The blog of Peter Enns resonates with me sometimes, and his post “Recovering from inerrancy in the second half of life” hit me personally. I felt it deep inside, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain why it affected me.
In the last year, pretty hardline positions and accusations against others’ views of inerrancy were central in the accusations that led to a painful church split that included my leaving my church home of 13 years to start over. In that situation, there was little willingness to discuss the nuances of the inerrancy debate or the qualifiers that go into the scholarly discussions of inerrancy that educate our use of the word in the American church. So-called “inerrancy” became a litmus test and a god and a substitute for other unspoken grievances without any discussion to define the word honestly or acknowledge all the baggage that was being dragged along by the accusers and hidden behind the word. The Enns blog post recounts the story of a friend of Enns’ and his friend’s difficult journey away from the inerrantist view. Enns notes:
“My friend, now past normal retirement age, left his former subculture 25 years ago and, in the throes of midlife, built a new career for himself. He’s been very happy, and he has also been active in a very-not-evangelical-or-inerrantist-inner-city church. He’s moved on and he’s just fine. “
I echo Enns in noting that, “My point isn’t to talk about inerrancy here.” There is no pointing fingers intended here. I’m simply working through some thoughts on the way to another place.
Some people will expend significant amounts of energy to declare the boundaries of the Christian faith and then declare others outside those boundaries, making declarations, sometimes publicly and repetitively, to castigate (in “love”?) a person who self-identifies as a follower of Jesus but who has been deemed by the declarer to actually be outside the boundaries of Christianity (as defined by the declarer). There are whole enclaves of evangelical thought and culture that seem driven to point out who’s not “really” a Christian or a true believer or follower or Christ because of this or that view or this or that behavior.
But one thing I’ve realized in the past year or so is that the spectrum of Christian faith is broad, even when those who like to draw the boundaries aren’t willing to admit it. Everyone has different opinions as to where the boundaries are, even within faith communities that supposedly believe the same thing. You’ll find that the nuances of human spirit and belief create quite a diversity of thought in the world of faith. And, granted, some boundaries that define Christianity are more clear than others. (And, yes, there are actually boundaries where what you’re talking about or practicing is no longer the Christian faith and has become something else, but from what I’ve seen, the actual boundaries are nowhere as objective as many make them out to be.)
Here are some observations from the last year or so: Those pursuing Christianity tend to agree that there is an absolute, definable and knowable Truth, and we find that Truth in the person of Jesus Christ, who actually lived, died and rose from the dead, and who serves as the perfect image of the unseen God. And we worship that Jesus and that God as divine. Those pursuing Christianity also tend to agree that the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit and its convicting and teaching ways that somehow supernaturally impact our thought processes and challenge and change us into something we weren’t before, usually at both a spiritual and personal level.
But I quote Enn’s discussion about his friend above because I’m coming to this place of realizing that you ultimately need to be settled in your own heart — you need to be “just fine” with where you are — that you are listening to and following God in an honest and authentic fashion, with a teachable heart, pursuing the teachings we find in the Bible in the best way you know how. The challenge for some, though, is acknowledging that there is a ton of interpretation that goes into how each of us works through those teachings and giving grace to those who are “just fine” with a different interpretation.
Our best place when we don’t agree with someone else’s views is to give grace to the one who sees it differently while seeking God’s grace for us so that we change our own mind if we’re wrong. I find that the intellectual debate is fun and can be hearty and passionate, but we evangelicals often go too far in cutting people off at the knees when we do disagree. And, unfortunately, from what I’ve seen recently, we evangelicals often then go out and declare to our friends who we (hope) agree with us about how wrong the other person is, disparaging them in the most concerned tones we can conjure while often exaggerating the opposing views to make sure we get agreement from those listening. (We’ve all done it out of our own pride and self-interest, and it’s important to admit that we have all been hypocrites at one time or another in that moment.)
This week, I read a post by Ed Cyzweski asking “Can Christians Be Unified If We Don’t Want the Same Thing?” There were some challenging and compelling questions in that post, and I encourage you to read it if you’ve gotten this far into my thoughts here. The post challenged my thinking on how to help create an atmosphere where people can pursue their faith with open hearts and open hands, seeking Christ and asking questions without being beat up for things that they may come across and, at least for some time, sit on and think through and talk through that may be outside the mainstream of thought within our subculture.
Human life is a progression of thoughts and moments, constantly shifting and moving. We humans are never set in stone, and our beliefs and actions are only reflections of our place in life at that moment, often shifting at a moment’s notice if enough changes. But we too often judge people based on their beliefs or actions at any given moment, and we project that judgment forward as if it will always be who they are. That kind of judgment doesn’t take into consideration the human experience. We have to give people space to work through ideas and sift through actions and beliefs so they develop and grow while acknowledging that their thoughts and beliefs aren’t permanent and may change over time.
Cyzweski says something that connects with who I want to be: “Living in the truth of the Gospel means I’m committed to removing the boundaries that others think the Gospel compels them to build.” That quote captured the swarm of ideas that I’ve been working through for months now, and it helped seal in my heart that I want to be that person who’s helping tear down sometimes false, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes completely arbitrary fences in the Christian experience that block people from truly connecting with Christ. And I want to offer the grace to people that helps them find Christ and hear God’s voice and live in the joyous interaction with the Holy Spirit that changes people and makes them truly new.