When Will We Ever Break Out of Our 'Christian Blobs'?

"We Believers All Tend to Live in Soft, Wooly 'Blobs,' Wishing no Contact With Other Christian 'Blobs'"

- But Is That Healthy?

A Plea to My Fellow Evangelicals to Occasionally Be Prepared to 'Think Outside the Box'

Do You Live In Your Own 'Blob' Within Christianity? It's Not Always Healthy!

We all have our theological 'homes,' your writer admits to being most at home in that older sort of conservative evangelicalism which is somewhat anti-charismatic and more rooted in Martin Luther than in Charles Finney. I feel 'at home' with people like C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, F.F. Bruce and J.C. Ryle. However, I could not operate this ministry if I had not been prepared to consider how other Christians view things from their own 'home.'

I am really glad that I took a theology degree, especially since it was non-denominational. In short: I got myself to the theology department of the University of Wales under my own steam; I was not 'placed' there by any religious college (the more normal practice, at least when I took my degree). I got the chance to study over and above any denominational 'box,' I took full advantage of this; I wanted to know why liberal theology thought the way it did, then I considered the Arminian and Calvinist perspectives, then I looked at all the others, including Presbyterianism, Dispensationalism and not forgetting, of course, Catholicism. I am still grateful that I got this chance, including three years of easy access to a great library of Christian teaching containing tens of thousands of books! In my case, I started off as a firm God-believer and Bible-believer and all my studies strengthened this even further. I have little patience with the rather silly idea that deep theology study damages faith, no, it should strengthen it.

So why do I say this right now?

Well recently, over a cup of coffee, my wife and I got into an unplanned and friendly chat with two other Christians. They were two very sincere people. After a few minutes, however, it became obvious that they were charismatic Christians - no problem there of course. But I have noticed that some charismatics have started to almost speak their own language, they use phrases that other Christian groups mostly don't use, they have particular expressions for kinds of prayer and kinds of fasting, for example, which most Christians would not be familiar with. I enjoyed our friendly chat but I did come away lamenting that even further divisions between our various Christian 'blobs' seem to be arising. My theology degree taught me that a particular Scripture or doctrine can be interpreted/explained in more than one way. I think it is a very healthy thing that I learned that. Loosely, I stand with conservative evangelicalism and I don't deny that, but I don't think we necessarily have a monopoly on truth and I enjoy thinking 'outside the box' (as long, that is, as solid biblical teaching is uncompromised).

Look at the graphic to the right. For purposes of size and simplicity I have divided Christian believers into about 8 or 9 groupings, I don't think it is enough, for example, there are at least two further groupings of dispensationals, then there are probably two camps of reformed (Calvinist) people, firstly: the hard-liners (that is: those who would say that Calvin was right about everything and that something like 95% are going to Hell, whatever they may decide to do in this life), and, secondly, the 'softer' sort of Calvinist (like Martyn Lloyd-Jones; he was reformed, but suspected Calvin was wrong in some areas, and knew that reformed people were not perfect; my fellow Welshman Martyn remained 'reformed' but was prepared to think outside the box). It is unfortunate that many coming from any of these Christian 'blobs' will proceed - in any conversation which might develop - with the assumption that only their preferred Christian 'brand' has all the answers. If one abruptly interrupts their flow with a comment such as, "but what do you think of the Catholic view on this doctrine?" one will usually be met with a look of open-mouthed amazement, followed by a shocked silence. Thereafter, some such people will no longer think that one is quite nice, and that one should be doubted, and perhaps even avoided in future. This, however, is to copy the typical - 'we alone have all truth' - behaviour of the cults and sects and we Christians really should know much better. Now this is not a plea to compromise over our beliefs and should not be mistaken for such but it is, perhaps, a plea for us to at least gain a brief working knowledge of how the various 'believer groupings' within the world of Christianity view some of the most important and central Scriptures in your Bible and mine. If, for example, you are one of those dispensationalists with an extreme and particularistic view on certain Bible prophecies and on Bible prophecy in general, you would probably be amazed to spend just a few minutes discussing this area with one from another Christian grouping which holds a differing view on Bible prophecy. If that is never going to happen (and I don't think it will for many), why not pick up a book which expresses a different view on prophecy to the one which your group holds? Please, please, please don't go on assuming that your grouping has a monopoly on knowledge, frankly that is probably not the case! Oh yes, hold fast to the great truths of Scripture: salvation in and through Christ, redemption, justification, Eternal Life - never loosen your grip in those vital areas - but if you are just occasionally prepared to consider how others - who also hold to those great and essential truths - view certain doctrinal areas you could find it a most illuminating and growing experience. I certainly did and it goes on being helpful to me. But I would admit that this activity might be more suited to the more mature believer and less so for those very new in the Faith.

Church Fathers a Helpful Example

The early 'church fathers' allowed differences of opinion between each other in various areas as long as heresy was quickly identified and isolated. I think that that is far healthier than the quick desire for separation which was behind denominationalism. Why not take some time to read about the divergent views of Origen and Tertullian (the latter was probably the first ever 'charismatic,' and Origen certainly 'went deep'), yet they were tolerated because they held to the centrality of Christ, but Arius - on the other hand - was quickly noted as a heretic (his teaching that Christ was not God, but the highest creation - closer to an archangel, is still found within the Jehovah's Witnesses).

The early church was quick to produce the great Christian creeds in order to quickly identify heresy because they were aware of the New Testament warnings about heresy, however, away from that, they did tolerate divergent opinions in more peripheral areas and areas in which the Bible does not really legislate. That was surely healthy and can be contrasted with the desire to separate over peripheral areas which, as I say, has characterised denominationalism.

On another recent occasion I had a long email 'conversation' with a leading charismatic. He asked me why my brand of evangelicalism tended to be critical of the charismatic movement. I gave him quite a long reply. He was astonished! I brought things to his attention about the movement which he himself is directly involved in which he had genuinely never heard before. He later emailed me saying, "I am enlightened and I am now better armed to avoid dubious things which we sometimes do get." That process was illuminating for both this man and myself.

So this brief article is a friendly plea to my fellow evangelicals to no longer be so insular within the Christian 'blob' to which they are most accustomed, or through which first came to the Lord. The world of Christianity is a big, big place! As long as we avoid that dreadful worldly liberalism which is an enemy of Christian Faith, there are powerful insights to be found all over the place; please don't use that cults and sects approach of 'pulling down the shutters' and insisting that all the deeper spiritual knowledge worth knowing is only within your own 'blob'! Be flexible!

Robin A. Brace. July 8th, 2014.