Q & R: Is There Any Part of Christianity That I Can Continue to Embrace?

Q & R: Is There Any Part of Christianity That I Can Continue to Embrace? June 10, 2016

Here’s the Question:

First, let me say that “A New Kind of Christianity” is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Thanks for having the courage to write it. It completely unlocked a whole new world of ideas and gave me the freedom to explore questions that I would have never been able to in my standard PCA church context. I’m afraid there’s no turning back for me now. I write the following question as a lay person (non-scholar/pastor).

In the book, you mention that the character of God revealed in Jesus is one of the main reasons why Christianity is worth holding onto. The non-violent character of Jesus also gives us a hermeneutic lens by which to interpret the violent/vengeful passages of the Old Testament. I loved your approach to reading the Old Testament as a series of trade ups regarding God, which reflect man’s view of God in a given historical content rather than God’s view of God. This all made a lot of sense to me. However, I started running into issues when I realized that Jesus seems to affirm the biblical flood story along with every other iota of the Law and Prophets. Further, he also introduced teachings on hell and the unforgivable sin which have left scars on many Christians and have led to much violence and despair throughout church history. I realize there are alternate interpretations (e.g., Rob Bell’s view in Love Wins), but the fact remains that the majority of people throughout church history have understood these teachings in the traditional (and horrific) sense.

My question is this, how should we deal with the trade ups that need to be made in the New Testament view of God and Jesus? It seems that even the character of Jesus and other parts of the New Testament (e.g., the symbolic yet extremely violent book of Revelation) might need a trade up. This is has been very disturbing to me, and I’m not sure where to go from here or if there’s any part of Christianity that I can continue to embrace. It seems like you’ve been in a similar situation at times. I’m wondering if you have any advice for me in dealing with these issues.

Thanks so much for your time.

Here’s the Response:

Thanks so much for this important question. I’m grateful to know that NKOC was of help to you. Your questions tell me you really “get” the message of the book. A couple books after that one, I wrote We Make the Road by Walking, which goes through the whole Bible and explores the trajectory of “trade-ups.” I think you would find it helpful. You’ll see how I deal with your more specific questions (see especially chapters 24 and 51 on hell and Revelation).

I’ve continued to grapple with these questions since writing WMTRBW … and so I think the whole middle third of my next book, The Great Spiritual Migration, will be of special interest to you. It will be available September 20. You’ll also see in the first few chapters how I, like you, came to a point of wondering “if there’s any part of Christianity that I can continue to embrace.” So many people are going through this same kind of questioning process, and I hope that my work, along with the work of many others, can be of help.

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