Perhaps you have had the unfortunate experience of walking into a room where a group of friends are in the middle or the end of a conversation. You politely listen for a while trying to figure out what the subject is. What are they talking about? Sometimes a kind person tries to catch you up. Sometimes you leave as lost as you were when you entered. Sometimes you make a foolish comment letting everyone know that you are clueless, to which your friends respond by changing the subject.
If I have one criticism or qualm with A Conservative Christian Declaration, this is it. (And though I mention this criticism here, I am sure that the authors will accept it with the Christian charity with which I offer it.) In the preface, Scott Aniol mentions that these men have been involved in a conversation among themselves for some time. Not only in the events leading up to its publication, but also in the years preceding. If you have been part of this conversation, everything in this book makes sense to you. If you are new, however, I think your understanding might be limit, perhaps severely. This likely confusion is the reason I have written these articles, which I hope “catch you up” to the conversation in progress.
In this post in particular I offer this small piece of advice when reading A Conservative Christian Declaration. For most of us, the first question we ask when reading a book like this is, “Do I agree with it?” I am going to ask you to set that question aside for the moment. You can ask that question later after you understand what is being said, and not beforehand. So, first, ask these three questions while reading each article: 1) What are they talking about? After you have read the article, for example, “On Transcendentals,” can you answer the question for yourself, “What is a transcendental?”
You may find that you need additional help apart from the articles. I would suggest reading my other two posts on the meaning of conservative and Christian. Even more so, I recommend browsing Religious Affections website. These same authors regularly contribute articles there. You will probably find something that will improve your understanding. I think it safe to say that you could also contact any one of these gentlemen, and they would be glad to answer any questions you might have. The first question is what? What are we talking about?
The second question is, Why is it it important to conservative Christianity? In other words, why did the authors put it in this book? If you recall, a conservative as one who preserves and perpetuates a set of ideas. A conservative Christian preserves and perpetuates Christianity. And as I discussed before, Christianity is more than the gospel, though no less than the gospel. The authors do not always explain the reasons an article is included. We know they believe it is important to Christianity because they included it in the book. We have to reflect on the question, Why is, for example, beauty (Article 6) important to conservative Christianity? What does it add to Christianity, and What do we lose if we give it up?
The third question to keep in mind while reading the articles is personal. Now that I understand what they are talking about, and I know why it is important to conservative Christianity. How do I–if I want to be a conservative Christian–incorporate these affirmations and denials into my life? What does this look like for me? If the whole counsel of God (Article 2) is important to Christianity, then how do I incorporate the whole counsel of God in my life. An easy answer is that I make reading the entire Bible a priority in my personal life. No law commands it. The authors are not requiring every believer to read through their Bible in one year. Yet, the Bible is of great importance to my spiritual well-being as a Christian. Therefore, I make it so.
In summary, to understand A Conservative Christian Declaration, ask yourself these three questions: What? Why? and How? I think it will help you make more sense of the discussion you have just walked into. I am thankful for the book, though the authors too know that it is not perfect. Regardless, it is worth considering.