A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ten Things You Don’t Have to Believe to Follow Jesus

I have mentioned before that I often agree with my atheist friends.  Their criticisms of Christianity often leave me cheering.  I agree wholeheartedly...well not quite.  Even as I am cheering there is a small part of me that wants to say, “you do know there are people out there who believe in Jesus and are not like that, right?”  There is another part of me that is saddened by such conversations because I know there are good hearted people out there who struggle with some of the beliefs being criticized. Yet they think they have to believe that way in order to be “Christian”.  So, for the sake of that small part of me that wants to defend myself (I think it is called pride) and for the sake of those who want to believe differently but think they can’t:  here are a few things that I don’t think you have to believe in order to follow Jesus.  Whether you can still be called Christian or not depends on the speaker and frankly I don’t know why we should care.  The point is following Jesus.
  1. You don’t have to believe in a place or state of eternal torment otherwise known as Hell.
  2. You don’t have to believe atheists, muslims, hindus, buddhists, agnostics etc. are going to hell.
  3. You don’t have to believe homosexuality is a sin or that homosexuals are going to hell.  (Wow, there is that hell thing again.)
  4. You don’t have to believe women should be submissive to their husbands.
  5. You don’t have to believe science is the enemy.
  6. You don’t have to believe evolution is a farce.
  7. You don’t have to believe prayer in school is a good idea.
  8. You don’t have to be a Republican. (or a Democrat for that matter.)
  9. You don’t have to believe that Heaven is up in the sky somewhere.
  10. You don’t have to believe in substitutionary atonement: the idea that Jesus died as a sacrifice instead of us as our sin had earned us God’s wrath to a capital punishment sort of level.  

Certainly belief in these things is possible as a follower of Jesus but not necessary.  There are many well respected theologians who do not believe these things.  (If you would like to do some reading about any of the above topics let me know and I will post some links.) Some would argue “clear words of scripture” demand such beliefs. But realistically what that means is the “clear words of the particular scriptures to which I am paying attention.”  We all emphasize some scriptures over others.  For example, paying attention to 1 Corinthians 14:34 for women to be silent in church requires ignoring or fancily interpreting 1 Corinthians 11:5 which urges women to cover their heads when prophesying.  Difficult to prophesy while being silent.  "Clear words of scripture" often aren't so clear after all.
Those who follow Jesus don’t agree on everything.  The above ten are only a few of the areas where there can be disagreement.  Jesus sets us free to be who we are, not force ourselves into a particular package labeled Christian, not fret about whether we believe the right things.  Jesus sets us free from toeing the line someone else has drawn and free to get busy following him by loving our neighbors.


Laurie said...

I love this. We often focus too much on the points upon which we disagree. The important stuff is the points on which we agree. Jesus and love.

Charlene said...

Once again...just...thank you.

Charlene said...

I do have another question for you, Sheri. Do you have to believe the Bible is the 100% inerrant Word of God? If not, what is it? How does it relate to other religious and philosophical writings (Quran, Torah, Tao Te Ching, Gitas, Upanishads, Thoreau, Blake, etc.) and to other writings of the same time/place that didn't manage to remain in the official canon (the Dead Sea Scrolls, among others)? How much is good, and how much is bunk, and how do you decide? How much do you respect the decisions of the Council of Nicaea? And all the major councils that have set down church doctrine and canon (in whatever churches) since then?

I was raised with a pretty "all or nothing" philosophy when it comes to the Bible and the teachings of our particular church (which include all ten things you say above are not necessary beliefs), and have found the "nothing" a whole lot better for my life than the "all"...but I can see you certainly take a different tack.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Charlene, those are really great questions. I do not believe that the Bible is inerrant. Many, particularly in mainline denominations but even some evangelicals, do not. Two different creation stories and many other ways that the bible contradicts itself make it difficult to maintain a belief in inerrancy. What I do believe about scripture is a little more difficult to answer as my beliefs are constantly changing and growing. I believe that Jesus is the clearest revelation of God’s love and that scriptures tell a story of God at work in the world. I struggle mightily with the Old Testament in particular. I certainly don’t believe that Christians have a monopoly on truth or God’s love. I can’t comment in particular on most of the writings you mention as I have only read bits and pieces of some of them. Bottom line on other religions, for me, is they contain truth and God’s grace is greater than being bound to a particular doctrine. If that makes sense. Mostly when I have read other writings that didn’t make it into the canon, I have found them disappointingly unhelpful. But I do not reject them. I think the decisions of the Council of Nicaea and other similar councils need to be respected because they represent attempts to describe the indescribable (God) and I don’t want to throw out wisdom that has been gained over the years. However, historical context is important and these councils are made up of people with limited human understanding. So what they say needs to be examined critically.

Again, I am still wrestling with many of these questions so it is difficult for me to explain clearly what I think. I am still unsure myself. A book comes to mind that I think you might enjoy “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” by John Shelby Spong. I don’t agree with him entirely but find much of value in what he has to say. I would refer you to his website but it’s one where you have to sign up before you can read much.

I can understand “nothing” seeming better than some of the alternatives. I have had some rather unpleasant encounters with the type of teachings with which you grew up too.
Thanks for the great questions.

Charlene said...

Thank you, Sheri. I appreciate your thoughtful answer. I stopped reading the Bible for several years because I couldn't read it with my own eyes. I was always hearing somebody else (all men, interestingly) interpret it for me. In the meantime, I read lots of Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong and sampled other religious works. My favorite being the Tao Te Ching. The actual teachings of Jesus really remind me of the Tao Te Ching, actually (and I put it in that order because the Tao Te Ching was written about 600 BC, around the time of many of the OT prophets.) When I came back to the Bible, I couldn't find any reason it was better than any of the others, and I was a bit horrified to bring a woman's perspective to it. Of course, I'm not the first woman to feel that way: see the Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.