Pastors live with a unique tension. We want our teaching to inspire people – to lift them into new, higher perspectives – but we also want to teach in a way that clearly articulates the faith we profess. We want our interpretations and explanations to be as reasonable as they are rousing, as practical as they are impassioned.
Christianity is widely misunderstood in America today, by those who do not profess faith in Jesus Christ as well as by many who do. We live in a post-denominational age. Neighborhoods and communities don’t know what to do with twenty different churches in their midst, from the Presbyterians on Main Street to the Methodists around the corner, the Lutherans up the road, the Assembly of God folks down the lane, and a half-dozen Baptist plots scattered in between. When you throw in the Kingdom Hall and the Latter-Day Saints, is it any wonder our culture, with its ever-developing spirituality, shrugs its shoulders at the whole “Christian” thing? What people know is what they see on television, and what they see on television – the sanctimonious politicians, the stubborn cable news pundits, the late-night televangelists, Oprah – has been contorting and contradicting real Christian truth for decades.
Despite this, society still maintains certain expectations for Christians. We’re supposed to be kind. Generally speaking, we’re suppose to uphold a sense of abiding love for all people. We’re not supposed to use cuss words. We’re not supposed to drink alcohol, or, if we do, not too much and nothing too hard. If we preach specific virtues like compassion, mercy, justice, and forgiveness, we darn well better live that way. When we fail at these virtues, we’re considered hypocrites. People seem to experience catharsis when a well-known Christian is caught in his transgressions. Why is that?
The misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Christianity in America is nowhere more prevalent than in our own worshipping communities. Some of our pastors will rage against abortion, yet adamantly support capital punishment. Some churches specifically prevent same-sex couples from becoming members while at the same time allowing divorced persons to chair their committees. Intellectually, we appear schizophrenic. Some Christians vehemently reject the theory of evolution, while others have few to no qualms with it. Most of us insist on belief in a Triune God, but when a non-believer presses us to explain what that means or why it matters, few of us even attempt to clarify or expound on the Trinity, instead falling back on the knee-jerk response of a lazy mind: “It’s just a mystery we won’t understand ’till we get to heaven.” Try feeding that line to a skeptic, and watch as his or her last morsel of respect for you dissolves.
What is a pastor to do with this condition of our culture? When it comes to Christianity, our society has scruples, and I believe this is a justified hesitation. How can we break through the fog of inconsistency to convey a well-reasoned faith, let alone express things in such a way that people’s hearts and minds take flight in wonder and excitement?
For an indeterminate number of weeks to come on this blog, I will be striking out into that very fog of hesitancy and irresolution. My desire is to be one small voice within the murk, one sensible yet resolute reporter who is willing to respond directly to a skeptic’s exasperated, “But why? Why do you believe that?” I want to give the reasons why. Those who doubt the validity of the Christian faith (or the exclusivity of it) may not agree with me, but they will at least have been offered an explanation that is forthright, a defense of the faith that is honest rather than contentious.
Always available though rarely used is the comments section of this blog. If you follow my writings, I would appreciate your own honest thoughts at any point in this series, counterpoints and all. All of it is useful. All of it belongs.
I will start with basic theological ideas as a way to introduce the spiritual foundations I’m coming from. However, I’ll soon venture out into specific beliefs regarding Christian rituals and ethics.
Of course, I am quite intimidated by this whole endeavor. After all, I think, who am I to speak for true, historical Christianity? And yet it occurs to me that if I am a Christian, I have a responsibility to not only believe something, but to express that belief. A pastor is worthless if his humility usurps his willingness to proclaim truth. That goes for all people of genuine faith. Our understanding of Christianity is not simply a result of believing its tenets, but examining them – holding the magnifying glass up to each and every side of belief, studying the incidental cracks and the unrealized crevices, seeing our faith for what it really is. There are always surprises, aspects we never noticed, elements we never expected to see.
So, let’s examine this together. Lean in with me, if you will, to take a closer, more patient look at this odd system of belief we call Christianity…