The more I learn about the bible the more I realize isn’t actually in it and so the less I have to get upset about.
Someone I respect a great deal told me how much she wished her pastor gave an invitation every Sunday. She’s older and wiser than I am. She’s someone who’s given me answers when I’ve needed them. We know each other well, I’m very comfortable with her, so when I’m with her I just speak without thinking. I told her I didn’t have a beef with invitations really but that they’re not in the bible so they’re not essential I guess. Praying a prayer to become a Christian isn’t in the bible either. There’s not a formula for salvation either other than “repent and believe” or “sell your possessions and give to the poor” or “you must be born again.” Also absent are the four spiritual laws, grouped together in four easy steps. No “first admit this, then believe that, now say this, now you’re going to heaven.” Jesus doesn’t even talk much about going to heaven, though it certainly exists. So, Jesus never gave an invitation, not like the one I grew up seeing every Sunday, not like the one my friend wants to see more of. Not ever.
And when the conversation was over I felt two things. I felt like, in all the excitement over what I’ve learned gradually over the last decade, I’d said too much all at once. And I also felt like I’d peed on the cross, like I’d done something very heretical and wrong.
Becky and my dad have been reading The Shack and it’s got us talking a lot about how we and those we know have reacted to some of the more unorthodox ideas in it – about how we’re to react in general to ideas that differ in big and small ways from our preconceived notions about God (or politics or parenting or health). Some people won’t start the book. They’ve heard it’s heretical, that God is a woman, a black woman who cooks greens and, well, that’s just nonsense. Others have started it but quit when the ideas got “weird” or they started to doubt their own and got scared. And some people, like my dad, finish it and fearlessly ponder.
Seth Godin, a marketing leader and accidental theologian, writes in his newest book Tribes that fundamentalism is the opposite of curiosity. He says “A fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to his religion before he explores it.” He says a curious person “explores first and then considers whether or not he wants to accept the ramifications.”
The more curious I become the more unorthodox I discover my previously orthodox beliefs to be, the more unbiblical my so-called biblical traditions are. And the more I learn about why they persist anyway, despite not being truly biblical or orthodox. Last night, Gabriella (age 8) started asking me some tough questions about heaven and hell and what it means to be a Christian. I was so tempted to do to her what was was done to me. It would have been easy to ask her if she wanted to go to hell or heaven and then lead her in a prayer when she said – as any sane person would – that she prefers the perfection of heaven to burning for eternity. It’s harder to put eight-year-old words to ideas I’ve only begun to understand as an adult.
These are the uncomfortable ramifications of thinking heretically, of being curious.