I’ve already mentioned this week that it’s biblically impossible to be “biblical,” but there’s something else that’s impossible for evangelical Christians: unity as intellectual uniformity. Authors/speakers/bloggers often lament that the church could truly be unified if only we could all agree on “X.”
The measure for unity has been anything from adopting specific doctrines or creeds to a particular approach to social issues.
If I’ve made one huge, colossal mistake over the years, it’s the expectation that the right theology can fix everything. That’s where so many evangelical and progressive reform movements fall off the tracks.
It usually goes something like this:
There’s a particular theology at the heart of one group, and once some of us find issues with it, we break off to form a new group that coalesces around a “superior” form of theology. The only problem is a new reform group will emerge with its own critique and suggested changes that will lead to yet another split.
This is the future of evangelicalism.
We’re always tweaking theology with different philosophical concoctions, suggesting that if we could just think about things a little differently or if we staged a radical enough theological revolution, we’ll find true Christianity. Such captivity to “thinking as the answer” has been my own undoing.
We’ll never think the same thing as Christians.
We’ll never get our theology just right.
Most of us know this in theory, but it’s hard to give up that constant tweaking and shifting of theology. It’s hard for me to stop believing that the most important part of my Christian life is perfecting my theology.
I have lived as if perfecting my theology is all that Jesus required of me.
Since evangelicalism took shape largely around a common vision of sharing the Gospel, there’s a glimmer of hope that perhaps we can find unity again. However, it will never come about by signing a piece of paper or all subscribing to the same blog.
There will be evangelicals who disagree on the existence of hell.
There will be evangelicals with vastly different views of God’s power and sovereignty.
There will be evangelicals with dramatically different views of the atonement.
There will be Democratic, anarchist, apolitical, and Republican evangelicals.
There will be evangelicals with very different views on homosexuality.
There will be evangelicals who permit women to teach and those who don’t.
There will be vastly different evangelical approaches to church leadership.
It’s all a mess, and we’ll never line up every doctrine just right. If we’re waiting for someone to “come around” to our perspective, we may be doomed to frustration and disappointment.
Frustrated though we may be, I’m hopeful.
A few months ago my pastor drew a 2-mile circle around our church’s neighborhood. Within that circle we found hundreds of thousands of people—far more than you could squeeze in all of the existing churches in our area.
If our neighborhood needs anything, it needs more churches and more diverse groups of Christians who can serve the poor, the lonely, the worried, and the aimless. There are thousands of people all around us who don’t know about the freedom of God’s Kingdom, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend our time beating up on each other, trying to line everyone up with the same exact doctrines.
In fact, after our church moved to a new location that is two blocks away from our previous location, our pastor encouraged a new neighborhood church to plant their church in the old location. In fact, there’s an Episcopal church in between our church’s meeting spot and the new church in our old spot.
We still need more churches.
I have needed this shift in mindset. Instead of always looking for the perfect way to think about my faith, I’ve been challenged to think of ways to live my faith in community. When I’m focused on serving specific people in my community, I’m rescued from myself and my obsession with getting my beliefs just right.
I’ll never sign the right creedal statement or stage the right revolution. I have only found hope in the imperfect act of serving another person and passing along the mercy and love that God has given to me.