What are theological conservatives conserving?

Reading a lot of sociology of religion lately -- it's getting awfully hard to put up with the "conservative" and "liberal" labels as frequently applied from the political field to the theological one.  The "most theologically conservative" position is not the one which most agrees with a very precise and relatively recent strain of the Fundamentalist lineage.  Unless, of course, you're of the Fundamentalist line, in which case you may well be conserving something original to your heritage.  If you're Lutheran, holding that point of view is highly theologically liberal of you.  By which I mean exactly what the term says: you have applied the label of the Lutheran confessional heritage with a high degree of flexibility, including within that position elements that are not original to it.  And in this case, often at the cost of failing to conserve elements native to that tradition, which stand in conflict with the position you hold.

I'm tired of being labeled a theological liberal by Lutherans who claim political conservatism as though it were theological conservatism.  For whom the choice of theological novelties leans to the Biblical inerrantist side, rather than the social justice side -- just as liberal, but in the opposite direction!  Proper theological conservatism is aware of its sources and their authenticity to a particular claimed tradition.  It is a median position -- not to say centrist, but a position in the midst of a field of options.  And the options aren't "my way or the wrong way" -- orthodoxy or heresy, as most poignantly put by Neuhaus in recent time -- but rather, my way or someone else's way.  Our way or their way, except where we reach points that are common to us in the tradition, but ideally without stigmatizing the other traditions.  And, of course, a whole range of new ways as we take up situations not properly considered in the pasts of our traditions.

So, when you claim theological conservatism as your high ground, stop and think: whose traditions are you conserving?  Where did you get that idea from?  Whose is it, and how did it get to be yours?  And if you thump on the "conservatives," don't thump on them for being traditional, or socially and politically conservative -- thump on them for being deeply theologically liberal.  Get to the root of the problem first.


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