The other day I was listening to a Christian webcast during which one of the panel members made a comment that I have heard many times. Essentially, everybody on the panel was agreed that there is no room within Christianity for those with new ideas or new ways of looking at things. According to this view, the basics of Christianity are all well understood and any new ideas or thoughts will lead to blasphemy or heresy. As a person who has discussed a number of such ideas with other Christians, I have experienced this attitude many times. Other Christians often look at me as though I was free climbing Half Dome without a harness. How can I have the confidence to question some of the basic tenets of Christianity as I do?
Ironically, I actually think my opponents are the people who have the problem. I cannot understand how other Christians can believe some of the traditional Christian doctrines with which I have disagreed. During the process of working out these ideas, I have been very strongly aware of the fact that I will eventually stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and defend all that I have written. As I have done so, I have concluded that the positions that I have taken are not only more defensible than the alternatives but much more defensible. Let us examine some of the issues where I have disagreed with the views of traditional Christianity.
Adam in the Garden
One of the primary ways in which I have disagreed with other Christians is my view of the inherent evil of mankind. Specifically, many Christians believe that Adam was good in the Garden of Eden and that we could have been just like Jesus if only God wouldn’t have allowed Satan to tempt us. When I hear Christians express this kind of attitude it sickens me. To me it sounds like these Christians are complaining against God. “I would have been perfect like Jesus except for the fact that He inflicted evil on me so that He could show me that He was better than me.” So God did all of this evil so that He could show us that He is better than us? That is not in accord with God’s humility, love or grace as far as I understand it.
In stark contrast to other Christians, I believe that no created being could be good like Jesus Christ and that Adam was inherently evil in the Garden. That is to say, I believe that Adam’s love for God was imperfect and his disobedience with regard to the forbidden fruit was God’s demonstration of this fact. As finite created beings, we are inherently incapable of the perfect love of God and cannot act in accordance with the standard of perfect love without divine assistance. In order to get us to accept that divine assistance, God has put us in a world where we can see our need for His love as clearly as possible. I have addressed the question of why God might want us to accept this assistance through faith in another post.
So how is it that Jesus Christ is going to find fault with my position when I am judged before Him on that great day? What is He going to say? Is He going to argue that I am wrong and that Adam actually had the same perfect love for the Father as He does? It is inconceivable to me that Jesus would condemn me for teaching that no created being could be as loving and as perfect as He is.
On the other hand, what are those who believe that Adam was good like Jesus Christ going to say before Him on that great day if they are wrong? “Well, Lord, I know that Romans condemns those who elevate the created being to the level of the Creator, but it was so obvious that Adam was just as good as You are that I just had to believe it.” Is it me? Or does my position seem vastly more defensible?
The Sin of the Old Testament Prophets
Another way in which I have disagreed with traditional Christian teaching which is strongly related to my view of Adam in the Garden is my interpretation of many Old Testament stories. For example, I believe that the Old Testament prophets were barbaric sinners who were only saved by the grace of God through faith and not by their righteous works. In my post on Throwing Moses Under the Bus, I argue that the church has largely ignored two of the greatest divine imperatives given to us by God and thereby misinterpreted the Old Testament. As a couple of examples of this misinterpretation, I argue that Moses committed two of the greatest sins in human history in Exodus 32 and 33, that his slaughter of the “heads of the people” in Numbers 25 was a sin and that Elisha committed a sin when he cursed some youths for calling him bald.
So how is it that Jesus Christ is going to find fault with my position when I am judged before Him on that great day? What is He going to say? Is He going to condemn me for believing that He was vastly superior to the Old Testament prophets as His Father taught on the Mount of Transfiguration? How could anyone who has read the Bible believe this for a minute?
On the other hand, what are Christians who believe that Moses was as righteous and obedient as Jesus Christ going to say when they stand before Him on that great day? “Well, Lord, I know that the word says that ‘there is none righteous no not one’, but surely the great prophets were an exception”? Once again, my position seems vastly more defensible than the simplistic ideas of traditional Christianity.
The Nature of the Atonement
A third way in which, I have disagreed with traditional Christian teaching is my view of the Atonement. Traditional Christian teaching is that God’s anger at sin was poured out on Jesus on the cross and that this allowed God the Father to forgive sin. I believe that this is only half of the story. I believe that God the Father took enormous pleasure in His Son’s act of perfect obedience and that this singular act of perfect love allowed God the Father to forgive sin.
So how is it that Jesus Christ is going to find fault with my position when I am judged before Him on that great day? What is He going to say? Is He going to deny the Father’s love for Him or His perfect obedience? I feel bold to teach my two-sided version of the nature of the Atonement because I believe the Father’s amazing love for the Son and His perfect obedience is a vital part of God’s great and astonishing plan of salvation that has been ignored by the traditional teachings of the church.
On the other hand, how would someone who rejects this idea defend his rejection before the Lord? “Well, Lord, it seemed to me obvious that the thing that truly pleased the Father on the day of the crucifixion wasn’t Your act of perfect obedience, but the acts of the men who crucified You.” I understand why Christians would get nervous by someone who suggests a new interpretation of the Atonement, but I honestly cannot see how what I have taught would lead to the rebuke of my Lord.
The Nature of Hell
Another large deviation between myself and those who believe in traditional Christian doctrine concerns the interpretation of Hell. For me, it is very clear that the human love of sin made it necessary for God to describe Hell in the bleakest possible terms. If God had merely said, “Hell is being separated from my perfect love and gifts for all eternity.”, people would have thought that Hell was better than Heaven! “An eternity without God’s constant interference and His rules? That would be AWESOME!” People who love sin think that living without God would be enjoyable and they cannot understand the grave and horrific mistake that they are making when they take this position. Through difficult experiences on Earth and through extremely severe language, God makes their error in this regard as clear as possible.
On the other hand, the doctrine of hell is so unbelievable for some people that it makes loving God with all their heart soul and mind difficult or is used as an excuse to reject Christ. For this reason, I explain my belief that hell is actually the consequences of choosing not to live with Christ not a direct punishment from God in the form of literal flames. (see The Nature of Hell, Speculations Concerning the Divine Plan and Two Identical Islands, Two Different Places.)
So how is it that Jesus Christ is going to find fault with my position when I am judged before Him on that great day? What is He going to say? Is He going to say that living with sin is so much fun that living without His love, His grace and His forgiveness is an eternal joy? This is impossible. On the other hand, those who believe that hell is literal flames have to explain why living without God is not bad enough and how perfect love could torment created beings forever. Once again, I am more comfortable defending my position before the Lord than the traditional position.
The Reliability of Scripture
Now one of the areas where I feel a bit more vulnerable to criticism is in what other people would consider to be my compromise on the reliability of scripture. I have agreed that certain Bible stories likely have mythological elements. I have suggested that God may have created life through a process of Theistic Evolution. I have also suggested that the “clay” that God used to create mankind may have been an advanced hominid. I must admit to being somewhat nervous about defending these positions and that my critics have a stronger case before the Lord than I do. “Well, Lord, I just believed in the truth of Your word.”
While I am somewhat nervous about defending these positions, I am not that nervous. I am very reluctant to use arguments that amount to calling people names. “All of that evidence is faked by liar scientists!” just does not seem to me to be a very effective argument. For this reason, I tend to accept expert evidence at face value and argue for the truth of the Christian worldview on other grounds. If someone argues that Samson killing 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey is highly unlikely and seems to be mythology, then I am going to agree with him and move the conversation on to arguments that demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Similarly, if someone wants to argue that mankind has certain characteristics that resemble non-humans we find in the fossil record, I am not going to argue the case on its merits. I will just acknowledge that there may be such evidence and argue, “so what if there is?”
What am I going to say to someone who points out these legitimate difficulties? Am I going to lie to that person and say that there is no legitimate basis for questioning the faith? No. I am going to agree that there might be an issue and try to move the conversation to the overwhelming evidence that Biblical Christianity is true. This seems to me to be a very defensible position and I am not afraid to take it before my gracious and glorious Saviour.
Probably the most uncomfortable position that I will have to defend before God is my pacifism. In a number of essays, I have argued that I would intercede on behalf of any sinner that God commanded me to kill as He commanded Old Testament Israel to kill various peoples during the Exodus. I have also argued that demonic beings are responsible for the judgments pronounced by God and carried out by angelic beings. I would defend these position based on my reluctance to strike at someone made in the image of my Lord. If the archangel Michael is unwilling to condemn the Father of Lies, then how can I feel comfortable in killing a fellow human being made in the image of God?
But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)
As I hope I have made clear, I have given a great deal of thought to the things that I have written on this site and I have a great confidence in the basic truth of what I have written. The basis of my confidence is, as I have discussed, that I am very cognizant that I am going to have to defend everything that I have said and written before my Lord. As long as I can go before Him and say that my beliefs were different from traditional beliefs in that they increased His glory and decreased the glory of created beings, I can do so with all confidence.
He must increase but I must decrease (John 3:30)