Jack Dodgen shares his review of “Evil and the Justice of God”, N.T. Wright’s take on the problem of evil, pain, and suffering.
“It’s funny I don’t fit, tell me, where have all the average people gone?” Roger Miller once asked in the old country song. In it he went on to describe how everywhere he turned, he didn’t seem to fit in. The rich saw him as poor, the poor saw him as rich, city people thought he was country, country people thought he was city, and so on. As the years go by, I find myself feeling that way increasingly in the church.
For the most part, I pretty much side with conservative interpretations of the issues – baptism, women’s roles, instrumental music, amillennialism, young earth, etc. On the other hand, I believe there’s room for grace for those who hold different interpretations, that because I probably don’t have everything right then I should probably give some room for error to others. As Matthew 7:2 makes clear, if I will cut off others for getting one small thing wrong, then that’s how I’ll be judged.
It’s that specific ideology that has me feeling ideologically homeless. The progressive wing of Christianity looks down on conservative ideology, and the conservative wing wants nothing to do with those who don’t believe a person has to interpret every single issue exactly the same way to be saved. For the conservatives, nobody is going to heaven except the people in 99% agreement with them. For the progressives, it seems as though everyone is saved except the conservatives. A few examples:
In one article, I mentioned in passing that taking a drink of alcohol might not be a sin and got blasted from multiple sides, with one preacher even taking out Facebook advertising to tell people to shun me.
Another article got me labeled as a liberal “change agent” for saying we shouldn’t spend so much time rehashing baptism and the instrument in the churches of Christ. At least 3 Sunday sermons (that I know of) were preached directly about why I’m a heretic because of that article.
At one point, a lady I’ve never met tried to contact my church leadership to get me fired because she disagreed with one specific thing I wrote.
As those things happened, the more progressive wing of the church reached out to me to offer friendship, even though we disagreed on a few things. The more time I spend with them, though, the more I feel the same lack of grace. My stance on women’s roles made me oppressive toward women, in their eyes. In one bizarre instance, my refusal to concede that the woman at the well narrative (John 4) established her as a #MeToo victim supposedly made me a biased, privileged, white male. The side that prides themselves on grace often shows anything but to those who are to the right of them.
I’m not sharing these as some weird sort of bragging. I’m sharing them because I’ve talked to a number of preacher friends who have received the exact same kind of treatment from both ends of the churches of Christ. You likely have heard the stories of people being “written up,” slammed on TV shows, blacklisted from events, and even confronted in person. It’s ridiculous how out of hand it’s gotten.
And so, I find myself feeling ideologically homeless. The funny thing is, though – I believe at the very least that there are many of us “average people.” We may even make up a majority. But, as with the political world, the loud voices on the extremes crowd out those in between. There is very much an, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us” attitude (despite Jesus saying the exact opposite in Luke 9:50). So, despite our large numbers, we end up feeling isolated and go into a hiding of sorts for fear that one of our disallowed beliefs might slip out and cost us friendships and (for ministers) even our jobs. To me, that’s ridiculous.
To be honest, I envy people in the denominational world who can openly debate issues like divorce and remarriage, eschatology, the work of the Spirit, and other topics that have become so divisive they’re off limits to us. Let’s talk! Let’s help each other! And let’s do it with a sense of love and pursuit of truth, rather than slamming each other down for being wrong and in pursuit of who’s right.
The biggest struggle here, of course, is to avoid the pride that comes from trying to find your place. We “average people” can’t be like the Pharisee of Luke 18, praying “I thank you, Lord, that I’m not as judgmental as those to my right or as lax as those to my left.” The goal here is to simply find common ground with our brethren.
And that’s what I want to do. I’m tired of being in hiding, afraid to say that I disagree. I know I’m being idealistic, and I know that , like Roger Miller, saying these things will get me labeled too liberal by the conservatives, and too conservative by the liberals. But I think it’s worth the risk, and I think I’ll find plenty more “average people” by speaking up, though some will understandably be afraid to agree publicly. I’m tired of being silenced by the extremes. We’re holding ourselves back by pushing each other astray and making important topics off limits for discussion.
I just want to be pleasing to Jesus and follow His footsteps. I know for a fact I’m getting that wrong in various ways every day, in ways that I’m aware of and in ways that I’m not. So please be patient with me and show me a little grace where you disagree with me. I’m willing to show it right back. Let’s simply remember that we’re flawed individuals on the same side, with the same goal.