Three Groups of Christians

In this post-evangelical wilderness in which I have found myself, there is a cacophony of voices all clamoring for attention and approval. I try to listen to those who are reasonable, and I do this in charity. I don’t want to write off someone simply because I don’t understand them. So I listen.

I have begun to realize there are three primary ways people think of their Christian faith. Each of these ways of thinking is characterized by common human characteristics. I will briefly describe each of these three groups as I see them and leave the judgement of their validity to you.

Those whom I call Traditionalists are classic Christians, or at least want to be and look to classic Christianity to answer their moral and theological questions. For them, the “Faith once delivered to the saints” is an inviolable thing that defines forever what the Church is to believe and how Christians are to behave. The Faith is statically defined in the Nicene Creed and as such it is considered the symbol of Faith. Traditionalists look within the Church itself for answers regarding itself as well as the world at large. Examples are Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Traditional Anglicans/Episcopalians. Christian Fundamentalists also fall in this camp, but their brothers, the Evangelical Protestants are a borderline between Traditionalists and the next group, the Progressives.

Progressives are often labeled as “modernists” or “liberals” by Traditionalists. But, in fact, this confuses the motivation present that places one in the Progressive camp as opposed to that of the “modernist” or “liberal”. Progressives begin with faith, as do their Traditionalist brothers, but Progressives employ the sciences as well as tradition to understand the world around them and to guide them in determining their faith and practice. On many issues Progressives and Traditionalists can agree. But they also sharply differ in other areas such as evolution and ethics.

The final group is the Modernist. Modernists or “Liberals” take doubt as their starting point concerning Christianity. If it cannot be proven or demonstrated, then it is to be rejected. There is little room for mystery and certainly no room for dogma. Science is the primary means of determining values, ethics, and belief. Modernists may be cultural Christians regarding worship and the visible trappings of religion, but in other things they tend to be secularists.

I cannot give concrete examples of Progressive or Modernists denominations, because no denomination that I am aware of has been founded on the principles each of these groups operates on. For the most part, individuals within most of the denominations fall into one of the two groups unless they are in a Traditionalist denomination or independent congregation.

These are just a few thoughts and observations and they are by no means my final thoughts on the matter. I reserve the right to alter my thoughts and opinions radically if need be. I am open to other viewpoints and encourage any reader to comment with your own thoughts.

A Thought or Two on the “Soul”

ImageIt seems that traditional Christian piety lends itself to the idea of the immaterial soul/spirit. The language of piety is such that it calls on and employes ‘spiritual’ language and metaphor. Detachment from the ‘world’ is a major theme in Christian Piety and seen through the lenses of immaterial soul/spirit seems to play into a gnostic view of the material world.

Some Orthodox and Catholic groups see the essence of sin as submission to the ‘passions’. Defined in a materialist sense the passions are but natural drives and emotions. However, defined from the standpoint of the immaterial soul, they are bound to be the so called ‘worldly attachments’ which Orthodox rail against. It seems to me the gnostic tendencies are obvious; the soul/spirit is good and the bodily passions/drives are evil.

The same principle is at work in classic Protestantism and even more so in some fringe groups such as Pentecostals.

Perhaps there is a need, even a very strong need, for elaboration on this issue. The practical and pastoral ramifications are great and are much needed to answer many of the pressing issues of our time. The dualist distinction of soul and body is no longer a viable option and does not prove to be helpful at all in solving pastoral issues. Indeed, insisting on it seems to only reinforce the existing problems and make them even more inextricable.