Comments 11

  1. Thanks Jim. Your article reminded me of what I think is one of the best things that I read while in seminary and in training for the ministry: “The Crucified One Is Lord: Confessing the Uniqueness of Christ in a Pluralist Society” (https://www2.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=1611) from the Reformed Church in America’s Commission on Theology. I commend it to you and to all those who read your article.

  2. I don’t see it as a question of whether you are a “universalist;” it is a question of whether we think God plays favorites, and in our vain pride and arrogance, do we assume we are specially favored? Do we assume that to be specially favored, others must not be — or worse, that they must be specially disfavored? Do we assume that “we” means people who look, think, and act like us, who pose no threat or challenge to us?

    It used to be that families and nations of European people were held together — and in permanent ethno-religious strife — by this presumptive antipathy for their neighbors, their minorities, and their resident aliens. Probably even the most privileged felt the nagging fear that they too might come to be othered, cast out, rejected, and despised. Surrounded by Christianity so long, still Christ had not penetrated the heart.

    The desire to define family, church and nation in our own image, with our own imagined image of God is a deep and dangerous idolatry. The neighbors and their children who yours turn your back to, they are me and my children, and this is no way for us to live.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I have come to the opinion that most European-based fellowships in this country (and maybe especially in the rural Middle West–one of which mine surely was), tended to manifest similar characteristics, often defining themselves by those who they (thankfully) weren’t. My Dutch Calvinist for-bearers weren’t alone, I’m sure.

    1. I’ve read that our continental European roots explains our difficulty with pluralism. The English common law system the US inherited is about pragmatic solutions to local problems. It doesn’t want to constitutionalize everything and force every decision to harmonize with every other — but we do want that. This tends to erode any possibility of friendship in the community as disputes are maximized and individual cases are ignored. As our fidelity to principle is applied with a rubber stamp to others’ lives we are unfaithful to a savior who reached out to people in a personal way, as individuals.

      We have our legal-ish confessions which make the church an idea and a contract that offers penalties and rewards for breaking or keeping the contract. We say this is also a community of friends and family under God — that is always taking its disputes to court. We imagine God approves, because we see him as the ultimate judge and anchor to the moral order. We try to sell him as good for business and a society where everything runs on time. We don’t give much weight to Jesus’ last instructions to the church, to be united in love because love doesn’t push problems through a legal process to a resolution by the book. We want that resolution. We’re anxious and impatient until we get it. We need to know who is in or out, broke or solvent.

  4. It’s not just how we treat others beyond our social group — it’s how we threaten to other our own with our “we.” “We don’t ______” is reflexive traditional parenting and catechesis, but if we show children that “we” is a very small subset of humanity — the good ones — then we are telling them they had better conform and fit, or else out in the darkness they go with the pagans. You don’t have to lay it on that thick but some do. Looking back many years later, it’s easy to see how different friends and siblings were scared into a life of pantomimed faith, or simply crushed and needed decades of therapy and real grace to heal and grow. But the spirited “rebels” who refused to be abused made real choices and wagers like your novelist friend, and isn’t that really what it is to have, like David, a heart after God? I will not judge, but I will hope…to be surprised.

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