My wife and I were discussing an interesting trend in modern Christianity last night. Before I tell you which trend this is, let me explain why we were talking about it.
To start with, Love Wins has been a fairly continual conversation for the two of us over the last month or so. Neither of us has yet read it due to how popular it seems to be in our local library system, but we are both intrigued by the controversy it has sparked. My interest was deepened and perhaps changed after I read the review over on Internet Monk. (Granted, I don’t take the new authors’ word for things as readily as I did Michael Spencer’s, but their perspective is still interesting and sincere.)
Fact number two is that I am, and have been for a while, a bit of a Greg Boyd fan-boy. I was introduced to his sermons back when he was ticking off the general population with “The Cross and the Sword” and have enjoyed his thought process and insight ever since. I regularly read his works and listen to his sermons as well as often refer to his rethinking of Christian-Social Interactions.
Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was my mother-in-law. She was very surprised that I appreciated and recommended Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy and took it upon herself to encourage me to look deeper at what Brian McLaren believes and teaches to see if I can really value what he says. So last night we listened to a lot of interviews with Brian McLaren, which led us to reference some Greg Boyd materials, which led us to refresh our look at Love Wins. It was genuinely entertaining.
Here’s what we noticed. The trend right now among “edgy” Christians isn’t so much to claim strange or radical beliefs. No, what you actually hear them doing is simply questioning the currently predominant perspective. In essence, these “radicals” are taking a question that is generally put into terms of “I’m right and you’re wrong” and saying, “We’re asking the wrong question.”
For example, I watched a video clip of Brian McLaren talking about homosexuality. He pointed out that on both sides of the issue we’re asking “Is it right or is it wrong?” and that we’ve proven over the last few decades that there’s enough room for interpretation that we’re not going to get every well meaning Christian to agree on the right or wrong question. So, instead of continuing to beat that dead horse, shouldn’t we start asking how we’re going to minister to and love people who disagree with us on this issue?
I’m not sure why this is seen as dangerous or even dissident, but it is. Thinking about it today, I’ve come up with two things that I think play into this.
First, questioning of a traditional belief or perspective is seen as destructive. People don’t want to see things that they have held near and dear destroyed. Often they don’t even want them changed enough to fix them because they don’t think they need it. If we’re questioning if it’s even the right way to be addressing something, all of a sudden we’re worse than changing, we’re destroying.
I’ll wager that this is traumatic to so many people because of what Greg Boyd calls a “House of Cards” mentality – which would be the second thing making these questions dangerous. We’ve been taught our faith as a package deal. If you mess with one part, all of it comes into question. That is if all of it doesn’t come tumbling down around your ears. I’ve seen this most often in people who grow up or are introduced to the faith inside the confines of a single ministry or denomination. The entire theology and lifestyle set is presented as a whole unit. If you remove, or even question, a single part you’re endangering the whole.
I wonder if perhaps what scares us is the same thing that got Socrates killed.
Socrates was known for going around asking questions of the “so called wise” of Athens in order to, as he said it, learn from their wisdom. His goal was, of course to educate them and the observers by asking questions that either pointed out the flaws in their thinking or that their wisdom couldn’t answer. This of course infuriated those who believed themselves wise as their conventional wisdom was challenged and shown to be incomplete. To be honest, I can understand why Socrates was seen as a nuisance.
Perhaps this is what scares a lot of traditional Christians. The most obvious flaw in neat little pre-packaged theology as I described when talking about a “House of Cards” is that it very seldom includes enough perspective to answer all critiques and account for certain issues in our world. It can cover most concerns, but never all.
The result of being taught from such a perspective is that we know only that viewpoint and simply can’t answer the deeper questions without saying, “Don’t question my faith!” When people ask the questions that shoot holes in part of our thinking we’re left with very few options. Namely, pretend they don’t exist, give up on our faith, or label them as dangerous attackers of truth. This last is what we’re seeing done with such “radicals” as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Greg Boyd.
I would suggest though that they’re not so much dangerous to truth as they are dangerous to some of our incomplete ways of thinking. It’s not dangerous to think. It’s not dangerous to be challenged. It’s not even dangerous to be wrong from time to time, especially when we’re humble enough to listen to and answer honest questions.
I don’t agree with everything any of the people I’ve mentioned today teach. All them ask some great questions though. I honestly believe it is more dangerous to refuse to be questioned than to ask questions. Unless of course we don’t think our truth can stand up to a little inquiry.
If that’s the case, I must ask, how reliable of truth do we believe it is?