It feels like a theme for the week is arrogant Christian certainty.
It began with an email from a friend who had been beat up at the church she’s been attending. She is someone who is beginning to question some of the assumptions of the conservative, evangelical world that she had been brought up in, and has traded several e-mails with me on theology, God, etc. This past Sunday, she was talking with some folks from her church and casually mentioned that she had attended the Emergent Convention. Although she tried to steer the conversation in a different direction, these “friends” pulled more and more from her and then began questioning what Bible translation she read, the validity of the questions that she has been asking, and her faith in asking these questions. “If you don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve,” one person told her, “then why should you believe that Jesus was who he said he was?” As she wrote to me, she expressed her dismay at the person she is becoming. “At least I knew where I fit in before,” she said. “Now I’m not sure where I belong.”
I had another interesting discussion this weekend with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend. We were talking about “Letters from a Skeptic” which I blogged about last week. My sister-in-law asked me what I had thought about it. My response was that it didn’t do much for me. I didn’t think it was a great tool for evangelism because I don’t think Christianity is just about believing facts. The boyfriend responded that if we don’t know the facts (in this case the absolute truth of the Bible), how do we know what’s right and wrong? Without the TRUTH, we don’t have any absolute moral authority in our life.”
He then went on to describe his frustration with the conversation, because he seemed they seemed to be speaking such different languages.
I grieve that Christian brothers and sisters can treat one another with such disrespect. Of course, they are trying to be “orthodox,” trying to protect the faith (as if we really could protect it). But the use of the Bible as a weapon, the throwing out of definitive proclamations on “truth” and “morality” and the “authority of scripture” as if they were jabs in a prize fight surely must cause God to cry. It represents an arrogance about knowledge, a belief that we KNOW the right way, and that all others who question our beliefs must be destroyed.
we had a great time playing cosmic jeopardy, but the little community that i was hoping would grow from that seed has mostly scattered. questions are really great and stuff, but at some point, in order to eat and breath you need answers.
the answer i am missing is what part i am to play — am i, a clueless idiot, supposed to struggle onward and try to help make a community appear which wrestles with questions like these? i failed once, what should i learn from that? or do i give up on the dream ofa new community and figure out how to ask these questions while being connected to existing structures, or do i walk the road mark scandrette is pioneering, and find a “post-congregational” approach to faith?
As I commented on his site, the problem is not questions and/or answers. The issue is our willingness to stand beside one another in love in the midst of our questioning. Christian community is not built on belief, but on love; it’s not built on knowledge but in the embrace of one another as creatures of God’s making.
I wrote on his site: “What makes a community live and breathe, I believe, is not discerning the answers, but 1) the willingness to stand beside one another in the midst of our questions; and 2) the ability to have faith for another person who isn’t able to make that jump yet. “Bear one another’s burdens (questions, doubts, etc),” Paul wrote, “and this is the way you live out Christ’s teachings.”
When we are engaged in “Christian apologetics,” (a polite way of describing verbal violence), we give up our ability to be involved in the ministry of presence with one another. You see, very often we aren’t looking for answers in the midst of our questions. Rather we are looking for someone to stand beside us, to hold our hand, to be the incarnate presence of Christ with us.
Arrogant Christian certainty abdicates that possibility. It is selfish at it’s core, a covert way of saying that “my belief and understanding is more important than your need at this moment.” It cuts off the possibility of conversation, of relationship. It frankly gets in the way of the grace of God.
Am I saying that everything is relative and that there is no truth in the world? Did you hear me say that? I believe that there is a way, truth, and life that is filled with love and grace. But my belief in that way leads me to understand that love doesn’t require me to pummel another with that belief. To do so is to fail in my call to love others as I love myself.