Article: Center for Public Theology – In Praise of Tim Keller: On Princeton’s Decision

This article came through my feed via a Conservative Christian. What struck me was that I realized that this is maybe the third or fourth time since the election that I’ve heard from Conservative Christians this particular response: “The Bible is inherently offensive to those that don’t believe, and that’s why Christians are being criticized/persecuted.” Then there’s usually some references like Romans 8:7 or I Corinthians 1:18 to back it up.

But here’s why that doesn’t apply here. Most of the time, the most significant challenges are coming from non-Conservative, but fellow Christians, which means that “those that are perishing” doesn’t apply. The other observation is that the challenge is usually not about faith, but about aspects of American Christianity that those outside of the Conservative, Reformed, Christian bubble see as being negatively associated with our SHARED Christianity. It’s the aspects of Conservatism, Republicanism, and Authoritarianism that are inherently offensive to most people – such as gender inequality, discrimination, and hypocrisy. However, the response back from Conservative Christians is typically that their whole faith is being condemned, even if the challenges are specific and not about faith at all.

This matters to me because a frustrating truth after this past election was that the American church that I grew up in was more willing to make great efforts to accept Donald Trump as a true Christian than they were willing to make efforts to accept me as a life-long Christian who also is pro-choice, Progressive, and voted for both Obama and Hillary. Think about that. I have, a lot.

Having spent time away from the Conservative church, I’ve come to discover that there are millions of Christians in the world, whole denominations, schools of Theology, and even Conservatives in other countries that don’t agree with atonement theology, the sin of homosexuality, the lesser position of women, that life begins at conception, the physical punishment of children as “discipline” – as incontrovertable core Biblical truths. This is shocking and irreconciliable to American Reformed Christians. I get it. I’ve been there. I used to be one of those Reformed Christians. I don’t think I was ever Conservative though.

But it’s like this. If you grew up in China, you don’t call it “Chinese food.” To you, it’s just food. But if you then start trying other cuisines of the world, you start to realize a couple of things. That there are specific flavors and attributes to Chinese food that don’t exist in let’s say Italian food. You also notice that there are common aspects that are universal to all “good” food, regardless of what country the food comes from. But if you never ate anything but Chinese food your whole life, it makes sense that if someone says to you “I don’t like what you are eating becuase it’s too greasy, I have a reaction to MSG, spicy food upsets my stomach, and the flavors are too strong for my palette,” you might assume that this person knows nothing about good food in general, when in fact that person is saying I specifically don’t like Chinese food. That’s my analogy about Conservative Christians, having previously been one myself – they don’t know that their particular Christianity is flavored with Americanism, Republicanism, Authoritarianism, and Conservatism. To them it’s just Christianity. So when you challenge any aspect of their American Christian beliefs, including the parts that have nothing to do with the universal core aspects of the Christian faith, they feel that you are not comfortable with “Biblical Christianity” and they are being persecuted. But since it’s coming from other Christians, it’s not persecution. From someone like me, the intent is spiritual edification for my fellow brothers and sisters. I’m pretty sure they don’t see it that way.

I think this is a confirmation bias phenomena, because of course American Christians are prone to the same human vulnerabilities that we all are prone to. Confirmation bias protects us from what we fear are destabilizing challenges to our worldview and so we protect those beliefs, even when faced with reasonable arguments and facts, and find others that see the world in the same way we do for reassurance. But here’s the simple challenge – they can acknowledge that there was theology and salvation before Jesus, theology and salvation before Martin Luther, and theology and salvation before John Calvin, but can’t accept that the Bible can and should be open to more truthful interpretation today?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Written by Joseph Lee, M.D.

I'm a Psychiatrist in private practice in Redondo Beach, CA. I completed both medical school and residency training at UCLA. My practice is psychotherapy based with a health-oriented focus on personal growth and wellbeing. I also teach about mental healthiness and advocate for social emotional learning (SEL) in all contexts.

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