what kind of ‘c’ are you?

Consider the word ‘conservative’. What does it mean?

Let’s try Dictionary.com

con?serv?a?tive 1

/k?n?s?rv?t?v/  [kuhn-sur-vuh-tiv] 

–adjective

  1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
  2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
  3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
  4. (often initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
  5. (initial capital letter) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.
  6. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.
  7. Mathematics. (of a vector or vector function) having curl equal to zero; irrotational; lamellar.

When it comes to religious movements that can be described as ‘conservative’, I think we can dispense with definitions 2, 3, 5, and 7. We can likely dispense with 6 as well. That leaves us with 1 and 4.

Definition 4 is a political definition:

(often initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.

I think the adjective is used this way when we talk of “Conservative Evangelicals.” We are describing a political grouping or ‘party’ in Christendom.

Definition 1 is the descriptive definition we are after:

disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

In Canadian politics, you can be a ‘big C’ Conservative and/or a ‘little c’ conservative. The first means you are a member of a specific political party (as I have been, but am not currently). The second means you are disposed to a conservative political philosophy that attempts to preserve existing institutions or to restore traditional ones.

In ecclesiastical politics, what kind of ‘c’ is a ‘Conservative Evangelical’? Is it the same thing as the kind of ‘c’ that a Fundamentalist might be?

The answer to these questions becomes clear in defining what each political grouping is conserving. That is, what existing conditions, institutions, etc., is a Conservative Evangelical attempting to preserve? Or which institutions, etc., is a Fundamentalist attempting to preserve? Or what traditional institutions, etc., is either group attempting to restore?

I think it is clear that both groups want to limit change in some way, but is the disposition to limit change sufficient to regard both groups as the same? If you consider my questions in the previous paragraph, you should come to the conclusion that both groups are quite clearly not the same.

Fundamentalists are disposed to conserve separatistic ministries. Fundamentalists are disposed to restoring churches and ministries opposed to heterodoxy (liberalism and other significant deviations from orthodoxy – emergent churches, Open Theists, and others) and unflinchingly refusing to acknowledge heterodoxy in any way, especially by withholding fellowship from Christians who cooperate or acknowledge such.

Conservative Evangelicals now, what are they conserving? Not separatistic, militant, uncompromising Christianity! It seems that the Conservative Evangelicals are very concerned about limiting change being done to Christianity by deviant evangelicals. Some of them are quite outspoken about the errors of emergent churches for example. (Unless they are [ahem] reformed and evangelical as well…) It seems that Conservative Evangelicals want to go back to a happier time in evangelicalism. They don’t appear to want to go back to, say, 1940. But they do appear to want to go back to, say, 1957.

In other words, Conservative Evangelicals are conservative in this way: they want to restore the traditions of evangelicalism as it existed and as it was exhibited in the better of the New Evangelicals of the late 50s and 60s. They want to restore the traditions of Carl Henry, of J. I. Packer, of the Young Billy Graham. They want to turn back the clock and put a lid on Pandora’s box. But they don’t really want to do away with New Evangelicalisms root concept: Fundamentalism was too harsh, too narrow, and was and is no longer needed.

When we see the movements in this light, it is quite clear that right now in Fundamentalism, we have some who really aren’t conservative at all. (Note the small ‘c’.) They aren’t conservative because they have no disposition to preserve existing Fundamentalist conditions, institutions, etc. Some of them say they want to restore ‘Historic Fundamentalism’ (i.e., the 1920s version), but they misunderstand Historic Fundamentalism. The Fundamentalism of the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1960s and since is essentially one and the same movement (or philosophy, if  you think there is no more movement).

No there are some in Fundamentalism who want to change Fundamentalism into something else. They want to change it to Conservative Evangelicalism. Essentially, at the root, these people believe that the New Evangelicals were right. They think some people took evangelicalism too far, but in the essential argument with Fundamentalism, the New Evangelical position was the right one.

These are the conditions facing us today. We have a wavering Fundamentalism because many of the most vocal are not conservatives. They want change. They aren’t willing to leave Fundamentalism, they want to change it.

The question we are left with is this: are there enough conservative Fundamentalists left to resist the change and preserve the Fundamentalist position? To preserve both ideas and institutions, if possible, but certainly the ideas at least?

What kind of ‘c’ are you?

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. conservative. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conservative (accessed: January 12, 2010). []