When I spoke up in January to my two friends, I was working from the perspective that interfaith marriage is a clear and unequivocal no-no for Christians. I wrote my message, basically, as a well-intended defense of that thesis.
After things hit the fan, I had plenty of time to review and reflect. I went back to my words many times. Eventually, I noted something curious:
I was not necessarily 100% convinced of my original thesis.
The objective doctrinal matter of interfaith marriage is, like most things drawn from the Bible, more complex than we’d sometimes like it to be. Yet, I felt that it was important to present the matter as basically uncomplicated, because I was standing up for solid and accepted wisdom. And in this, I had the assent of plenty of my believing friends.
Why had I chosen to represent a complex issue as black and white, even when I didn’t necessarily see it as such? We’ll discuss more on this later.
Meanwhile, the World Vision fiasco came up. Read up on it if you don’t recall. By this time in the spring, I was reading more widely on diverse interpretations of scripture, which are commonly regarded as straightforward in the mainstream evangelical world. So my eyes were opened a little wider, and I had an awareness of the disingenuousness mentioned above … and then I watched, as prominent voices within the evangelical sphere basically replicated my mistake, on a grand scale. They decided that a complex issue full of nuance — human sexuality — was in fact cut and dry, with only one clear moral path.
It seemed the mistake I felt I had made, was in fact a demonstrated and exemplary method within Christendom, practiced by some of the church’s most prominent teachers.
Well, this was all very interesting.
So I quietly continued my exploratory reading throughout the rest of this year. I was on a search now for some kind of balance.
Having come to faith in college, I had spent most of the past seven years within the conservative evangelical bubble, if you will. To be sure, I have not always towed the party line, due to my willful and distracted nature, and due to my epistemological roots as a Jew and a skeptic. But for most of this time I viewed conservative orthodoxy as something that I would eventually come around to, and fully embrace. The same as many probably feel within this sphere.
When you’re inside the camp, it is commonly held that “liberal” theology is a slippery slope, and it’s best not to tread there unless you want to follow in the wake of e.g Rob Bell. You don’t mess with the authority of scripture, and so on. And if you do trust scripture, then you should believe it in these particular ways.
I mean no offense … but hey, it really is like that.
Luckily, I discovered teachers like NT Wright, Greg Boyd, Frank Viola, and other bright ones. And meanwhile, Shane Blackshear’s podcast was responsible for introducing me to dozens of other diverse perspectives, held by believers who are otherwise [sic] sincere and passionate about Jesus. This whole year amounted to the first sustained season where I deliberately studied theology and exegesis from those outside my traditional camp.
What I discovered, more than anything, is that this whole gospel can be much more expansive and flexible than we commonly acknowledge within the bubble. And I’d argue, it should be.
So what now?
Well, I’m still in process. And with any luck, I will be for the rest of my life. In the meantime, I have slowly begun to reconcile with my old friends. I’m hopeful for a full recovery, one day soon.
What about all these contentious matters, over which the church is frequently in conflict with mainstream culture? Or, even with other parts of the church?
One thing I know for certain: we need to be more humble with our certainty, because these issues are always more complex than we want them to be. In this transition, the main thing from which I am recovering is my own hubris and self-assurance. How did such arrogance arise in the first place?
Well for one, I am arrogant 😀
But for two, the church passively encourages this sort of thing.
How’s that you say? Here’s a totally brilliant short piece from Greg Boyd on the idolatry of certainty, and how we practice this far too often when we live in the bubble (filmed by the totally brilliant The Work Of The People). Regardless of your personal beliefs, you will want to watch at least the first few minutes of this, because it’s incisive: The Idolatry of Certainty
As for actually addressing those specific contentious issues … for the time being, I have a deeper interest in asking the good questions, than in unlocking the monolithically-correct answers. Call that a cop-out if you will. For me it is a return to the mode of thinking that characterized my Jewish youth. And if you’re interested, I’d be happy to chat more about that.
For now, arriving in late December, I feel good about this year. I am now likely treading ground previously marked as perilous by my younger self … but that sounds like growth to me.
In the spring, I’ll be shifting focus a little bit. I’ve determined that the most valuable kind of learning for me occurs via dialogue, rather than soliloquy. And, some would argue, this can be generalized to most people. In the spring I want to somehow move toward a more conversational approach here. I want to explore some of the challenging questions I’ve discovered this year, and not jump to overly hasty conclusions in their consideration.
If you’re interested in some exploratory and civil discourse with me, I would be thrilled. Or if you have any ideas on how this blog can effectively be made more “conversant”, from a technology and format perspective, please hit me up.
For the 50 or so of you that show up here regularly, thank you for reading. Enjoy the winter break.