I’ve been a Christian my whole life. As a young adult and into the onset of my thirties, I was of the Evangelical and conservative sort, generally speaking. It seems as life happened and things got real, my beliefs shifted and changed. To make a long story short, and to greatly oversimplify for the sake of time, the last 10+ years have seen me wade into the progressive or liberal shores of Christianity. This, as you might imagine, has resulted in the loss of some relationships, and turmoil or conflict in others.
One of my dearest and closest longtime friends regularly expresses concern over my beliefs, words, thoughts, and such, while also fearing I’m guiding people away from Christ. I’m convinced these cares come only from a good, loving, and caring place. The troubling of his heart weighs on my soul, so I wrote a letter to hopefully ease both our minds, and, I pray, illustrate that I’m still a devoted and orthodox Christ follower, even though I don’t have the same beliefs I used to. I share this letter with you because I’m convinced Christ is the source of life in the fullest and richest sense, the well of all love, ridiculously AMAZING, and means EVERYTHING to me:
It grieves my heart when I hear your sorrow and doubt(?) over where I’m convinced the Spirit has taken me in my walk with Christ. To hopefully bring some peace to your troubled heart and my correspondingly unsettled soul, I’d like to share a few thoughts on how I see things these days. First, I’ll note by saying I might be wrong on some of this, I’m sure some of what I say now will shift over the years, and (as I understand it) everything I say is orthodox Christianity. While I grew up and became an adult in a VERY small and recent niche of Christianity, Evangelicalism, I’ve come to discover the “borders” and “boundaries” of capital “C” Christianity are FAR broader and more inclusive.
I’ll lead by declaring Christ is my center. As I understand things, Jesus is the face of God, the full revelation of what our Creator looks like. I’m convinced the Christ is Savior for EVERYONE. That said, well I used to think Jesus came to save people from our sins, I no longer do … instead, I think it’s way bigger and better than that. First, I don’t think the Christ coming as a human into the world was a backup plan or response to what we did or didn’t do, instead I believe it was always God’s plan. I think love is pretty much the point of life, which I take from Jesus’ declaring love of God, others, and self being the summary of the whole Bible. With that in mind, I think a primary reason Jesus came into the world was because love needs a face. We can’t relationally and really love a concept or object that’s removed from us, we love what/whose real, present, tangible, and physical. Knowing this, when the time was right, God came as the Christ to show us what God’s always been like.
The Savior part comes in a variety of ways. Drawing on Jesus’ teachings that “if your parents or you as a parent are good to your kids in _____ way, how much BETTER is our heavenly Parent!” I’ve realized, what good parent harms, eternally punishes, neglects, or shuns her/his kid for doing something wrong? Parents who do go to jail and/or lose their kids, at least when we find out. So, I’ve asked myself, why would God be like those parents? I know there are Bible verses that could support that, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Would the full face of God, Jesus do that? I can’t imagine it.
So, where does sin and Jesus saving us fit in then? I think the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a brilliant summary here. In short, the story shows nothing we do wrong can stop God from loving us. None of our errors, no matter how big, will make God love us less. Relationship with our Creator is only severed when we choose to “leave”, but will be restored at the drop of a hat when we “return”, NO DOING REQUIRED on our part. Conversely, and scandalously, the elder brother shows us that our doing things “right” and being the “good” son/daughter could never make God love us more. Everything God has was always ours, NO DOING REQUIRED.
On a small scale, I do think Jesus saves us from our sins, the Christ frees us from the SELF (or other people) imposed guilt and shame heaped on us when we mess up in life, relationships, finances, employment, etc. The Christ reminds us we are LOVED … PERIOD … END OF STORY, thus removing our guilt/shame.
Are we “sinners”? In the sense that each of us wrongs others and God, yes we sin … AND today it seems to me the word “sinner” carries worth and identity implications. It’s shaming. I think it names us worms, while God names us precious, beloved, and children. As I read the Gospels, one of the primary images of Jesus is Healer/Physician. It seems to me, the Christ comes to heal us from the foreign illness/affliction of sin. It’s unnatural to us, but gets in us. On a bigger scale, and more importantly I think, the Christ frees us from Sin. The Christ frees us from being enslaved to thinking we have work, own, possess, achieve, etc. to be worthy, to belong, and to be loved. Society/culture (especially the capitalistic and consumer centered U.S.) are a force of Sin that traps us in the rat race. We can’t free ourselves alone from that (I think), but the Christ can and did. I think there’s way more Jesus saves us from that we are powerless to on our own, like us thinking we need to have power over others, trauma done to us by others and/or culture, the need to set up borders and boundaries, the impulse society gives us to judge others and name them “in” or “out”, and the list goes on.
This brings me to a game changer when it comes to Christ. I trust finding our identity in Christ is crucial to joy-filled, peaceful, and loving existence and is what I tell people all the time (though context usually prevents me from directly saying I say this because of the Christ). My point here is the more we find our worth and value and belovedness in Christ and Christ alone, the better life gets. Near as I can tell, Jesus is the only unchanging, unshakeable foundation from which we can get value, worth, identity, and belovedness from.
I proclaim this Truth to people all the time, trusting that they’re included, in part because I’m a hopeful Christian universalist. I believe through Christ everyone will enter “heaven” or the recreated earth when all is said and done after we die. I take this teaching pretty much solely from the Bible. I add “hopeful” because I think we have free will, so a person could reject God’s love … though I don’t see how over time they wouldn’t embrace it, though it’s an option and possible. I learned a few years ago that Christian universalism has been orthodox since the beginning. What is more, after studying the Bible and reading “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott, it strongly seemed to me the most coherent reading of the Bible, logical view of things, and Jesus’ee way of seeing things is that conclusion.
What about God’s justice and holiness and all those thing? I affirm those, and think generally Evangelical Christianity has misunderstood them. For instance, the Jewish way, and good chunks of Christianity, of understanding God’s justice is that’s it’s simply making things right. It’s restorative and healing, not retributive and harming. The problem comes when we equate worldly justice with God’s justice, they’re quite different.
In my blogs, at the yoga studio, and as appropriate in conversations, I don’t name “God” or “Jesus” all that often, and will mix in Creator, Source, Spirit, etc. I do this first to be kind to others, among other reasons because the actions, speeches, and writings of some Christians have laden those words with baggage God doesn’t deserve. Additionally, I do it because Jesus’ English name directly translated is Joshua … yet we don’t call him that. Further, when Moses asks God for the Divine name, the answer is YHWH (probably pronounced “Yahweh”), which is a mystery itself and has a rich and deep meaning, foremost IMHO being a declaration that God is beyond naming. My point here is I’ve become convinced lots of (maybe even most) people name and have a relationship with Jesus without using that name.
I think I’ve heard you in the past say this raises a worship question, in that I don’t call people to worship God. I allude to it, make space for it, and offer it to people all the time, even though I don’t name it directly. I show people the goodness in us, the beauty around us, and the love that binds us all the time, and offer them the opportunity to rejoice in the Source behind it all, the Creator of all the goodness. I find thinking in those terms leads me into worship 24/7, while my old paradigms only did infrequently at Sunday church gatherings and the like.
Finally, I wanted to say a brief word on the Bible. I used to think it was 100% divinely spoken and dropped from heaven by God. I used to believe it was a Constitution, a legal document that’s to be obeyed to the letter 100% through and through. Recently, I’ve taken the Jewish perspective, which again is widespread in Christianity too, that it’s a conversation. A couple of the many things that point to this are that the Bible has a good number of contradictions (in one passage it says God told David to take a census while in another its Satan, likewise some texts say God commanded sacrifices while others say the Divine did NOT), and that it’s okay for people to argue with and disagree with God (see Abraham, Moses, and Peter as prominent examples). The Bible gives us a trajectory on how to live, but not a prescription. Jesus, I believe, is who God is, not the Bible. The Bible points beyond itself to God. I both view it as inspired/good for us and see how you can quite literally use the Bible to prove any image of God and humanity you want to find. If you want it to tell you to kill babies and that God hates humanity, it’s there. Conversely, and more broadly and increasingly as the books/letters were written, we see a God who loves EVERYONE, who breaks down boundaries between people, who continually comes TO us, who is WITH us ALWAYS, and “eats” and “breaths” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Anyway, like I said this was both to help you and me. There is WAY more I could say, but hopefully this is a good start and enough for now. I love you bro and welcome thoughts, questions, etc.
I hope this gave you some insight into me, Christ, and Christianity. I pray it leads you closer to Jesus, whom I’m MORE than happy to talk more about with you if you’d wish!
Grace and peace,