Adopting the Term "Moderate"

January 07, 2009

Fisher Humphreys, retired professor of theology at Beeson Divinity School, had a very good piece in the December Baptist Studies Bulletin. The piece is entitled "What is the Theological Basis of 'Moderate Baptist Christians'?" He talks about the fight over what to call the two sides in the Southern Baptist conflict and why he is okay with being called a "moderate." Here are a couple of highlights:

After the dust settled, the nomenclature that had become standard for the two groups was conservatives and moderates. The new leaders and their supporters are happy to be called conservatives. However, many of the old leaders and their supporters are unhappy being called moderates. I initially shared that unhappiness, but I've changed my mind. I like being a moderate.

The fact that moderate was somebody else's word for us doesn't bother me. After all, in the first century Jesus' followers didn't name themselves Christians. Outsiders did, and Christians embraced the name. In the seventeenth century, Baptists didn't name themselves Baptists. Outsiders did, and Baptists came to embrace the name. That's how I feel about the name moderates.

... So, why do I think that being moderate is a good thing?

Principally because the Bible says it is: "Let your moderation be known unto all men" (Phil. 4:5). The word translated "moderation" is epieikēs. Paul used that word again when he wrote that Christian leaders should be "not violent but gentle" (1 Tim. 3:3, NRSV). He used the same word again in Titus 3:2 when he advised Christians "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show courtesy to everyone."

These passages display that to be moderate is to not be an extremist, it is to not be violent, and it is to not be quarrelsome.
It is a thought-provoking piece that demonstrates the importance of terms and labels. It will be interesting to see if his sentiment is adopted by other so-called "moderates."

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