We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about the name of our site. They usually sound something like, “You three agree on a lot; how are you contrarians?” So we’ve added a paragraph on our About page that explains where the name comes from. This week we’ll be discussing where we agree, where we part ways, and how we interpret and confess our collective statement. Check out Tom's post about his reformational and Baptist perspective., and Tucker’s post on his own confessionally Reformed position.
I only know how to begin explaining my place in The Contrarian Collective with a little of my own story. My experience in the Church mirrors that of many millennial evangelicals. I came from somewhat fundamentalist roots (this is not a word I use lightly), had what is commonly called a “deconstruction” phase in college, and am currently rummaging around through both of these past seasons to keep what is good and leave the rest by the curb.
The religious vocabularies of both conservatives and progressives make me uncomfortable, and both groups seem to me simultaneously too broadly and too narrowly focused; that is, I think those on the extreme ends of the theological spectrum tend to evaluate persons or groups based entirely on their adherence to certain “pet” doctrinal commitments. Conservatives and progressives alike demonstrate this most plainly in their dealings with those on the opposite side of the same-sex marriage debate. We have probably all heard people on both sides of this issue say something like, “Those people simply can’t believe that and understand the gospel”—as if one’s faithfulness to Jesus Christ can be reduced to holding a particular sexual ethic. No, it seems to me that things are much more complicated than that. The world of black and white that I had known in childhood and adolescence slowly revealed many more shades of gray.
This conclusion, however, brought me no comfort. The world of post-evangelicalism is a blurry and vaporous place, a place where people refuse to commit to anything and then congratulate themselves on their ability to refrain from “putting God in a box.” I began to define myself based on what I was against rather than what I was for. I masked my doubt and disbelief in an appeal to nuance and subtlety. I desperately wanted firm ground, but only saw miles and miles of sinking sand. Perhaps this experience is unique to me—but I doubt it. I suspect that there are many prodigal sons and daughters in my generation trying to trick themselves into believing that the distant country they’ve wandered into could, one day, begin to feel like home. But I needed a real home.
I found it in the Anglican tradition. The search for somewhere new took me somewhere ancient, to a house that has stood for over a thousand years on a foundation of the creeds, liturgical worship, and sacraments. I finally found a tradition that was grounded in life as it was truly lived—for each of these three is founded not only in Scripture, but in the stuff of real life. The creeds, for example, were shaped in response to the various heresies that assailed the Church in her first few hundred years of development (while, of course, being primarily comprised of Scriptural principles). Likewise, the liturgy is inherited from our religion’s Jewish roots, and the sacraments are presentations of God’s grace in such mundane substances as water, bread, and wine. In other words, I found that there was a long line of people who had gone before me, asking many of the same questions I was asking, and often finding really good answers for them.
Reading the Bible became not only more palatable, but enjoyable. I forgot what an amazing book it actually is. And though I may disagree with my fellow Contrarians on a few finer points of doctrine in this area, I can again say with conviction that this book is the Word of God. It proves itself, over and over again, to speak truth into the lives of God’s people. And when I read it, I meet God in a unique and profound way.
Though I do not consider myself Reformed in the narrow sense in which it is meant today, I am deeply indebted to the Protestant Reformation, and stand with the Reformers in their basic mission to remind the Church of the broad, revolutionary impact of the gospel. What stands out most to me in their writings is not as much the minutia of their theological perspectives as it is their assertion that the good news of Jesus Christ is what everything boils down to. In a religious culture that was, in many ways, defined by going above and beyond the call of duty to prove oneself worthy of salvation, the Reformers dared to say that God himself had already done all that was required. God, in his grace, met humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and saved us from our self-destruction. Furthermore, God himself gives us faith in the One who saves us; we are not saved because of our faith, but by the divine gift of faith. These are game-changing statements. Reformed, or reformational, thought gets a bad rap these days, but I think that many of us who take issue with our Reformed brothers and sisters are missing the forest for the trees. Though we might be turned off by—or even adamantly opposed to—certain secondary Reformed doctrines, we can surely get behind the sentiment at the bottom of their theological method: find rest, Christian. Rest in the knowledge that God has already accomplished what needed to be done. This was the message of the apostles from the very beginning. It was the message of the mystics and the contemplatives, and it is the message of the Reformers. They might not be so bad after all.
I have many disagreements with my fellow Contrarians. I approve of infant baptism and the use of iconography. I make the sign of the cross and believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist. But these differences are ultimately minute, and certainly not cause for breaking communion with these brothers of mine. No matter how many hours are spent around a table arguing over these things, I can pray and worship with these two men without wringing my hands in worry over the state of their souls. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all proclaiming the same gospel. This is why I am part of the Contrarian Collective. I invite you to join us.