What are your core beliefs? If someone asked you to explain what you’re all about—the central convictions that define who you are, what would you tell them?
Our adult Sunday school class was talking about different world views. The speaker explained that as Christians, our world view differs from Muslims, Hindus, humanists, atheists, etc. Then he asked us to list five things we absolutely believe to be true about our faith. He claimed that most people would have trouble making such a list. Of course, with a challenge like that, I pulled out paper and started writing. The more I wrote, the more items I thought of. I soon realized that if I wanted to pay attention in class, I’d have to finish my list at home.
Later that evening I was still working on my list. (I’m kind of one-track like that.) As I finally ran out of Truths I was sure about, I realized that there were still a lot of truths (small “t”) that I believed but knew I could be wrong about. So, I made a list of those, too.
It turned out that this list was a whole lot more interesting than the first one! Let me give you some examples.
- Infant baptism
- The age of creation
- Gay marriage
- Ordination of women
- The Flood
- The Rapture
Yes, I just listed off some of the major controversies in the church.
If I call myself a Christian, I should have some non-negotiable convictions. However, if I start confusing saving truth with personal opinion, I run into trouble—big trouble. It’s these types of issues that cause perfectly nice people to start calling each other names, slinging mud and giving the church a bad name. Even worse, making a stand on peripheral issues drives seekers away from God.
I just finished reading Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, by John C. Lennox. It’s a relatively short book with very long words.
(Actually, Lennox is a professional mathematician, as well as an apologist, and he’s addressing other scientists as well as the general public. Plus, he’s Irish. The book is excellent, but a bit difficult to read.)
Obviously, creation is a very hot topic right now. The issue has us incredibly polarized, everyone is sure they’re right, and the exchanges are downright nasty. No one is willing to budge an inch, much less admit that they could be wrong. It seems that for some believers, the exact details of how God made the earth are as important—more important!—as Jesus dying for our sins.
For many people, the underlying issue is Biblical inerrancy. I understand their concern. I too have a high view of Scripture, and I don’t believe God makes mistakes. However, their insistence on their point of view isn’t about what God wrote, but about their interpretation of what God wrote. God doesn’t make mistakes, but we certainly do!
Lennox begins his book with a chapter on the issue of the earth moving. That’s not a big deal now, but it was during the day of Copernicus and Galileo. The church had always taught that the earth was stationary. After all, the Bible says so! Suddenly, astronomers were proving that the earth moves through space. As the scientific evidence became overwhelming, Bible scholars realized that there were other ways to interpret the scriptures in question. The Bible was still accurate, only our understanding had changed.
This humble attitude—that we may not perfectly understand every verse in the Bible—seems to be missing today. The damage being done is incalculable. As I was adding this book to Goodreads.com, I happened to click on the reviews added below the description. The first one was from “Jeffrey.” Here’s the first part of what he wrote:
I am an atheist because of the difficulty I found in reconciling the biblical picture of creation with modern science. After ten years of being a young earth creationist who held the bible to be inspired from the Holy Spirit (and several years studying in a seminary who taught those views), I was flattened by reading Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time.
This breaks my heart. My first thought was, how did the age of the earth become so critical to Jeffrey’s faith? It’s clear that he was brought up in the church. Did he ever actually meet Jesus? And my second thought was, how many others have been driven away from God because of interpretations and opinions? We’re creating stumbling blocks that were never meant to be!
Yes, we need to stand firm on some issues—the deity of Jesus, for example. But we’re not going to win anyone to Christ because we win an argument about the age of the earth. Rather, Jesus calls us to unity:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)