Legalism & Progressivism: Erasing Caricatures

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Have you ever seen one of those guys at the fair who draws caricatures of people? If so, you know that they will take your biggest features and exaggerate them. Sometimes we do that with other people in how we view them and the assumptions we have about them. It can be hard to talk about these things because instead of actually talking about the issues and the scriptures involved in loving and kind ways (you know, those old fruits of the Spirit?) some would rather paint a caricature of the other “side” rather than be fair with what they have to offer in the conversation. It is easy to draw up straw men. It is easy to ignore the good the others are doing. It is tempting to ignore the commonality in a rush to condemn the parts we vehemently disagree with. I think it is important to start with commonality and work out from there. When you start by dissecting fine tuned differences it is easy to be hostile and it is easy to get defensive.

Legalists often paint a picture of progressives that they have no respect for scripture (and yet most are making their points with scripture). It is often said that progressives don’t care about obedience when that is just not the case. Progressives often paint a picture of legalists as backwards, stagnant, unevangelistic, arrogant, etc. It is easy to throw up smoke screens in order to obfuscate and confuse rather than deal with real people on real issues in loving and respectful ways (you know, ways that actually might get us somewhere).

Drawing a Fair Picture
The way an artist draws an accurate picture is by using their senses. She has to look very closely to details and then make a fair representations of what she sees in that individual. It would be weird to sit down for a skilled artist to paint your portrait and after sitting for a dozen hours over a week, they turned it around and you saw a generic portrait. You would wonder who they were looking at because it obviously wasn’t you. Sometimes I feel that way in discussing these things with others…When they respond to what you tell them, you wonder who they were listening to when you were talking because it obviously wasn’t you. It feels like we are all talking but no one is really hearing the other very well because we are passing them through generic filters that don’t actually represent what that person actually believes.

As we move ahead, no caricatures. Listen. Be willing to learn. Be humble enough to admit when you are wrong. Praise the other person for seeking God. Find commonality. Don’t be afraid to use scripture and use it fairly (not just as random proof texts). Draw a fair picture of those you are having a discussion with. To do any less is intellectually and relationally dishonest.

7 Responses

  1. I wish the conversation could proceed without labels at all — conservative, progressive, liberal, etc — since fellow believers are fellow believers.

    But I don’t see how that’s possible.

    We do need to avoid the generalizations and assumptions that ALL ____s believe/practice/want ____.

    And we need to ditch judgments of motive, nature, character, and eternal destiny of others. We can’t know those things, and we have no ability nor authority to make those judgments.

    1. Matt, thanks for making this effort. May the only true God whom we serve enable us to deal truly with each other, telling the truth in Christ to the glory of Him who is the way, the truth, and the liife.

    2. Thanks Edward, I hope all is well with you brother. I appreciate your continued encouragement and insights. Keep up the good work and thanks for commenting.

    3. The one thing we are all interested in is what God has revealed to us in scripture. We have that in common as well as a common Lord, common Spirit and common baptism. That should be enough to try to see each other as God sees us. We still won’t agree on every point but at least the conversation can be a healthy one.

  2. Matt, I come from a very legalistic back ground, and I grew up hearing the word “liberal” being used as a synonym for evil, as well hearing racial slurs and insulting remarks regarding the poor and others who, in their view, “demanded too much” of society. And these were relatives and friends I considered good people.

    But as soon as liberals and progressives, especially in the CoC, started pointing out the un-Christlike nature of these beliefs and behaviors, these good people started crying, “Ouch, you’re attacking us”. And the number one complaint I heard from legalists regarding progressives was, “Oh, they think they’re better than us”. And this came from people whose entire security and sense of self depended on looking around themselves at other races, classes, religious people and others who were “different”, feeling superior socially and religiously.

    Your desire is a noble one. But for the CoC to move on and become a people of healing it cannot continue to live in denial of what it was, and still is, in certain areas of the country. Until it confesses its past, it will only be looked at as a cell for a certain culture and political wing.

  3. What I am doing here is avoiding the urge to generalize all criticism to everyone on one side or the other. These things happen and I am fine with saying something is evil, wrong, misguided, etc. However, that goes both ways. We all have our issues. So looking ahead, some of my posts are going to be critical of some on both sides of this but I won’t say anything applies to all…that just isn’t helpful. I know that isn’t news to you. I just want you to hear me say that I am going to try to be as fair as I know how to be while still being critical of what needs to be pointed out for those to whom it applies. Hope that makes sense brother. I have experienced some of those same things and have no problem saying that is wrong.

  4. The one thing we have to remember in this discussion is that Jesus himself was liberal in a sense that his sect of Judaism was open to all, even sinners, harlots, and tax collectors for Rome. He was not a hard line legalistic. The Pharisees took care of that. For his religion to be hard line conservative and legalistic goes against the basic principles of the founder.

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