In the story that I related yesterday I ended with a friend who was teaching an adult class in his church and a couple that had quit attending because my friend did not embrace a six-day, twenty-four hour, recent creation of the earth. My friend asked me to pray as he responded to this relational breakup.
After two weeks this friend reached out to the husband in this story. he writes that this man has been his friend for decades. They met for breakfast together. My friend writes, and I know this to be true from first-hand knowledge, “John, this is a subject that I have studied deeply for several decades.” After the breakfast meeting he wrote to me saying, “Ironically I found that the relational side of things was, to some degree, restored through our time together. However, the cognitive side seemed blocked. This brother was not open to ideas that contradicted his view. His presumption seems to be that his view is Scriptural (hence others could not measure up). I chose to only share enough to help him see that there are material problems/unknowns in all camps (including the secularist) and simply left it there.”
The good news is that this man and his wife came back to the adult class the following day. It seems there is a restored relationship. This is what my friend desired and why he acted as he did and sought my prayer for him. But, he adds, “It would seem unlikely that we will ever be able to discuss many of the deeper matters of the Christian faith since these land mines abound.” How truly sad and how completely common this response is, especially among older and more conservative Christians.
This story underscores a major reason why young adults are fleeing such churches in increasingly large numbers.
There are several things that I take away from this story.
- Conservative people tend to think that what they are currently thinking, about almost everything, is right. The adopt what has been called “confirmation bias.” By this means they then read and process what confirms their current understanding of “the truth.”
- This way of thinking and responding is not the way of Jesus. Jesus taught us to “keep on asking” and to search for truth just as you would for a lost coin. His kingdom is not known by embracing a list of “confirmed” truths but rather as a way of living that is discovered through a process that we call living faith.
- There is no absolute certainty this side of the Last Day. We can have a settled assurance and deep hope but this is not the same as certainty. Certainly says that everything we believe is true just as we understand it. We tend to believe, if we think this way, that acting otherwise is dangerous. The fact is that acting in this way shuts us off to both love and truth. Truth is a path, not a fixed list, and love is the way to walk this path toward Jesus.
- Evangelical Christians do not always make the careful theological distinctions that Catholic theology has understood at this point. We could learn a lot if we understood this Catholic way of thinking. Catholic theology sees a difference between dogma (what must be believed; e.g. resurrection, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the Trinity, etc.) and doctrine (Christian teaching). A lot of Christian teaching is both important and helpful but it is not dogma. We can disagree and retain loving relationships in the Truth; i.e. Jesus Christ. I have learned this best within my pursuit of unity both relationally and intellectually.
- We must always “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” regardless of what we disagree about. This really is the hard work of ecumenism, or the work of pursuing unity. It is easy to talk about this stuff, it is entirely different to work at it as if our very life depended on it. Very few Christians take unity seriously. They would rather be right than pursue deep unity. Until we change this pattern I do not see the Holy Spirit moving freely in our churches in the days ahead. We have “quenched the Spirit” by our reactions to one another. How can we miss the clear and obvious fact that these two things are connected?
My friend concluded his message to me by writing, “Our mission ahead in ACT3 is to seek the unity of true believers around our core and common calling from Christ thus we will face many hurdles like this one. It should come as no surprise that the approach most likely to work is relational and no force impacts relationship more powerfully than genuine love. This is why I look forward to your next book and have taken the time to pen these words as a kind of encouraging commentary on why that work is so important.”
Thanks dear friend. You have supported me, shared your financial gifts generously with ACT3 and now you have encouraged me once again. I hope that those who read this blog will be encouraged to genuinely love others and pursue unity. I pray that they will pursue unity even with conservative Christians who stubbornly refuse to follow the actual way that Jesus gave to his disciples, the way of love and deep relationship over my personal beliefs about doctrine. (Remember point number four above when you read this final sentence!)