Culture: March 2007 Archives

Scot McKnight presents some survey results from a new book about conservative Christians. Since most people have an extremely fuzzy sense of what it might mean to be a conservative Christian (even leaving aside the politically conservative issue, which isn't what this is about), I was curious what it meant to be a conservative Christian according to this book. Here is the definition:

[Conservative Christianity] is a biblical religion in the tradition of the Reformation not only at the leadership level but also within the ranks of the faithful.
That's a pretty broad category. I would say it's much broader than evangelicalism. The biggest problem is that "in the tradition of" is extremely vague, in more ways than one. But I didn't have to read much further to know that I shouldn't bother to pay any further attention to anything this book might have to say. Consider the following completely absurd caveat (the introductory words are McKnight's:
But, and this needs to be observed: "only a minority of CCs embrace all of Cons Christianity’s essential elements"
I was sure I must be misreading something. Since I don't have the book, I can't check to see if he's misreporting things. But this just seems completely ridiculous. If someone doesn't meet essential characteristics for being in some category, then they simply aren't in the category. There's no borderline or fringe character to it. It's easy to find lots of categories with unclear boundaries, and it might be unclear whether certain potential members belong in those categories. But that's only true when it comes to non-essential or possibly non-essential characteristics. If we're talking essential characteristics, then not having it means you're not in the category. It's like throwing some triangles in the mix to see if all squares have four sides.

If they're doing this kind of thing, why should they think their results are useful for anything? What's worse is that it isn't just accepting some people to count as Conservative Christians who most definitely are not Conservative Christians. They've stated that a full majority of the people they're counting as Conservative Christians aren't Conservative Christians according to their own definition of Conservative Christians. It's really like taking triangles as most of your samples that you're calling squares and then doing a survey that leads to the conclusion that most squares only have three sides.

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