"In training a horse, it is important not to break his spirit because it is his spirit, during and after the training period, which will determine his style and endurance. Does education, we may ask, allow for the expression of the wildness of vitality during the educational process, or does it repress vitality in the interest of form and conformity? There is evidence that all education, theological education included, stifles the creative spirit of many students and burdens them with unassimilated and uncorrelated content. The form of knowledge has been substituted for the vitality of living and thinking.
Similarly we must ask, does religion allow for the undomesticated and the unconventional responses of people to the surges of vitality and the movements of spirit? In the area of thought, for example, many graduates of seminaries are so afraid of being heretical that they are unable to think courageously and creatively. Orthodoxy is not an alternative to heresy; it is the result of honest thinking about truth in relation to new needs and data, in the course of which points of view have been arrived at, tested, and abandoned. The sin is not in thinking heretically while seeking the truth, but in settling for heresy as a substitute for truth. When fear of heresy prevails, the forms of system have stifled the vitality of thought.
It is hard to understand why religion and its institutions, which should be a source of renewal for life, become the servants of a sterile conservatism. Why are churches not more commonly places where, in the spirit of Christ, creative wrestling with the problems of the human situation can take place? Why are church people in both their individual and organized lives so often conformists, substituting middle class conventions and morality for the searching, disturbing truth of Christ? The Church was brought into being to be the expression of that spirit in each generation, and yet the need and vitality of each generation hasbeen frustrated and complicated by the status quo pull of reactionary and ultraconservative spirits.
In thinking about conservatism, we should distinguish between monological and dialogical conservatism. The former is dumb and blind to all other values but its own; the latter keeps itself in a relationship of polarity with the liberal spirit and point of view. Yet each needs the other. Without the liberal position one would not dare to be a conservative; and the liberal is more freely liberal precisely because the conservative helps hold in focus the traditional viewpoint. Monological conservatism acknowledges no dependence, and contradicts Christ's spirit and teaching. Obedience to its spirit may be our mostserious sin because it tempts us to think that we own our institutions,and to exercise proprietorship in matters of the faith. Possessiveattitudes toward truth lead to a life of conformity and sterileorthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not our goal! New life, new meaning, new creaturehood is! The purpose of obedience to truth is not to graze in the flat lands of orthodoxy, but to climb the sharp, high, narrow ridges of faith in order that we may understand more and more the relevance of the revelation of God to our own age."
The Wildness of Vitality or Thought Conformity?
A blogger friend who goes by the public name "Chris Ryan" recently sent me an excerpt from a book he is reading entitled "The Miracle of Dialogue" by Reuel Howe. The excerpt, given in full below, expresses precisely the conflict I see between the desires of "Baptist Identity" Southern Baptists who seemingly demand everybody in the SBC think the same way, believe the same way and look the same way they do, versus other Southern Baptists who understand the importance of dialogue with, and acceptance of, Southern Baptists who see thinks differently in non-essential areas of the faith. Read Howe's words carefully: