I had a strange experience two weeks ago. A Christian book club, which promotes and reviews Christian books, was considering listing my book Butterflies in the Belfry. While the book does have some controversial points, the director of this club was not interested in its content or reviewing the book himself. He was not even that interested in me as an author. He was very interested, however, in my church affiliation. He asked for the web link to my church. When I supplied that link, the following day, he sent me a rather abrupt e-mail that he will remove my book from their list and will not be involved with any promotion. He seemed like a nice young man (at first), but the e-mail was rather brash. He said that apparently my church tolerates the “sin of LGBT,” and that I was not “orthodox” and that he needed to protect his readers from me. I was confused. My book, only in the most tangential way, touches on the topic of gender identity. But he based his concerns on the “Welcoming Statement” of my personal home church, which is as follows:
We Welcome You…
At WPC, we welcome those who are…
Old, young and in between. Churched, un-churched and in between.
Female, male and in between. Rich, poor and in between.
Gay, lesbian, straight and in between. Certain, doubtful and in between.
Individuals, families and in between. Prideful, humble and in between.
Addicted, sober and in between. Socialist, capitalist and in between.
We are a mixed bag of individuals and yet we are all one in Jesus. (Galatians 3:27)
You are invited to join our nurturing, affirming community as we participate in the wild love of Jesus Christ. Approved by Session, December 15, 2016
We thought about that opening statement carefully. While I did not draft it, as an elder, I did approve it. As I voted on it, I imagined what Jesus would be thinking in this circumstance. The way that I know the historical Jesus, was that he never turned away anyone, except for maybe the pseudo-religious. I mean, if our welcoming statement said that members of Isis was welcome, as long as they entered our sanctuary unarmed, I would have supported that statement as well. Who are we to set up barriers between anyone and the Gospel? Who needs the Gospel more than those who are sick?
This experience got me thinking about the whole topic of orthodoxy. This topic rides closely on the back of a recent trip to the American southeast, where I stumbled into my old Christian stomping grounds of theological certainty, or what we would have called then, orthodoxy.
I will give a brief explanation of this unorthodoxphobia, which I have coined for the purpose of this post. Phobia, when added as a suffix, simply means the irrational fear of something. Humans, in their fallen state, have a great tendency to have irrational fears. In this case, I have observed an irrational fear of someone being unorthodox in their Christian theology.
Christianity has always absorbed philosophical thoughts from secular society, even thought it was warned never to do that. One of those secular philosophies comes from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. Within that philosophical frame work, the secular thinkers of the seventieth and eighteenth centuries began to adopt an Aristotelian view of nature and humans, that 1) our reason is perfect and 2) empiricism or the observation through our senses will always lead us to certain truth.
This was never a Biblical concept. The more Biblical view is that reason is very good, but broken by the fall. It can be trusted, but never fully trusted. Because of this limitation, we can never know all truth with complete certainty. We must approach all held views with humility.
After the Reformation and with the Catholic Scholastics, this secular philosophy was adopted as Christian. Theologians became to seek the perfect theological positions on all things. This was the age that arguments such as how many angels could dance on the head of a pin (which does have some metaphysical relevance, but not much). Today, this rational certainty is manifest as absolute positions on which political party is God’s favorite. Another example is an old Christian friend saying that it is a clear Biblical principle that climate change is a hoax. Then of course, there is the certainty, held by some, that the earth is only six thousand years old.
With this background of an unhealthy dependency on a perfected reason, the protestant church began to splinter more and more throughout the eightieth trough the twentieth centuries because if you believe that you can reach pure certainty about all positions of life, then you have the confidence to separate and despise positions that are not in agreement with yours. The humility of uncertainty, due to a broken reason, is lost. The separation grew, and built upon that certainty, a hatred of the opposition grew to the point of horrible religious wars.
There is a huge difference between the relativity of truth, which I certainly don’t accept, and this position of humble uncertainty. But this “uncertainty” that I am speaking of, is not a wishy-washy know nothing position. It is having great trust that many positions are true, but an openness to reconsider, knowing that I (not God) can be wrong.
I want to end with talking about the psychology of certainty. When I was in this certainty camp, (and I am often psychoanalyzing myself), it was that I believed that my favor in God’s eyes, was determined by me believing the right things . . . about everything. I had a genuine fear that I might get some detail wrong or associate with those who do. That’s why I didn’t partake of the wonderful rock-n-roll music of the seventies (not to mention great books, movies and etc.).
I was studying psychology in a secular university. I remember throwing my text books against the wall when I thought I read something that wasn’t orthodox. I did the same when I read Christian books with theological points that I was not sure were true. I feared this slipping into the unorthodox, and then into the bowels of Hell itself.
I assume, but can not know with certainty, that this is the same psychological motivation for those today who are so extremely concerned about working out all precise “truths” of their Christianity. However, I know realize that I spent 25 years being wrong (that story is in my book) and am bound to be wrong again. But true discipleship is constantly learning and replacing bad ideas with new ones that are closer to God’s absolute truth, a truth that I can never full know in this mortal body. J. Michael Jones