A conservative tends to look to the past for wisdom rather than the present. The accumulated grace of God revealed throughout the ages is a mine in which he finds the resources to continue work in his own era. He does not despise the insight of the church fathers as if they were spiritual children. He thinks well of history and tradition because he would rather not tear down a fence until, at the least, he knows why it was built.
The dangerous waves of false teaching are usually recapitulations of past errors. A conservative wants the answers that helped the church in the previous chapters of her history. Reinventing and rebranding do not enter his mind—though reformation might.
His vocabulary of profanity includes words like fad, trend, and cool. He has no business with being “intentional” or “missional” because he sees the church as terrible as an army with banners. His models include the rough-edged apostle Peter and the weeping Jeremiah rather than the Fortune 500 executive. As David Gordon points out, “How can we worship the Ancient of Days while chasing the latest gimmick?”
A conservative strives for goodness, truth, and beauty. He seeks for orthodoxy, dies for orthopraxy, and covets earnestly orthopathy. To guard against novelty he checks his own interpretations and practices against the standards that have endured through the early persecuted church, the medieval church, the reformation, and the missionary movement. He pays extra attention to those men of God who have been specially chosen to lead thousands to Christ.
Through exegesis he has arrived at first principles, which he believes represent the unchanging mind of God. Make no mistake a conservative philosophy flows explicitly and implicitly from Scripture. It is implicit like the Scriptural proof for God’s existence. It is explicit in texts like Phil. 1:9-11; Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 5:14; and even OT passages like Deut. 7:1-5.
Someone may say, “At the reformation, Luther was looking to the present against those who were looking to the past.” Not really. Luther looked right back to the beginning of the Christian church by mastering the Greek and Hebrew texts. He founded his most essential arguments on Scripture, which is the ultimate act of conservation. (And in his debate with Eck, he proved that the church fathers were often on his side as well.) In Samuel’s day it was written, “Word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.” Conservatives want the scarce resource of revelation to be carefully preserved for all believers of all times.
Because he sees a low view of God’s dignity and majesty as a bag with holes that will eventually—though not necessarily immediately—allow the gems of grace to be quietly lost, a conservative does not merely love the gospel. Therefore, he values Tozer and Lloyd-Jones in the 20thcentury. He could gladly be one of Spurgeon’s church members in the 19thcentury. He would happily fellowship with Charles or John Wesley from the 18thcentury. He would be spoiled for choice among the Puritans of the 17thcentury. If you would not fit smoothly in the church culture of these men, then you may not be a conservative.