In the last few months, I have had a number of conversations with other Christians that have left me shaking my head in disappointment. I suppose I always hope that people will actually consider the beliefs they hold dear, examining them to be certain that they understand why they hold those beliefs. Yet I am often left feeling somewhat deflated when I discover that most people just don’t think that deeply, even when they say something is very important to them.
The three most recent discussions I have found myself involved in are repeats of similar conversations I’ve had over the years and cover three of the main topics some Christians see as a kind of barometer of the faith. In other words, if you have the right opinion about those things, then you are clearly a “real” Christian. Inevitably, they go something like this:
Person: The world is going to Hell in a handbasket, society has become so immoral. We accept terrible things, like the “homosexual agenda,” abortion, and fat people.
Me: Um…this is the human condition. People do bad things. It’s not worse now, just different.
Person: We need to return to the values of the 1950s.
Me: You would like separate lunch counters?
Person: No, but you have to admit, it’s much worse today.
Me: Really? Well, what about things like slavery or the Crusades or the Nazis? There’s a lot of racism and genocide in history.
Person: Well, we still have all those things. But now we also have men who want to marry each other. And also fat people.
Me [realizing this person has a particular view of the world and is shaping his opinions to match]: Never mind.
Person: The Earth is really only about 10,000 years old.
Me: Scientific discoveries seem to indicate something different.
Person: Science doesn’t know everything.
Me: True. But how can we explain what science has discovered?
Person: God made the Earth LOOK much older than it is.
Me: Why? Why would God want to trick us like that?
Person: So that we would take the Bible on faith.
Me: Ok, how does that strengthen our faith?
Person: I don’t know, I guess God just wants us to believe Him instead of trusting our own observations.
Me: That doesn’t make sense. I feel more drawn to God knowing He made all these wonderful things, including dinosaurs. I think it’s really cool that our part of the world used to be a tropical sea!
Person: But God wants us to just trust that His Word, the Bible, is the only truth we need. He wants us to pick Him over science.
Me [realizing this person isn't able to give a concrete reason]: Never mind.
Person: People who are [Catholic, Orthodox, non-Evangelical, emergent, social justice Christians, etc.] are not really saved.
Me: Why not?
Person: [gives various reasons, usually some variant of "they don't believe in salvation by grace through faith alone"]
Me: Are you sure about what “they” believe?
Person: Yes, I grew up in that tradition. I know everything they ever believed and can recite it to you verbatim.
Me: So everyone from those traditions or beliefs is not actually a Christian.
Person: Well, no, I’m sure some of them have found their way to faith. But most of them just don’t understand their faith or what they’re supposed to believe.
Me: Not unlike most people within our tradition.
Person: I’m sure there are people in our tradition who don’t understand, but that isn’t most of us. It is most of them.
Me: Ok. Even if that’s true, are you certain that we’re right and they’re wrong?
Person: Yes, because the Bible says so.
Me: You know they say the same thing about us, right?
Person: Yes, but we are actually correct, unlike them.
Me [realizing this person has preconceived notions that can't be addressed in this conversation]: Never mind.
There you have it. I’ve been having similar conversations on and off for the last 20 years. It doesn’t offer me much hope.