If you’re familiar with my backstory, you’ve probably heard me say more than once that the Jewish way of studying the Bible is what ended up saving my faith – that is to say, asking hard questions of the text, wrestling with it, and being comfortable with degrees of uncertainty. The Talmud, a compilation of commentary on the Torah, is literally just that: debates, arguments, musings, and conjectures about what a passage might mean, what God did or did not intend, and how to apply (or not apply) certain laws.
Many Christians have issues with this approach. They want the black and white; they don’t like uncertainty. If the text says something happened, it happened, exactly as it is written. Everything is literal, and if you doubt any of it, you have to throw your entire faith away.
I encountered this type of thinking in many Bible studies, campus ministry groups, and churches. There is no way to classify these groups, as they called themselves non-denominational, but it’s fair to say that they represent a mainstream form of Christianity. Many people bump into it at some point or another. It’s not uncommon by any means.
But that doesn’t stop some people from commenting, Well those groups don’t represent True Christianity. You should join my church/Bible study instead.
These comments are well-intentioned, but they get very old, very fast. Worse, they invalidate my experiences, many of which were nearly fatal to my faith. They may not represent what Christianity has looked like in your own life, but they were very real to me.
Let’s be real: Jesus may be perfect, but humans are definitely not. They twist his words. They interpret Scripture with an agenda (some worse than others). We are all guilty of this, to an extent.
It’s not hard to find examples of toxic Christianity: it’s evident on street corners, on the signs on preachers yelling at passers-by that they are going to hell if they don’t repent. It’s in the comments of tweets by Christian authors such as Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker (two women whose writings helped bring me back to the fold, I might add). It’s in the responses of parents who disown their gay or transgender children. It’s in the callousness of anyone who refuses to listen – not agree with, but simply listen – to an idea or story they find strange, uncomfortable, or maybe even a tad heretical.
The fact that the phrase “Not All Christians” exists and is so popularly used is an indictment against the very idea of True Christianity in the first place. As I say in my memoir, one denomination’s truth is another’s heresy. That was true in Jesus’ day, and remains so today.
While levels of fundamentalism exist within Judaism, it has been my experience that “absolute truth” is never the goal; community is, as well as learning more about the relationship between God and his people Israel.
People can argue and disagree until they’re blue in the face without having No True Jew tossed in their faces. Mature Christians who love God and love Scripture should be able to engage in discussion the same way.