I try not to employ the “No True Scotsman” fallacy very often – it’s not up to me to see into people’s hearts and determine who is a legitimate Christian, and who is not.
At the same time, a person born in a Jewish family who later believes in Jesus is, by definition, no longer Jewish – at least not in any spiritual sense. I accepted this some time ago. Judaism doesn’t really have a strict set of non-negotiable doctrines except one: there is one God, and he cannot be both man and divine (okay, so maybe that’s technically two).
Words mean things, don’t they? At what point do your beliefs – or lack thereof – remove you from one box, and place you in another?
These thoughts have been swirling in my head ever since the following Twitter discussion:
It didn’t take long for someone to chime in that anyone who doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection isn’t a Real Christian. Not too long ago, I would have agreed whole-heartedly. I believed in rigid absolutes, and anyone who didn’t walk the same narrow path got shoved off of it.
That was before experiencing “dark night of the soul” during (and years after) seminary. I now know what it’s like to muster the courage to come forward with your questions, only to be faith-shamed for it. It’s traumatizing. The best thing that helped me get through it was people who were willing to listen without judgment – even when they didn’t always agree, even if my questions were ones that never crossed their minds before.
The people who told me that my faith was invalid drove me into a spiral of depression. Maybe they went well, but they only made things worse.
So I don’t make a habit of saying So-and-So isn’t a “real Christian.”
But, as I told Cindy, I have questions.
And it’s true that, regarding the resurrection (and the virgin birth and the other miracles), I believe in a “Lord, help my unbelief” kind of way, since it’s the only way I really know how. I don’t want my faith to just be some kind of self-confidence regimen; something I turn to for damage control when life goes awry. I want it to be true. If I can’t fully believe that 100%, then I choose to live like it is.
I think of all the Jewish teachers through the ages, particularly those who wrote the Talmud, who believe different things about whether musical instruments are permitted during Shabbat and whether it’s okay to order a cup of coffee in a non-kosher restaurant. The debates never really get solved, yet they are bound by a mutual love for Torah, and the God depicted within it.
Why can’t Christianity be the same way?
Because it’s hard to narrow down the list of things that make one a Christian. If I had to summarize the non-negotiables, I’d point to the Nicene Creed – but not everyone agrees. Some people will want to add requirements; others will want to take some away. “People who love Jesus” means different things to different people. Even “love” has definitions and nuances that mean different things to different denominations.
What do we do, then?
The best advice I can offer is Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (emphasis mine).