March 18, 2013

The Two Kinds of “Conservative” Christians


(Photo credit: Journal of the Student National Medical Association)

By Thomas Holgrave (@HipsterCon)

Young Christians today are in the middle of a sea change of opinion and practice in the church. The rhetorical tropes and divisions of a previous generation (Spiritual vs. religious? Reformed vs. fundamentalist? Liberal vs. conservative?) are beginning to fade in people’s perceptions, and new categories are taking their place.

With 20th-century theological liberalism faltering, along with the cultural “Christian” consensus, abandoning the faith of your parents no longer means social marginalization. Consequently, those who remain in church are more likely to be those who actually maintain a sincere and heart-felt belief in a real experience of God. This does not mean that all will think alike. We can feel new generations of young adult Christians dividing along new lines.

This shift has occasioned a good deal of confusion. Older liberal Christians have assumed that a younger generation of evangelical Christians, who are clearly more liberal politically than their generally Republican parents, will join them on the theologically liberal, desacralizing side of the church. What is actually happening, though, may be more complicated than this. Younger Christians who are keeping the faith are often dissatisfied with elements of their parents’ churches, but the shift seems to be moving them in a more ‘catholic’ direction, toward a more liturgical, roots-oriented Christianity. While their politics may not be those of the Christian Coalition, their religion may actually be more ‘conservative.’

This movement is not unique to evangelicals. David Bonagura writes that within the ascendent ‘conservative’ camp of the Roman Catholic Church there begin to be seen important distinctions between what he calls the “new orthodoxy,” concerned with maintaining and restoring authentic Catholic teaching, “outspoken opponents of abortion [and] same-sex marriage” whose “theological standard is the Catechism of the Catholic Church”; and what he calls the “Benedictines” after Pope Benedict XVI, whose ultimate value is the restoration of a more reverent, traditional liturgy. These two groups within the rising ‘conservative’ Catholic movement may find themselves opposed in certain ways even as they are in agreement on the major theological and moral doctrines of the church. The newly-chosen Pope Francis seems to belong, as it were, to the “new orthodoxy,” and under his rule it would not be a surprise to hear of discontent among the “Benedictines.”

Significantly, there seems to be a generational dynamic to these divisions. The “new orthodox” tend to be in their “late forties and fifties,” according to Mr. Bonagura, while the “Benedictines” are somewhat younger.

The rising generations of conservative Protestants exhibits, I think, a similar division, which breaks down also along generational lines.

We begin to see, especially among Gen-Xers, what I would term “evangelical” conservatives, who are primarily concerned with maintaining authentic Christian doctrine; and Millennials who tend to be “liturgical” conservatives concerned with a more authentic way of worshiping than what they experienced growing up.

Both of these are, in a sense, “reactionary” movements. Evangelical conservatives react against a lukewarm, rote “traditional” religion they remember from growing up, or else against a sloppy, undemanding, cheap-grace form of baby-boomer evangelicalism. Liturgical conservatives react against a church that has forgotten the importance of form and beauty in worshiping God, which tries to be relevant by eliminating any and all distinctions between itself and the world, whose deracinated warehouse Starbucks aesthetic has rejected altogether the beauty of historical Christianity.

What the future of Protestant Christianity requires, then, is an approach that will bring the two together. Theological conservatives need to learn to appreciate how the beauty of liturgy and tradition do not distract from authentic Christian belief but rather deepen and confirm it. Similarly, aesthetically-sensible liturgical conservatives need to understand how the beauty they rightly love grows from the same root as traditional Christian theology and ethics. We need young Christians who are both liturgically and theologically conservative.

Much of the division, sin, and confusion in Protestant Christianity today stems, I believe, from a fundamental disconnectedness in the evangelical mind between the order and beauty of the soul and religious belief, and the order and beauty of externals. Each of these ought to promote and confirm the other. Instead, suburban evangelicals tend to deny the influence of externals, and are surprised when their children rebel, sleep around, and abandon the faith.

Beauty strengthens faith. No less, then, does true faith preserve beauty. The order and coherence of traditional Christian liturgy and art depends for its strength on the conviction that what it centers on is true; that God exists, that the Bible is his word, and the church is the true manifestation of his kingdom in the world. Without these convictions beauty has no reference point and liturgy is a series of empty observances done for the sake of doing. The reason liturgy is attractive to sensitive people is that it actually reflects what is true and speaks to the listening soul of what is closest to the ground of its being. This is why the mainline churches are in decline. To practice a received liturgy and at the same time deny received Christian truth is eventually a self-defeating occupation.

Thomas Holgrave is an anonymous guest blogger. You can read more of his articles at HipsterConservative. If you liked this article, visit our website to support our work today!

  • What we have is not new types of conservatism, but the massive widescale liberalization of evangelicalism by wolves preaching unbiblical heresy to the biblically illiterate flocks.
    9 out of 10 Christian bestsellers are rank apostasy. Our great-granparents fought the war against modernist liberalism, but we are fighing post-modernist liberalism. Liberalism 2.0 has landed within the church. Pastors devour their flocks by preaching the demonic blasphemies of the emergents or the satanic lies of the church growth movement.
    We have lost sola scriptura, we have lost the faith once for all delivered to the saints, we have lost hold of the word of God, profitable at equipping us for EVERY good work. We are drowning in choices of Bibles, but are under a famine of God’s word, and only through holding fast to his word do we know Jesus. But in the American church the word of the Lord is now rarely preached.
    Instead, we a have a mishmash of private revelations against scripture that rivals the cult-factories of the resorationists in pumping false religion into the church.
    The church is commissioned by the Christ to proclaim REPENTANCE and the FORGIVENESS OF SINS through his life, death, and resurrection,
    But pointing out all of our idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, thievery, sloth, gossip, extortion, sexual immorality, the innumerable ways we fail to perfectly love our neighbors, and our failure to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect, and how we justly earn the full measure of the wrath of God does not draw crowds or earn hipster cache.
    The church is abandoning its call to proclaim the FORGIVENESS OF SINS, and turning church into unlicensed group therapy, motivational speeches, spiritual connectedness, and attempts at doctorphilian helpful advice.
    SInners don’t need good advice. Sinners don’t need to be told how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Sinners don’t need to be enticed into joining something bigger than themsleves. Sinners to don’t need to have a meaningful experience of God. Sinners need to escape the coming fury of God’s just wrath. Sinners need a savior.
    Sinners already have a personal relationship with God, one in which they are his enemy. But God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster, and in Jesus, God is reconciling the world to himself, and in his mercy, he takes his enemies and calls them his sons.
    Liberalism 2.0 is invading all styles, form, and manner of worship, whether it looks like a mass or a hawaiian party. It is pumping out all manner of satanic pieties which subvert and distort the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for sinners.

    “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
    I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2Tim3-4)

  • rhhhg: Thanks. Great response. So refreshing, especially on lent.

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  • >>>We need young Christians who are both liturgically and theologically conservative.

    I agree entirely. I am a Gen-X’er, and am both liturgically and theologically conservative (and Protestant). I grew up theologically conservative, but have only recently become liturgically conservative (I love it). I’m glad to be in a church that is both.

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