Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Can We Talk? – Part 1: Ideology and Context

I have a thought.
Let’s dispense with the terms “liberal” and “conservative” for a while. They are too divisive, too inflammatory to be helpful. I want to lay those terms aside for the time being, just box them up and put them on the shelf out in the garage so I can reflect for a minute without them getting in the way. Instead of “liberal” and “conservative,” I would like to think about the dichotomy of “ideological” and “contextual.”

Some people put a pretty heavy emphasis on an ideology when they are making decisions about right and wrong, while others put a pretty heavy emphasis on context when making similar decisions. An ideologue will use a deontological approach to living that relies on rules, laws, and universal truths. A contextualizer will use a teleological approach to living that focuses on goals, visions, and particular circumstances.

I have observed that contextualizers and ideologues have a very tough time speaking to each other. See, an ideologue has a plank in his platform that says that his perspective is based on immutable truth. Conversation is therefore a matter of explaining and extolling that immutable truth so that others will see it, too. A contextualizer, on the other hand, has a plank in her platform that says her perspective and all other perspectives are based on variable contexts. Conversation is therefore a matter of trying to understand the contexts of the various conversation partners to discern among the different perspectives.

This works out just great if the contextualizer and the ideologue happen to agree about the issue. The problem comes when they disagree. Take … oh, let’s say … homosexuality, for example.

The ideologue may say, “Homosexuality is a sin. The Bible says it is.”
The contextualizer might reply, “Homosexuality is not a sin. The way I understand the context in which the Bible was written, I understand that what is really being condemned is idolatry. But let me hear more about your perspective.”
“The Bible is God’s Word,” says the ideologue, “It is therefore inerrant and is the ultimate authority in life. Are you denying the inerrant authority of God’s Word?”
“No, I’m not. The Bible is the authority of my life, also. What I am saying is that, when I dig deeply into these scriptures, I discover that the presenting issue was God’s people putting the things of this world ahead of God. I don’t believe it really has anything whatsoever to do with two adults in a mutually supportive, loving relationship, be they of opposite gender or not.”
“There is no sense in denying the words on the page. Homosexual relations are not natural, not how God created us to be. You can tell that with a simple biological assessment; the parts just don’t fit together right. That’s why the Bible condemns same sex relationships as sinful.”

And so on, and so on. I tried in this little excerpt to be true to each of these perspectives. If I have messed up somewhere, let me know. But I want to notice a few things about this little blurb of conversation, which I think is representative.

- This conversation will have no reconciliation, because the two people are not having the same conversation. One is ideological, whereas one is contextual.
- The ideologue does not address the contextualizer’s argument, but rather goes straight to the immutability of the source behind his own argument.
- The contextualizer doesn’t really address the ideologue’s notion of inerrancy.
- It is a part of the contextualizer’s way to try to understand the ideologue, but the attempt is not reciprocated.
- Consistency is important to the ideologue, so he speaks in absolutes.
- Perspective is important to the contextualizer, so he speaks with “I” statements.

It seems that we are stuck. And, to an extent, we are. If we keep trying to have conversations like this, we will be. But perhaps we can find a way to rearrange the conversation so that something more productive will emerge. Stay tuned … part 2 tomorrow.


Tim Sisk said...

I'm not excited about the identifier ideologue--it almost always carries a negative connotation. But your general premise seems promising. I look forward to part 2.

Adam Caldwell said...


It is refreshing to see you put aside the "conservative/liberal" argument. I too feel that the conversations go round and round so to speak. We must find grounds for both sides to be heard. One thought though, essentially you are dealing with the subject of truth. More poignantly "ultimate" truth. I think that Brian McClaren states it best when he says, (paraphrased)"It's very hard to define ultimate truth when ultimate truth is ultimatley embodied in one individual. The God/Man that is Jesus Christ." The question then becomes, "How much of the truth are we able to see and know?" I would say that ultimatley we are only able to see glimpses of what that truth truely is. We are only able to capture some of the little t(ruth) when the remainder of the big T(ruth) is still out there.

I apologize if I rambled and this is all incoherent babble. I too look forward to tomorrow.

Adam Caldwell said...


Sorry...I Have spelling issues. And I'm a dork.