|Should I tell them?|
I should have had a video camera. Some people immediately began searching their memories for which passage might fit into that category. Others were clearly surprised--their faces revealed their thoughts, “Really? We can talk about that?” But one person sitting in the back was clearly offended.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “I believe everything in the Bible.”
This woman was my friend--I had no desire to win an argument with her. Yet I was certain her response came more from a desire to be correct than to be honest. I knew a little bit of her history and upbringing: she was from a very conservative part of the country and had been a life-long member of a very conservative Christian denomination. In short, I knew she was giving me the only answer she thought was allowed to such a question.
“Great!” I lied. “Perhaps you can help the rest of us with whatever issues we’re willing to reveal tonight.”
One by one the rest of the gang turned to pages in both the Old and New Testaments and read out passages that gave them pause. For some it was no big deal--like discussing why there are a ten hot dogs in a package but hot dog buns come eight to a bag. Others found freedom in expressing for the first time that some verses just didn’t seem to make sense to them. Some were surprised to learn that I had a list of five verses I fond difficult to believe. After all, I was the Bible study leader--isn’t that guy supposed to be the answer man? And still, in the back of the room, my faithful friend watched and listened like a child spying on grown-ups long after she should be asleep.
Our discussion was wide-ranging that night. It was delightful to experience the kind of tender honesty where people discovered that their faith would not be questioned even as they expressed uncertainty, doubt or sometimes simple ignorance. “You, too?” laughed someone. “I thought I was the only one!” That night we discovered that a community of believers can be one of the safest places to express doubt.
And this was precisely the problem for our one hold-out. She had grown up in a community where orthodoxy trumped everything--even honesty. The kind of community so common in some quarters of Evangelicalism, where conformity of opinion somehow equals the same thing as the Truth.
One of the great shortcomings of Evangelicalism in the last 75 years is the foolish, mistaken idea that doctrinal conformity is somehow the same thing as relationship, love, commitment, and family. Orthodoxy, as embraced by the Western Enlightenment mindset, engages only the mind and never touches the heart. When questions and doubt are pushed out the door, honesty and relationship go with them.
Of course orthodoxy is important. The word means correct teaching, and I’ve never met anyone in favor of incorrect teaching. The problem comes when my version of correct teaching becomes the required ticket for all the other aspects of Christian community. Community thrives in the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is remarkably tolerant of our foolish notions of theology. He welcomes the poor in spirit, not the rich in knowledge. He is patient with the ignorant and gently leads us along, knowing that orthodoxy discovered is better than orthodoxy imposed.
Consider the stunning admission in Matthew 28:17--just one verse before the Jesus utters the Great Commission. “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.” Did you know that was in the book? Can you imagine the scene: the resurrected Jesus (back from death, scars visible and real as your Mom), is standing right in from of his closest followers, and some were doubtful. If Jesus was ever going to thin the herd, that would have been the moment. Instead, Jesus gives them all the same assurance, the same task, and the same promise.
We are all invited to follow him. Apparently understanding is over-rated and relationship is under-rated. I suspect he will clear up the questions when I’m able to handle the truth. In the mean time, he invites us to participate in something none of us fully understand.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In other quarters of Christianity it’s become trendy to glory in our doubts. That’s not much better. You’re invited back next week (Thursday) when we look at the flip side of the equation.