[Disclaimer: This post may make me seem divisive, but I don’t intend it to.]
Why is the progressive Christian movement – led in part by Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and others – so obsessed with finding common ground? I’m hearing it everywhere. Common ground between Christianity and Islam, between evangelicals and “post-evangelicals”, orthodox and neo-orthodox, traditional and emergent…. It seems to be the answer to everything.
But is common ground really that important? In a lot of situations people say, “the things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.” But is that really true? Are the things that unite Christianity and Islam greater than the things that divide us? Are the things that unite the theologies of Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell greater than those that divide them? I guess it depends on your perspective.
If you feel, as some do, that the heart of Jesus’ message was changing this world in the here-and-now, the answer is yes. If you think of salvation as liberations from physical constraints like poverty, oppression, and emotional scars, the answer is yes. But if you think that the message of Christ is bigger than here, and more lasting than now, the answer gets more complicated.
If Jesus’ message is about reconciling us to God in eternity, and not just providing comfort to humankind on earth, then the differences are huge. They’re Grand Canyon huge. They can’t be glossed over or ignored. But I don’t think that’s the real purpose of the tactic.
If this really were about common ground there would be no “emergent” movement, which is just a distinction based on the differences between emergent and traditional theology. Emergents self-identify as something different…Tony Jones writes about The New Christians. McLaren’s newest book points out quite a few differences between “conventional” and “emerging” views of Jesus.
This is how the game gets played. A group of people decide to change some doctrine. They do so, whether or not the new doctrine aligns with scripture. Then once they’ve made sufficient distinction between themselves and the holders of the original doctrine through criticism, they accuse the others of being divisive and saying they should instead be seeking common ground.
But what’s really at stake here? This isn’t a debate about preferences or style or method; this is about truth. The truth was revealed to us in Christ, and transmitted to us in the Bible. This is what we’re holding to…nothing less than the revelation of Christ. I’m not looking for common ground, I’m looking for him. If that leaves me standing alone, so be it. I’ll stand alone with him.
In the eternal sense, common ground does not save us, and truth isn’t determined by consensus. Love for our neighbor and our enemy is important, as Christ commanded, but they will not save us – or them. Social justice is good and right, but it is not the path to salvation. The Gospel is bigger than her, more lasting than now, and it’s defense is too important to take a back seat to common ground.