A few months ago, I helped train a kid who quickly made it known he'd just come out of rehab. He told me some of his story during our lunch break. A relationship with a girl soured, he found himself deep into substance abuse, and he couldn't always control his anger. When I asked him what changed, he told me about the progress he made with AA. He used the phrase "God as you know Him" at several points. I casually asked him what he meant. "Well, I believe God's real, but we all recognize him in a different way. Whether it's Allah, Buddha, Jesus, or whatever."
"I don't think Jesus would agree with you. He made it pretty clear He was God and the only way for people to have a relationship with God." I kept my gentle, friendly tone. The kid didn't seem upset. He acted as if I had somehow agreed with him.
On December 10, the Tennessean printed an article full of quotes similar to my trainee's. A concerned Methodist pastor discovered how many of the people attending his church also claimed to be Buddhist and Wiccan. "Spirituality has become so individual," he said. "We can no longer assume that people embrace even the basics." Later in the article, Alan Cooperman, associate director for the research at the Pew Forum said, "It is as much now the norm as it is the exception for Americans to blend multiple religious beliefs and practices." According to the Pew Forum, a significant number of church-goers believe their interests in reincarnation, astrology, pantheism, necromancy, etc, don't conflict with Christianity. For a while now, I have thought about another quote from the Methodist pastor regarding his attitude toward the situation. "We spend a lot of time talking about the basics," he said.
Nashville has a lot of churches, Christian publishers, Christian musicians, and historically Christian colleges. Having lived here for a few years, talking to locals, and reading articles like the one in the Tennessean, I wonder how many people going to churches know about the basics. The trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus, sin, salvation, the person and work of the Holy Spirit - some people growing up in the church don't know anything concrete about these simple Christian truths.
I feel like God has put it on my heart to learn how to explain the basics of Christianity. I'm not talking about all the details of a specific theology. I think every Christian should agree that Jesus is God, the Bible is true, stuff like that. So I guess this post in the Press has two purposes. One, I'm going to study on some basics for upcoming essays. Two, I wonder what Press readers think about some of these basics. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs believers to remain "always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you - yet with humility and fear." If someone approached you and asked how you knew the Bible was true, or why you thought Jesus was God, what would you say? That's why I want to know more of why I believe what I believe. At the same time, I want to approach this with humility and fear. That is, I want to allow for grace toward others while keeping full respect toward God.
What do you all think about this? Have you ever felt trapped by questions about the basics of your faith? Have you thought maybe agreeing with a universalist mentality would make it easier to "deal" with the confrontation of people who don't understand these basics? I expect the next few months will do a few things. First, people who don't know Jesus will have answers to questions and come to know Him. Second, Christians who didn't know the foundation of their faith will grow into greater love and trust for Him. Third, nominal, no-faith church-goers will get called out on trying to blend or dilute Christianity.
We'll see you all next month.