Labels - What Do They Mean Within Christendom?

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Ultra-conservative theologically; usually sees all aspects of the Bible as inerrant (some go so far as to declare the KJV version as inerrant, while rejecting other English translations). Some fundamentalist groups equate the Bible with Christ. They are usually more focused on conserving traditional interpretations of Scripture than conserving the original intent of the biblical texts. Interestingly, some value their interpretations as being inerrant. Usually intolerant of alternative views; some rely heavily on propaganda to secure theological views. Dogmatic approach does not allow for academic freedom in institutions of higher educations, e.g. seminaries. Some subscribe to a type of inspiration resembling dictation.

Conservative (also: Evangelical Conservative)
Views the original autographs as the inerrant Word of God, which were written via plenary inspiration. Does not equate the Bible with Jesus. Allows for limited academic freedom. Relies less on propaganda and is usually more rational and reason-oriented than fundamentalists. Experiences tension with conserving traditions and conserving original meaning of the biblical texts when the two efforts differ. Strives to preserve Classical Theism.

Believes that concepts expressed in the Bible are inerrant. While these inerrant concepts were communicated in the autorgraphs, not all moderates believe the autographs to be inerrant. While most hold that the biblical texts contain variants and errors, some may think the errors originated with the autographs. More open-minded than conservatives. More accepting of controversial secondary theological concepts, such as ordaining women into the ministry. They promote for academic freedom, sometimes to the point of encouraging religious diversity within colleges and seminaries. Focus is more on conserving the original meaning of the biblical texts, while seriously scrutinizing all traditional interpretations. The largest difference between moderates and conservatives is cultural adaptation, whereas the moderates are willing to sacrifice traditional doctrine and even morality for the sake of adapting to cultural norms and societal tolerances. More flexible regarding Classical Theism.

Disbelief in the actual resurrection of Jesus. They interpret the resurrection texts to be allegorical of the successful rise of the early Christian Church, primarily the accounts communicated in the book of Acts. Liberal scholars critique the biblical texts in search of later insertions. Liberal theologians critique commonly accepted theologies such as salvation by grace. More willing than moderates in the area of cultural adaptation. Generally rejects Classical Theism by identifying it as another human initiated theological theory.

Within the realm of theology exists hostilities and bitter rivalries that surpass anything seen between government politicians. As a result, theological labels such as Fundamentalist, Conservative, Moderate, Liberal, and Heretic are sometimes associated with derogatory meaning. The purpose of this article is not to denounce or support any particular label. Each label has its advantages and disadvantages. Rather, the purpose of this article is to provide information regarding the labels.

It is unfortunate that in a subject matter that received its birth from a belief system based in love, there is more negative rhetoric and disrespect than anything that reflects Christianity. Ironically, some of the worst theological controversies are focused on the beginning and end of life: cosmology and eschatology, respectively.

The "heretic" label was used throughout Christian history as a way of identifying someone who had swayed from some sort of theological orthodoxy. Orthodoxy was usually determined by a majority or through authoritative leverage. Anyone in disagreement with the majority was deemed as heretical, and sometimes lost their life as a result.

Today, the heretic label is equated with the "liberal" label. The latter is used by people in the ministry who wish to denounce credibility of someone with whom they disagree theologically and/or morally. A common propagandistic tactic is to refer to the viewpoint of the opposition as liberal. This somehow validates the viewpoint of the accuser in his mind. Sadly, if the accuser is a popular spiritual leader, his propaganda and name calling can be influential and damaging.

Fundamentalists are usually at the opposite end of the spectrum from liberals. These are usually people more interested in pointing out what is wrong with others rather than promote the love of Christianity. This is done in an effort to secure their viewpoint and to differentiate themselves as owners of theological orthodoxy. Respect for alternative positions is unacceptable. Instead, intolerance is the preferred approach. For fundamentalist Christians, it's all black-and-white: it is their way or the devil's way. Intellectualism is not their forte; thus, they lean more toward the faith only spectrum.

At a notch lower than the fundamentalists are the conservatives. They are more currently known as "evangelicals" or "evangelical conservatives." They offer an intellectual defense to Classical Theism, inerrancy of the original autograph manuscripts, Doctrine of Atonement, physical resurrection of Christ, and exclusivisty of of access to heaven by means of salvation by grace. They are usually less hostile toward alternative views by being more open-minded and rational in their approach. While they still use the "liberal" label to identify scholars and theologians who are vastly at odds with them, they do so more conservatively (no pun intended). They are usually well balanced in the faith and reason spectrum.

Liberal theology is officially defined as disbelief in the physical or actual resurrection of Jesus. Any use of "liberal" beyond that is usually propaganda and/or opinion. The disbelief in the physical resurrection is where the criticism of Classical Theism begins, which is why the identification of someone as liberal extends beyond the official definition. Liberal theologians do not seem to mind this.

Somewhere between liberals and conservatives are moderates. Moderates are difficult to identify and define, but they are usually more open-minded about theological and cultural views than the conservatives, and are not afraid to explore all alternative views. While belief in the physical resurrection of Christ is standard, they may venture off into process theology (belief that God is still maturing or growing), or question the historical accuracy of well-known biblical texts and accounts. The biggest differences are usually related to how the Bible is viewed. While they may cling to Classical Theism, they are not afraid to embrace Opennes Theism. They tend to be more open to cultural tolerances, such as ordaining women into the ministry. Some even accept homosexuality as a right-of-birth rather than a sin.

Conservatives and fundamentalists view the Bible as God's inerrant Word, with the conservatives restricting the inerrancy to the original autographs. Moderates generally believe that the concepts expressed within the Bible are inerrant, but the actual texts contain errors. Liberals take it a step further and will allege that some of the passages were inserted at later dates, and therefore reduce the reliability of the Bible.

When studying this topic, or any other theological topic, avoid authors and speakers who choose to use the labels as a means of validating their own position, or to attack the character of theological opponents. People who resort to this level feel threatened because they may not have enough evidence to support their viewpoint.

So which label is more appropriate for the view of theistic evolution? Depends on who you ask. Fundamentalists will, of course, identify the view as being liberal or even heretical. Many evangelical conservatives are more open-minded to this view, and some even hold this view. Moderates are usually very accepting of this view, but may limit it to a deistic type of evolutionary process. Liberals usually do hold to a deistic evolutionary standpoint: i.e. God initiated the Big Bang, but did not intervene at any other point in the evolutionary process.

These classifications will probably never pass away until the return of Christ. If there is to be a major criticism being communicated from this article, it is how the groups interact. The disrespect between each group is thrashed out in newsletters, books, magazine articles, the pulpit, and scholar conferences/gatherings. Fortunately, most academic journals preserve the shcolarly integrity that should be present in all methods of interaction. Since these classifications appear to be a constant, improvements in communication and interaction between the groups should be a key objective in an effort to exmplify the love of Christ.

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