I received a very thoughtful email response to yesterday’s blog, and in my reply I ended up writing another blog in the process 🙂 Here’s a clip from the dichotomy I addressed yesterday:
“Today in America we’re seeing a huge spiritual backlash against the traditional christendom of our predecessors. Generations have been growing-up believing increasingly that truth is relative, religious people are mean-spirited, and churches are full of hypocrites. The travesty is that this has been sometimes true…enough of the time that it’s poisoned an otherwise Godly heritage and given birth to a pendulum swing. I may be oversimplifying to make a point, and forgive me if that’s so, but it seems to me that the type of faith that was promoted & exemplified in most of the 1900’s was characterized by an overzealous pursuit of true doctrine, separatism and growth formulas; at the expense of honesty, brotherly love, and the lifestyle of service that was displayed by our Master. This backlash has produced a tidal wave of followers of Jesus who are very sincere, accepting, and accommodating; but who really don’t know what they believe or why…and they’re falling prey to all kinds of false, misleading, and cancerous beliefs that don’t look anything like Jesus. ”
Of course, I was simplifying a very complex issue in order to make a point….sort of poking at both ends of a spectrum. There’s a tremendous amount of polarization in America generally, and within American Christendom specifically. My effort here is to shake this up a bit and point to a uniting force that Jesus and the Apostles talked & wrote about a lot…and modeled as well.
This has to do with Biblical interpretation…what lens do we look through? In speaking to a polarized situation, I think that those on the more “doctrinal/legalistic side” are often in need of more self-aware and loving motivations. And I think that those on the “anything goes as long as we act lovingly” side need reminders that there actually is absolute truth and it’s important. The point is that there is no “right place”…there is just tension between these two values. Even Christ’s assertion, often called the “Great Commandment” in Matthew 22, is that all the law & prophets hang on the 2 commandments to love God with everything we are and to love others as we love ourselves….and upon further investigation we learn that “loving God” is synonymous with obeying His commands. So we again are faced with this interesting dichotomy because if you chase truth and love to their ends, they seem to lead to different places…But they actually both lead to God.
I still struggle to find balance in this every day, in every situation, because life is messy and not prone to stasis. I think we’re called to live in this dynamic tension, gradually growing more wise and peaceful in it but never really mastering it…that’s part of my understanding of “walking by faith.”
There are certainly portions of scripture that are meant to be taken literally (don’t steal, love people, honor your parents, learn the scriptures and pray, etc.) and others that are meant to be taken figuratively (cut off your hand if it causes you to sin, eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, hate your father & mother so you can love Jesus more, etc.), the trouble is that there’s bound to be disagreements about which is which…and this will always be the case…but we can put differences aside in what Paul calls “disputable matters” and remain unified in the “main things” (There is one God and He is real, Jesus is Him on earth, Our connection with His work saves us, wow). If all of us Jesus people can see our differences as secondary or tertiary, perhaps we would be so condemning and dismissive of each other when we disagree.
On the other hand, throwing doctrine out the window so that we can just blindly love everything can’t be right either. There are a lot of Jesus people I know whose belief system has been so affected by the PC environment we live-in that, if truth be told, they would say that their belief in Jesus is no different/better than their co-worker’s belief in Buddha or Allah or Krishna…that all the other deities worshipped in humanity are all different forms of the same truth, and that the one chosen isn’t as important as a person’s sincerity of belief. In my research & experience, this belief (universalism) is more prominent in America, especially the Northwest, than Biblical Christianity…and it has definitely impacted and infiltrated the ongoing Body of Christ. The critical path with believers caught in vortexes of false belief is to emphasize the historical reliability and spiritual uniqueness of God’s “salvation history” as chronicled in the Bible…and where we are now in that story.
If the Bible is real, then Jesus was the most theologically true person AND the most inviting and loving person who ever lived. Although we are not Him, we are called to follow.