Within the first 18 months of arriving at the church I previously served, 12 different people decided to leave. When the average attendance of a congregation is around 100, 12 people is a lot of people. Some of them quickly slipped out the door while others drug out the process of their departure, but every single person made it clear that the major (if not only) reason they were leaving was because I believed “that everyone was going to go to heaven.”*
To a person, they could not get it through their heads why I would preach about God’s grace the way I did – a way that (to their minds) absolved individuals of making a decision to be and behave in a way that was different from how they had previously lived. As one gentleman told me, “Let’s face facts – God loves us all, but some people are sinners and are going to Hell.”
Obviously, that man wasn’t jiving with my theology. Well, that’s an understatement. That man thought I had my theology all wrong. I know as much. He told me. 🙂
From where I sit, I believe that it is of utmost importance to take into account the ways in which a particular theology calls us to live. Some theological expressions are more tightly constructed than others. Some make use of narrative as their primary thread, while others make use of propositional statements. But no matter what they look like, there is good theology and there is bad theology. The difference between them is their ethics. In other words, you can tell whether your theology is Christlike or not by how well it equips you to love your neighbor.
This whole “Love your neighbor” thing constantly trips me up. Every Maundy Thursday I am made aware – again – that the New Commandment is to “love one another as I have loved you.” Of course, my mind naturally goes to Jesus setting the benchmark that “they will know you are my disciples because of how you love one another.” And, then, there is that pesky “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Deconstructive critiques aside, the text is pretty clear that, in the end, we are to love our neighbor.
And so this, for me, is where I think we can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is “The Postmodern Problem of the Fundamentalist.” If I am going to claim that my understanding of the work of God in Christ is better than a fundamentalist’s, this is how I am going to know if my claim holds weight or not. Which of us holds a theological viewpoint that allows us to better love our neighbors?
Actually, that’s a silly question. I’m sure Fred Phelps loves his family just as much as I love mine. It would be ridiculous for me to assume otherwise.
No, I think the real question is not one of “how” but of “who.” It’s not a matter of knowing how to love, it’s a matter of knowing who to love. I think the real question is the one posed by the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who is my neighbor?”
*I actually don’t believe all people “are going to Heaven.” As these folks used it, “Heaven” is a decidedly Judeo-Christian belief, which other religious traditions do not subscribe to. To be clear, I do not consider myself a Univeralist (the belief that Jesus Christ’s work is effective for all people, everywhere regardless of their decision or opportunity to enter a relationship through him), but, rather a Pluralist (the belief that God calls people into relationship through various religious traditions). However, when someone is on their way out the door, that distinction seems a little silly to insist on, right?