I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the evangelical theological constructs that surround me. I’ve had some really great conversations lately with a number of deep-thinking people, so I end up floating around these things. Without going into many details, I have begun to recognize more and more the differences between what I believe and experience, and the conceptual models that attempt to explain what it is I believe and experience.
For example, what do I really believe about me, in contrast to what do I see as the conceptual models that attempt to explain me?
The “Four Spiritual Laws” tries to explain me this way: God loves me, but because of my sin, I had separated myself from that love. I am fundamentally a sinner, separating me from Him with an unfathomable gulf which cannot be bridged by my own efforts.
Now I do believe this to be true. Except that fundamentally, I don’t think that’s how God sees me.
God sees me as imago dei, a person lovingly created in His Image. I am an expression of God’s existence and likeness, and His love for and benevolence toward mankind. My creativity, passion, intellect, sentience, and free will point to the reality of God’s existence in the universe, which in itself also points to Him. That is who I am fundamentally. The sin part is the part I added on later.
This is a subtle but immensely important difference. Jesus did not come to fix, but to restore. He is putting it back to where it was intended to be.
Here’s another example. The book of Mark says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16) But the word “believe” sometimes means something different in the evangelical construct.
“Believe” should mean living a life in increasing measure under the reign and rule of a loving God. But sometimes, in the modernity-driven, evangelical construct, “believe” means assenting to a set of belief statements. American evangelicalism, in particular, has inadvertently defined Christianity as the conviction to a set of doctrinal beliefs rather than as a lifestyle of surrender to Jesus. And as such, faith (and even who gets to go to heaven or hell) can then be measured according to the rightness of one’s system, instead of than how and for whom you live your life.
Yes, I’m trying very hard not to refer to the firestorm concerning “Rob Bell,” one way or the other. And no, I don’t have any desire to give you whatever incomplete and uninformed opinions I might have on the subject either. But I do think that it is a shame if our doctrine gets in the way of following Jesus.
One thing I will share. I think that we fool ourselves when we think we can fully explain all that God has done and will do for us. So as I see these differences between what I believe and experience, and the conceptual models that attempt to explain what it is I believe and experience, I find myself more and more comfortable with the idea of mystery.
Yes, we can know—beyond simple “belief”—many things revealed. And we should be intelligent and thoughtful about such things. But for the many, many more things we know not, I am simply more willing to embrace the mystery of it all.
I think that’s the smartest thing anyone can do.