There’s a thing that often happens when progressive and conservative Christians end up in conversations about our differences. It happens to me, and I see it happen to friends, too. I’ll get asked a question and when I begin to explain how I see it, the interrogator will respond with something like, “Yes or no? This is what progressives do. You can’t just answer, because you have to do gymnastics to make everything conform to what you want.” Paraphrased, of course.
Here’s the thing, it’s not gymnastics. I now operate under the assumption that if I, as a straight, white, cisgender, American male, get anywhere close to an accurate interpretation of a text, it should make me uncomfortable. My issue is how people like me have used and twisted both the text and theology into a weapon and then wielded it against anyone we deem outside our orthodox norm. I can’t just respond with a yes or no to a question, knowing all the assumptions that are built in to simplistic answers to really complex issues. Therein lies the problem: for too long we’ve assumed that major and mysterious realties, like God, can be nicely and neatly explained. We have over simplified things, and then we’ve cemented those over simplifications as absolutes. We’ve then used those absolutes as a measuring stick of who’s orthodox and who’s heretical. The truth is most often the interlocutor doesn’t actually care about the nuance of my perspective. They are enacting a theological litmus test that is pass or fail. But it’s just not that simple. If I am going to give a straight, honest answer then I will have to do some explaining, because it’s…well… complicated.
If you ask me if I believe in God, the answer is complicated. If I just say ‘yes’ you might think that I am affirming the God of supernatural theism. The God who exists ‘up’ or ‘out’ there, and occasionally pops into the world to do something miraculous. I don’t believe in that version of God. I do believe in Reality, in the God in whom we live, move, and exist, but that isn’t the same thing. It’s more complicated than a ‘yes’ allows.
If you ask me if I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and I just say ‘yes,’ you might think I am affirming fourth century biological claims about Jesus, when I’m really affirming first century theological claims. The first century claim that Jesus was the Son of God isn’t the same as the fourth century (and later) claims using the same language. It needs explanation because, you guessed it, it’s complicated.
I could keep going, but I think you get the picture. Complex questions deserve thoughtful responses. Over simplification doesn’t honor the Tradition, nor does it allow us to lean into the work of being faithful today. Complicated isn’t bad. It isn’t a dodge. It’s being honest.