Below is a snippet from a conversation I am having with a Facebook friend. He asks the excellent question, “Shouldn’t Christians not be allowed to call themselves Christians if they don’t practice everything that’s in the Bible?” My response:
The list of things Christians must believe in order to reasonably be called Christian gets shorter and shorter for me as the years go by. (If you have read the Bible, you are likely thanking your lucky stars that no Christian practices everything in it.) There are always problems of interpretation, of knowing what are commands and what are suggestions, what are binding commitments upon all of us still today, and what are cultural things that were practiced in Biblical times and we are free to dismiss. Then science comes in and complicates it more. For example, if Christians must believe in a 6000 year-old earth, then most Christians I know are not Christians. But among the Christians who DO believe in a 6000 year earth, most of them believe that all Christians must believe this.
Even when it comes to Jesus himself there have always been broadly diverse understandings of his message and the meaning of his death and resurrection. What must Christians believe about Jesus’ death? Was it a blood sacrifice for sin? (This was the ancient Christian/Jewish framework, coming out of their sacrificial system). Was it an invitation to all of us, to abandon life as we know it and find new life through dying to ourselves and rising again to selflessness? Was it God showing what true love looks like at its logical extreme? Was it God inviting us into the process of spiritual death and rebirth? Was it about redemption — paying the price sin requires and buying back our spiritual freedom? Was it about Jesus settling a debt God was holding against us? What exactly was it? Who is the person who ultimately decides what Christians must believe about this?
Christianity has traditionally offered up all these theories and more. So when a person says, “I believe in Jesus” the issue is far from settled and two believers in Jesus may actually have very little in common. This in itself isn’t a problem. What’s a problem is when Christians themselves don’t realize this, and believe that there is only one TRUE Christian way, saying “Christians must believe thus and such.” In reality, there is Jesus and the life he lived, and there are thousands of understandings of what that means. This is true in all religions. Theology is extremely diverse.
So I will definitely NOT support all that the Bible supports, as it supports murder, war, homophobia, zenophobia, genocide, and slavery, to name just a few. I will pray that other Christians do not either. I have blogged on this athttp://davidkflowers.com/2012/07/right-and-wrong/.
Relevant to this, my problem with Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and the other “new atheists” (my atheist friend hates this term — sorry Chris, don’t mean to offend!) is that their books are as fundamentalist as the version of Christianity they rail against. They begin by saying, largely falsely, “Christians believe…” (always something fundamentalist, shallow, and not representative of what most Christians believe) and then proceed to beat down the straw man they have created. They utterly fail to address the faith I and millions of other Christians, understand and inhabit every minute of every day. You can be sure when a Christian says, “Christians must believe…” he is about to tell you exactly what he believes, not what some other Christian believes. You can be almost as sure that when an atheist says, “Christianity is stupid because…” he/she is about to give you a caricature of the faith that would redden the face even of most Christian fundamentalists.