Friday, August 1, 2008

A paradox.

At the behest of my brother-in-law, I just finished a conversation with him and a friend of his about Christianity. My brother is in the process of learning more about Christianity, and coming to find his own views, and was interested in having us present our views in dialogue with each other. His other friend is a Calvinist, with liturgical sympathies.

My brother found it very enlightening, but I found it tedious at times. I find it a bit odd, though maybe it isn't as odd as it seems: I can have wonderful conversations about religion, God, Christ, &c., with people of *other* religions, but it can be very difficult to talk with certain Christians about. Part of what I felt was a weakness on my side was that he was rigidly appealing to the Bible, and specific verses, to support his views- which I at times found quite objectionable. On the other hand, he thought my views were unfounded. Of course, I think they were founded, but not usually on a verse here or there, but more on the understanding I get of a fuller picture. Like any art, however, I can't define that. The picture is more than the sum of this verse and that verse, and I don't know how to put it into words that convey how it gets assembled in my brain.

For the most part, I try not to espouse heretical views. In a few cases, I might anyway, but I'm probably not too insistent on them; the church believes orthodoxly on my behalf, and I'm open to being wrong. But that's really as far as I'm interested in going on some issues. I don't know how to "explain myself!" justifying details of my understanding of the ineffable, especially when my understanding is very much reflecting through a dark mirror. One of the more uncomfortable parts of the conversation was about salvation and redemption. I've just about finished Alister McGrath's intro to Christian Theology. The chapters on salvation, redemption, atonement, &c., are all very vague. Salvation seems to have meant a lot of things to a lot of people, and there isn't an orthodox understanding, and the nature of redemption seems to have been understood in a lot of ways, all acceptable. But, to me, some of them are unacceptable- I cannot think that Jesus died on the Cross to either pacify or pay the debt to an indignant God who intends to do us ill because we were unsuccessful at following his rules. Now, to be sure, there's truth to be found in that; but over all I find that to be uncompelling, and, in fact, off-putting. His response was that that was my problem, it was in the Bible, parts of it were horrifying and offensive, but were true and we were obliged to change to accommodate them.

Our biggest difference was on people of other religions, the state of their salvation, and the obligation to evangelise them. He seemed to think they're damned unless they hear the good news of Jesus from another person. I don't think they're necessarily damned- no more so, at least, than nominal Christians. I'm willing to "evangelise" by doing good deeds, but I can't imagine telling someone who may already have a fine relationship with Christ that they're going to hell and must convert because they don't use my words. He would say they do not have a relationship with Christ, because in the Bible Christ asserts that he can only have relationships with those who come to him under that name and form, and that is why we must spread it.

It's frustrating. My exposure so far to theology has mostly left me as unclear after as before. It hasn't brought a whole lot of light to my understanding. And yet, it seems I will have to learn more - and take notes - not to build a spiritual edifice, but rather as a foundation against the buffettings of other Christians.

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