How Flexible is Christianity?
The evangelical world has been all a-flutter in recent weeks with the publication of Love Wins, Rob Bell’s new book on “heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived” (according to its subtitle). In the ramp-up to the book’s release — which, based on early marketing material seemed to be advocating a form of universalism — there were hundreds of blog posts, tweets, and Facebook discussions about whether or not Bell had moved outside traditional Christian orthodoxy.
That was before the book released. Now that people have actually read it, though, well … the discussion continues. Some readers were pleasantly surprised by Love Wins, maybe even relieved, in realizing that Bell was taking a position alongside respected theologians like N.T. Wright or C.S. Lewis in his hopes about the afterlife. Others were as disappointed as they expected to be, pointing out that — if not full-fledged heretical, Bell seemed at least to be moving in a suspect direction. Still others were just plain frustrated, because in the book Bell raises lots of questions, redefines a lot of Christian terminology, and uses a lot of one-sentence paragraphs without really landing anywhere solid.
This isn’t a post about Rob Bell, though, and it’s not a review of his book. It’s a post that asks a Love Wins-style question:
How broad is Christian theology, anyway? How diverse can (or should) we allow it to be? Over the years, Christians have proved remarkably flexible, able to tolerate significant theological and practical differences without using the word “heretic.”
There are Christians who believe they are saved exclusively through grace, period, full stop … and Christians who believe some manner of works are involved (those “works” may be as basic as an acknowledgment of Christ’s lordship or as complex as to what extent we cared for the “least of these”).
Some Christians believe salvation is eternal. Others believe it can be lost or cast aside.
Some Christians believe the elect are predetermined by God, chosen for either salvation and damnation. Others believe God gives mankind real freedom to make his or her own choice.
Some believe salvation occurs at the moment of baptism. Others believe baptism to be an important, public confession of salvation — but only symbolic.
Some believe Christ is present, mystically or literally, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, or communion. They believe participating in communion is the central act of Christian worship. Others believe communion is more of a metaphor, yet one which plays a central, symbolic role in Christian worship.
Some Christians observe that “central metaphor” every time they meet together, Sunday after Sunday. Others relegate communion to a once-a-quarter observance.
Some Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, infallibly true, without error and inspired word-by-word to ancient scribes. Others believe the Bible is inspired or somehow divine, by not without error. They see those ancient scribes’ fallacies and fingerprints all over its holy pages.
Some Christians believe deuterocanonical books like Tobit, Judith, or 1 and 2 Maccabees are parts of the biblical canon. Others deny that these books are biblical. (And many Christians, to be perfectly honest, don’t even know they exist.)
Some Christians venerate saints like Mary, St. Anthony, or St. Christopher. Other Christians view this behavior as superstitious (at best) or idolatrous (at worst).
Some Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday, others on Saturday. Some worship in ancient cathedrals or gleaming buildings. Some worship in converted malls or rickety storefronts. Some worship in homes. Some worship outdoors.
Some Christians seem to focus primarily on God, the Father. Some seem most interested in Jesus. Others emphasize the Holy Spirit more than any other member of the Trinity.
Some pray in tongues. Some pray casually or spontaneously. Some pray via formal liturgy.
Some believe a Christian’s highest calling is to remove him- or herself from the world, in order to spend their remaining days in solitude, contemplation, and prayer. Some believe a Christian’s highest calling is to be active and present in the world, in order to spread the message of the Gospel.
Some preach evangelism and personal salvation as the apex of the Christian faith. Some preach social action or missional living as the core element of Christian practice.
Some allow their faith to inform every aspect of their lives, from how they dress to how they eat to how they are entertained. Some live lives that are practically indistinguishable from non-believers.
Some … you get the idea.
This is a long list, but it’s far from exhaustive. Though we base our beliefs on the same source (the Bible and the last couple thousand years of tradition), we Christians are a fantastically diverse people. Some of our core beliefs are not just very different from another, but frequently at odds with one another.
Most of us think we’re right. But we can’t all be right about everything.
Which is to say: almost all of us are wrong about something. Regardless of what you believe, there are Christians somewhere in the world who think you are dead wrong. Dangerously wrong. Maybe even a heretic. Why? Because you are on the wrong side of what they consider a core belief.
Acknowledging that, with humility, ought to give us pause before we apply the HERETIC label to a fellow Christian. At least, it does for me. For all our talk about narrow roads, Christianity is a broad, gushing stream.
Originally posted April 9, 2011.
- Barbie Swihart published the blogpost The Weekend Brew: When You’re Reminded of Your Destiny.
- Adam Smith published the blogpost 3 Lessons We Can Learn From Children – Daniel Kosmala.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Guidelines for Buying a Used Car for a Teen Driver.
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost Teen Drinking Linked to Tougher Transition to Adulthood.
- Brian Dodd published the blogpost The Top 10 Leadership Posts I Read The Week Of July 21st.
- Kelley Mathews published the article What Not To Do When You Are Living 'In the Meantime'.
- Kelley Mathews published the article Looking Back, Facing Forward: 20 Soundtracks Jars of Clay’s 20-Year Celebration.
- Kelley Mathews published the article Stuffed French Toast with Bourbon Glazed Pineapples.
- Kelley Mathews published the article Critical Heart Changes For Successful Reconciliation.
- Kimber Yeargan just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Patsy Moore just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Jeffrey Totey published the blogpost Video of the Day: Trailer for "Plan 9 from Outer Space".
- Brad Russell uploaded a photo
- Michael Ernest published the blogpost For Singles Only: 9 things to do while still single.
- Audra Jennings published the blogpost Win a KitchenAid Mixer in Susan May Warren’s Hawaiian Chef Showdown!.
- Brad Russell published the article What Playing Guitar Taught Me about the Spiritual Life.
- Madyson Russell uploaded a photo
- Brad Russell published the article The Cross — The New (Old) Scorecard for Church Leadership.
- Jon Stallings"Foursquare Prioritizes Urban Evangelism" @WeAreFoursquare http://buff.ly/1rDJx2L
- Lori Fogleman published the blogpost Baylor Line Camp sets participation record for 8th straight year.
- Jessie Williams just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- George BullardFeatured TCP Book for July 25th: The Calling of Congregational Leadership: Being, Knowing, Doing Ministry http://astore.amazon.com/tcpresourcesstore-20/detail/0827205317
- George BullardFree TCP eBook July 25th Only! People and Factors Killing Your Congregationhttp://astore.amazon.com/tcpresourcesstore-20/detail/B00BEV0QPS
- George BullardJuly 25th: Transform Congregations By Encouraging a Deep Spiritual and MIssional Journey #365SSIFTC http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal_microblog/2014/07/july-25th-transform-congregations-by-encouraging-a-deep-spiritual-and-missional-journey-365ssiftc.html
- Mike Liebler published the blogpost 4 Of The Most Important Words For Making Disciples.
- Cheyenne Tomlison published the blogpost Why My Child is More Important Than My "Mothering".
- Jon Stallings“May I say to all I meet, I am journeying toward the Lord’s given place, come with me for your good.” – The Valley of Vision
- Michael Ernest published the blogpost ‘Love Displayed’ by Justin Kintzel (Free download + Video).
- Ron Edmondson published the blogpost How Some of the Best Discoveries Are Made – In Life and Leadership.
- Cheyenne Tomlison just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Brad Hambrick published the blogpost MP3 of SBC Panel Discussion on “Mental Illness & the Mission of the Church”.
- Anna Brown published the blogpost 5 Content Marketing Facts That Will Make You Feel Shocked.
- Wayne Stiles published the blogpost I’m Writing a New Book, and I’d Like Your Opinion [Survey].
- Mark McIntyre published the blogpost Christianity Boosts Education, Quality of Life in Asian Countries.
- Diane Paddison published the blogpost Mentors, Millennials and Monthly Favorites in This Week’s Friday Faves.
- Barry Pearman published the blogpost Do You Have A Soul Believer? 3 Qualities To Look For.
- Adam Smith published the blogpost No Time for Social Media? Hire a Virtual Assistant – Reade Milner.
- George Krickl published the blogpost The Plow: Moving from Biblical Examples to Our Ministry Manifesto.
- Janet Ridgeway published the blogpost Get Clean With Cottonelle And Save With A High Value Coupon.