The last post post was pretty meat and potatoes in that I doubt there were many surprises for those of you who have been Christians for a while or who know me. Those 4 reasons I discussed are probably going to be there in most of our rationales for faith in some shape or form. If you only read that post and not this one then you’d think I have a fairly tidy theology with few loose ends or wacky bits.
So this post is where I will let you know what lurks in the recesses of my mind and confuses me, disturbs me and leaves me with unanswered questions – not unanswered questions that are going to give me cause to throw in the towel, but unanswered questions that just sit in my mind unresolved.
My dad had the Mormons come visit the other day. Nice people apparently – really nice people and as he read their brochures they sounded a lot like us. Of course they are there to convert dad to ‘their truth’ but meanwhile dad has his own truth. No one’s converting anyone in that scenario, but my brain can’t help but tick over and say ‘So… Mormons to Hell? Really? Because in the opinion of the church as a whole they got some theology wrong?’ And the JWs would fit in the same box. Yeah ok so they don’t get grace like we do and we disagree with them on aspects of theology too, but do you go to Hell for a dodgy Christology? If so then I reckon many in our churches will be there too. We tend to see the SDA’s as more mainstream now – even if they do have an aversion to meat (that’d be my main concern) but it wasn’t that long ago they would be in the ‘cult list’. Where do we draw the lines? And who is it that draws these lines anyway?
Maybe a broader question is ‘how far can God’s saving reach stretch?’ If the folks we call ‘cults’ are doing their best at loving and following Jesus as they know him (and maybe even doing it better than us) is God going to reject them on the finer points of their thinking?
Of course if we go this route then what about all the other world religions. For many this is the only spirituality they have known – and could know. Could sincere Muslims be with us in eternity because they chosen to respond to God (Allah) with the knowledge they have?
In the world I grew up in it was ‘no way’ to all of the above, but I find that a tad harsh. The fact that I was fortunate enough to be born in a country with a Judaeo Christian heritage gave me a head start on them – and then to be part of a Christian home where I really didn’t know any different affords me another edge.
What if I had been born in India, Indonesia or Afghanistan? My chances of finding my way to Jesus as the only way is much slimmer than us ‘lucky’ ones in the west. How does God deal with our unfair advantage because surely that’s what it is?…
I’m hoping he is as good and gracious as I imagine him to be and that he treats each person according to how they have responded to the revelation they have – be it natural or more than that.
Am I a universalist? No… but I find the theological boxes i lived in while I was young no longer feel like places I want to inhabit.
My strong hunch is that God has a way of making sense of things that we don’t and while some may reject any form of revelation I am pretty sure that the criteria for eternity is not the ability to pass a theology exam. That opens the door pretty wide.
What then of Jesus as the way, truth and life? The only name by which we can be saved? I’m not unfamiliar with those and other verses like them, but I imagine a good God will have this in hand. People meet Jesus post mortem? Hmmmm… maybe, but then Hebrews does say ‘we die once and then face judgement’.
So there is some stuff in the ‘mystery’ box that previously was in the ‘crystal clear’ box.
Along with these questions are some of the challenges with reading the Bible. I ditched ‘inerrancy’ a long time ago. That’s way too heavy a load to carry. But the challenge of discerning genre, writer’s intent and cultural framing mean that I have to read stuff with wisdom and insight rather than just assuming there was a man called Adam who met a talking snake one day.
I’m still working this one out in my thinking so this is more ruminations than firm conclusions. In this regard I have found Pete Enns’ stuff both helpful and unsettling in that he calls for a rethink of how we read much of the OT.
I remember studying some of this stuff while doing my theology degree but I had way too much else going on to try and figure out how I would now (re)read the whole OT, so I allowed my thinking to remain what it was.
That said I do remember reading The Biblical Flood by Davis Young and feeling like I had stumbled upon a dangerous secret. His case for a local flood and a myth around it was far more compelling than the logistical challenge of a global flood with two of every animal etc, but I reasoned it was best if I keep that sort of deviant thinking to myself
I’ve seen folks enter this liminal space and completely lose their bearings, ditch their faith and walk away. I remember an example during my own time at College. A bloke in his 30’s came from a tight, conservative country church, entered the courses and couldn’t cope with the brain stretch required. He gave up faith altogether. That didn’t turn out so well – but its what happens when people are not encouraged or even allowed to think beyond the confines of their tight little theological system.
When faith is brittle rather than malleable it has a tendency to snap rather than get beaten into shape. Some churches do not permit questions or assertions of the sort I have made here. They generally get met with deep concern. Maybe some of you are reading this and wondering if your pastor is really a Christian – that’s what happens when we draw lines tightly. (I think I am…)
But these are important questions – important issues for discussion and conversation. The longer I am a Christian the more it becomes about simply following Jesus than it does about getting the right interpretation of the tower of babel ,or whether or not Jonah really got swallowed by a big fish. And by that I mean keeping a focus on a grace filled life, framed by cross, resurrection and God’s kingdom as the goal.
I’m sure there are other places my mind roams as I contemplate the back alleys of theology and life. The danger of exploring these questions is that we may find ourselves with a worldview or a theology that no longer squares with church as we know it. What does that mean? Are we now ‘liberals’ and forced to go join the Uniting Church? (a little joke for my mate Broady) Or can we hold tight as ever to core truths, to Jesus as Lord, while accepting that there are complexities that we cannot simply navigate adequately with our current understanding?
So – yes – this is a lot less tidy than the last post – but these are some of the questions that lurk in my mind and the point of this post was to show that there can be questions – massive difficult questions even that do not need to lead to doubt and a faith crisis.