In an e-mail a short while back, Paul Raushenbush, the editor of HuffPo's Religion page, asked me about my views on Christianity. "We hear some about a Gospel Worldview," he wrote. "What does that look like for you?"
Without question, I'm a Christian. I believe in the core stories of the gospel: that Jesus Christ was God incarnate; that he performed (what from our point of view we'd have to call) miracles; that as a means of providing for the irrevocable reconciliation of humankind to God he sacrificed himself on the cross; that he rose from the dead; that he left behind for the benefit of all people the totality of himself in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
I'm good with all of that. It's been at the very center of my life and consciousness since the moment of my sudden conversion.
Beyond that, here are a few random things about Christianity that (not to put too pretentious a spin on it) I hold to be self-evident:
- The Bible is a collection of a great many separate documents written by different people in different languages over thousands of years. Properly understanding both the letter and spirit of the Bible necessarily entails taking into account the historical and cultural contexts that so greatly informs so much of its text. The size, density, history and complexity of the Bible render unfeasible the idea that not one of its words reflects more man's will than God's. The spirit of God is inerrant, while people -- even those impassioned by the conviction that God is speaking directly to or through them -- are not.
Anyone seeking to mix church and state has failed to understand the nature and proper role of either. Being founded upon the principal that all men are created equal and deserving of equal protection under the law is what makes the American system of democracy such a gift to mankind. To incorporate the inherently exclusionary imperatives of a particular religion into the determinedly inclusive system of the American constitutional form of government would be to undermine the very spirit of America by pushing it away from a democracy, and toward a theocracy. It's not possible to read Paul's New Testament writings and remain unmoved by his open heart, intellectual prowess and staggering bravery. And yet Paul (whom, we should never forget, spent years zealously persecuting and having executed untold numbers of Christians) must remain to us a mortal man. More than reasonable, it is incumbent upon those who claim to seek the deepest knowledge of Christ to subject the words of Paul to the same kinds of objective analysis we would the words of any man daring to describe the qualities, purposes and desires of God. With regard to the written identity of God, the pronoun "he" is a necessity of the English language, not an actual anatomical designation. God is neither male nor female. God is large enough to contain and hold in balance any of the qualities one might assign to either. The Biblical scholarship supporting the idea that Paul never wrote a word proscribing natural homosexuality is at least as credible and persuasive as the scholarship (if not the typical translations) claiming that he did. Any person who uses the words of Paul in the New Testament to "prove" that homosexuality is a sin against God has either never researched the matter, or has simply chosen to believe one set of equal proofs over another. Though laziness is easily enough understood, I remain mystified as to why anyone who purports to follow Jesus would choose to condemn an entire population over choosing to obey Jesus' self-proclaimed greatest commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. (How Is Being Gay Like Gluing Wings on a Pig?) It is much more reasonable -- and certainly more compassionate -- to hold that throughout history God chose to introduce himself in different ways into different culture streams than it is to believe that there is only one correct way to understand and worship God, and that the punishment for anyone who chooses any but that way is to spend all of eternity having the living flesh seared off of his or her bones. "No one comes to the Father except through me" does not mean that only Christians will be allowed into heaven. It means that Jesus decides who does and doesn't make the cut. The question of whether or not hell is real is properly subsumed by the truth that a moment spent worrying if you'll be with God in the afterlife is an opportunity missed to be with God in this life. God's will and intention is to forgive and teach us, not judge and punish us. The only person who should be actively endeavoring to convert non-Christians into Christians is God. Jesus does not need our help drawing people toward him. He does need our help -- or could certainly use it, anyway -- making sure that people know that they are loved. (What Non-Christians Want Christians to Hear.) Getting a divorce is painful and if at all possible should certainly be avoided. But ultimately the act in and of itself is certainly not immoral. God does not want any woman "submitting" to anyone. There were no dinosaurs on Noah's ark, and Jesus didn't have a pet stegosaurus. Anyone who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old needs to stand up, put down his or her hot dog, and come eat dinner at the grown-up's table. An all-powerful God and the theory of evolution are not incompatible. The single most telling indicator of a person's moral character has nothing to do with how he or she defines or worships God, and everything to do with how he or she treat others.
In a nutshell, I believe that Christ and Christianity are meant to be understood, appreciated and experienced as galvanizing inspirations for living a life of love, compassion, fairness, peace and humility. Attempting to bend the glory of Jesus Christ toward anything else --especially toward the accrual of personal wealth or power -- is antithetical to what Jesus represented and died for.
To me, all of the above is just common sense. I know that here on HuffPo I'll get my share of evisceration for saying it, but the truth is that being a Christian doesn't necessarily mean also being a simpleton.
John also blogs on JohnShore.com. He invites you to join his Facebook page.