I want to start this post with a little bit of background information on myself. I grew up in a very conservative SBC church. When I went to college, I was confronted with ideas that I hadn’t heard of, both in classes and from friends. I truly wasn’t equipped for the conversations I had and became theologically liberal, affirming gay marriage, becoming pro choice, and joining a local United Methodist Church. My freshman year, I was also a pre-law major. I had left that major because I felt that I could be more effective for social change working through non profit organizations than in law (and also I hated it). I bring these things up as context for my interest in One Faith No Longer (OFNL), but also to give context for some of the things I’m going to talk about this year.
Often when we discuss the ideas of who would qualify as a conservative or progressive, there’s not a set standard definition. There’s also often red herrings and ad hominem attacks. People make value judgements towards those that disagree with them. As I work through this review and many of the posts that are to come, I want to engage in these conversations fairly and honestly, something I think is often lost as people focus more on scoring points than glorifying God in their interactions with people they disagree with.
Background on George & Ashlee:
George Yancey is an author and professor of sociology at Baylor University. He’s written several books, including Beyond Racial Gridlock, Hostile Environment (2cv on the cover), and Beyond Racial Division, which is set to release March 8 (definitely plan on reading this one, let me know in the comments if you want me to review it), all linked below. By the definition he gives in this book, George Yancey would consider himself a conservative Christian.
Ashlee Quosigk is also a conservative Christian by the book’s definition. Additionally, she is a visitation scholar of the Department of Religion at the University of Georgia. She’s written a book called American Evangelicals and Muslims.
The thesis of One Faith No Longer is that progressive Christianity and conservative Christianity are becoming so different that they should, could, and potentially will be considered separate religions. An additional goal is stated on page 5:
Our aim is to show both how theologically progressive and conservative Christians define their social and political priorities and how those definitions differ from each other. We also examine how differing social and political aspirations emerge from these theological discussions.
I do want to mention that if you are the kind of person who skips the introduction of a book, you absolutely do not want to pass through this one, it is full of information that helps set up the rest of the book for you.
OFNL primarily focuses on American Christianity, which is important to recognize because many of the dynamics discussed in this book are specific to America. There’s also an emphasis that the conversation is directed primarily towards theological conservatives and progressives, though it does have implications on the political views of said groups. OFNL defines conservative Christians as those who have a strong emphasis on “God-given absolutes,” including biblical inerrancy and exclusive truth claims. Conservatives are also “less concern[ed] with systemic societal improvement and more focus[ed] on individual sins” (page 30). On the other hand, progressive Christians value inclusivity and acceptance. There is a lower emphasis on “theological conformity” and evangelism, while valuing the importance of social justice and societal change (pages 32-34).
On page 12, Yancey and Quosigk outline the methods for their research, citing data collected from American National Election Studies (ANES), which is a probability survey that is done during presidential and midterm elections. They also looked to a variety of blogs from differing perspectives and performed interviews with over 70 evangelicals from differing perspectives. These resources provide insight to how conservatives and progressives believe about themselves and each other. This isn’t just about what people think, but also looks at how and why people think the way that they do.
Yancey and Quosigk take the time to walk through the history of evangelicalism and how we got here in the first place, making sure to include the modernist and fundementalist debates of the 1920s. While looking at current disagreements, they touch on the inerrancy of scripture, abortion, immigration, and views of Islam. In each of these sections, the arguments of conservatives tended to be theologically based, even when their views were more politically liberal. On page 109, Yancey and Quosigk expound:
The majority of our interviewees in our conservative Christian example were categorized as politically right leaning. However, our research also finds that conservative Christians are becoming increasingly unhappy with the Republican Party, citing corruption and abandonment of conservative and founding principles of small government within a Judeo-Christian framework. … Our research also shows that conservative Christians are very likely to defend their political affiliations by also citing their faith. … Often conservative Christians see others as being more motivated by theology, seeing the world through a religious lens. For example, when it comes to the issue of Islamic terrorism, many conservative Christians believe that the root of the problem lies in the religion of Islam, as opposed to other political or social causes.
This is contrasted with progressive arguments that often come from a more experience and politically shaped perspective, even when they hold to a view that is more politically conservative, like being pro life. On pages 66 and 67, Yancey and Quosigk point to arguments made that showed “concern for women,” including arguments concerned with “prenatal care, low socioeconomic status, minority women, or other help for women facing an unplanned pregnancy.” They also note that progressive Christians’ “disagreement with other progressives is presented as a contrasting way to present their shared values and not a disagreement with the overarching values themselves.”
Because of the differing “why” to these goals (even when the goals are the same), Yancey and Quosigk argue that the differences put progressive and conservative Christians at odds with one another to the degree that the differences are irreconcilable, partly due to unwillingness to work together (largely on the side of theological progressives, which their research supports) and also due to the theological differences also being core differences. An example cited on page 196 is regarding beliefs in Jesus:
But even within the beliefs that are assumed to be central to Christianity, the opinions of Christians can dramatically vary. For example, it can be argued that there is no tenet more central to Christianity than the belief in Jesus. But are Christians linked together because of their beliefs in Jesus? And what exactly do they believe about Jesus? Conservative Christians tend to envision him as having the qualities of a deity. While some progressive Christians openly acknowledge Jesus as God, others see him as an exemplary model for how a human should live rather than focusing on any divine characteristics. There are even Christians who challenge the idea that Jesus even existed.
With this in mind, Yancey and Quosigk point to a potential split because of differing (sometimes contradictory) goals and an unwillingness to work together. Though, they do say on page 197 that a split is unlikely unless there becomes a new way to categorize progressives and conservatives.
Conclusions & Rating:
OFNL is exceptionally well written and thorough. Every ounce of nuance that could be afforded has been afforded and I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that has given as much good faith to opposing sides as this one has. Yancey and Quosigk are very direct and don’t use labels pejoratively. There’s no sense of superiority complex, it’s truly just delivering and analyzing facts.
While I largely agree with a lot of the content, I do wish that they had touched on LGBT issues and women’s ordination because I see those as more hot button topics today. Though I understand that the differences in those issues are more theologically based than politically and this book does focus primarily on the intersection of faith and politics.
OFNL gives a lot of great food for thought and is quite insightful. I truly feel like I grew as a person and intellectually while reading it, so in that way, I know the authors accomplished their goals. It also gave me a positive affinity for being considered a conservative Christian after the last few years have left me feeling a little ideologically homeless at times.
One of the biggest takeaways I have from OFNL is the importance of asking good questions when you’re talking to someone about your faith (even a fellow Christian). We shouldn’t be quick to label other people as woke, feminist, misogynist, bigot, etc. We should let people self identify what they are and read them charitably. It is more work to do that, but it’s also more honest and if you work from a place of honesty and understanding a common baseline, it’s easier to move past that into more winsome conversations. We can be winsome without compromising on the truth or our integrity.
Due to all of these things and more, I can happily give this book 5 stars out of 5. If you want to get an introduction to the book, I will link 2 pieces from the Gospel Coalition below that discuss One Faith No Longer, one is from George Yancey and the other is a review written by Trevin Wax. George Yancey also did an insightful interview with Dr. Sean McDowell that I’ll link below as well!
Link to Amazon: https://amzn.to/3LS4Ifh
Link to Publisher: https://bit.ly/3JHzO7t
This review was also posted at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4273742177
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