If you have ever been a part of a religious group that believed that they had the corner market on the right-ness, you get this question. Because I know that most of my readers are coming with a basis of a Christian perspective, I want to start in that territory. Even within the fractured Christian church, we find vastly different approaches to the correct faith. Not only can we not agree that one denomination (or non-denomination) has it correct, but even within churches of the same theological pathway, there is the rightER way. Just ask my Church of Christ and Baptist friends. Because there is Baptist and then there is Southern Baptist. There is the “progressive” CofC that shows videos with music and then there are the ones where salvation is deeply tied to all the rules. Friends, we have plenty of this within our own bubble.
Growing up as a United Methodist, there were many in other denominational circles that fully believed that I did not understand the real meat of giving my heart to Jesus. I came to that awareness at an early age. Somehow I was ok with this differing reality within the confines of the Jesus camp. But something began to happen as my circle broadened. I remember being invited to my first Bat Mitzvah. Upon receiving the invitation, the questions began. What does this mean? Why do some religions have different traditions? Why do they get a big party?
And then the harder questions. Wait. Just. A. Second. If they don’t believe what we believe about Jesus…then what happens…eternally? To an 8th grade heart this unthinkable. And then came the questions of other faiths. What about my Muslim friends and those that belong to churches that do not believe in the Trinity? What about my Mormon friends and those that have no faith at all. AAAANNND THE CHILDREN IN SMALL REMOTE VILLAGES THAT HAVE NEVER HAD AN AMERICAN MISSIONARY VISIT? If you have run in the Evangelical Christian world and simultaneously have a compassionate heart, you know this spiral. And you probably know the answer that I was given. I swallowed this for many years. I wore it as a badge of successful faithfulness. I knew something that all of these poor people did not and for that I would be in paradise and they in eternal torment. Because, Jesus.
This is such a black and white issue in the core tenants of modern faith. But what about the historical faith? Jesus clearly taught that he was the incarnation of the Divine. Within the beliefs about the reason for the death and significance of the resurrection of Jesus, the Church has a wide road of varying postures. I love studying the modernization of the Church because one thing is continual, even from the early moments of creation: God is up to something new. God’s very nature is expansive and generous. At the very heart of this bigger, more encompassing love is the person of Jesus. As someone who believes that with my entire being, it is very hard for me to reconcile that a certain way of believing about Jesus became the defining point of separation between the in and the out.
The more that I have worked to understand the heart of the biggest of the biggies – of ‘in or out’- for most Christians, the more I go back to the understandings of the ancient Christians. I grew up with penal substitutionary atonement as the primary basis for all eternal implications. The more I study the ancient church, the more that I have come to understand that this theory (and that’s what it is!) is a modern one. Much like the other conversations that we have had the past few days, I am not here to convince you that I am right. I actually think that is where most Christians get it wrong.
The non-religious world couldn’t care less what those of us that enjoy huddling together in holy houses expouse as “good” theology. They really don’t care. At all. If anything our continual drum beat of unwillingness to ask a question is off putting and door closing. My peace with this question has come through years of asking the hardest of the hard questions. It has required listening and reading and digesting. It has required being uncomfortable and not knowing. None of which, for the record, do I love to do. It is not comfortable. It is not easy. But I have done it.
With that work, I have landed in this place. “Right” implies that there is a “wrong.” I am not qualified for the job of judgement on the issues of all knowing spiritual insight. Without God’s job description (which, by the way, none of us have) I think it is high time that we get out of the business of absolutes. What I know, FOR ME, is that I can see the love of God in the person of Jesus. I do not, however hold tightly to the ideas of atonement that I was taught for many years. I have embraced a generous and open faith, one that aligns much more closely to the ancient Orthodox and early believers. To answer these questions is to awaken more than 2,000 years of complex doctrine and thought, much of which, I believe dilutes and confuses the deep message and hope and restoration that is found in Christ. So that’s where I am going to camp out. I’m pitching my tent in tremendous love and overwhelming grace. I’m majoring in the welcoming of questions and the ability to trust that no human constraint, theory or idea can embody all that is the Knowing. I’m setting a bigger table.