From infancy, we’re all raised with paradigms, or mental models through which we see the world. Events are filtered through those paradigms and explain the world around us in ways only we can uniquely understand. Lots of things in life can contribute to the paradigms we eventually develop, particularly religion and culture, but our paradigms, and this is important, don’t necessarily equate to truth.
And they aren’t easily changed. Consider slavery, for example. For thousands of years societies enslaved each other as a key component of economies and a typical result of war and conquest. Only 150 years ago and even beyond that, slavery and subjugation were practiced by Bible-believing Christians (as well as, to be fair, plenty of other religions across the globe) who were, in other areas of their lives, “good people” by most anyone’s standards, particularly of that day. Even such luminaries as the Apostle Paul considered slavery a normal part of life and never considered using what would become the world’s most prominent writing gig as a bully pulpit to end it.
But gradually, over time, public perception shifted as Christians began to re-evaluate and put into practice the ramifications of Biblically based teachings on how we should treat our fellow man. The understanding that even if slavery wasn’t expressly prohibited it still wasn’t a “Christian-like” behavior took some time to become a dominant paradigm, but once it took hold, thankfully, there was no going back.
So, does that make a slave-owning Christian in the 1820’s any less “Godly” than someone from the present day? It depends! In fact, there were many attributes those Christians, and those Western societies in general, possessed that many Christians and conservatives today are quite envious of. It really depends on the paradigm through which we view them!
Certainly, the culture, religion and theological beliefs formulated during our upbringing tremendously shape our paradigms in ways which are difficult to alter. They can change, but often very slowly. Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, when it comes to religion and culture especially, we’re all generally what our parents are. There are outliers and exceptions to this as there are to every other general truth about human tendencies, of course, but all in all if our parents were Muslims, or Catholics, or Buddhists, or snake handlers, or Independent Fundamental Baptists, that is what we will likely become. Sure, we may go through a rebel stage, maybe even a questioning stage, but most of the time we’ll end up right back on the reservation where we were born. It’s comfortable there, and we know the lay of the land.
This isn’t, of course, always a bad thing. My parents raised me with a Christian worldview centered moral system (paradigm) that has served me well in life, and I’ll always be grateful. But, while I have maintained my belief in the centrality of Christ and the Christian faith as a whole, as anyone who knows me well knows, I have strayed “off the reservation” on a few things, things which would make a staunch Independent Baptist (as I once was) cringe.
What things, you ask? Well, wouldn’t you like to know! (Nah, I’d actually be glad to tell you but this piece will be long enough without trying to put all that in! :)) Suffice it to say that, as much as I love and respect my parents and my upbringing (I had a GREAT childhood!), I believe it would be naïve to think that, among the over 20,000 denominations of Christianity out there (not to mention other religions), I just happened to be born in the one that got EVERYTHING right. Some things? Of course. Everything? The odds are astronomically stacked against that and, even if you aren’t ready to admit it (as I wasn’t once), you know it deep down.
And so, prodded (at first kicking and screaming) by a few challenges to some of my deeply and passionately held belief systems that started in my early twenties, I began a journey that continues to this day, one in search of Truth rather than lies, of reality rather than what we wish reality was. Sadly, on more than a few issues I’ve learned that just because most people’s paradigms have been altered to think a certain way doesn’t mean that way of thinking is always true!
This search doesn’t just apply to Theology, but to culture and every other aspect of reality (although this post is mainly about Theology). For a while, I even questioned the centrality and reality of my faith in Christ. Is He real? Does God exist? Did Jesus really come and die and rise from the grave? That was a tough stage to go through, but I’m glad I did. Thankfully, those questions led to answers and a deeper faith than I had before, but more questions inevitably followed – on eschatology, on the nature of the covenants, on predestination, on origins, on almost every Christian doctrine out there (except for the boring ones :)). I came to believe, although I will always hold out the possibility that I can be wrong, that SOME OF the beliefs I held growing up are not only not true, they aren’t entirely Biblical (although I can certainly understand the Biblical arguments behind them and why people believe them!).
It’s not that I was told lies on purpose, it’s just that, again, nobody, no preacher, no denomination, no belief system, holds a monopoly on Truth. Baptist preachers go to Baptist seminaries where they learn Baptist doctrine. To be fair, Presbyterians do the same thing, and so on. They preach one way of interpretation to their parishioners, who build their own paradigms around that and look at other Christian denominations as outsiders because of their differences in belief on some (what should be) peripheral issue(s).
The paradigm I want to pass down to my own children, the one I WILL teach my children, is one where Christ and Him crucified and risen is the central figure. Question EVERYTHING we’re told, especially if everyone believes it. You might come to realize that it’s true, but you might also come to realize that the paradigm is tragically wrong. Search for Truth, realize that you won’t always find it and that’s OK, but filter everything and every decision through Christ and you will come out seeing pretty clearly.
Does that mean we can come to the right conclusions about every point of Christian doctrine? I used to think that was the case. My former belief system had an answer for everything. Having that was comforting, reassuring, easy…
But it wasn’t true, not all of it. And regardless of the denomination, it never really had a chance to be – and that’s perfectly fine!
You see, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you or I think about eschatology, origins, tongues, mode of baptism, Bible versions, or the countless other peripheral matters of Christian belief and theology. This may sound like heresy, and if it does I certainly don’t mean it that way, but if the Bible were clear about everything there wouldn’t be 20,000 denominations, would there?
What the Bible IS clear about, however, is that Christ is the ONLY way to God. For that, I will always be grateful to the Bible, but I won’t worship it. Rather, I will worship the One it tells us about and let the chips fall where they may on the rest.
Oh, I know some reading this will say I just don’t understand THEIR denomination / worldview / belief system and how THEIRS has the truth on everything if I could just see it. To that I will respond that yours may, in fact probably does, have SOME Truth. Yours may even have more Truth than some of the others. I certainly believe the denomination I am a part of now has the highest percentage, but are they correct on everything, at least insofar as I (correctly or incorrectly) understand the Truth to be (much less what it actually is)? The odds say no.
If Christians could unite around Christ and agree to disagree on the other things (yet continue to study and respectfully debate/discuss them) we could change the world. Instead, like a Roman legion in battle, we and our fellow parishioners form a cult-like “shield wall” behind which we face not only the unbelieving world, but the rest of the Christian world as well, the “outsiders” to our “special” relationship with Christ. After all, we’re the only ones who have Baptism right, or tongues, or the correct Sabbath, etc.
My advice to my children and anyone else who cares to know is to assume nothing, question everything, and never, ever, on any issue, assume you can’t be wrong. You see, I don’t want to believe something because it’s easy, or comfortable, or politically correct – I want to believe something because it is true. This attitude has led me to to jettison some comfortable lies and embrace some uncomfortable truths along the way. It’s been far from easy, but all in all it’s been worth it.
Why? Why am I an outlier (certainly a more preferable term than “rebel” in this case – believe it or not my motives in deviating theologically from my childhood belief system had nothing to do with rebellion)? Given these truths about human tendencies, what has led me to reject some of the teachings of my youth in favor of other beliefs I consider to be true? What has made me a veritable “belief mercenary” that consistently goes to the highest bidder or, in this case, the best argument?
I’m certainly nobody special, but I’d like to think it’s because, since Christ ultimately IS Truth, I’ve found that He would want me to pursue it with all my heart, wherever it may lead, however hard it is to swallow, keeping an open mind along the way. Because finding Truth, like pretty much everything else about this life we’re living, isn’t nearly as easy as we’d like to think.