Over the last little while, The Biologos Forum has been posting a conversation between Pete Enns and N.T. Wright dealing with various questions about faith, culture, science, politics, etc. Today’s video has to do with the perception, in parts of the evangelical world, that there is a “slippery slope” in evangelical-dom and that it always goes to the left (i.e., to more “liberal” understandings of faith). The questioner wanted to know if the “slippery slope” argument could also be applied to the right?
It’s an interesting question to think about. It’s also, regrettably, a question that Wright doesn’t seem to directly address. His response in the video is something to the effect that the whole “continuum” understanding of political, theological, and social positions is an unhelpful one, and probably more of a reality in the United Stated than anywhere else in the world, and that we should all just be more willing to learn from all kinds of different people and positions. Fair enough. There is certainly much to be affirmed in Wright’s response. I’m not sure we can avoid thinking in terms of spectrums and continuums, but Wright’s plea to take a step back from this whole approach is certainly well-taken.
Having said that, I think the initial question itself is worth probing a bit. In the first place, the very image of a “slippery slope” seems to assume, at least in my view, a relatively stable and fixed starting point from which to slide. The way the question is framed—is it possible to “slide” towards understandings of faith that are both “too liberal” and “too conservative?”—seems to assume that the goal is not to slide at all! That how we think about faith (and, one assumes, politics, science, etc) is pretty much decided, thank you very much. That the goal of a life of faith is preserve and protect and guard our treasured cargo from the perils that loom on either side of our precarious perch.
I’m not sure that the image of faith as sitting atop a hill, doing one’s best not to slide off either the conservative or liberal side is a very helpful one. Perhaps a better picture would put as at the bottom or partway up the hill. Perhaps a better image of faith—and a pretty common one, found throughout church history—would be one of ascent. We’re not trying to avoid going down (or back) as much as we are actively moving up (or forward)—to God, to love, to peace, wholeness and harmony and all other manner of eschatological goodies (if you’re wondering what an “eschatological goodie” might be, I once attempted an explanation here).
There are obviously better and worse paths to take on the journey up the hill of faith. Some detours might fall into the “too liberal” category, while others might fall into the “too conservative” category, fraught as these two terms are with unhelpful baggage. But there are times in our journey when we need to slide to the left and there are times when we need to slide to the right. We don’t know everything, after all, nor do we consistently apply what little we do know. We’re learning and growing as we go. That’s part of what the journey of faith is about.