God is both more exclusive and more tolerant that we are or imagine is moral

Our theological heritage has a sort of contradictory position with respect to sin and toleration. On one hand we embrace the antithesis which is actually, ironically being argued by both sides here. Those arguing for banishing complementarianism are coming out strong in terms of “there is right and wrong, black and white, I won’t tolerate complementarian theology no matter how nice or kind the person shilling it.” That is the position of Carroll Howard Merritt on Christian Century  and has become the intolerant position on LGBTQ. Conservatives have often adopted a similar position in our own tradition too over issues like infant baptism, Arminian theology, deficient Christological positions, etc.

At the same time the doctrine of total depravity sets up a position of tolerance. Theologically we embrace the idea that ever aspect of our lives are contaminated by sin and we are blind to much of it. The ascending morality asserts that in years before our moral awakening in the various rights movements most of the population and institutions were blind to individual and institutional racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry. If this is the case in the incarnation expresses a radical form of toleration. If you are the man from heaven (the gospel of John) you must tolerate a high degree of ritual uncleanness. Again, contrast what Jesus has to come into contact with in comparison with the stories like Leviticus 10 where God breaks out and toasts people. Jesus has to endure not just the obvious evil of his arrest and crucifixion but the subtle, every day varieties. He lives in a world of patriarchy. He names 12 Jewish men as his disciples knowing full well one will betray the rest. Sure he treats women well but he sure seems to be tolerate complementarianism and patriarchy in the way that Merritt declares she never would.

Progressivism which subtlety often attaches itself to skepticism. It’s like saying “well you know we shouldn’t really be so dogmatic as to claim certainty about God’s feelings about certain practices” which is usually a transitional strategy like adopting a 2 views posture only a few decades later to denounce it as complicit with bigotry.

So which is it? Do we adopt a position with a strong antithesis or radical toleration that says we can break bread with slave owners who use their slaves to meet their daily sexual needs, which was routine in Roman empire slavery, or do we demand purity?

This is of course where confessionalism and in fact the theology of the “invisible church” comes into play. Confessionalism combined with the “invisible church” offers a mechanism to say ” this is the ideal which we cannot not meet but in this age we will tolerate a degree of compromise because we can’t actually be pure. The invisible church is pure, ours is not.” This of course would play out in various ways like “no creed but Christ” and Methodist perfectionism. The funny thing about turning a blind eye to church history is that we tend to re-invent it.

What we develop are processes and institutions, ones that fund the OSJ even against Article 28. We develop “2 readings” policies as creatures who fundamentally communicate approval or disapproval most powerfully in implicit ways like body language and eye contact. Note how Dallas Willard describes how institutions like the academy enforce worldviews sociologically even though they avoid actual argumentation about truth claims they avoid because of implicit skepticism. https://youtu.be/X6hwsG7AUZ0?t=20m28s

Where this leads to are complex implicit institutions of civility and practice, the kind that Mouw has continued to try to champion. Do we listen to each other and express radical kindness in a world that imagines itself holier than Jesus. Do we actually strive to love our enemies in word and deed? We should never forget that the reason Jesus was rejected and killed by the religious authorities of his day were for reasons like this. He ate with sinners.

Scott Alexander is helpful here in his classic outgroup post.

Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”

Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment.

The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

John 11 after Jesus raises Lazarus the Sanhedrin figures out how Jesus needs to die for the sake of the world, in their minds to keep the Romans from taking away what few liberties they have left. The irony of the position is not lost on the narrator. He calls it prophesy.

if we might indulge in the ancient cosmology we might imagine the coming together of the antithesis and radical toleration in God the father, who causes the sun and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust while also maintaining that at some point the wrath of this tolerant God will come upon the earth to wash it clean with something other than a flood. His intolerance AND his tolerance are both greater than our own.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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