Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance and Jesus

A buddy of mine wrote a thing in his blog about his beliefs. It raised a question:
How big is the tent of what we call "Christian."
I think there are some ideas of doctrinal belief that lots of us struggle with. In some ways though, what we call struggle is really just a Christiany way of saying, "Crap, this doesn't make any sense to me and I don't think I really believe it when I'm honest with myself, but I do believe in Jesus and I've been told that this thing goes along with that" As such we use the term struggle of faith to arrest the cognitive dissonance that we feel as educated Christians when presented with fossil records, the crusades, gay friends, the death of a nonbelieving loved one, or an amazingly compassionate and loving agnostics. These things confound the bullet point faith that passes itself of as contemporary Christianity.
For a long time I prided myself on the ability to go nine rounds with an agnostic on the rational underpinnings of faith and avidly read books to sharpen my apologetics. That's fine, and it's important to know you can believe and not be a moron. Sometimes though, I think what we in the church have referred to as defending the philosophical underpinnings of the Gospel have much more to do with defending philosophical modernism than truly defending the gospel.
I've heard some Navigators staffers say, "The Bridge is dead" referring to the logic based illustration for the gospel that was created to connect to thinkers with a modern world view. I don't know if "The Bridge is Dead" but I'm certain that the gospel of Christ had more to do with transformation of the Hebrew conception of the heart (the seat of the mind, will, and emotions) and less to do with formulaic doctrinal purity.
The missing piece of my argument is that sound theology absolutely matters to real life. The theological conceit that "God is still God and I'm still not" probably kept my faith alive for about a year. That said any theology that isn't focused fundamentally around the life, teaching, and words of Christ is no theology at all. Put more simply Jesus was never bound by bullet points.


Blogger Justin said...


Your question is, in seven words, a great summary of what I spent 1500 trying to put out there. "How big is the tent of Christianity?" Or, as my friend Craig put it, "How much can you give up and still be a Christian?"

I don't know...but I think I arrived at the question the same way you described. I thought, "yes, this Jesus I've been presented with makes sense..." Then I had a spiritual experience where I believe I learned that the person of Jesus truly was a part of God in a way that I wasn't. So, I stood up and said, "OK, I'm a Christian." Then, lots of people spent the next six years or so telling me exactly what that meant. Some of those things worked for me, and some have just never made sense. So then, you develop this much can I not agree with and still be a Christian?

I'm working that out now. What I have figured out is that it doesn't matter that much whether or not I'm a least not in the eternal sense. I don't know that God will open my file when I die and say, "Well Justin, to figure out if you've been right and acceptable Justin or wrong and hell-bound Justin, I'm just going to look for the ol' red 'one of us' stamp from the Christians you hung around with." Even Christians in the strictest sense don't think that way...that's the whole point...that God doesn't judge us according to social waves or political eddies...that He has his system figured out, and had it long before we came around.

So the relevant eternal question as it relates to heaven and hell isn't, "Am I fitting in the Christian tent?" It is, rather, "Am I fitting into whatever God has set up for me?" (Assuming you believe in salvation theology...if you don't, then the question of God's judgement may not be all that relevant either).

With that said, I think the social and personal implications of the Tent question will be profound and lifelong. We all need to figure out where we fit in, and we all need to identify with something. That's why I'm still asking the question...part of me wants to know if I can still be friends with my friends if I don't believe the Bible is infallible, I don't believe my brother has to go to hell for eternity, and I don't believe people can't be as gay as they'd like.

Your last line was the only one that caught me... "Any theology that isn't focused fundamentally around the life, teaching and words of Christ is no theology at all." I disagree...perhaps no Christian theology...but Jews and Buddhists and Muslims and Taoists have theologies fer's just a matter of whether or not you agree with them, or if you prefer, a matter of whether those theologies are right.


11:56 AM  
Blogger RA Cook said...

Your critique of my last line is right on. I should have said "Christian Theology."

12:24 PM  

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