation Class
    Stephey Belynskyj, starts each confirmation class with this same illustration. When Belynskyj gets to the list of favorite songs. He asks his students, “and which one of these is closest to being right?” He says that the students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste.
    Belynskyj, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?”

    Always, Belynskyj says, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song.

    Piece of Truth
    Once the Devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny. “What did he find?” asked the cohort.

    “A piece of the truth,” the Devil replied.

    “Doesn’t it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?” asked the cohort.

    “No,” said the Devil, “I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it.”
    –Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths – Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 35.

    This is a critical issue we have with truth. It can become a false religion if it’s segmented. Half truths are dangerous. Yet, we live by them all the time.

    • What do you think it is, Nate? Is it more like guessing the number of beans, or choosing one’s favorite song?

  • nathan

    I will leave a few comments, but have some looking to do first. I have a quote that I think you will appreciate, but I have to find it. For now I was just wondering what you view on Scripture is. I have reason to assume some things but didn’t find it clearly stated in the statements you made. I’m not sure it needs to be. disregarding the question about scripture how would you define our outline your foundation for beleif. What are these views based on?

    By the way, I believe failry closly to you on most of the things you stated. I only ask those things because, to me these are as important as the conclustions drawn from the foundations.

    • My foundation for belief comes from a combination of evangelical and mystical perspectives. I teach Wesley’s quadrilateral, but one of the four pieces isn’t mystery, and I think the evangelical perspective drastically undervalues mystery. We have intellectualized the faith a great deal. And since most people aren’t intellectuals, this leaves the average Joe with little actual substance for belief.

      Jesus preached self-denial, but I think the evangelical perspective often just gets people wrapped up in a Christianized version of their own egos. Show me a Christian and I can likely show you someone transfixed and obsessed with him/herself. It is obsession connected with God, but obsession all the same. My devotional life. My prayer life. My church attendance. My relationship with God. My spiritual life. My religious ideas and thoughts and opinions and positions. I don’t claim to be outside of this, but I hope I am on the journey out.

  • Lariann

    Thank you for sharing your beliefs, Dave. I don’t like to “argue” politically. I usually listen to those “discussing” politics around me. I get disturbed when people talk about our nation being a “christian nation”. True, it may have started out that way, but now we are more like the days of Rome before it fell. Like Carter, you’ve piqued my interest in writing down my views. Of course they are in the back of my head 😉 but I know much of how I view things is from a more compassionate stand…it may not always come out in words as such. Having a true passion/compassion for people is what I hope people see in my life.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Lariann. I HATE political arguments. In fact in this very discussion I was having with this guy, I mentioned that my biggest problem is being unsure of the line between mere discussion and being an a-hole. So I hate doing it because though I enjoy expressing myself and engaging in interesting back-and-forth, it’s too easy to get emotions into it and find myself feeling angry or a whole host of other negative emotions.

      On the other hand, it was my discussion with this person that prompted me to think through and eventually write out as clearly as possible what I actually believe. That was productive, to be sure. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Carter Clark

    Scary ultraliberal. Not even close. After reading this I am compelled to write down my views. Not to compare so much but to see if I can articulate my views as clearly as you have. You are thought provoking stud, my friend

    • Thanks Carter. I decided to go the thought-provoking route years ago when I realized I wasn’t sexy. 🙂

  • Jan

    As a self-proclaimed conservative, THANK YOU for a clear, concise list of your ideas. I decided I must be an ultra liberal too by some conservative Christian’s definition. I must admit though, I saw myself in #9 (ouch!) and #8 fascinated me -yes of course some of the greatest changes in this country came about by what MUST have been considered wildly liberal notions at the time. And I see some of my former Christian acquaintances in #12 & I am sad for them. Christ came for the last, the least & the lost – he moved amongst the theives & whores and he was the only rightous person, yet was the only one who never acted like it. So why should becoming a Christian (by definition “Christlike”) make anyone “rightous”? Humility comes to mind first – and that characteristic would solve a LOT of issues.

    • Thanks for your response – cogent as always!

      I should clarify that the person I was talking to never actually referred to me as a “scary, ultra-liberal,” that is simply how I felt he was thinking about me, based on how threatened he seemed to feel by my ideas. The back and forth was steady, but neither of us resorted to name-calling.

      Thanks again, Jan.

    • That is why religion is dangerous. Rather than, “I now am on a long path to becoming holy,” we can easily think, “I now know the right way to think and to live.” And if we think that, we will make it abundantly clear to everyone else.