This is the third and final installment of my initial response to this list of questions I received in an email on Monday. As in the previous posts, this is a copy of my text, verbatim, though in this instance, the name of the sender has been removed to protect anonymity.
When I look at many of the most conservative people in our churches, it’s perhaps hard for me to understand the reasons they believe what they do, but it’s easy for me to understand why they continue in that belief. If it is difficult for me at 27 and you at 33 (34?) to really change and examine what we believe because of our investments, how much more difficult will it be for people who are 70 and have invested so much in their particular paradigm? While that does not excuse them from their call to grow and encounter Christ, it does, I think, provide me with a certain measure of understanding of why they act as they do, as well as giving me a reality check of my own. May we never be so invested and entrenched in our own views that we are not able to be challenged ourselves. May we never view ourselves only as the challengers, but also view ourselves as those who need to be challenged. May we never feel like we are the ones with answers, but be constantly searching for new questions.
With that in mind, I would like to pose two questions of my own. They are based on two of your questions – specifically questions 3 and 9.
In question 9, you ask “are we limiting ourselves to the most easily offended”? I wonder if it is truly necessary to offend people in order to challenge them. You will note that the people Christ offended didn’t turn toward him – in fact they crucified him. That didn’t stop him from calling them out, but it did not produce the result we’re looking for in this case – namely it did not turn their hearts toward God. Is there some way we can effectively challenge without offending? If not, is division an acceptable price? Are we willing to sacrifice “the most easily offended” (the needs of the few) for the “future of our community” (the needs of the many)? You follow up in Question 10 with the bold phrase “whatever it takes”. I know you did not intend that phrase in this context, but I wonder (especially in light of my next question) if “whatever it takes” is an approach we really want to consider.
Finally, in question 3, you ask “Is it worth spending time arguing over something like this when we could be spending time telling the world about Jesus?” I think we would both agree that the answer is, “Of course not.” My question is whether your email is in fact an argument in the affirmative. In other words, if these issues are really not worth arguing over, and if it really were more important to spend our time telling the world about Jesus, how much time have I “wasted” writing this ridiculously long email back to you? I use wasted in quotations because I think discussions like this are tremendously useful, at least for keeping our minds open. However, we must remain vigilant that we do not, as Nietzsche would say, “become the monster”. “He who fights monsters,” he says, “must take care not to become a monster himself. For when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.” At what point do we, in our desire to bring people to a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with Christ, become that which we fight against by our own inflexibility and inability to compromise? At what point do we, as leaders who want everyone to walk in the footsteps of Christ, cease to walk on that path ourselves in the name of “helping others”? At what point do we begin to “do evil, that good may result”? There are not simple answers to these questions, and they are questions I must ask myself every day. I’m not always sure I like the answers.
Your questions have blessed me. They force me to examine myself, to examine what I believe, and to again ask uncomfortable questions I often cannot answer satisfactorily. Thankfully it is not the answers, but the questions I think Jesus wants us to have. When we rely totally on him, and not on our own wisdom, we will truly understand what it is to have faith, to love others, to be perfect. Until then, we look through a glass, darkly, on the image of perfection we will be in heaven.
Tomorrow an email response from Jeremy Hegi, and a follow-up to that on Monday.