Obviously this post’s title is a little over the top. But hear me out. Prior to the past couple years, I probably would have never read a book by someone like Rachel Held Evans. Now, what do I mean when I say “someone like Rachel Held Evans.” I mean someone that didn’t think, believe, look, etc. exactly like me and whose theology differed from mine. Can I continue to be upfront with you? 2013 and earlier, I was very immature. Not only that, but that Chris had a small understanding of God, the Kingdom and the church yet he believed that he was right, and you were wrong and wouldn’t go near something that. That Chris was rooted in his understanding of God and what theology, doctrine and the church was to look like. But here is something amazing. God begun to work on that Chris’ heart. God begun to work on that Chris’ understandings of the church, theology and Kingdom. And I am so thankful for that. I have grown more in the past 2 years as a Christian than the prior 13 years since coming to Christ, which included 3 years in seminary.
Beginning in 2014, God really begun to press on me to love the whole church. I talked about Christian unity and grace before 2014, but then my thoughts and actions didn’t really follow that. But slowly over the past year and a half, I have begun to have conversations that stretched me to want to understand and love the whole church body more and understand those that held different theological beliefs better.
I looked at my reading list over the past few years in 2014 (yes, I am that guy who tracks what he reads. I’m obviously super cool) and realized that almost everything I had read was in the same area of theology and kept me quite comfortable. I wanted to challenge that. I started reading books by authors, pastors and theologians that stretched me and didn’t agree with me in all the same areas. And you know what? I didn’t die. In fact, I grew. A lot. And I began to be serious about the church, the Kingdom, and Christian unity for the first time in my life.
I quickly began to realize how tired I was of the “Farewell” culture in evangelicalism whenever someone says or does something that many people do not agree with. I realized how Pharisaical I had become in my beliefs and theology, and wanted to define who was right and who was wrong instead of showing grace and mercy like Jesus. I realized I had finally grown to a point through God’s grace that I wanted to “Farewell Farewelling” because a follower of Jesus truly cannot say farewell to someone with a loving, grace-filled heart. I am so thankful that God doesn’t say farewell to us and that we in fact have a God who loves us even while we were still sinners. That’s grace. That’s mercy. That’s love.
For 2015, and especially over this summer, I challenged myself to read some books by some authors/pastors/theologians that I disagreed (or thought I disagreed) with in certain areas to know them more, to better understand what they believed, and maybe even grow in my understanding and (gasp!) change. This summer I read Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, and loved it and felt like we had some much in common in my angst with evangelicalism. I read God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vine, Torn by Justin Lee, and Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James Brownson in order to better understand what many Christians believe the Bible says in affirming LGBT relationships. I read An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. Did I agree with everything every author said or believed? No. Is that ok? Yes! Did I grow? Yes! Did my understanding of different theological positions and biblical passages change? In same places, yes! In others, no but I better understand what my brothers and sisters in Christ believe which is great!
One of the first books I read to start the summer was Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents. I have read many of Scot’s books over the past few years, and he is one of the author/pastor/theologians that has stretched me the most and really started my process of growth a few years ago. The whole book is a great read, but what especially resonated well with me and my understanding of the whole church was his illustration of the right way to make a salad. Scot describes the Right Way to make a salad to set up what a fellowship of differents looked like in the early church by saying,
“Now the Right Way to make and eat a salad is to gather all your ingredients – some spinach, kale, chard, arugula, iceberg lettuce (if you must) – and chop them into smaller bits. Then cut up some tomatoes, carrots, onions, red pepper, and purple cabbage. Add some nuts and dried berries, sprinkle some pecorino romano cheese, and finally drizzle over the salad some good olive oil, which somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest. Surely this is what God intended when he created ‘mixed salad'” (Kindle Loc. 233).
Scot goes on to describe, “the earliest Christian churches were made up of folks from all over the social map, but they formed a fellowship of ‘different tastes,’ a mixed salad of the best kind” (Loc. 233) The early church was a mixture of high status, low status, rich, poor, former Phrarisees, prostitutes, men, women, Jews, Gentiles, etc. It was a mix that God brought together for His glory and for fellowship together as one. Today, our churches usually take one or two of those descriptions and really don’t want anything else. Churches would never outright say that, but they usually function that way. The way many Christians/churches talk and interact today it has become very segmented and siloed, at least in the United States. We usually only want to be around people that agree with us and believe what we believe, and that is right where I was a few years ago. But here is what Scot continues on to say that fits so well with what we’re talking about here,
“Do you think these folks agree on everything? (Impossible is the right answer.) Were they a fellowship of ‘differents’? (Yes is the right answer.) Was life together hard? (Yes, again.) That’s the whole point of what it means to be a church. The Christian life is not just about how I am doing as an individual, but especially about how we are doing as a church, and how and what I am doing in that mix of others called the church. (…)
Getting the church right is so important. The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family” (Loc. 256-67).
The church is made up of a bunch of differents both local and universal, and that is incredible. Somewhere along the line as a Christian I had forgotten that or had never seen that. I had spent the prior few years dissecting blogs and tweets by people that I didn’t agree with for why they were wrong and I was right, and I completely missed that these people were brothers and sisters of mine in Christ. And I was ashamed. And embarrassed. And saddened by my thoughts and actions. But I remembered that God’s grace through the cross of Christ is bigger than any sin I have committed, am committing or will commit in my life. Thanks be to God.
Even though I know she will probably never read this, I still want to say it publicly (or at least more publicly here than I could yelling out my window). I spent way too much time reading your blog simply so I could find things I disagreed with so I could sit here and say, “See, I knew you were wrong.” Rachel, you are a sister in Christ and I am thankful for your heart and passion for people and for the church. Please forgive me.
The world should know what Christians are for instead of what they are against. We are all, as brothers and sisters, for Christ. Do we agree on everything? No! Is that ok? Yes! Can we embrace Christian unity and prayerfully love one another in a shared hope of the world seeing Christ in our relationships? My prayer over the past 2 years, and especially more recently has become a resounding yes! Both in our local churches and together universally, we are all brothers and sisters together making up one big, beautiful fellowship of diversity and differents. Thanks be to God.