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A reader writes: labels, methodology, and one package

A reader writes:

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us in London via Skype last weekend. I’ve just read today’s blog post, “Q & R: How Would You Define You, Part 2”, and wanted to offer a couple of thoughts to put in the melting pot.

The first is on terminology. Several weeks ago the phrase “open conversational Christianity” dropped into my head while I was shaving; it has been going around there ever since. The term seems to offer a useful summary the new kind of Christianity.

- Open: open to all without us judging who’s in and out.
- Conversational: approaching the Bible as a conversation, continued in an open, welcoming, non-aggressive conversation today.
- Christianity: Jesus at the centre and (among much else) our reference point.

None of the descriptions we have at present is ideal, and I humbly offer this one for consideration.

My second thought is related. I wonder if there is a need for a clearer distinction between methodology (perhaps summarized in the three points above) and conclusions (gender, sexuality, environment, war/peace, new expressions of church, etc.). At the moment, all of this is presented as one package—take it or leave it. Many people will find aspects of the package that they are not yet ready to accept and will then retreat into the safety of what they know.

I wonder if giving a little more distinction to the methodology gives the possibility of taking more people with us. Particularly the conversational view of the Bible (when presented clearly as an honest and “high” view of scripture) can appeal both to grass-roots conservatives who know something isn’t quite right in their beliefs and to liberals who seek some firmer basis for their beliefs. Beyond that we are in unknown territory, where everything is on the table for discussion. With these new ways of thinking and interacting, attitudes will gradually change, even if they take a generation or two to do so.

My view on this is influenced by my own 20-year quest, which started as a search for the intellectual integrity of a consistent approach to the Bible, and it may not apply to everyone. Right now, I am just glad to find that I am not alone and that so many other people have been on similar quests. It seems that separate strands are now being bound together into a stronger rope.

Thanks for your feedback and comments. The problem of labels is tough. And it should probably be that way for reasons your suggest later in your note. People are at many different places, in motion, in terms of what we might call theological methodology and in terms of a whole range of conclusions, just as you point out. For that reason, I think it's going to be really hard to label what's happening for the foreseeable future. But I would be glad to be wrong on this.