1. The flavor of Christianity you grew up with isn’t the only flavor out there.
There are around 40,000 different Christian denominations all with their own particular nuances and ways of expressing the Christian message. I fear too many of us grow up thinking that our group is the one group who “gets it”, but with 40,000 different expressions of Christianity out there, chances are slim that you grew up in the one faith tradition who had it all correct. Each expression of Christianity has inherent strengths and weaknesses, all of which should be considered on the individual merits.
2. Visiting and exploring other Christian traditions is beneficial to your journey, not detrimental.
One of the most valuable things I learned in seminary had nothing to do with biblical languages or theology, but rather diversity. We were assigned to attend a worship service at a church we’d never otherwise go to, so I picked the most charismatic church I could find. I had expected to find a long list of reasons to make fun of them, but what I actually found was a group of loving and sincere people who radically changed my impression of charismatics. We must encourage exploration among Christian traditions.
3. The Bible is notoriously difficult to read and understand.
Growing up I was often taught that the Bible was the “user manual for life”, but could never figure out who would write a user manual that was so complicated and difficult to understand. Understanding and interpreting scripture is anything but easy– this is why most Christian traditions require professional clergy to have a minimum of a 3 year advanced seminary degree that covers things like ancient languages, hermeneutics, etc. Even then, competent scholars will often disagree! Had I been taught the truth that the Bible is difficult to read and interpret, I would have had more grace on both myself and others.
4. There’s no such thing as a “plain” or “straight forward” way of reading the Bible.
As if the Bible were not difficult enough to understand, we also have the problem of reading our own cultural ideas and values into the scriptures when we read them. As a result, it’s simply not possible to plainly read the Bible and walk away with a pure understanding of what it’s actually saying. This doesn’t mean we give up, but that we hold what we think it to be saying in sincere humility, knowing that we have a tendency to infer our own world on the ancient world.
5. The Bible actually does contradict itself– but that’s okay.
I think as Christians we’re often afraid to admit that the Bible does contradict itself, and that as a result, it’s not without error from a historic/factual standpoint. We’re afraid that if we admit to some of these things about the Bible the house of cards will collapse– but that’s not the case. In fact, some contradictions actually make the Bible more true instead of less, such as the different accounts of the Resurrection. The differing accounts actually show that there wasn’t an attempt by the disciples to “get their story straight” but instead is an authentic eye witness testimony on each account. We need not fear reality.
6. Jesus didn’t always agree with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
Have some parts of the Old Testament that really don’t sit well with you? You’re in good company– Jesus seems to have felt the same way. In Mark 10 when Jesus is asked about the law, he prefaces his comments with “Moses only gave that to you because your hearts were hard”, which shows that the OT law wasn’t something perfect, but the opposite– a concession to sinful humanity. In other parts Jesus completely rejects some things such as the permissiveness of violence. Jesus tells his listeners: “You have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I tell you do not resist an evil person”. What his listeners would have heard was, “I know the Bible says that when we use violence it should be fair and limited, but I’m telling you that’s wrong– don’t use violence at all.”
So don’t worry if stuff like stoning people in the OT turns your stomach– Jesus felt the same way.
7. Jesus valued compassion and empathy over rule following.
Truth be told, Jesus wasn’t an “anything goes” kind of person but he also wasn’t a rigid rule follower. Instead, Jesus valued empathy and compassion over man-made rule following. Jesus was a rule-breaker with things like being a friend of gluttons (instead of following the book of Proverbs), and did good works instead of resting on the Sabbath (one of the things that got him killed). The Jesus of the New Testament seems to be someone who chooses the side of compassion when there is tension between rule following and loving others.
I was almost 33 years old before I found out that other Christians didn’t believe in the modern end-times rapture garbage. Doom-and-gloom rapture/end times theology is not part of historic Christianity– it came from a man named John Nelson Darby who was just born in 1800. Now, just because something is “new” doesn’t mean it is wrong, but pastors should probably give full disclosure on this: the end times madness is new, not part of historic Christianity, and is unique to evangelical fundamentalism.
9. Jesus doesn’t care what political party you belong to.
While the American version of Jesus has been married to right-wing politics for the last 30 years, the real Jesus could probably give two-hoots which political party you belong to. In fact, my best guess would be that Jesus would invite you to abandon the politics of the American Empire altogether so that you might completely devote yourself to living as a kingdom building exile whose citizenship is elsewhere.
10. Doubt can make your faith stronger.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last seven years of being in seminary it’s this: I have serious doubts. As a child I was taught that doubt was the enemy of faith, but as an adult I am finding it is actually an ally. The more I doubt some aspects of our Christian tradition, the more I find myself clinging to the Jesus in the New Testament because I become more convinced that he is my only hope– both for this life, and the next.