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How & Why I Think As I Do: Here’s the Key to Understanding This Hardlining Moderate

by Carson T. Clark on December 11, 2012

Having a wife who’s getting a PhD is, in my humble opinion, the greatest thing ever. She’s not only got that women’s intuition thing going on, but the critical mind to back it up and put me in my place. It’s wonderful, and I say that with minimal sarcasm. She once said to me, “You’re weird. You don’t think like most people and most people don’t think like you.” Go on. “They just don’t get how and why you do what you do. You process the world unlike them. That’s why they continually misunderstand your views and misattribute your motives. ” Continue. “They see or hear what you say but don’t believe it because they presume no one actually thinks that way. You’ve got to have some concealed position or ulterior motivation.” Keen insight if ever there was one.

For years I’ve had an extended post in the works explaining how I think, which in turn helps explain why I think what I do. In other words, it’s about how and why I’m a hardlining moderate. While I still intend to publish it, I thought the cliff notes version might be helpful in the meantime. My general approach for how I perceive the world boils down to the following 10 usually intentional and almost always sequential steps:

  1. Sincere Curiosity – Find interest in an area of ignorance.
  2. Eager Identification – Locate the various positions.
  3. Fair Understanding – Seek to grasp each perspective on its own terms.
  4. Careful Synthesis – Link, weave, or meld new information together with old knowledge.
  5. Thankful Commendation – Appreciate their respective beauty, insights, strengths, etc.
  6. Relentless CriticismThen and only then scrutinize the hell out of each position.11.What I mean is a rigorous effort to find falsehoods, over-simplications, logical fallacies, inconsistencies, short-sightedness, and the like.
  7. Discerningly Sift – Sort the good from the bad, helpful from the unhelpful, etc.
  8. Enthusiastically Glean – Borrow those elements of truth, beauty, and goodness.
  9. Creatively Form – Forge a new belief, opinion, perspective, narrative, etc.
  10. Endlessly Refine – Continually seek to improve it through correction, expansion, nuance, overhaul, refinement, etc.

To frame it another way, I’m an E/INTP as well as through and through critical realist who affirms the ontological reality of truth yet rejects the epistemological possibility of perfectly attaining it while again affirming the possibility of continually getting closer through observation and critical thinking. This is, for example, how you get:

  • A guy who’s a faithful husband, steadfast friend, and committed to a particular christian tradition yet passionately eschews loyalty to people, institutions, or the like.
  • A foreign policy libertarian who’s fairly conservative on government spending and abortion while being rather liberal on tax rates and gay marriage.
  • A sort of high/house church, ethically Anabaptist-inclined Anglican who simultaneously embraces much Orthodox theology and Emergent, Post-Christian missional conceptions.

I’m not, as many continue to charge, a hardlining moderate because I’m trying to be edgy or fall victim to the argument to moderation fallacy. Both are false. I’m a hardlining moderate because that’s the inevitable outcome of my personality and cognitive method. You quite naturally tend to end up with a pretty moderate outlook when you’re intentionally seeking to glean and synthesize the best elements from the multiplicity of conflicting viewpoints. And, no, this isn’t an exhibition in self-centered narcissism for those who may be interpreting it that way. It’s an exercise to “know thyself” and explain myself in order to better interact with the people and world around me.

  • DanutM

    Carson, dear, I would like to meet some day that wife of yours. :-) She seems to be a very wise and perceptive woman. She was able to explain in very simple words the unexplainable. Now I can understand better why I like so much to read what you write.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Perhaps someday you’ll be in TX again and we can make that happen. She’s a fan yours as well.

    • DanutM

      I may come some day to visit again my sister, who lives in San Antonio, and I plan for a long time to visit the Keston Archives, hostel at Baylor, in Waco. So, maybe then, whenever that will be.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      All the better if you can make it to Baylor/Waco. However, I’d be more than willing to make the drive down to San Antonio if need be. Keep me posted if ever such plans develop.

  • Ian Sansot

    I don’t know if this symbol has a proper name, but it’s you:

    It’s used the represent the intersection of circles in Venn diagrams. Just send me some royalties if you ever incorporate it into a logo for yourself.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Prince changed his name to a symbol back in the day. Perhaps I should consider the same.

  • Nathan G

    I really admire your sincerity and willingness to let others see and scrutinize the way you think.

    A bit of confession here: As a conservative, theologically (though not necessarily politically), my mind railed against this post. I think it still is. Raised on the combative style of Luther, it’s very difficult for me not to scream “NOOOO!!!!” (Yes, Vader style) to everything that strikes me as theologically incorrect. So I’ll do my best to keep my emotions out of it and distill it to pertinent questions:

    1. Is there always good in both positions you search? (Yes, this is a subtle implication of the moderation fallacy, but you do say you glean from both sides). What if one side is plain wrong? If one side were to be just plain wrong, how would you know? Imagine if you lived in Arius’s time. Would you be trying to make the compromise position of “Homoiousios” in between “Heteroousios” and “Homoousios”? I must admit I have to ask myself this, as I have a tendency to waffle on uncertain things.

    2. There may not be an epistemological possibility of attaining all knowledge, but have you considered the “opposite position” ;) that God, in His grace, overcomes our weaknesses of communication and understanding to communicate what He means? That we can theoretically misinterpret Scripture, for example, does not mean that everyone does in every instance, obviously. Is God powerful enough to communicate a solution to every controversy of the Church, overcoming our tendency to misinterpret?

    3. This isn’t a question, I’d just like to thank you for having purer motivations than me (and I mean this sincerely). Too often I find myself saying “Post-modernism? Or Young, Restless, Reformed? Or liberal theology? Or straight up evangelicalism? Too mainstream. Let’s toss in some vintage Lutheranism.” Sometimes (often, actually) I try too hard to be different in my quest to communicate the real distinctives of a Lutheran mindset. I’ll be honest, I doubt that your motivations are entirely pure at all times (as I’m sure you’ll readily admit), but I do admire you for consciously not trying to be edgy or new.

    We need to sit down for coffee sometime and not try to kill each other.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      I shared this link with other guy on fb. We attended the same unusual church back in Athens, GA, though our time there unfortunately didn’t overlap. He then made some helpful remarks about epistemology, evangelicalism, theology, and the like. I replied by telling him part of my story. Though perhaps not entirely on point here, I think that narrative might be helpful for you to read. Not in the sense of changing your mind or what have you, but in the sense of helping you to understand me. It’s posted below.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      As an undergrad attending UC, I was a student at a college that’s something of a Bible-Liberal Arts hybrid. Admittedly, among the faculty, staff, students, alumni, it straddles the line between conservative evangelical and its more potent fundamentalist form. (I use that in a sociological and historical rather than pejorative sense.) You’ll find both, as well as a few lingering moderates. The school explicitly states that it’s goal is to build a sturdy biblical and spiritual foundation for lifelong “relationship with God,” whatever that means. My experience was just the opposite, especially as relates the discipline of theology.

      My time at Toccoa Falls totally gutted my theological conceptions. Not that I’m complaining, but I was left utterly… what’s the word?… flummoxed. Pardon this oversimplistic, sweeping statement, but on the whole I knew that everything I’d been taught either straight up was crap or was tainted with crap. I’m intensely thankful for my time there–for example, it was a prof there who recommended Noll’s ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind’ that saved and transformed my faith and another who brought me to UC, which restored my hope for what a local church could be–but left feeling like I only knew what not to do, not what to do.

      It was only then that a TFC prof recommended Roger Olson’s book, ‘Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.’ (I tend to loathe the prefix “post-” just like I hate the thankfully departed “Baby Busters” and “Gen Y,” but I choose to not focus on the postconservative nomenclature.) I ate it up. It too saved and transformed my faith by introducing me to two other schools of theology under the evangelical umbrella: postfoundationalism and paleo-orthodoxy.

      Though Olson obviously only intended to commend the former to his readers, I’m since appropriated both. I’m now paleo-orthodox on my historic orthodoxy and postfoundationalist on my adiaphora. Without getting into the details of the long journey, this framework proved to be the final steps in my path down the Canterbury Trail. I rarely say this to most folks as they’d find it nonsensical and/or pretentious, but you may appreciate this: These days I describe myself as an evangelical Eastern Anglican. One of the things I love most about the Anglican tradition is the simultaneous tangible, historical connection, humble self-view, doctrinal flexibility, and so forth. Via media is a near perfect fit for a hardlining moderate.

      While I’d like to eschew the evangelical title because of its cultural, political, and theological baggage, at the end of the day I cannot. It’s been more than a little redefined, but evangelicalism remains a part of my spiritual DNA. There’s no fighting it. It just is. In studying history I’ve also kind of re-embraced the term so as not to forfeit its often forgotten, or at least neglected, positive legacy. For example, I’ve in mind the theological rigor of Jonathan Edwards, the ecumenical spirit of George Whitefield, the social activism of William Wilberforce, the missionary impulse of Hudson Taylor, the evangelistic passion of D. L. Moody, the intellectual balance of Harold Ockenga, the transnational humility of Billy Graham, the spiritual wrestling of Philip Yancey, and the academic reputation of Mark Noll. Obviously I cannot profess to perfectly embody those things, but I do try.

      Anyway, hopefully I’ve not overwhelmed you with far more of a narrative than desired to know. But that’s my general outlook on things.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      But to briefly reply to your three questions:

      1. “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” – Oscar Wilde

      2. To repeat, I’m [a] through and through critical realist who affirms the ontological reality of truth yet rejects the epistemological possibility of perfectly attaining it. Key word: perfectly. There are two extremes that, to my mind, obviously must be avoided. The first is relativism, which, if I may be forgiven for over-simplifying it, says we can’t ultimately know anything. The other is objectivism, which, if you’ll again forgive me, says that we can truly know things without limitation or error. We’re made in God’s image yet marred by the fall. It seems to me that, then, requires a perspectivist alternative. We can truly know things but are limited by our own finitude and fallenness.

      3. Correct. In so far as one man of 27 years can know his heart and try to be faithful to the Lord in what he think, believes, and acts, I have tried my best and am intensively appreciative of God’s grace for when I fail.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wkennethleonard Ken Leonard

    This is why I appreciate this blog so much.

    Brilliant post. If more people approached the world this way, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are.

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