Theology

On having a “flexible faith”

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I once had a high school English teacher who told the class we could argue in our term papers that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is about a cheese sandwich, and get full credit…if we could make a credible case for it, using textual and historical evidence.

As far as I’m aware, no one wrote a paper about Shakespeare and cheese sandwiches that semester. But that method of creative interpretation, albeit with some practical limits, has stuck with me over the years. I remember that scene from high school when I think about different ways Christians have interpreted the Bible, and continue to interpret it still.

I found a similar kind of spirit in the book A Flexible Faith by Bonnie Kristian, which tackles multiple issues that Christians have never universally agreed upon (Should people be baptized as babies or as adults? Is the Eucharist real, or symbolic?) and presents different cases for each view. It was endorsed by Gregory Boyd, whose book Across the Spectrum is quite similar. I eat up everything Boyd writes, so seeing his name on the cover of Kristian’s book made it an easy purchase.

In a nutshell, the book can be summarized as follows: Believers are anchored by the doctrines of the orthodox creeds (Apostles and Nicene, respectively), but there is allowance for diversity within the faith…so long as one can build a solid case using appropriate Scriptural and contextual references.

In other words, no one can honestly claim that salvation is found in a cheese sandwich.

I marked up several sections of this book (storing up quotes for Instagram!), but this paragraph really stood out to me:

As a millennial who sees too many people my age leaving the church and becoming “nones” because they’re disillusioned with the only version of Christianity they know, I’d suggest there’s a lot more room for growth.

Navigating these differences becomes easier, I’m convinced, when we appreciate the diversity within orthodoxy, and when we learn to thoughtfully and fairly distinguish between theological debates of varying importance and implication. We can and must reach a point of being able to say, “I think you’re wrong and here’s why. Oh, and we’re still on for lifeguarding together Saturday, right?”

This is how I imagine the ancient rabbis acting as they compiled the biblical commentaries known as the Talmud: Okay, fine, so you think the world was created in six literal 24-hour days instead of several thousand years. I think that’s mashugana, but are you still coming over for Shabbos dinner this weekend?

That level of maturity and nuance is, sadly, a lost art today. Just this week, I had someone message me on Instagram to tell me that I had no right to call myself a Christian because of a picture I posted from the women’s march, in which I was standing next to another handmaid who happened to be holding a sign that read “Abortion is a valid medical procedure.” I honestly didn’t think about her sign when I posted the photo — I only thought it was cool that we were wearing matching costumes that day. But the more I tried to explain myself, the more this person seemed certain that I was a heretic. Oh well.

Instances like that, which are sadly common, guarantee that I’ll be returning to Kristian’s book for reassurance. Ultimately, however, true assurance that I’m doing this Christianity thing “right” (whatever that looks like) comes from studying the Bible as carefully as I can, praying that I can set my biases aside, and be willing to feel uncomfortable by the truths it contains.

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