Studying for the right test

A few days ago I mentioned an ongoing discussion I was having on a mailing list with regards to public versus Christian schooling.

As so often happens, that conversation ran its course, but several others popped up in the meantime. We had a creationism vs evolution debate, a thread about whether or not Barack Obama is a Muslim Marxist, a conversation about the reality of global warming/human-caused climate changed, a discussion about how Israel is right to bombard Gaza the way it currently is… and more.

You get the picture. The frustrating thing is that I held the minority opinion on every subject under discussion. I stopped posting after a while—I didn’t have time to do justice to any of the topics under discussion.

I normally enjoy a good flamewar. But when discussions like these involve fundamentalist Christians there is a tendency to start labelling other people as heretics and in danger of blasphemy and hellfire. The accusation rarely comes up directly, but it often gets phrased as ‘…saying what you said is dancing on the edge of heresy.’

Then there will be a discussion about whether or not it is possible to hold such views and remain a Christian. That’s normally when I take my cue to leave the discussion.

Don Heatley offers this parable:

The Kingdom of God is like a student studying for an exam. Night after night, he studied Chapter Twelve of his history book. “Surely, I am prepared for my test,” he thought. The very next day he went to school and sat his desk. Behold! The test was on Chapter Thirteen. He had studied for the wrong test. He who has ears, let him hear!

Don goes on to explain:

Recently, I was having a conversation with a sincere fellow Jesus follower who demanded to know my beliefs. The questions they asked made it clear that this too was a test. The very first thing they wanted to know was my stand on homosexuality, my opinions about abortion, and my beliefs about the Bible.

I don’t think I passed.

Yet I wonder if, like the student in the parable, this person was studying for the wrong test. When we pass out the number two pencils and evaluate the orthodoxy of others, why are the criteria always issues that Jesus himself never addressed? Would it not be more appropriate to ask one another the questions Jesus asked, “Have you fed the hungry? Have you given water to the thirsty? Have you clothed the naked? Have you visited the imprisoned?”

This is why I don’t appreciate being threatened with hellfire for holding the views I do on certain subjects. God is not going to be testing me on my stance on evolution, homosexuality, climate change or American politics. He is going to be judging me on the questions of whether or not I loved him, and whether or not I loved my neighbour.

Even more importantly, he’s going to be judging me not on my works, but on the work of Jesus. That’s a theological concept I struggle to get my head around. Maybe I need to do more study.

5 thoughts on “Studying for the right test

  1. How does the Salvation Army leadership manage liberal thinkers like yourself and Jason Davies-Kildea alongside people such as Stephen Court and his band of extreme fundamentalists? I am not looking forward to all the fundies leaving college over the next few years. Is there any hope for guys like you, or will you be gradually forced out because of your beliefs?

  2. Way to ask a dangerous question, Jack!

    To be honest, I’ve often wondered the same thing. I’ve learnt, though, that the Army is far more worried about doing the right things than thinking the right things. If your corps is growing, or your department is getting the runs on the board, THQ are far less likely to worry about your beliefs. If you can somehow reconcile what you believe with the very broadly worded Articles of Faith, you’ll do better than an officer who toes the party line theology wise but who’s ministry is, to use a horrible phrase, a failure.

    I’ve also noticed over the years that here is something of a pendulum in the Army’s theology. Ten years ago, when I started College, the Training Principal was Craig Campbell, who is far more ‘liberal’ than most. He was quite open about his thinking, and became Personnel Secretary after his stint in the College. It’ll swing back eventually.

    I do agree that the current regime at the College is more conservative than I would like, and I do share some of the same concerns. I haven’t lost hope though. I think many of the new officers will settle a bit once they leave College. I used to be conservative too, until I realised that the world and what I’d been told the world were like were different things.

    On your last point, I must say I’ve wondered! Yet the Army has been very good to me. There are a few issues I could see major disagreement over, and they’re issues my conscience wouldn’t let me fold over, because they are issues of justice and oppression. I’ll worry about those when the day comes. I have noticed, though, that there are many officers who quietly feel the same way about a lot of things as I do. I think I’ll be okay! There’s an old observation that the Army has never sacked an officer for heresy.

    As for your question a few weeks ago, I haven’t forgotten! I’m going to make a post about it when I get a few seconds to think about it.

  3. Jack writes “How does the Salvation Army leadership manage liberal thinkers like yourself and Jason Davies-Kildea alongside people such as Stephen Court and his band of extreme fundamentalists? ”

    Ask lots of people to pray for misguided liberal thinkers, thus making people believe there is something wrong in their lives which needs to be corrected.

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