I have been reflecting further on the issue of what makes an individual a conservative Christian. Whatever the reasons, whether from personal psychology or from circumstances of life, I can think of several practical reasons for not wanting to be among their number. Apart from the issues around surrendering my independent thinking to another individual or institution, let me list four practical reasons for resisting the temptation ever to go down this path.
1. This conservative Christian is committed to a belief in the utter reliability of Scripture. Such a position means that there is no wriggle room and possibility of change or development in thinking about the ultimate things in life. The implication of this belief is that no one, beyond the small group of fellow conservatives, has anything to teach you. Also absent is the possibility of a good discussion with another point of view where each side can learn from the position of the other. This is indeed a sterile place to be. Never having one’s mind changed, or allowing this as possibility, makes the world an extremely dull place.
2. Arising out of a sense of the utter reliability of Scripture, there is no sense that the future has anything new to reveal to the earnest Christian. It has all been discovered already. Words like creativity, newness and its accompanying excitement will have no meaning. Of course sometimes someone will reveal something fresh about the teaching of the Bible, but this will be done in a highly controlled way. There will always be a background sense of anxiety in case the ideas are found eventually not to be completely ‘sound’. By and large the future is only important because that is where death and a final reunion with God in heaven is to be found.
3. Along with a sense that the future has nothing to bring to the world, there is also a profound pessimism about whether or not individual ambition and striving have any real meaning to the conservative Christian. It may be possible to earn money and even to do a reliable responsible job, but is there any real joy in such an occupation where no real discovery and possibility of change are part of that vocation? No, the occupation that one undertakes is purely for practical reasons of survival and has little to do with the real business of being saved and encouraging others to enter into this relationship with God.
4. A fourth reason for not being a conservative Christian is a partial or complete absence of humour in your life. The conservative Christian is unlikely to be comfortable or familiar with the ideas of paradox and incongruity. Everything is normally black or white and thus there are no greys. It is unlikely that such a person will understand humour which depends so much on ambiguity and word meanings that are not tied down and fixed. The earnest and humourless caricature of the evangelical Christian is not far short of the reality.
These four characteristics of a conservative Christian can be summed up in a single adjective – boring. All the qualities I have mentioned, or lack of others, end up at this description. People who cannot discuss, have no sense of the newness of life or indeed its humour, are unlikely to be good conversation companions. By choosing to stand apart from broad mass of ‘unsaved humanity’, many Christians have become unattractive company for the rest of society. Perhaps others can suggest other reasons not to be a conservative Christian. I would hazard a belief that most of the characteristics that we do not want to possess, would also come under the broad category of being boring and without humour. If there are good reasons to be this way, perhaps someone could help me understand. Jesus for all his seriousness, seems to have been able to see the humour of life. Although this is a discussion for another time, the parables and his use of them show him to be a teacher with a strong imagination, flexibility and sense of humour.