9.22.2017

Levels of Christianity

I did not grow up going to church or really having any religion taught to me, so in matters of faith I
have come to own what I believe through my own process of investigation and evaluation.  I have now been a Christian for over a quarter of a century, but continue to keep an open mind that adheres to absolute truths but also considers different ways of looking at the world.  This may sound utterly banal, but it is set in contrast to those who have believed one thing all their lives and process everything through that belief system, as well as those who have no single anchor to their worldview.

But enough meandering...today's post is more narrowly about the Christian faith.  It seems to me that there are three levels to owning such a faith.  (Obviously, there are an infinite number of gradations around and in between these levels.)

First is thinking of it as a collection of honored traditions.  In this country, that means Santa and Christmas trees, going to church on Easter, and having a shared repository of Bible stories from which to make life analogies and derive some moral guidance.  A lot of people in the US who call themselves Christians are this kind of Christian.

Second is thinking of it as a unified worldview.  In other words, how the world works and how/why I ought to behave is anchored by the teachings of the Bible.  Many people in this country are at least partially influenced by the Bible when it comes to issues of morality, guilt, forgiveness, relationships, and life after death.  At this level, there may be room to consider your perspective simply one of many possible ones, with other competing perspectives not inherently better or worse.

Third is thinking of it as a salvation story.  At this level, the fundamental truth as it relates to people is that we are irreparably fallen, and that there is a singular and non-negotiable way to redemption.  To fold the previous level into this level, this is the key piece that unifies this particular worldview, that there is such a thing as the need for salvation and that there is such a thing as a savior who secured that salvation for us. 

Inclusivity and tolerance are rightly upheld as important traits to a vibrant society.  Sadly, there have been many times, both in the past and in the present, that Christians who adhere to a specific explanation about God and man and sin and atonement have perverted that belief into a mean-spirited or even violent response towards those who believe differently.

I recall meeting someone on a trip overseas who, when I had extended an invitation to join a Bible discussion I would be hosting, lit into me and said, "I hate how you guys think that if you aren't a Christian then you're going to hell, and that yours is the only way to heaven!"  I admit I was taken aback at so charged a statement, especially since we had just met and our interaction had been otherwise pleasant.  I could only muster the following response, which in retrospect would still be my response: "In my understanding of the fallenness of humanity, I marvel that there is a way at all."

My level of Christianity has more space than you might think.  There is enough room for any who conclude that there is such a thing as sin, that they are (like me) sinful, that there is a consequence to that condition, and that (like me) they are on their own helpless to do anything about it.

You may disagree, perhaps vehemently, and that is your right and I respect that.  Even as this is where my beliefs live now, I continue to keep an open mind to better understand the perspectives of others.  And so my process of investigation and evaluation continues, as it has my whole life.
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