Once people find out we're pastors, we inevitably get questions that run something like this: "So what do you think about... ?" You fill in the blank: whether it's women or pot, homosexuality or hell, just insert your favorite issue and you'll get the gist.
Questions like these are hard to answer. Not because we don't have positions, but because you never know for sure what the asker is after. Are they really interested in understanding what I believe and where I'm coming from? Or is this simply just another a litmus test - a quick way to determine whether I'm a friend or foe?
You know what I'm talking about here - agree with me and we're pals, I will lavish my affection upon you; disagree and we're enemies, and will punish you with my disapproval, I will cut you out of my life. Fundamentalist Christians do this all the time, but so do fundamentalist pagans (and so do all of us in between, because we all naturally tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us).
But it's a scorched earth policy on all accounts, because the only relationships that come from this kind of approach are either contingent (they depend on a list of things we must first agree upon) or superficial (they require us not to be honest about what we really think). Yet what are most of us looking for? Relationships that are deep and honest, relationships where we can be ourselves and be accepted in spite of ourselves.
So how DO we try to answer questions like these? Let me see if I can make this real, by picking something controversial, and trying to illustrate how I'd explain it.
What if someone asked me me about Jesus - is he the only way to get to God? I mean, come on, that seems so exclusive, so judgmental of others! Surely we don't believe something like that do we? What do I say?
Well actually, yeah, we do. But maybe not for the reasons you might think. And before I'd ever want to talk about my opinions, I'd much rather hear yours first: What do you think? And why?
That first part (the 'what') is important, because I'm really interested in knowing where you're coming from. And the second part (the 'why') is even more crucial, because it's going to tell me something about who you are, about how you see the world, about the concerns that are driving your question in the first place.
If you think that Jesus isn't the only way to get to God, maybe it's because that's all you've ever heard from those around you, maybe you've just never really thought about it.
Or maybe you've known people who thought he was the only way, and then they tried to shove it down everyone else's throat, maybe you just swore you'd never be like those people.
You see, there are a plethora of reasons for why people believe what they believe, and if we don't take the time to really listen, it's easy to end up speaking past one another.
Ok, so now I know about what you think; it's my turn, you say, ante up: what does Christian Cryder believe?
Alright, I'll tell you. I do believe Jesus is the only way to get to God. And yeah, it does sound exclusive at first blush. But even as I acknowledge that, I'd like to qualify it with two really important considerations.
First, I'd like you to consider WHY I think that.
If I am clinging to that belief, the idea that Jesus is the only way to get to God, in order to make myself feel superior to you (because I 'get it' and you don't), if I am using that 'truth' to feel better about myself while I look down on you, then I would be the kind of person Jesus calls a hypocrite and you would be absolutely right in rejecting me for it.
BUT, if I embrace the idea that Jesus is the only way to get to God, not because I like it, not because I think I'm better than you, but simply because Jesus himself claimed that, well... you may still have a beef with Jesus. Maybe he's wrong. Maybe we're just stupid for believing him.
But at the very least, I would hope that you could see that we're just being honest and authentic, even when it's unpopular. And I would hope you could at least respect us for that, even if you never agree with us.
So that's the first thing I want you to hear - that it's not just what we believe, but why we believe. Motivation matters bigtime.
And here's the second thing - I would want you to know that even if you completely disagree with us on this issue (the idea that Jesus is the only way to get to God), you are still completely welcome in our church and as our friends. Far too often, what gets communicated non-verbally in conversations like this is that you need to agree with us in order to have a relationship with us. And we think that is wrong.
We want to be really clear - we will never, ever reject you simply because you can't agree with us on something. We value you as you are, we want to listen to you well, to understand where you're coming from, and we invite you to speak into our lives (because maybe you see something we don't).
Maybe we need you, maybe you need us. But neither of us will ever know where we're blind if we only surround ourselves with people who agree...
So there you have it. That's how I'd answer that question, and that's how I'd preface just about any answer I give on anything. But why am I sharing all of this in the first place?
Part of it's in response to a question from Graham (in the comments, over here). He raised some specific issues, and I want to explain why we don't just respond to stuff with a list of bullet points: "Here's what we think on this, that, and the other..."
Polarized issues are hard to talk about. It takes a commitment to relationship, even if we don't agree. And these kinds of questions are often best discussed in person, over a meal or a beer, rather than in an impersonal forum like a web site. So that's why we don't just run straight to into a discussion.
Nevertheless, these are good questions, and they do need to be discussed, because ultimately, someone like Graham doesn't just need to know what we believe - he needs to know why we believe it, to figure out whether we're hypocrites to be rejected, or fools to be pitied. And to do that, he's going to have to spend some time getting to know us, our character. It's going to take time, relationship, and conversations.
It's also going to take getting to know the Jesus of the Scriptures (at least a little), since that's who Christians claim as their ultimate authority.
At the end of the day, that's the only way to tell whether we're being consistent (eg. whether we look, act, and think like Christ). It's also the only way to ever develop an informed opinion about Jesus (eg. by looking at what he says himself, not just what others say about him). Maybe he's a sham. Or maybe he's not. But you'll never know without examining him.
We want to welcome that kind of conversation, not stifle it. So what do we think? Lets get together and talk about it...