Unity As Intellectual Uniformity Is Impossible

evangelicals-impossibleI’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.

9 thoughts on “Unity As Intellectual Uniformity Is Impossible

  1. perfectnumber628

    Yes. I think evangelical Christianity places way too much emphasis on believing the right things, at the expense of doing good. Probably because of the belief that salvation is through faith, not works- so all that matters is being RIGHT, believing the CORRECT things. (To the extent that some Christians seem to be suspicious of the idea of “being a good person”- wouldn’t want anyone to think they were saved through works!)

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking along those lines and I plan to write about it on my blog. :)

  2. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Part of the struggle is that Christianity is a thinking relationship with Christ that involves a Spirit-filled mindset, fixing our thoughts on truth, and considering him. Therefore, we can’t divorce thinking from our faith. However, when our faith becomes only thinking, when we’re sitting and doing nothing, and when we’re avoiding fellowship with other believers because they differ with us on the preference issues of doctrine A or doctrine B, then our thinking is not the kind of truth-meditation that spurs the actions urged upon us by the Holy-Spirit-inspired scripture writers. Balance is always the challenge. So is getting out of the boat to walk on the water.

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  7. Tim Sexton

    The problem is not with evangelicals, per se. The problem is the Bible itself. It teaches all these things and more. Evangelicals don’t even agree on the most basic doctrines, including what the gospel is and exactly what response is required, yet they are all examining the same data set, supposedly with the same basic exegetical presuppositions. Same data, different conclusions, even on basic, fundamental doctrines. The problem is the data. It is simply…not…clear. If the true God of the unverse inspired this book, couldn’t he have communicated more clearly, especially if his own Son supposedly prayed for unity (John 17)? Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism strikes again. This post beautifully illustrates one of the main reasons I no longer consider myself a Christian.

  8. Robert Armstrong

    I appreciate you sharing!

    One thing I’ll add, I believe the gospel is truly simple. When asked what the greatest commandment was He said to first love the Father with all your heart and then everybody else. That was it..nothing more. He is after our Love..our hearts. And we love him because he first loved us…and from that revelation we are then able to love people out of an overflow. He’s a good Dad…and we are His children. He doesn’t need us..he wanted us.

    As Christians we just need to learn how to say..”I don’t know” we don’t have all the answers and that’s ok. We do know He is good!

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